10 factors that make a fun tanking fight

This may be hard to believe for those who have never trod the hallowed path of the main tank, but staring at giant boss toenails for hours at a time while hammering out your main threat rotation can pall. You sense that there is activity going on elsewhere in the room as raid members make intriguing comments on voicechat such as “Arrgh, who put that fire there?”, “Heal me!!” and “Is it dead yet?” or die in explosive and interesting ways. And sometimes you might fall over dead without warning yourself; often a sign that the healers are bored too or you broke another shield.

Nope, main tanking has a prestige that is often totally out of proportion to how fun the encounter actually is. It shows that you’re trusted by the raid, but not necessarily by the developers.

Raid designers have a tricky job where tanks are concerned. In most MMOs, the tank’s job cannot be easily shared, so each tank in an encounter needs to be given a different task. So for example, one tank on the main boss, one on adds. Or maybe a fight which forces tank switches (no single tank can hold the boss for the whole fight, you have to organise some kind of tanking relay or rotation), or maybe two sets of mobs to control in separate rooms.

Blizzard have been moving steadily towards designing raid encounters that are more fun for everyone. That means away from the traditional ‘tank and spank’ which involved lots and lots of close-ups of boss toenails, in favour of something closer to dog agility trials. Often individual healers or dps will have different jobs to do in a boss fight now also, it’s much harder for anyone to huddle at the back and pretend they’re just along for the ride.

But just getting back to basics, I wanted to look at what makes an encounter fun for the tanks. There are bound to be people who prefer the old-style fights where they were worshipped as gods and never really asked to do much except tank a boss in the middle of the room – but I think they’re the minority. At least among raid tanks, who were drawn to the role because of the greater interactivity.

  1. Movement. Any fight where you have to move around is a good one, especially when the room itself makes for an attractive backdrop or has other features that come into play. If the movement involves a rocket pack of any variety, that’s an extra bonus.
  2. Interacting with the boss. We all have some kind of threat priority or rotation – in time it’ll become second nature. But it’s always fun to get a boss where you get to mix things up a bit. Maybe you have to throw in an interrupt, or there’s an encounter specific item to use. Any fight where I get to use spell reflect, for example, is more amusing than the rest.
  3. Adds. Oh, how we complain about adds coming into the fight, but bouncing around the room picking up stray adds is an opportunity to show off and keeps us focussed.
  4. Adds which need to be herded or gathered in a particular way. I get far too much enjoyment really out of trying to get my adds all lined up for that perfect shockwave, but I also enjoy the fights where it’s important to pick them up quickly and keep them facing away from the raid … or towards it. Similar to kiting, but a slightly different set of skills involved.
  5. Watching the scenery. However much we complain about getting out of the fires, it’s fun to have to keep an eye on the area around you as well as the giant toenails.
  6. Kiting. Now, I never used to be a fan of fights that required the tank to move the boss around the room, but it is again a chance to show your skills at maintaining threat, keeping your shield facing towards the boss, and still moving smartly and accurately around the area, even when you have most of your field of vision blocked. Malygos was the king of kiting fights – once I nailed that, I got to rather enjoy it.
  7. Working together with the other tanks. It’s fun to have to work out a coordinated strategy that is more involved than “I’ll take skull and you take star.”
  8. Making an emergency save. Usually we want our boss fights to be clean, predictable, and well drilled. But when something goes wrong, is it possible to rescue the situation with some kind of last ditch “use all cooldowns and say your prayers” dash? If so, it’s a more interesting fight than one where as soon as one person dies, you might as well wipe.
  9. Fights with several different tanking roles. I’ve always quite enjoyed off tanking myself, and some of the best tanking encounters feature interesting and different roles for each tank. This is great because it means that even though you usually take one role, there’s still more to learn (i.e.. before you get bored of the whole thing).
  10. Any fight where you get to show off, even if no one else sees. Tanks don’t really get to compare epeens on the damage meter (or at least I certainly don’t), but we tend to be looking out for opportunities to strut our stuff in a way that staring at toenails doesn’t allow us to express.

Writing this list, I’m wondering how much applies to other roles too, and whether this obsession with movement fights is just something I do because I like zooming around a room.

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15 thoughts on “10 factors that make a fun tanking fight

  1. The fact that people are using the web to read tactics other people figured out, means that the developers have to design more complicated encounters, and it’s gotten to the point where each fight is a ridiculous puzzle of non intuitive mechanics.

    I liked it more when the fights were intuitive and people didn’t have to follow a guide to succeed, but think together and use their available tools.

    Maybe I’m in the minority, but to me the fun part in a boss fight is not the execution, but the brainstorming after each failed try.

