Saturday, January 24, 2009

Why it's broken and ways to fix it

I have talked about Blizzard dumbing down World of Warcraft before. Today I would like to take that topic further and explain why I think that this "dumbing down" is ruining the game (at least for the segment of the player base that I am a part of).

Back in the days of—well, all previous days before WotLK—groups had to think about pulls.
  • In Molten Core we had to be careful to pull one mob (or small group of mobs) without aggroing another nearby group or patrol. Pulling additional mobs usually resulted in a wipe.
  • In Black Temple we had to sheep or banish specific mobs within a group while we killed others. Leaving the additional mobs active would likely cause a wipe (or at minimum, several deaths).
  • In The Eye we would require some mobs (who had one beast of a whirlwind) to be tanked outside of the group, while others were sheeped, and still others killed. Further into the raid, there were pulls where we had to banish one or two mobs (within a larger group) at nearly the instant we pulled—without mistake—or there would be many deaths.
  • Even in the Vanilla and BC 5-mans, CC was an important and necessary part of grouping.
In WotLK, CC is pretty much a lost concept. No one even attempts to CC most of the time. Sure, every once in a while you'll get a player who triesto CC something, but it's less out of necessity and more out of habit (a habit that is quickly fading). Now, when we pull a group in a Naxxramas raid, we just charge in and AoE everything. If another group pats by and aggros, we just add it to the AoE we already have going. Usually, even when we have multiple groups at once, we don't have many (if any) deaths. This shouldn't be possible, but everything just dies so quickly in the AoE that it doesn't have a chance to do much damage at all. Sadly, this takes a lot of the fun and challenge out of raids (and 5-mans) for that matter. Sure, you could still do it the old fashioned way, but at this point if you're not AoEing it when it's the most efficient means of clearing trash, then you are just wasting time.

