Class Balance and Design Q&A

World of WarcraftThe Developer Q&A is out, and with it some dark thoughts on whether it’s “worth it” to be a mage any more at all.

But first, some mage-related questions followed by some reactions to the answers.

The first selected question is near-and-dear to my heart, since Abethany began as a Frost mage:

Q: Is the Frost Mage ever going to be competitive in PVE? (I know it is within about 10% but it’s still the lowest DPS spec in the game at the moment)
A: Part of why we are changing talents in 5.0 is to let every spec have a shot at getting good utility. This means we can abandon the current (and tired) model where some specs (Frost, Subtlety especially) have to trade off dps because they have good control/survivability/escape. The biggest difference between Frost, Fire and Arcane in 5.0 will be which spells (including procs and other mechanics) you use to do damage.

I support this decision. As I’ve said many a time before, the choice of spec should—in a completely ideal world—purely an RP decision. I’d like Abethany to use Frost because that suits my conception of her. That she can’t because of her reduced damage output in a dungeon is quite unfortunate.

Also, it would be keen if the water elemental was an ice elemental instead. Something crystally and bad-ass.

Anyway, on to spell rotation (squee!!):

Q: Hey there, since the arcane mage playstyle is a bit “simplicistic” nowadays (one button spam in burn phase and two button use in conserve phae) can we hope to see other, more engaging ways of spell interaction? Would it, for example, be possible to get a resource system out of arcane blast stacks or can we get more spells into our rotation?
A: Arcane Mages’ rotation (or lack-there-of, depending upon your point of view) is something we have plans for in 5.0. We still want mana management to be a major part of their gameplay, but we want to mix up their rotation a bit beyond that. Additionally, their rotation being entirely immobile is debilitating for them at times. We’re currently planning to include Arcane Barrage in their PvE rotation, so that they at least have an instant GCD that allows them to move small distances without losing DPS. Arcane Missiles while moving is something that we’ve considered several times, but currently aren’t planning to use (that may change though).

I would argue that mana management is not a part of gameplay. Not enough to be a “thing” that one “does.” Here’s why: I virtually never run out of mana, even in raids. I keep to my rotation and it just never runs out. Every now and again, when I’m not paying attention, I’ll have to throttle back a bit. And I consume a mana gem when I get down a bit—but that’s because of the damage bonus it gives, not really to restore mana.

So I’m not really clear on what they mean by ‘We still want mana management to be a major part of their gameplay’.

Major? No…not major.

As to immobility, I heartily support this. Being able to move around a bit more would be tremendously liberating.

Next question is about Fire RNG:

Q: Sometimes it seems you try to fix ‘underpowered’ class specs by increasing numbers, rather than trying to solve the underlying issue (like RNG in fire spec: you just increased numbers rather than making the dps more stable)
A: RNG is what you are signing up for when you play Fire. We don’t view that as a crippling problem that needs to be fixed. Now there is such a thing as too much RNG, but we don’t think Fire is in that spot. Sometimes you’ll get a lot of Hot Streak procs etc. and sometimes you’ll get less. Our design intent is that if that bothers you, play Frost or Arcane instead. (Obviously the DPS needs to be similar overall for that to feel like a real option.)

And that’s exactly what I do. Fire was way too random for me. Way. I very much prefer predictability in what I do as myself. Having a monster behave randomly is fine, and I would even enjoy something like that under the proper circumstances, but random things from me? No, thank you.

Hybrid-vs.-Pure has been a long standing concern of mine:

Q: If there’s no hybrid tax, what’s the point of playing a pure DPS class? Raid/pug leaders will always prefer players that can fill multiple roles. When hybrids like Boomkin and Shadow Priests are out DPSing the four pure classes across most parses, I think something’s wrong.
A: We want to make sure there are pure DPS classes in raids. That doesn’t mean that hybrids just have to be support classes as they were back in the BC days. But it does mean that you should neglect mages, locks, rogues and hunters at your peril. There may very well be more hybrids, because they just have a chance at more roles, so you can’t just look at popularity of classes, but we will take steps to make sure the pures don’t vanish.

‘Mke sure the pures don’t vanish?’ What? I’m assuming I’m reading too much into this, but it sounds like hybrid classes are the way to go from now on. In short, the answer to the complaint “hybrids are outpacing pure DPS” is: “Yes.”

Well, that pretty much sucks. It’s tough enough getting included in things as a DPS at all—and it sounds like it’s going to be tougher, not easier, in the future.

‘Neglect mages […] at your peril.’ Why? Why is that perilous? Pure DPSs are there to provide DPS. Why take a pure DPS if a hybrid is already doing as much DPS?

This is a sore point for me. And there’s more about it later. Meanwhile…

This question is the bomb:

Q: You mentioned at Blizzcon that all mages will be getting Living Bomb. How will this along with talented Scorch be balanced so that it is not too powerful for fire and too underpowered for other specs? Because certain spells like Arcane Blast and Frostbolt will be only available to their respective spec, does this mean the specialization bonuses such as “your fire spells do X% increased damage” are being removed and the extra damage worked into the spell itself, so that cross spec spells such as Living Bomb do the same amount of damage no matter which spec you are in?
A: Mages don’t really need their +fire, +frost or +arcane specializations in 5.0 because only Fire mages will have Fireball. So Fire mages won’t do more damage with LB or Scorch. They will still feel like Fire mages though because of Fireball, Ignite, Combustion and Hot Streak.

