Category Archives: Class Mechanics

Words of Truth

I’ll get back to answering comments and writing my own long winded points of view shortly. Today, however, I would like to just full-quote a post from the RIFT forums, a response to a discussion about the DPS advantage of a Warrior build sub-specing into Beastmaster. Highlights by me.

I’ve never understood the whole “this is the only good spec because it wins the meters by 50 dps” mentality, or moreover the people who are convinced it is a game developer’s goal to create some uber cookie cutter build and just force everyone to play that and only that. Do people really believe Trion hates its player base and is deliberately sabotaging a game their developers and investors have put significant amounts of time, money, and effort into in an effort to rickroll millions of players at personal expense? Of course, if some other spec happened to parse 50 dps higher than beastmaster builds, there would be half a dozen threads about how terrible Trion is for shoving warriors into that spec, and that some people want to enjoy having a pet out and still be competitive.

There will pretty much always be one spec that, for a given set of equipment and utility buffs, deals more damage to a stationary single target than any other in a specific time interval. Capacity for single target damage in perfectly ideal stationary conditions is rarely the only mechanic you’ll have to worry about in an encounter (and in the cases where it is – then yes, you use the “best single-target stationary damage” spec). The question becomes, what is an acceptable margin of disparity, and what other benefits does a spec yield in exchange for that damage? And yes- not having to babysit your pet is a real advantage that can and should be considered when selecting a spec for an encounter.

I personally feel that anything which comes within a 10% margin of the ideal-case spec is perfectly acceptable, assuming there is some element of mechanical difference to be leveraged. I run three different damage builds for various encounters. They each have their own advantages and disadvantages, and these are quite often more than enough to overcome a minor loss in damage from a spec with better perfect-conditions throughput. Way of the Mountain is a real benefit – not having to leave melee range for knockback mechanics can increase your damage significantly. Not having to resummon a pet can increase your damage significantly. Being able to dive into an encounter early, switch to adds immediately, and completely ignore threat limitations can increase your damage significantly. Providing a key buff or debuff effect that your raid currently does not have can increase not just your damage, but the whole raid’s damage, significantly. Having fewer class-based elements to watch and react to during a complex encounter can keep you alive, which will increase your damage significantly. These are all elements that a training dummy will never show you. Some of them can be mitigated by “playing better,” but any strategy or rotation which relies entirely upon sustained perfection is bound to inevitably under-perform. **** happens, and you can’t ‘outskill’ an ISP hiccup. The goal is to meet requirements as consistently as possible, not to set the highest mark in one attempt out of many [Rem: yes, this warrants double-highlighting].

Here are what I view as core problems for the warrior class:
* Dual wielding damage, in any spec I have found, is at least 20-30% behind the top dog two-handed specs. This is enough of a margin to be difficult to overcome via class utility. Furthermore, just about all utility available to these specs can be reached by two-handed builds.
* Certain specs are unique to the raid due to debuffs which are unique to the target. (This is a bug, being fixed in 1.2)
* Beastmaster buff effects do not refresh after zoning; the pet must be resummoned. This is a bug.
* Attack power scaling on warrior skills is relatively low, making AP (and strength) less significant than alternatives such as crit rating (or dexterity). This creates awkward gear contention with rogues, among other problems.
* Strike Like Iron’s tooltip (and % damage scaling in general) is misleading. Perhaps something like “Increases skill damage by 48% of the unmodified value” or “increases damage modifier by +48%” would be more accurate.

Here is what I don’t see as problems:
* BM/champ/paragon is slightly higher than other two-handed builds. Someone’s got to be the top dog, and the margin’s not insurmountable.
* Strike Like Iron is a keystone ability for most specs. It is not as overpowered as the tooltip would lead you to believe. It is still good, adds depth to skill rotations, and forces a choice about immediate returns versus throughput damage.
* Burst abilities do not scale with weapon damage. They’re off the global cooldown, and they DO scale with attack power. The GCD you save by having an off-gcd finisher means another ability which does scale with weapon damage gets used. At absolute most, you’re losing 40% of weapon damage (140% for a 3 AP finisher versus 100% weapon damage at worst for AP-buildup attacks), and even then Rising Waterfall and Enhanced Burst mean it’s rarely the full 40% lost.
* Long-term scaling concerns. I don’t care if the class in its current state will be completely non-functional in 2014. Odds are that bug fixes, the addition of new stats or procs, or general class revamps will occur somewhere in the next three years. Whether the class is propped up three tiers down the road by gear or by developer-based changes, it will still be competitive and still merit a raid spot.