So, what has caused this? There are a few factors that have combined to create this issue, but a lot of it comes down to the same basic concept: Blizzard wants to make every part of the game more accessible to the casual gamer (except for Arenas, it seems—those are less accessible than ever, now that ratings are required for all decent (non-VoA) PvP gear.
  1. Current tanks have amazing threat generation compared to that of tanks from Vanilla or BC. Not only is their single target threat much better, but their AoE threat is great too. It's now to the point where threat is rarely a concern for any DPSer. We can go in and single-target or AoE DPS to our hearts' content. Sure, increasing the tanks' threat generation has made even poor tanks decent at holding threat, but this also made it so that threat is a non-issue for nearly everyone involved. It's very very rare that anyone pulls aggro from a tank in most normal fights. I remember a time when Fury Warriors were limited by their threat output. They would have to hold back or risk pulling aggro and dying. Without the threat limitation, Fury Warriors just go all out on damage all of the time. Threat being a non-issue makes fights too easy for all parties involved.
  2. Buffs to AoE are another problem. In WotLK, too many classes have strong AoE. Some classes, like Mages, Warlocks, and now Death Knights were meant to have strong AoE. Other classes only had limited AoE (like Druids, who's Hurricane spell used to be on a cooldown). But now all classes have some form of AoE and most of the AoE spells that had cooldowns have had the cooldowns removed. With the repeated pressing of one button, Rogues can AoE as well as most other classes. On pulls with lots of mobs that die quickly, Rogues can out AoE DPS pretty much anyone. Hunters' Volley, Druids' Hurricane, Priests' Mind Sear, Rogues' Fan of Knives, and many many other spells have created a game that does more than take advantage of AoE, it necessitates it. How could Blizzard even expect CC to be used when every class has solid AoE available. Sadly, classes that were not designed around AoE typically only have one AoE spell. This causes these players to be reduced to pressing a single button repeatedly in most trash pulls—a boring concept indeed.
  3. General accessibility has also impacted CC. In trying to make the game easy enough for everyone, Blizzard has made most mobs pretty tame. Some are more dangerous than others (and should be killed first), but in general, none are really large threats. There are some exceptions, but they mostly affect melee (such as mobs with Whirlwind or other AoE spells of their own). Even when a mob does have a more-deadly-than-average attack, groups usually still AoE them and just deal with the few casualties incurred. The only melee class who is particularly susceptible to death due to Whirwind is the Rogue (and the rarely seen cat Druid). All other melee DPS classes wear plate, so they can usually survive the first barrage from a Whirlwind and back out in time to not die—Rogues typically get one-shot. In our raids, it's pretty easy to see when a Whirlwind happens, because all of the Rogues just drop dead at once. This could be avoided by separating the mobs with Whirlwind from the rest of the pack, but since everything is AoEd, this separation doesn't happen. It's clearly not the way it should be done, but even with the Rogue deaths, it's still most efficient. One of my roommates plays a Rogue, and he's getting to the point where he doesn't even want to participate in these pulls (and sometimes the raids in general) because he believes Rogues are seen as expendable—a point I can't really argue with based on how we handle the AoE packs.
Obviously there is a problem here. AoE and CC are clearly broken. All AoE and no CC make Srom a dull boy. Sure, I play an AoE class, but I should be forced to single-target sometimes. There should be SOME strategy to the game. Right now it's just a joke. So how can we fix it? I have a couple of ideas that could help.
  1. First, not every class/spec has to be equally capable of the same amount of damage on AoE packs as other classes—just like not every class/spec should be equally capable at single-target damage. Leave AoE damage to the Mages, Warlocks, Death Knights, and the occasional (non-spamable, cooldown-based) spell from other classes. Classes/Specs that have limited AoE should have their single target damage buffed in some way. One solution would be to create a debuff that all (direct damage) classes/specs have that stacks on a single target up to X times. The debuff would drop off quickly if not reapplied by any DD attack (AoE spells would NOT apply the debuff). A single character's debuff stack could only be on one Mob at a time and each stack would increase their DD output by Y (X and Y are variables that I am not comfortable assigning a specific value to because I do not claim to be capable of MMO damage output balance, but I would guess that you get the idea that I am trying to get across). Casting any AoE spell would remove the stacks immediately and prevent them from being reapplied for a few seconds. Classes/Specs that are heavily AoE-based would not have this stacking debuff, but they would, once again, be much stronger in AoE.
  2. Blizzard could create mobs that have to be CCd. Having groups of five elites AoEd down with no CC is just boring. Creating packs of mobs that require a specific kill order or a specific amount of CC would go along way toward making raids more interesting.
    • For example, Blizzard could add a stacking aura to mobs in a five pull. Each mob emits the aura while they are active, but if they are CCd in any way, their aura is suppressed. Up to three stacks of the aura would provide no additional buff—the mobs would just do 100% damage. However, if four stacks are active, the mobs would do 200% damage; with five stacks active, they would do 400% damage. This example could be modified, but the basic idea is that if groups did not CC at all, even the tanks would be one-shot.
    • A second option would be to give specific mobs buffs that protect other mobs or give other mobs special abilities. For example, have one mob in a pack provide a 90% damage reduction shield to all other mobs within a short radius. Obviously, groups would want to kill that mob first (or CC it, or pull it away from the group). Another example would be to have one mob that, while alive, gives all other nearby mobs an AoE attack that would necessitate that mob dying first. Forcing a kill order would provide some much needed diversity to the game. Sure, there could still be some AoE pulls, but not every pull should be AoE.
I am hoping that Ulduar provides some of this diversity, but I am not counting on it yet. As long as Blizzard is trying to make all of the game content accessible to the casual gamer, we'll likely be seeing similar trends.


  1. I have to disagree very slightly with you on one point. "There should be SOME strategy to the game. Right now it's just a joke."

    While it is somewhat of a joke, there is still strategy involved if you care to take it on. I can only speak for Shadow Priests, but Mind Sear is not necessarily the best for all AoE situations. Let's take Faerlina's room, for example. Since Mind Sear only does damage to mobs SURROUNDING your target, you first have to plop a DoT or two on the target before you use MS, else you'll be left with one angry mob amid a pile of bodies. However, because everyone is using their AoE, the mob you're targeting will go down quickly, and you can probably avoid DoTs altogether. In a 5-10 man situation, you'll sometimes have a pull with 1-3 trash mobs that you COULD probably AoE, but you'd be wasting quite a bit of time if you don't use DoTs properly. In a situation like that, a shadow priest's DPS would probably be higher doing single-target damage.

    So if you WANT to employ strategy to make yourself a better player, by all means, the capacity is there.

  2. I couldn't agree with this post any more. I think you're absolutely right and, from a class who has horrible AOE abilities, I can tell you that trash pulls are very boring when I can hit a maximum of 3 targets at a time unless I use my ONE AOE totem that has a cooldown. Lame.

    All of your suggestions were valid, but my favorites were the last two about the aura and the buffs to other mobs. I think those are both brilliant ideas.