Icecrown Citadel: Is tanking getting dull?

So, yesterday I was pondering what makes the tanking side of a raid encounter fun for me. And the reason was that I spotted this thread on the official forums, where an old school raiding tank is finding that the ICC encounters fail to thrill.

…on most of these fights I would much rather just be <…> a DPS spec in DPS gear than having to spend the vast majority of the fight in tank spec in tank gear, doing <poor> DPS, <…> just waiting for that very brief moment or two where I actually may have to do something that requires me to be at my keyboard.

Now that’s fighting talk, but does it speak to a design change in the encounter design. Is Blizzard deliberately trying to make room for at least one less demanding tanking role in the raid?

I thought I’d go through some of the fights and pick apart his thoughts.

1. Marrowgar. The saberlash mechanic (which requires all the tanks to stand on top of each other and move together as a group) is familiar to TBC tanks, but I think this is the first time it has been used in Wrath, at least in a way that required the tanks to move around. I disagree with the poster on this one, I think it’s fine. It isn’t hard per se but it’s an interesting challenge in teamwork to stick together.

I also think he’s rather hung up on MT (main tank) vs (OT) designation. On this particular fight, all three tanks are main tanking. It’s mostly irrelevant who actually has aggro.

2. Lady Deathwhisper. Phase one involves lots of add pickup, plenty of work for all the tanks and again not a clear MT/ OT designation. Phase two involves some tank switches and taunt rotations, plus trying to avoid ghosts. Again, same job for all tanks.

Again, quite a fun fight for tanks. Plenty of running around at the start followed by a more focussed rotation in phase 2.

3. Gunship. Jobs for at least two tanks here, one to defend the home ship by picking up adds, and one to jump across and stop Muradin from trashing the rest of the away team. Not a lot for a third tank to do, true.

Again the MT/ OT designation is irrelevant. It isn’t clear to me that one job is harder than the other, depending on how good you are at managing your rocket pack. I find this fight quite fun, so not really seeing the hate.

4. Saurfang. Again two tanks with identical jobs which involves another taunt rotation whenever a named debuff lands on the other tank.

This is a genuinely dull tanking fight, I can feel myself falling asleep sometimes. But coming after some fun fights, it’s OK to have a change of pace and let the ranged dps have some fun. Again, I’m not seeing which is the MT or which is the OT.

5. Festergut. Another fight which involves two tanks with identical jobs. Tank for a bit, then go dps for a bit.

This is probably more fun for tanks who can actually put out some decent dps when they aren’t tanking. I’m sure it’s a blast for druids. The taunt rotation mechanic is starting to seem repetitive.

6. Rotface. The offtank here has by far the more fun and demanding role, because they get to kite oozes around. The main tank sits on the boss, and tries to stop it puking on too many people.

7. Putricide. There’s some fun abomination driving for tanks in this fight, but phase three is yet another tank switching taunt rotation.

8. Blood Princes. I’ll tank skull, you tank star. The ranged tank looks to have the more fun job here. DPS are required to switch targets and avoid ranged attacks, moving out of fireballs and such like. The non-ranged tanks mostly stand still.

9. Blood Queen. Not quite a saberlash effect but something similar. 100% of the damage done to the main tank also goes to the person closest to the main tank (who will have the blood mirror debuff.)

This is the fight that drove the original poster nuts because his job was just to stand there and take damage. While he could interact with the boss (ie. hit her), he didn’t really feel it mattered. He also couldn’t take part in the fight’s  key mechanic, getting infected by vampirism and having to bite people, because the off tank is immune.

Even if the damage was worth mentioning, my role can still be easily accomplished if a rock was playing my character.

So what’s the verdict?

I haven’t tried all these fights myself yet, but the one I am really looking forwards to trying is Putricide if I get to drive an abomination. The others – maybe he has a point. There is a lot of repetitive tank switching, it’s true. I could see myself volunteering for DPS duties (which would be easier to justify if I could get my Arms dps up a bit) because many fights do sound more interactive for them.

But – we asked for more fights that required several tanks. We said that we didn’t want any more fights like Malygos where the off tank has very little to do. We said we didn’t want more fights like XT where one tank could comfortably manage both boss and adds. And the devs listened.

So what changed? Is it just that we wanted more interesting jobs for those off tanks, or that now we’ve been able to gear up our dps offspecs so feel more able to volunteer for whichever role looks to get a more interesting encounter? Or is this part of Blizzard’s plan to make tanking more accessible and to spread the encounter difficulty between roles more evenly.

Either way, until we’ve seen the last wing of the Citadel, we can’t come to any final answers. But that tank switching mechanic is definitely getting dull.

