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Should you play a death knight in WoW?

If you're a new WoW player, finding the right class for you can be tricky. We've covered the game's standard classes -- druid, hunter, mage, monk, paladin, priest, rogue, shaman, warlock, and warrior -- but if you haven't quite found the right fit, there's the game's single hero class, the death knight, remaining. These fallen warriors were returned to life to fight for the Lich King, where they were fierce opponents who supplemented their weapon skills with dark magic. However, some death knights have broken free of the Lich King's control and now serve the alliance or the horde.

So just what is a hero class? While you might think that means it's a more powerful class, instead it's a more unique class -- or at least it was at the time it was introduced in the Wrath of the Lich King expansion (and you'll need the expansion to play one). Today, some of the unique characteristics of the class mirror changes we've seen come to other classes, but the story of the death knight class -- which ties closely into the story of Arthas and the entire Wrath expansion -- is still a unique experience you won't find anywhere else in the game. That's not to put down the class: just don't expect it to be more powerful than any other class.

There is one newbie-unfriendly caveat: to create a death knight, you have to have another character at level 55 or higher, because death knights start the game at level 55. It doesn't matter what server your level 55 character is on or what faction it is, but you have to have one somewhere before you can create a death knight. This isn't to say that new players can't tackle death knights -- but you'll have to spend your first 55 levels playing another class.

Sound interesting? We'll break down just what death knights are -- and aren't -- below.

Just what is a death knight?
Death knights are heavily armored fighters who are designed survive be in the thick of battle, combining fearsome melee abilities with dark magic. In a group, death knights can tank with the blood specialization or dish out damage with a frost or unholy specialization. The official descriptions of each specialization should give you a good feel as to what to expect from this class:

  • Blood: A dark guardian who manipulates and corrupts life energy to sustain himself in the face of an enemy onslaught. These death knights get abilities like Death Strike and Vampiric Blood.
  • Frost: An icy harbinger of doom, channeling runic power and delivering vicious weapon strikes. These death knights get abilities like Frost Strike and Pillar of Frost.
  • Unholy: A master of death and decay, spreading infection and controlling undead minions to do his bidding. These death knights get abilities like Scourge Strike and Dark Transformation.
For gear, death knights can wear plate armor, which gives them survivability on par with warriors and paladins -- that is to say very good survivability. For weapons, they can dual wield one-handed weapons as well as using heavy two-handed weapons, including one-handed axes, one-handed maces, one-handed swords, polearms, two-handed axes, two-handed maces, and two-handed swords. And, while it might not always make sense with how often you upgrade your weapon, death knights have a personal connection with their weaponry, which allows them to be enchanted with runes that embrue them with extra abilities. These abilities overwrite and are usually better than traditional weapon enchantments, and are only useable on the death knight's weapon of choice.

Any race except pandaren -- who never fought the Lich King and thus were never raised as death knights -- can be a death knight. So if you've decided this is the class for you, there are plenty of choices.
A unique resource system with runic power and runes
Death knights have a unique resource system -- the game's most complicated -- in the form of runic power and runes, both of which are needed to use abilities. Runic power is a bit like rage: death knights start combat with none, and gain it by using abilities. But while some abilities need runic power, others need runes: a death knight has two blood runes, two frost runes, and two unholy runes, which refresh ten seconds after you use them. Different abilities will require you to use different types of runes, so in combat you'll often find yourself switching between blood, frost, and unholy abilities while you wait for your runes to recharge.

If it sounds complicated, that's because it is -- but it also gives death knights a nice balance. Instead of being like rage-using warriors, who can be resource-starved at the start of combat, death knights go into combat with runes that can be used to power their first strikes. And instead of being like classes that use mana, focus, or energy, death knights build up additional resources -- in the form of runic power -- as they fight, unlocking new options as combat progresses.

This gives death knights the best of both worlds -- but also requires them to be experts at managing their resources.

Who should (and shouldn't) play a death knight?
Death knights can be a ton of fun... but, like every class, they're not for everyone. Here's who we think will like playing a death knight:
  • If you're looking for an alternative to sword-and-board tanking, blood death knights tank without shields -- and dish out decent damage, too.
  • If you're looking for survivability, death knights are a a hardy bunch.
And you might not like death knights if:
  • Careful resource management sounds like an annoyance.
  • You want to play a pandaren.
  • You want a class you can play from level one.

Want to know more about death knights?
If we've piqued your interest, here's where you should go for more info:Whatever your final class decision, we we've been able to help you find the right class. Good luck getting started!
Just because you're a newbie doesn't mean you can't bring your A-game to World of Warcraft! Visit the WoW Rookie Guide for links to everything you need to get started as a new player, from the seven things every newbie ought to know to how to get started as a healer or as a tank.

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