Adding Living Bomb will mean something additional to do during combat, which as stated above, mages can use a little bit of. More toys is better at this stage.

And this question isn’t about mages specifically, but is something of import nonetheless:

Q: I’m glad to see you guys are still interested in making the talent system as unique as possible, but it seems like by giving so few choices that cookie cutter specs will be even MORE easy to come up with then now. i know there will always be “the best choice”. but if you guys do all this redesigning just to have the same outcome, what do you have in store to try and fix it from there? and are you concerned the new talent trees might not offer the unique build options players want to have?
A: Since so many of the talents focus on survivability, movement, and utility we are skeptical that there will ever be a talent build that is the perfect build for every PvE fight in the game. It is likely that as players learn specific encounters, each spec finds an ideal set of talents for that encounter. Those will be the “cookie cutter” builds. However, that will mean that players are interacting with the system and picking a unique set of customizations on a frequent basis. This is a vast improvement over a system that is solved once by a dps spreadhseet and then everyone copies that build once and ignores their talents for the rest of the expansion. In addition, there will be likely disagreement over which talents are best for which encounters.

So, yes, still cookie cutters—but different ones for different situations, thus leading to more variation than there is now, which is almost none. Therefore, I approve.

Next: They listen, see?

Q: Why did you pick Blast Wave, Dragon’s Breath, and Slow as the level 90 mage talents? Most every other class has gotten new skills at 90. Why put spells we mages get a lower levels at 90?
A: You know, that’s an excellent point – we’ve heard from several people that Mages could use a few more new talents. We’ll take a look.

Good! Looking forward to the change!

A Frost talent question next:

Q: I love ring of frost AND Cone of Cold, why will i have to choose ?
A: We think choosing between two powerful things is a lot more fun and interesting than choosing between a no-brainer and pile of poo. In this case specifically, we thought that mages and Frost in general have too many CC abilities and we didn’t want to keep adding more and more with every expansion. But if you have to choose which CC you want, then it gives us the design space to keep adding potentially interesting alternatives.

Agree with every word.

And, finally, another hybrid question:

Q: A lot people are worried that with druids being able to do well at our other roles, we’ll see the return of the “hybrid tax”. It’s the same old story: if we can perform any role when needed, raids will stack us, unless we don’t do as well in our specific roles, in which case we’re bad at what we most want to do. What assurance can we get that we won’t have this problem?
A: We are very interested in opening opportunities for more hybrid gameplay in druids, as you can see in the level 90 talent tier, while still allowing an option for players who want to never do anything outside their role. We don’t intend for that added hybridization to be offset by any sort of DPS nerf. While DPSing, a druid’s DPS will be entirely competitive with other DPS. We hope to see druids that do things like, “DPS in Cat Form most of the fight, but during one phase, when healing is super difficult, pop out of Cat, hit Heart of the Wild, Tranquility, and spam heals on the raid to help top everyone off, then go back to Cat and resume DPSing.” In that sort of the situation, the Cat will have spent less time DPSing than other DPSers, but his/her DPS while DPSing would have been competitive, and in exchange helped save the raid when healers were falling behind. You can probably think of many situations where this would be useful in raid content, or in some 5man content, and frequently in PvP. To clarify a bit further on how the druids will perform at their off-roles: Ferals and Guardians will have Nurturing Instinct, which increases spell power based on Agility, and Balance and Restoration will have Killer Instinct, which increases attack power based on Intellect. They will have a smaller toolbox of spells for their off-role, but the strength of those spells will be competitive, when under the effects of those hybrid talents.

Coming from a pure class, it’s easy to overlook hybrid concerns, and one of them is being competitive with pure classes if all you do is one of the available roles. What such a player is looking for, then, is not a hybrid class but a different style of DPSing, and there’s nothing (shouldn’t be) anything wrong with that. Shouldn’t DPSing be supported in the game?

Yes, but one result of that is stomping on pure classes. As mentioned above, why would you, as a raid and all things being equal, pick a pure over a hybrid? As the answer to the last question points out, there could very easily be a situation where you DPS all the time—except for this one time when you help out with another role.

But pure classes don’t have that option. They can’t “except this one time” so if you’re picking, why not pick a hybrid? Even if they’ve not put as much emphasis in hybridization as other players have, they at least have some capability with it and can  help out a bit in an emergency. More utility means having greater flexibility.

So I’m left wondering (particularly vis a vis the answer to the other hybrid question) whether or not it makes any sense having/being a pure DPS class at all.

If other classes can DPS as well and bring other roles…why be pure?

What does pure bring?

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Geek. (But so are you!)

Posted on November 9, 2011, in World of Warcraft. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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