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.

So that was the Icecrown Citadel Lower Spire

Finally after all those months of waiting, jousting, questing, clearing out necropoli, Old Gods and Dragon Aspects, our characters have had the chance they’ve all been waiting for to charge in against the Lich King head on.

And lo, it was good. In all the flurry of the dungeon finder excitement and people discussing minor strategic details and fretting over the difficulty and the bear butt rockets, it would be easy for a reader to miss the fact that the Icecrown Citadel is a fantastically cool and very fun raid instance.

None of the boss fights are clunkers, they’re certainly all good fun to tank, and the atmosphere, music and graphics are superb. Imagine that you’ve fought through Icecrown, using every trick in the book to set back the Lich King’s plans and finally arrived with the elite of the Horde army at the fortress itself. A siege engine (bringing fond memories of Warhammer) has done its work and the entrance is now open.

Inside, an eerie chill pervades the stone and metal halls. The crafters of the ebon blade and argent dawn have joined forces to set up a base camp for the assault. The leaders of both factions are present, and Tirion even gives one of his trademark dreadful pep talks as final checks are completed and we get ready for our first push. One of my goals this week is to get more screenshots to provide for a better travelogue.

Note: I’ve had bosses who gave pep talks like that. You know the sort where you feel worse after hearing it than you did before?

For now, here Spinks is sandwiched between two bears as we’re about to go pull the first boss. Feel free to criticise my UI (and I can’t remember why I had recount up either).

marrowgar

We’ve been raiding Icecrown every week apart from Christmas, and although Saurfang still hasn’t fallen to us, we’re had some good attempts and it’s just a matter of time. (Hopefully tonight, even.)

Even my death knight, still struggling with that new shiny badge armour smell, has been able to sneak into a pick up group to go farm some reputation in there. But bosses will die eventually, the main thing is … she’s in Icecrown too!

Fun Times for Tanks

I’m finding that all of the Icecrown boss fights so far have been really fun to tank. When you play through this type of content, you remember that yes, Blizzard actually is that good at creating fun raid fights.

The key is that all the fights can use more than one tank (I hear that people do Lady Deathwhisper with a single tank in 10 man, as long as someone else can step up in phase 2 – maybe a feral switching to bear or death knight in frost presence.)

There are some standard techniques used for this. The saberlash requires more than one tank (although this may change once we all outgear the fight), fights where tanks get debuffed and have to taunt off each other are another way to ensure more than one tank has a use, and fights where there are several spawns of mobs to tank in different areas need more than one tank running around.

But truth be told, the raid fights are significantly more fun for us when several tanks are required. We enjoy working as a tanking team, and it feels like a reward for the fact we’ve played together all expansion and all trust each other.

Marrowgar – The main tank issue here is his saberlash mechanic. Saberlash, introduced back in Zul Aman, means that the boss has a large cleave attack where the damage is divided evenly between characters standing in front of him.  So the answer is to have several tanks standing on top of each other, fighting for aggro on the boss.

I always found this good fun because it needs the tank corps to be quite coordinated. We run in together. We run out together. We dodge the fires and whirlwinds together. It’s very important that you learn to keep an eye on the other tanks and spot where they are moving.

In the picture above, you can see us standing together at one side of the room. This is (thanks to Moo) where we usually pull from. We’d run in together from here and the rest of the raid would be near the entrance to the room.

Lady Deathwhisper – I enjoy fights where I get to zoom around and pick up loads of adds, and Lady Deathwhisper certainly fits that mould. Not only do we have our own mobs to pick up, but when one of the fanatics becomes deformed (ie. grows huge, hits like a truck, should be kited rather than tanked) we can pingpong them across the room by taunting from other tanks and back again.

Communication is key here. Because the room is large, it helps the raid if we call out when one of our mobs just became empowered or deformed.

Phase two has one of the basic ™ tactics for using multiple tanks. The boss puts a debuff on whoever is top of the threat list. After the debuff has stacked to a certain amount, someone else has to taunt her away until the debuff has fallen off. So you have two tanks who have to pay attention to each other’s debuffs.

Gunship – Rise up, sons of the Horde! (I giggle every time Saurfang says this.)

This one needs two tanks because there are two different locations with tankable mobs. One stays behind to pick up the adds who jump across (picking up the captain as priority because he whirlwinds, I believe) and the other jumps across to the far boat to tank the boss.

So there’s lots of running around to do, lots of target switching, and rocket packs to play with also. This was always going to be a winner.

Note that if you are tanking the boss on the far boat, if you pull him close to the edge then your healers can help heal without having to jump across themselves.