That’s my wall-of-text opinion on the matter, for better or worse. I’m sure some people will agree with me, and some will not, but I feel the statements are justified and well-supported. Thanks for reading, and I hope I’ve at least put a few worries to rest.

I am playing a Champion again

In LotRO, I played a Champion: a heavy armour (cf. plate) wearing melee damage dealer. The class concept of the Champion boiled down to a simple principle: kill it before it kills you. You had the Fervour stance, which you were basically using at all times – it increased your damage by 15%, massively boosted your power regeneration and completely disabled your avoidance. So your only line of defence was your armour and the ability to kill things quickly. A side effect of this configuration was that you were really, really motivated to maximise your damage output – not just at some abstract point in the distant future when you face a boss encounter and someone tells you that your DPS is low, but pretty early on, because your progress through the levelling game was directly impacted by how well you utilise your damage dealing abilities.

In RIFT, I am playing a Champion again. Well, actually I am playing a Warrior. Champion is only my “main soul”. And naturally Warriors have tanking souls as well, where the emphasis shifts to survivability, but I’m currently focused on damage dealing souls and that old Champion-feeling is back with a vengeance: how well I progress is directly related to how efficiently and effectively I deal damage. I can’t self-heal and the mobs – even very standard normal ones – don’t just take the punishment, but actually fight back. They cause enough damage to put me – in the long term – in very realistic danger of death if I am not being careful and efficient. And the quicker I can kill it, the less damage I take, the longer I can keep going before having to stop and drink. It all gets emphasized when dealing with rift invaders instead of normal mobs. The better I play, the better my gaming experience becomes. Revolutionary constellation, isn’t it?

Now, I don’t want to claim that RIFT is somehow OMG-hard. It isn’t. Nor do I want to jump on the “WoW is easy” bandwagon. WoW isn’t “easy”. Not in its whole. The problem is that WoW picks the spots in which it decides to be hard very selectively. Any glimpse of challenge is rigorously confined to level-cap dungeons and raids. Which, sure, are hard, but getting to that hard bit requires quite a number of preconditions (many of them social and organisational) to be met. The levelling game, on the other hand, is a joke, especially post-Cataclysm. At some point, someone at Blizzard got incredibly terrified that some hypothetical player will cancel their subscription upon encountering a quest they could not complete, and that hypothetically lost revenue could not be accepted. Thus the levelling game apparently was tweaked, tuned, adjusted and balanced for the damage output of a healer combined with the survivability of a clothie damage dealer. Consequently, levelling takes no effort whatsoever.

And then we wonder why there are so many “bad” players, especially damage dealers. If you are never challenged, how would you learn? Or why? If mobs die so fast that it is almost an accepted fact of life that you won’t be able to practice your “real rotation” until level cap .. well .. how would you practice your rotation then? If good play is not rewarded simply because its results are indistinguishable from the results of bad play, how would someone learn what constitutes good play and why it’s important? It is a weird vicious circle, in which the endgame is positioned as the one true thing, but you have so many levels to get through before you can get to it, so the levelling is streamlined and accelerated, which only further devalues the levelling and accentuates endgame, so levelling is trivialised and sped up further, which makes it even more inconsequential, and so on and so forth. The more it is trivialised and marginalised, the more it feels like a drag and a meaningless timesink.

Again, RIFT is not fabulously hard or anything. But it puts you up against mobs who can pose a danger to your health. Who survive your attacks long enough to make a difference in whether you hit the right keys or not. And while it’s far from screwing you over when you screw it up, the better you play, the better it goes.

Another advantage is that when the difficulty level is just that bit higher, it makes playing together with someone an actually advantageous endeavour again. In WoW, levelling as a team is mostly an impairment; there is always inevitably a coordination-and-thoughtfulness overhead, and since the “outer world” is trivial even for a single player, a team never gets a chance to make back in effectiveness what they lose in efficiency, and you only ruin each other’s rotations by cutting mob life expectations even shorter. When, on the other hand, there is a more decent base difficulty present, along with roadblocks you may face and optional challenges you might be able to jump at, The Team not only becomes viable again, but thrives and flourishes and is very much fun. Putting back the middle M in “MMO”. Cooperation only works when you have weaknesses your partner can compensate. I don’t want to be a self-sufficient superhero, I’d much rather be part of a team.

Ah, now I remember

(I’ll try to be brief, as I really should be doing other things)

…why I always felt somewhat uncomfortable about the notion of being a damage dealer in WoW. Yesterday I had the opportunity to run a couple of heroics as Fury, testing the 4.0.6 changes as well as the sweet mace from Magmaw I got the day before. It was really good fun. And, if I may say so myself, I produced a rather amazing damage output. Oh wait, it turns out I didn’t. Turns out I was OP and am being hotfixed now. Oh, right.

