If you're new to the game, you're faced with a lot of choices. The most important of these choices is without a doubt what class you want to be. Then, along with choosing a faction, you must choose a race.
The race you choose for your character determines their looks, voice, starting location, classes available, some racial traits, and the faction he or she will belong to. All these subjects are covered in more detail in this article.
One thing you should know before starting this process is that, unlike a class, your race and faction are not set in stone. For a reasonable fee, players can change the race of a character, using the Race Change service if the new race is of the same faction, or the Faction Change service if it is not. Although players are free to make use of this service repeatedly, the operation may take a while to complete, and the price alone should deter most players from choosing their character's race too lightly. See the Faction Change and the Race Change pages for more in-depth information on the two services.
What playable races are there?
The pandaren are currently the only neutral race in the game, playable by both factions. Pandaren characters start the game without faction, and must choose between the Horde and the Alliance when they complete their starting storyline on the Wandering Isle (around level 10-12). Once made, this choice cannot be changed (except through the paid Faction Change service). All other races are tied to their respective factions from the time of creation.
Click on an individual link for in-depth information on each specific race.
Choosing a race
There are many reasons to choose one race over another. While some dedicated players may select their race purely in order to gain a slight advantage in high-end play, others may choose their race based on looks, lore or personality.
From tiny gnomes to towering tauren, each race looks and feels very different. Each race and gender has its own model, with a range of styling options; its own animations and movements; and its own emotes (such as the silly slash commands). Each race (and gender) also has its own voice, which the player will generally hear quite frequently in error message, emotes and other noises (such as when taking damage, or wielding a weapon). The way each race looks, feels, moves and sounds is quite unique, and it's worth taking the time to find one you really enjoy.
Lore and background can also be a substantial factor in race selection. From the shadowy undead to the Light-worshipping draenei, the racial background of each race is quite distinct, many including a several thousand year-old backstory involving ancient civilizations, wars and distant realms. There is however a great amount of room for players to decide for themselves their character's place among their kind, and a range of possible interpretations of such lore.
One of the most critical factors in race selection is the range of classes available to each race. While most races can play as most classes, there are numerous combinations that are not available in-game. Some classes are available to all races, while others may be restricted only to a few. Choosing a class is a very big decision which cannot be changed later - see choosing a class for details.
Another important feature of race selection is each race's faction. Only the pandaren are able to choose their faction after creation; all other races are specifically aligned with one faction or the other, and this cannot be changed. Characters can only talk, group, and create guilds with players from their own faction. Certain zones and cities in the world are also friendly to one faction while hostile to the other. The majority of the levelling experience will be determined by the character's faction, with different quests, NPCs and areas for each faction. Faction also determines a substantial amount of play: characters will fight the opposite faction in battlegrounds and world PvP; work to raise their reputation and earn the praise of the heroes of their faction; complete quests to aid their faction's efforts, and frequently fight against the other faction's NPCs; and generally spend the majority of their time in their faction's cities and surrounded by other members of their faction. Although many choose to play characters of each faction, some players develop a strong sense of faction pride, often leading to varying degrees of sparring and rivalry between players who identify with each faction.
Each race also has a selection of unique racial traits or 'racials'. These may be active or passive, and may grant small bonuses or powerful new abilities. While usually not game-changing in their importance, these can at times be fun, helpful or even life-saving. Power-players will want to choose the optimum race for their chosen class in order to gain every possible advantage. Additionally, each race starts with slightly varying stats, but these are generally considered to be unimportant beyond the early levels.
There are some other minor consequences of choosing your race: each race has its own starting area, which will determine your playing experience for the first few levels; some races have their own languages which only they are capable of comprehending (such as gutterspeak or draenei (although this is usually limited to occasional NPCs); and each race has its own racial mount. Racial mounts are ultimately available to all members of that faction, but only after a lengthy reputation grind.
In general, it is usually most important to find a race that you enjoy playing. Whether for its looks, voice or personality, creating a character that you like makes a huge difference to the fun of playing. If you're really stuck trying to decide, simply starting a character and playing it for a few levels is a great way to get a feel for that race, and whether you'll want to play that race all the way to the end-game. You can always delete the character afterwards, and make it again with a different race.
Class and race
Choice of class is limited by race. The table below indicates which classes are available to play for each race, as well as displaying the base starting stats for each race. Icons indicate the expansion in which that race/class combo was introduced.
- X : This class was available for this race since its introduction.
- X with a color : The class was added to the race in a later expansion.
- Main article: Starting area
The zone you begin in depends on your race (unless you are a death knight or a demon hunter). Except for worgen, goblins and pandaren, any race can level in any starting zone of the same faction, you'll just have to hoof it over there. You'll probably want to reach level 5 where you start and then travel to the new zone.
Allied races don't have their own starting zone, but start at level 20, which means they don't need to level through a particular starting zone, and are free to choose between a variety of zones and dungeons appropriate for their level.
- Main article: Racial traits
As mentioned above, different races have different racials. These include passive bonuses and powerful abilities. While racial bonuses should not be game-changing, they can at times prove invaluable, and many dedicated players will choose their character's race solely for the purpose of finding the optimum build for high-end play. For most players, the enjoyment of a character is far more important than their racials, but they can still be useful and fun. For a full list, see Racial traits.