Deathbringer – This is the dullest of the Icecrown fights for melee, since their main goal is to hit the boss and not get hit by the adds. It isn’t a lot more exciting for tanks. Again the debuff mechanic is used which means the main thing to focus on is taunting off the other tank when she gets marked.

I’m looking forwards to seeing the next wing too. How about you? Had a chance to see Icecrown yet?

Thought of the Day: Fighting for Control of a Group

While the vast majority of groups I have found using the dungeon tool have been great, the annoying minority stress me out far more when tanking than in any other role. This is because in annoying groups, lots of players are fighting for control. In relaxed groups, people offer leadership or guidance if needed but they aren’t actually trying to fight about it.

Everyone who pulls randomly? They’re trying to control the group. And they are doing it passive-aggressively rather than just saying, ‘Can we go faster?’

Now this becomes more of an issue when you are tanking, because the traditional tanking role in instances DOES involve having more control. The person doing the pulling in the instance controls the pace of the run. And by convention, that is the tank because s/he will get initial threat on the mobs that are pulled. In the workplace, if you are assigned a job to do, you will wonder what’s going on when you find that other people are doing that job instead of you. It’s demoralising. You will also wonder why you are there in the first place.

Or in other words, there is a social contract in groups where the roles are understood. For example, as a tank:

- I will try to control the monsters so that I take all the hits.

- I will have good enough tanking gear/ talents to be able to do this without folding instantly like a paper doily.

- I will try to keep an eye on the rest of the group so that I can pull monsters off them.

- I won’t do anything to make my healer’s job harder.

- I won’t pull a boss before everyone is present and ready.

- I will know any tank-specific tactics for the fights, if I don’t know then I will ask before we pull.

So what do you do when some group members seem hell bent on forcing you to break that social contract? For example, I had a pair of jokers who kept stealthing ahead and pulling the bosses in Drak’theron before I got there. I can hardly stop my group getting hurt when they sneak off deliberately into danger, knowing I can’t see them.

Short form: I don’t want to have to fight with my own group. It isn’t fun. I don’t know why some people feel they must lead via doing silly things but if it keeps happening, the shortage of tanks will continue. Because a lot of players don’t want to fight with their own group.

Thought of the Day: Why random dungeons won’t kill guilds

I’ve decided that I don’t really enjoy tanking in random dungeons. Between the gogogo raid geared nutters who will die of an aneurysm if the run takes even a minute longer than necessary and the sub-900 dps death knights (sorry, death knights, I know you aren’t all like that), it’s just a little too …. random. Yes, the vast majority of groups are perfectly fine but it hits me harder when I’m tanking if they aren’t.

But if I take at least one guildie along, the chances of my group being fine increase astronomically (or at least I’ll have moral support if I do decide I want to boot someone). So my standard procedure now on Spinks is to log in and immediately ask on guild chat if anyone is interested in coming along to a heroic as moral support.

It improves my enjoyment of the new tool hugely, it’s great for them because they get a fast instance also, and probably good for the rest of the group too. Guilds aren’t going to die.

(I have also decided that I don’t really mind if the group gets bouncy and people pull extra adds as long as they’re putting out enough damage to deal with it. Once I adjusted, it’s actually quite fun. I just won’t encourage it deliberately.)

Overcoming the Fear of Tanking

henryvHenry V tanked the entire french army, but even he was nervous

I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot:
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’

Shakespeare, “Henry V”

Tanking is scary.

Many things in this world are scary. Leading is scary. Giving birth is scary. Spiders are scary. Cycling in London is scary. Doing something new is scary. Just because something is scary doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do it. Overcoming the fear of tanking is the one single factor that all tanks have in common. If you can crash through the fear barrier, then you have what it takes to become an awesome tank.

For all of us, there was a moment when we stood there with an instance in front of us and an expectant group behind us and knew that there was no going back. This is the source of a lot of tank solidarity, and it’s the reason why tanks will usually help out and support fellow tanks. We were all there once. Happily, after you have gotten your tanking sea-legs and learned to be more confident in yourself and your class, tanking is extremely fun. Soon enough, going into a new instance or tanking a new boss will become a thrill rather than a thing of nightmare.

With the new dungeon tool in WoW, a lot of players are seeing the advantages to them personally of picking up the tanking mantle. How would you like to see queue times measured in seconds instead of minutes? Queue as a tank, and that’s the norm.