This has always bothered me a lot when looking at DPS specs and contemplating playing them. I would like my performance to be a result of my understanding of class mechanics and personal execution ability. I’d like to be able to believe that the damage I do is a result of stacking the right stats and pushing the right buttons. You know … skill. But too often it seems that whatever difference I can effect via skill fades in comparison to the buff (or nerf) the developers might be handing out. That, in turn, very much fosters a community attitude in which underperforming players forfeit the quest for self-improvement in favour of whining on forums and blogs.

I’m not saying this nerf was not needed. It probably was needed, Raging Blow became ridiculously powerful, to the point where you had to wonder at which (not too distant) point it would outscale Execute *. Besides, for myself, at this point in time, I know my rotation wasn’t optimal, so whatever this costs me in damage I probably can make up by playing better. What I’m saying is that as a damage dealer I’d like to get a set of toys that is deep and multifaceted enough for me to be able to learn to compensate for its weaknesses by discovering interesting strengths. What I find less compelling is having my toys exchanged every time I’m found not playing with them the exact way I am meant to.

I hear Holy Paladins would also quite appreciate having their toys finally left alone.

* Napkin math: Raging Blow scales with weapon damage, attack power and mastery. Execute only scales with attack power.

I love you, Charge

You know I’m a big fan of our mobility. Yesterday, I got to love it even more.

We’ve been having our first serious and prepared looks at the Lich King. We took two attempts at him before, when we finished off Sindragosa with still half an hour left on the clock, but those were really more oooh-and-aaah attempts than serious ventures. They were useful regardless, as at least we got an idea of how things look and feel. So, serious Arthas action yesterday. To foreclose – no, we didn’t kill him.

During one of the attempts, when the first phase transition was about to end, I started running in a bit too soon and blundered right into a frost sphere, which went “wheeee!” followed by “kaboom!” and sent me flying towards (and beyond) the rapidly disintegrating edge. Wipe, right? Except, I was still targeting the raging spirit I was tanking, and in a reaction that was really more reflex than conscious response hit my Charge button. Swoosh, back to safety and “hell yeah!”

PS: Defile is certainly one of the more impressive and literal ways to wipe.

PS PS: I’m kind of glad there is no realistic way for me to charge off the platform. Now that would be exceptionally hilarious, wouldn’t it? 😀

I wish I could be me and me too

Brief nonsense post before we return to, you know, srs stuff. I have some srs stuff on my mind I want to write down, but today, just some quick nonsense. Because today I’ve seen the newest Warrior changes in the beta – over at MMO Champion / WoWTal as usual, of course. What can I say, it looks amazing. So what’s the problem?

Well, Fury looks more and more sexy and interesting by the day, or shall I say by the build (so does Arms in fact, but I’m definitely more fascinated with Fury now). And there is my inner DPSer who has never been and will never be immune to the desire to crank out some serious damage. On the other hand, Protection looks just lovely and like it may become even more fun to play than now. And I came to really love this tanking thing, too.

So, what is it going to be? Dual-spec, you say, yes, of course, but what’s going to be my main spec, what’s going to be my first and primary focus? I don’t think I could turn away from tanking again. Or could I? The future is a mystery!

Again, please remember this post is just a bit of excited nonsense. I’m just delighted by the curious and exciting ways my chosen class is likely to evolve in come Cataclysm. A rather good thing, if you ask me!

PS: Oh, and since we’re talking about being excited already – she’s down! Sindragosa is finally down. Oh my, was that a torturous fight to learn .. but now she’s down. Phew. Arthas, you’ve been warned!

Thanks Vene!

We interrupt the scheduled programme for a spontaneous acknowledgement. Just about a week ago I was looking around the archives on TankingTips.com and stumbled across a brief article on tanking Freya.

The main notion therein: if you are tanking Freya, don’t waste your time standing there staring up her skirt, go help on the adds! No one’s DPSing her, and all damage you do to her is negated by her self heal as well, so, make sure you always have a safe lead on threat, keep your debuffs up and go do something useful. Especially if you’re a Warrior with all that mobility at your disposal.

Yesterday we’ve been in Ulduar and Freya hard mode was suggested. It took us three attempts to adjust to the different circumstances and get a reading on the mechanics – on the third attempt, she went down! And I can proudly and happily say that over the course of the decisive first phase less than half of my damage output was directed towards Freya. Which basically means that half of my potential contribution would have been wasted had I been religiously standing there and “tanking” the boss. I’d like to think it was one of the factors that helped us succeed.