    Probably most people would still want guides for simple encounters, though.

  2. You’re right on with your last comment, Spinks. As much as I outwardly might pretend to dread the Saurfang fight as a hunter (which I do a little because I have to move my hotkeys around a bit), inside I’m smiling because I know by executing the proper strategy on the adds I’m doing a bit more than just sitting atop the DPS meter.

  3. Tank and spank fights aren’t that bad really, they allow you to just sit back and relax while hammering your rotation, but I haven’t seen a single pure tank and spank fight since Patchwerk. Ignis might fit the bill, but my view is pretty skewed because I always was on adds killing duty there.

    As DPS I like any fight where there isn’t too much unavoidable raid damage. I always feel very disheartened when I die because the healers didn’t get to me in time. If I die I want it to be my own damn fault.

  4. Interacting with the boss is definitely the biggest thing I miss. The greatest fights of TBC are all fights where I was escaping fears and reflecting spells. If it required movement or super-human concentration then it was even better. (which is why it should come as no surprise that my favourite fights to tank were Archimonde and the Ret Pally on Council)

    • You realise that if that’s what makes the fights fun for you, they can only go downhill now that they need to be normalised around 4 different tanks? (As honors code says, below.)

      This is why I’d be happy for more of our abilities to be spread around. It would make for more involving fights later on.

  5. Your first few points are why I always thought that Prince Malchezzar in Karazhan was THE worst tank fight in WoW. Nothing like ending up backed into a corner and seeing nothing but Eredar crotch the entire fight, and having to depend on the rest of the raid telling you what direction to move!

    • Agreed! It was a pretty rubbish fight for melee too iirc. If you could have just seen where you were going to help plan out how to kite him, it would have been so much less annoying.

  6. I think #8 and 10 are pretty much the same thing, really, if it starts to go pear shaped and you blow cool downs and save the wipe, you are strutting your stuff, and because everyone sees it, you get bonus points :)

    But ya, I agree with all of the points, nothing is worse than a tank and spank fight. I either try to get set on add duty when the boss just requires the tank to hold him in one spot or kite him around anyways and piss off the melee classes.

  7. One of the challenges they have is designing a fight that can be tanked by all four tank classes. It was easier when they had only one toolkit to worry about (the Warrior’s). Certain tanks simply lack the tools to handle Fear Breaks, high movement, interrupts, etc. The Devs have a challenge of making 4 diverse classes and not just 4 different sets of art for the same abilities (although we are perilously close to that already).

    • You’re right. But that’s not necessarily a deal breaker — other classes can help to break fear, can do interrupts, can help with other external buffs and abilities. All the tanks are reasonably mobile (deathgrip, hand of freedom, charge, etc) and the least mobile tanks have better ranged taunt/damage abilities. Anyone could be given a special one-fight-only ability like the rocket packs for the gunship battle.

      This wasn’t really intended as a warrior specific list. Sure, it’s nice when a fight feels as though it’s tailor made for your class, but as you say, they can’t and they mustn’t do that any more.

      I also expect they’ll be looking at ways to better spread abilities like interrupts among all the tanks next expansion. But it doesn’t have to be inevitable that raid tanking gets more boring.

  8. Yar. We like fights where we have to do something different. Hmmm. Well actualy I like it as DPS. Notsomuch as a healer. The trouble with Gimmick fights as a healer is that if you screw up then normall tank death + raid wipe or just good old fashioned raidwipe tends to occur. However that said I rather enjoy going Tesla and using un-glyphed Thunderstorm, earthbind and in last resort Nitro Boots to deal with Blood beasts on Saurfang for example.
    As is so often the case:- Varieity is the Spice. If every fight was Patchwerk we’d be cancelling our subs but now and then its nice to see a ‘vanilla’ tank and spank/dps check.

  9. Good list, Malygos kiting is lots of fun when you nail the skill, I also seem to enjoy bosses that hit like level appropriate Prince (kara) and the panther boss in ZA, fast and hard, so you get to use cooldowns whenever your healers struggle for one reason or another (movement/silence etc).

  10. For most of my time raiding KZ the prince was an even worse fight that what you have described because we used one of the spots where you could have an inferno to the left and the right and still have (just enough) room for the tank to stand without getting toasted.

    There was literally nothing for me to do on the prince other than pound my threat rotation, while staring at nothing but boss crotch.

  11. Pingback: Icecrown Citadel: Is tanking getting dull? « Welcome to Spinksville!

  12. This post does a great job of explaining what is fun about tanking. I still think tanking the non-Steelbreaker portion of Iron Council in Ulduar 10 is my favorite in the game. Warrior tanks have a lot of fun abilities to make themselves useful in that fight.

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