My perspective on all things Azeroth has been heavily influenced by two fan works: Blogatelle's Play Files and Travels Through Azeroth and Outland. The former is a series of roleplaying suggestions; the latter is a work of fan fiction. While I don't necessarily agree with everything said in either resource, they were both written by people who thought long and hard about what in-game quests and existing lore imply about any given character's background and psychology.
I will probably tread on a few sacred cows in this series, and I apologize. The intent is not to bash races for their failings or to insult players for the choices they've made, but to examine druidic Warcraft cultures critically and ask why they can produce druids in the first place, why they do the things they do -- and, more uncomfortably, why they make the particular mistakes they make. Your character is not interesting because he or she has beaten the Lich King or faced a host of uglies within raids; I think WoW roleplayers are correct in their assertion that game mechanics invariably lend a touch of Mary-Sueism to the average player. Your character is interesting because he or she is the product of a culture with its own idiosyncratic view of the world.
You destroyed this forest, and for what? Arrows and weapons destined for the throat of an innocent? Shelters to whelp more of your unnatural race? You deserve the fate you gave these trees, and I intend to give it to you.
Why you'd want to play one
Only male elves could be druids until recently; women became Sentinels or priestesses. Lorewise, this is assumed to have changed in the period between Warcraft 3 and the start of World of Warcraft.
Female night elf druids were the race and class combination most likely to be played by an actual female player for the duration of classic WoW. There doesn't seem to be any recent data on this, so it's possible that this is no longer true. Judging from informal surveys I've seen pop up in player communities, women are most likely to play night elves, draenei and blood elves.
Night elves are the third most popular race in the game with a 15 percent share of all characters as of patch 3.3.5 and were historically the second most popular until supplanted by blood elves.
Night elves are Azeroth's original druids and arguably the race most influenced by druidic philosophy. They are the only race to have known Cenarius for millennia, the only race guarded and counseled by the Ancients, and the only Azerothian race once blessed by the dragonflights with immortality. At first, Blizzard envisioned them as a somewhat savage people -- to the point where early concept art for the Sentinels pictured them with blood running from their mouths post-hunt -- and a little of this lingers in the modern night elf. Night elves understand nature better than anyone, and your character was raised to accept that it is not in the nature of nature to be merciful. Nor is nature consciously cruel. Nature simply is
. In this vein, druids are unlikely to have problems occupying an animal form for an extended period of time.
There's an endless number of roleplaying possibilities or backstories with the night elves. You could be a 10,000-year-old druid who's spent most of his life in service to Ysera within the Emerald Dream, but you could just as easily be a young female elf completely new to the vocation. Do you resent the loss of your immortality? Did you approve of Teldrassil being grown?
Why you might not want to play one
The night elves' two great failings are xenophobia and arrogance, although the latter is perhaps a misnomer. Central to their sense of identity is their recently lost immortality and how it's set them apart (and inescapably above) the mortal races of the world and their noisy, pointless little quarrels. Night elves aren't conditioned to believe that other races might have something important to say, and on the chance that, say, a human does distinguish himself, why should they care? They might not be immortal anymore, but they'll still outlive anything but a draenei by several hundred years.
So it's not particularly that the night elves are arrogant -- they're simply unable to relate. A night elf might reasonably ask of the Stormwind-Defias conflict why it's so important as long as the Westfall woodlands are being spared. The race collectively charged with the guardianship of the natural world has little apparent concern for the welfare of the sentient races within it.
What's good about the night elves is very, very good. These guys have fought the Burning Legion for thousands of years, made the ultimate sacrifice to keep them at bay on the last go-round, and can always be counted upon to raise an army to address an existential threat. And yet ... what's bad about them is very, very bad. Whether it's Tyrande ordering the slaughter of her own Sentinels in Warcraft 3
in order to release Illidan, the Sentinels' firing on the orcs unprovoked, or the growing of Teldrassil, there's a persistent ugliness to how this race sees and relates to the world. At times, one wonders whether there are some among the night elves have confused their guardianship of nature with a sense of mastery over it.
Either way, this is probably the most consistently misunderstood race in World of Warcraft
. They are not the happy, fluffy bunny people that the average player might assume of such a nature-centered race. Nature is a gentle summer rain, but it's also avalanches, flash floods and predators making a meal out of the weakest among a herd. The night elves are fine with this dichotomy, but not everyone will be.
Elusiveness Very helpful to stealth classes, and as a druid, you are one.
Nature Resistance Tauren also have this, and it's a pretty situational bonus. Nature damage in high-end raiding has generally been rare outside of Ahn'Qiraj at level 60, but it's more common in 5-man content.
Quickness This is an enormous tanking and PvP bonus and will only be more valuable in Cataclysm, with lower avoidance rates across the board. Keep in mind that while it functions like additional dodge, it's not dodge; it's a flat 2-percent reduction to the odds of melee or ranged attacks hitting you. As such, it doesn't proc the warrior ability Overpower, and you've still got the bonus even if you're stunned or incapacitated (which otherwise leaves your avoidance at a flat zero for the duration of the effect).
Shadowmeld This is basically an amalgam of Feign Death and Vanish, and it's been used by disgruntled tanks everywhere to remove themselves from combat without warning if a group isn't behaving itself. On a less sadistic note, it also allows druids to escape from unwanted world PvP by Shadowmelding, switching to flight form and getting the hell out of Dodge. Most importantly, it's an unmatchable bonus if you plan on doing arena, because Shadowmeld allows you to escape combat in order to drink.
Wisp Spirit Developers joked at BlizzCon 2008 that the priest talent Spirit of Redemption was essentially "Improved Death," and Wisp Spirit is an ability along those lines. However, with graveyards being more liberally scattered across the landscape (and closer to dungeons) in Cataclysm, it won't be quite as useful as it's been in the past.
The night elf racials are pretty defensive in nature. Between Quickness and Elusiveness, they make excellent feral players, and most arena players have historically picked night elves for the Shadowmeld bonus.
Every week, Shifting Perspectives treks across Azeroth in pursuit of druidic truth, beauty and insight. Whether you're a bear, cat, moonkin, tree or stuck in caster form, we've got the skinny, from a look at the disappearance of the bear tank to thoughts on why you should be playing the class (or why not).