And I’d like to thank Veneretio, the author of TankingTips.com, for all the useful information and hints he’s providing. If you are a Warrior, and a tank, and you are not reading TankingTips.com – change that. Now!

Distribute the last 5-10 points however you like

This is Blizzard’s declared goal for talent trees in Cataclysm. Ghostcrawler & Co have stated time and time again that they do not want to “kill cookie cutter builds” or something ridiculous as that. Of course, they say, there still will be a large core of talents which are somewhere between mandatory, crucial or signifying for a particular spec. What they want is that after you pick up what you indisputably need, you’ll still have room for a few utility and flavour talents of your liking. “We want cookie cutter specs to say ‘and distribute the last 5-10 points however you like’,” is what they say. I like the notion and I’m curious whether and how they’ll make it work.

What suddenly occurred to me yesterday regarding this goal is that if you have more talent points than mandatory talents, you will never have to choose between mandatory talents for different scenarios. Now, this may be a matter of semantics. Maybe this is precisely what “utility and flavour” is supposed to mean. Here’s a very practical and close-to-home example.

Currently, I run two Protection specs. One uses 3/3 Focused Rage, while the other one grabs those three points and puts them into Improved Disciplines as well as into the fifth point in Shield Specialization. Also, the first uses Glyph of Cleaving, while the second one uses Glyph of Shield Wall (it’s really the talent distribution that’s the main deal here – at this point in time I could do perfectly fine without the Cleave glyph, but Focused Rage is the ultimate distinction). Spec Two is my progression spec; Spec One is my “everything else, mostly content I desperately overgear, so I’m in perpetual danger of rage starvation” spec. And the point here is that most, almost all tanks would be perfectly happy to only use the progression spec, however, I actually like running content that is not “the latest and highest raid tier”, so I was reluctant to let go of that aspect. Throw in the fact that I really love playing Protection, and do not really love playing Arms or Fury, and there you go, prot/prot.

Enter Cataclysm. Now, since I am supposed to have 5-10 points for non-mandatory talents, it means I’ll be able to pick all the mandatory talents before! But, wait a second. Maybe this is precisely what it means? Maybe these are the sort of optional talents they’re talking about? Like, you know, Sword and Board and Toughness are mandatory, but Improved Disciplines and Focused Rage are utility/flavour.

At this point, of course, the example becomes very far fetched. For one, things will change a lot in Cataclysm. It means talents, mechanics and, most importantly, encounter balance – the way we play and the way we spec will not be the same as now, so there is absolutely no point in pondering the relative and absolute worth of a particular talent or ability in Cataclysm based on its current implementation and importance. Currently, nearly every progression tank will call Improved Disciplines mandatory and Focused Rage situational at best. A point could be made, based on the very limited information we have so far, that if these talents will be present in Cataclysm at all, their value may invert. No way to tell. So, I am not pointing at these specific talents and saying “this one and that one”, but only saying “talents like these, in an approximative, general way”.

Where am I going with all this? Vaguely to the point I was expressing at the beginning. If after filling the mandatory parts of my talent trees I am left with more points than currently, I am much less likely to be missing points for something I desperately want to get. Which would make it much more likely to come up with a spec that is optimised for me, rather than for the content (or, in other words, more likely to find a spec that is optimal both for me and the content). This seems to be what Blizzard has in mind, and it is a goal I find appealing.

Who knows, I may even end up with a DPS off-spec again! Which is a great transition to my next post, which will be about my thoughts on the qualitative state of Warrior DPS and what I’d hope and wish for in Cataclysm.

On being Prot

Look, I know I’m doing it all wrong. I respec to Prot and … start looking for ways how to maximize my damage output. I know the rulebook says that from this day on, I should only concern myself with Dodge Rating and Effective Health, but, honestly, can you see that happen? With me? I doubt you can.

But, oh boy, is Prot a fun spec to play! I effectively have two ranged interrupts (Charge and Intercept) and two melee interrupts (Shield Bash and Concussion Blow) accessible at all times, without any need for macro-stance-dance-GCD-awkwardness. And Shockwave has yet to come..! I can generate enough up-front threat so my favourite Druid doesn’t need to wait with her Moonfire until the fight is half over, and can soak up enough to make her worry less about my survival and free her up for some nuking. I can Shield Slam nasties into oblivion, and strike them with the full wrath of Remaglar’s Revenge (hey, that’s what it says in the combat log..!). All that, while only beginning to put points in Sword and Board.

Long story short, I’m having fun. Just wanted to put that fun into writing.

Legacy issues

When people refuse to think around corners, hilarious things happen. Let’s recap a “conversation” of sorts that goes on for a while now between the players of the Warrior class in WoW and Blizzard.

