General trends, the core tank toolset, and is survival more fun than threat?

(Firstly, apologies for the flood of WoW related posts. I’m trying to use WoW class changes as a jumping off point for more general discussion, but yeah I get that the blog is a bit focussed right now.)

Usiel asked in comments if I had any thoughts about the bigger picture for Cataclysm, based on last week’s class changes. I can see a few vague trends:

  • Blizzard are addressing a lot of ‘quality of life’ issues (rage normalisation, focus for hunters, simplified stats, treeform). If these work out as planned, then I do genuinely believe that the game will become more fun and less frustrating for everyone involved, whether or not they get many new cool abilities.
  • They have said several times that one goal is to make healing more fun. We are starting to see what they think that means. Wide range of heals, interesting choices, less frantic heal spam, more movement, more emphasis on deciding when to dispel and mana management. But we won’t see the whole picture until we get a chance to try it.
  • DPS specs of hybrid classes are losing some hybrid-ness. We will see shamans and paladins lose some dispel abilities when in dps mode. Blizzard have also commented that retribution paladins will lose some survivability (because defensive dps specs are viewed as not working well, perhaps another reason why Blood DKs are being turned into tanks.)
  • DPS in general are getting more abilities to control fights, in one way or another.

I don’t get a clear view yet of the vision for tanking in the next expansion. Gravity thinks that raids will place more emphasis on mobility, which would make me happy because I find the mobility fights more fun.

The core tanking toolset is becoming better defined, with more tools being handed out to classes who lacked them. Hence more interrupts for ferals and paladins, and a demo shout equivalent for death knights. Those are all good trends. If the ability is that important, then all tanks should have access to it. Anything else is just pointlessly frustrating.

So if we try to define a core tank toolset, it needs to include at least:

  • similar threat, both AE and single target
  • similar survivability, both vs magic and physical damage
  • similar cooldowns and effective health
  • interrupt/s
  • burst or targeted threat, to neatly pick up adds
  • similar buffs and debuffs (ie. if three tank classes have a buff, then the fourth should probably have it too).

In some ways, tanks are more homogenous than either healers or dps. It’s hard to imagine a core healer toolset when one healer has bloodlust/ totems, another has combat res, and another brings paladin buffs. This has always been an issue for priests, since originally the hybrids got more utility to make up for priests having better healing.

Interestingly, it appears that being able to smoothly switch from tank to dps (ie. in a multi-stage fight) is not considered a core tank ability, because as of Cataclysm only druids will be able to do that. We can only hope that there is not a single boss fight where this will ever be important, because it has been an annoyance for years. (ie. druids have felt annoyed at being ‘forced’ into the off-tank role, and paladins/ warriors have been annoyed at not being good at it. Death Knights have been good off-tanks up till now, but who knows what they will be like in Cataclysm?)

In many ways we also need to wait to see the new expansion encounters to really understand how tanking may or may not change.

Another trend I see is for more responsibility for the success of a group to be spread between dps and healers, rather than so heavily focussed on the tank. For those control freaks (surely no tanks are control freaks!) who enjoy the current state of tanking, this may not be an entirely good thing. Expect to spend more time feeling like a dumb lump with high auto-threat while dps misdirect threat, put up smoke clouds, run rings around you, and generally do more of the work.

Survival vs Threat

Perhaps put more succinctly, a lot of tank players just seem to find the survival game more fun than the threat game.

- Ghostcrawler

It’s clear from previews that tank threat is not intended to be much of an issue in Cataclysm. The easier it became for tanks to establish threat in Wrath, the more people played them. That sends a fairly clear picture of what players want, and also DPS players hate being threat capped so if one tank lets them go all out and another doesn’t, the one who doesn’t will get benched.

I’m in two minds about the above quote though. I find the pure survival fights to be very dull indeed (omg I hit my cooldown 0.5s late and died, woe is me!). Instead of favouring the tank with the highest threat, they favour the tank with the highest effective health or best cooldowns. This is equally out of the player’s control. And that’s not especially fun either.

In fact, I’d prefer to see both pure survival and threat become less of an issue, and instead focus on movement, situational awareness, and working with the other tanks and the rest of the raid. The tank who can both survive and hold threat whilst balancing a spoon on their nose and dragging a mob neatly through a dog agility course? That’s the one I want to play.

I’m just not really sure if that’s the way the game is going. We’ll know more after the paladin changes are announced.