I was chatting to a warrior in my DK’s guild about the new instances and how we planned to spend our badges. I said I was spending mine on dps gear and was happy that I was now pushing 3k in heroics, because that’s a good improvement over when I started, but that I’d also been able to pick up enough tanking gear to get myself critproof and thought I would be OK to tank easier heroics too. He said that he was spending his badges on tanking gear. So I noted that I’d be happy to ride shotgun as moral support if he wanted to run some heroics. (By the way, if you know a tank, queuing with them is a great alternate way to get fast instances.) And what he said then surprised me. “Oh, I haven’t really had much tanking practice yet.”

There’s nothing wrong in running instances as dps or healer in order to get your tanking gear. In fact, it’s the easiest way to get into heroics and start grinding those badges out. But the longer you put off ‘that first tanking run’, the harder it will get.

I am guessing that a lot of people are in this situation where they like the idea of tanking now, and are gathering badge gear to help out. But the thought of actually tanking an instance is a tremendous barrier to them, which is unfortunate because the only way to really learn to tank is to go out and do it.

10 suggestions on how to get over the fear. These are all things that have helped me in the past.

  1. Research a good tanking spec and read up on what type of gear is required. There are a lot of sources of information online; I’d start with tankspot since they have guides for different classes.
  2. Practice on your own. Go find some mobs and practice your tanking rotation. Throw on your tanking gear and find a pack to AE tank while you kill them. Figure out which of your abilities are most useful while tanking and bind them somewhere convenient. Interrupts, silences, and stuns can be surprisingly handy. (Pro tip: also keep taunt bound somewhere VERY convenient.) How would you pick up an unexpected extra mob? Where are your emergency cooldown buttons? Practice while doing dailies.
  3. Bring a friend. If you have a friend or guildie who is willing to come along as moral support, invite them to your group first. Even better if they have a tank alt and can whisper advice if you need it.
  4. Talk to other tanks. If you know people who play tanks, you can always ask their opinion on gearing or any aspect of play. No one minds being asked politely ‘How do you tank encounter X, I’ve been having trouble with Y’
  5. Start with easier instances. You don’t need to leap straight into heroics. Start with normal instances and work your way up as you feel more confident. If you get a chance to do some tanking while you are levelling, so much the better.
  6. Don’t be afraid to tell your group that you are new to tanking and will be taking things at your own pace. Tell them (politely, if you like) that if they don’t like it, they can leave. If they boot you, shrug and queue for another group – you didn’t need those people anyway.
  7. Go along on some instance runs as a dps or healer and watch carefully what the tank does. Get familiar with the pulls and positioning, watch the patrols, see if you can figure out what the adds actually do.
  8. Organise your UI and addons to make sure that all the information you will need is easy to see. Can you see when your cooldowns are up? Can you check the health of the rest of the group to see if anyone is being beaten up? Can you actually see the mob through the density of information on your screen? Can you see when a mob is casting a spell that you might need to interrupt? Can you see your own health?
  9. Try some PvP, it’s a good way to practice situational awareness.
  10. Think about what you believe a good tank should do … and then try to do it when you are tanking.

Crowd Control — the marmite of MMOs?

Playing a class with crowd control in an MMO has always involved tension with other players. No one likes having CC used on them in PvP — players really do dislike losing control of their character, however briefly. But there is also a resistance among the playerbase to CC in PvE, a hostility that I don’t really see towards any other role in the game.

This is partly because using crowd control to kill a group of monsters is probably slower than just about any other way you could think up. Players look at the ‘kill them one at a time’ option and then eye up the ‘could we just kill them all at once instead’ side of things. If a game has effective area effect attacks and tanks who can hold threat on multiple mobs, it’s clear which the faster kill method must be.

Even where designers nudge players towards the ‘one at a time with crowd control’ plan, players gripe at feeling forced to have that CC in the group. It’s bad enough to be forced to need a tank and a healer but limiting one of the other spots to a crowd controller seems to really ramp up the difficulty of sorting out groups. Even in a game like WoW where most of the dps classes have some kind of crowd control, players (aside from the CC classes) really didn’t like the added complexity in group forming.

What it boils down to is that tanking tends to become the preferred method of crowd control in PvE except when people are soloing. WoW exacerbates this with the small group sizes. In a group of 5, it’s a struggle to form groups when three of those five roles are fixed. Also some versions of CC are trickier to apply than others,  so players prefer the more reliable types and Blizzard never seemed to feel the need to equalise CC spells in the same way that they did with tanking.

I know this is one of the reasons that I enjoy tanking in game. I always loved playing crowd control classes, especially when they had multiple different types available. One must move with the times.

Do you like playing crowd control classes? Do you hate crowd control in games? Is crowd control really only fun for the person who has that ability?