Players: Warrior-tanking is very weak. We need buffs. Like, for real.

Blizzard: Well, matter of fact, it seems you guys are tanking the majority of the content just fine, so…?

Players: Yes, true, we’re able to do it, but the style we’re forced into just isn’t fun. That’s a quality of life issue.

Blizzard: Okay, you have a point there. We’ll look into it.
*doesn’t directly buff Warriors by much, but applies a few changes that should, taken together, enable Warrior tanks to spec and play differently*

Players: When I do things exactly the same way I used to do them before, the improvement is marginal / non-existent / actually an aggravation.

Blizzard: Wait, wasn’t the whole point of the matter that you change the way you do things?

Players: I hate u and ur mom!

The character (ability) development

In an RPG/MMORPG/MMOG your character usually starts at level 1 with only very few abilities, and some time later reaches the level cap, at which point it possesses a whole multitude of those. In some systems abilities are not only tied to character level (or any measure of progression), but are found, earned or acquired from drops, quests or talents/traits; however, the general notion is: you start with few, you end up with lots. Still, there are different ways to get from A to B, and today I’d like to compare two, as I have become aware recently, radically different approaches.

World of Warcraft. Of course. My Warrior is a level 28 now. Let’s have a look at the gameplay. At this point, my choice of offensive skills is very limited (and before anyone wonders, yes, the Warrior is a very offensive-minded class). Without being improved by specific talents, most of them are rather weak, highly conditional or simply inefficient. As an example, I know I’ll get the Slam ability at level 30 – but without either a talent deep down the Arms tree or another talent even deeper down the Fury tree, to use it not only isn’t beneficial, it’s actually detrimental to your damage output. Strictly speaking, in a regular single-target fight, I have 2-3 skills for doing damage, and 2-3 skills for tanking. They overlap for a total of 4; mostly just a shift in priorities.
At the same time, though, I already have lots of “tricky” abilities, that are there not just for the sake of purely dealing damage. I can strengthen the attacks of all nearby fellows, weaken the attacks of all nearby foes or fear them into running away, attract several enemies at once with damage or shouts, hamstring, disarm, shield wall, shield block and so on. Not everything is a “regular single-target fight”, after all – the most exciting things are not. So, it’s far from being dull, although the “daily grind” part isn’t at its most exciting either.
So, what’s the perspectives? The perspectives are rather friendly, but only mid- to long-term. In either spec, the actual and typical style of play doesn’t really enter until you get down the talent tree a good bit. Which is, I think, definitely a good thing, because that really makes the different specs radically different, rather than slightly coloured flavours of one and the same thing. On the flip side, however, it means I’ll have to stick to my 3-skill-rotations until about level 50. From what I understand, and have researched so far, it’s pretty much the same for most if not all classes and specs. Is this bad? Actually, no. It means there will be significant development and evolution of the things I can do and how I can do them all the way to the golden 80. And then, I’ll rightly sit down and say “okay, and now, let’s optimize this!” – which is a good thing, because I like it.

LotRO. Here, the opposite approach. Taking the example of the Champion (surprise!), when you reach level 20 and get your Relentless Strike, it’s your seventh or eighth attack skill. That’s certainly some variety early on. It is, however, also pretty much the last significant attack skill you ever get. For the next 40 levels you will be gifted mostly with “utility” – the stuff you were not bothered with in the beginning. You learn to clobber and hamstring, to self-heal and recover power; you get short-duration self-buffs and a short-duration AoE-stun; a few upgrades on your original skills. Things like that.
Basically, the class is done and deployed at level 20. After that, it’s just “rounding out the edges”. The way you fight will not significantly change thereafter. Or, well, it might, but it will be due to your having learned or discovered something new, rather than your character having done that. It’s maybe a little radical in the case of the Champion, but the trend is strong and omnipresent: lots of class-defining abilities up front, rounding out edges and potentially adding versatility later.
Is this bad? Not really, either. There is something to be said about giving people things to play with early on, letting them feel the class and where it’s going, how it’s going to be, right away. But it also turns the levelling process a little bit anti-climatic, when you keep expecting some new awesome skill or ability, but all you get are things you won’t use more than once a week. I guess it was also a reason, why I’d invariably lose interest in an alt somewhere around the mid-twenties latest – when all is set and learned and all that changes from there on is the colour of the icons.

To sum it up: WoW will withhold crucial rotation skills or the ability to efficiently use them from you until late in the game, while feeding you complementary abilities along the entire path. LotRO will let you have your rotation right away to enjoy and have fun with, at the price of reducing later gains to being mostly supplemental. Both approaches have their pros and cons.