Is the T8 warrior set bonus too good?

OK, latest news out of patch 3.1 is that the Tier 8 set bonuses have been added to the latest test patch. Everything on the test realm is still subject to change, but I did double-take when I saw the warrior tanking bonuses.

  • Protection 2Piece Bonus — Increases the critical strike chance of your Devastate ability by 10%.
  • Protection 4Piece Bonus — Shield Block also grants you 20% reduction to magical damage taken.

The 2 piece bonus here is OK but not stunning. We do use Devastate as part of a regular tanking rotation, but only enough to keep up the associated debuff. It simply doesn’t do enough damage or threat compared to other tanking abilities to make it worthwhile otherwise.

Or in other words, the warrior tanking skill use is based on priority. The basics of it are: On every GCD you check which of your abilities is ‘up’ and use the one that generates the most threat. That ability will never be Devastate. But you’ll weave it in to keep the debuff active.

Adding 10% extra crit to Devastate is unlikely to boost it past Heroic Strike in terms of threat. Therefore it’s a minor boost to non-core threat ability. Nice enough to have, but not a patch on the T7 2 piece bonus which is 10% extra damage on one of our most used tanking abilities (shield slam).

But the 4 piece bonus here is a doozy. Shield Block is an ability that is on a 1 minute cooldown. So what warriors are being offered here is an extra anti-magic cooldown on a shortish timer, and reducing spell damage by 20% could be awesome in a fight featuring heavy magic damage, especially if it happens on regular intervals that are … ooh … spaced out by about a minute.

Much as I’d love the extra anti-magic cooldown, I hope fervently that this set bonus does not go live.  And I want to talk some more about why I feel that way.

What’s the point of a set bonus?

Lots of MMOs have different sets of armour that your character can collect. Part of the appeal is that the armour sets match and (can) look good. They can be easily identified by sight and can be good for bragging rights. Part is that they often have good stats. Part is because they appeal to people’s natural collecting instincts. And part of the appeal is the set bonus.

Set bonuses (bonii?) are used in different ways. In games like LOTRO or WAR, high level raids are set up in such a way that you explicitly need the set bonus from previous raids/PvP to fight the next boss, there is no point even stepping inside the instance if you don’t have it.

Blizzard is actually less hardcore that this. They take the same approach that they did with Diablo. Set bonuses can include extra stats or tweaks to abilities, and they often give a perk to the wearer that they could not get in any other way. So the tiered armour sets in WoW are nice to have but not actually compulsary. There are non tier pieces available from the same raids and players will usually mix and match them.

Part of the gearing game is to weigh up the different alternatives, decide how much you want the set bonus, and come to some kind of compromise based on what you ideally want and what actually drops. To make this more interesting, tier armour often is not the best in slot — it used to be back in Vanilla WoW but that changed in TBC. Some pieces are usually better than others, but if you choose to wear the whole set you are probably giving up some useful stats that you could have had from nontier gear.

Making the tier bonuses attractive is a way to give players interesting gearing choices. Do I want the badass looking matching set, or do I want to take a more utilitarian approach? Is the set bonus good enough to outweigh the loss of stats from non-tier items?

Can a set bonus be too good?

You know that a set bonus is too good when people feel that they have to keep using it in future tiers.

A tier set is only intended to last people for the duration of that tier of raid content. There may be some occasional pieces that remain best in slot for an entire expansion (legendary items are likely candidates)  but in a gear-based game, a large part of the motivation to raid is to get upgrades.

You can usually spot these kind of bonuses because they either add some particularly useful new ability to the spec or because they are percentage based and thus will scale well. It’ll be tough, for example, to give up the 10% extra damage to Shield Slam UNLESS warriors get enough extra threat in patch 3.1 that it’s no longer an issue. As it happens, we’re currently in line to get 5% extra damage across the board which will help out.

The Tier 8 4-piece bonus is something very different.

No mere tweaks are going to give warriors a new anti-magic ability like that to replace the set bonus. Collecting the tier set will be the only way to get it. And if Blizzard intend to keep putting up new encounters which have heavy magic damage, having that set bonus available will make a big difference to protection warriors and the raids for which they tank.

If it stays this way, I’ll be tempted to press my raid leaders to give protection warrior priority on tier gear (admittedly, this actually means Spinks-priority but you get the general point). I don’t want to have to be in that position.

If Blizzard wants protection warriors to have better cooldowns to use on heavy magic fights, they should darn well get in there and tweak our talents or glyphs to do it. If it’s there at all, it should be available to all warrior tanks at the start of Ulduar; an instance which, from PTR reports is — yes — full of fights which are based around magic damage.

I’m all for making tier gear appealing (note to designers: looking like a goat doesn’t really do it for me) and it’s fun to have something cool to collect from raids. But don’t force us on this one. If we should have a new ability then give it to us by all means, but that’s not what set bonuses should be for.