Warrior Change Analysis: Fury is the new black (actually it was also the old black)

Reading through the list of warrior changes, there were two things that heroic leaped out at me.

1. Heroic Leap, it’s all about the fluff

Heroic leap sounds cool and all, but it’s functionally equivalent to  Charge + Thunderclap. And to hammer home the similarity, Juggernaut and Warbringer will allow this to be used in any stance and possibly while in combat.  From this we can deduce that the cooldown on Heroic Leap will be greater than the cooldown on Charge, because it’s cooler and therefore should not be used as frequently. (This is game designer logic, by the way.)

And also, the entire appeal of this ability lies in the animation and sound effect. Really as a Prot Warrior, I’d have preferred a Shockwave  to a Thunderclap, just for the sheer cartoon ‘Anvil falling on your head’ effect, but that’s probably deemed overpowered for the dps specs.

2. One handed Fury is back in style?

While we like how Titan’s Grip plays, we recognize some warriors liked the Fury tree because of the really fast swings that dual-wielding one-handed weapons could provide. Therefore, we’re planning to try out a talent called Single-Minded Fury that is parallel to Titan’s Grip and will provide a large boost to the damage of a pair of one-handed weapons.

I always liked the cuisinart style of the one handed fury builds, so count me among the people who would be happy to see that return. But do Blizzard really want to have to balance two handed fury builds, one handed fury builds, and arms for PvE at the same time?

There are some big advantages from bringing back the option to dual wield one handed weapons, mostly that Fury warriors could share weapons with Frost Death Knights since they use similar stats. It would also make sense for one of the one-handed weapon types to be solely itemised for strength (i.e. for plate users) and others for agility (i.e. everyone else). This would not fit with the weapon related racial bonuses – but really, what’s the chance of finding a matching pair of strength-based one handed axes when the one handed drops are going to be split between several classes, specs, and races?

One thing is for sure, warriors are going to have enormous and impressive …. weapon collections.

Other tweaks to Fury will make it easier and more rewarding to apply sunders, and will generate rage on interrupts as well as regular hits. (This latter really should be inherent in Pummel and not require a talent, but I guess that if people feel they don’t need the rage then they can just skip it.) Whirlwind also becomes a true AE, with a note that it should no longer be part of the regular DPS rotation but without any specifics.

I don’t get a strong feel yet for how the Fury rotation is going to look in future. One staple (Whirlwind) is being de-emphasised, so maybe that gets replaced by cleave or heroic strike? Who knows. We’ll have to try it out.

3. So how popular will warriors be in Cataclysm?

Hatch reckons that the numbers will decrease because this preview doesn’t offer anything very exciting. I think that we haven’t seen previews for the other tanking classes yet to compare this with, and that a lot of Death Knight tanks will switch to Protection Warrior if they don’t fancy tanking in Blood spec.

I also think that some of these changes, together with the rage changes, will be exciting to some players. (I know people who have been moping about losing one handed fury builds since Wrath first dropped and all DPS warriors will be happy for easier sunders.) I also think that Warrior will be a popular Worgen class, and that Blood Elf Warriors will appeal to a lot of players.

So I think that warriors will continue to be the most popular class for raid tanks, and that numbers overall will stay about the same.

Ramping up the Cataclysm PR, and what I want to see for warriors

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One thing I had forgotten until I saw the first of the class previews yesterday was how important these were from a PR point of view. All it takes is for Blizzard to announce one really cool sounding ability for a beloved class. And then the next expansion starts to feel more personal. For example, how many people came into Wrath excited to try dual wielding two-handed weapons on their warriors? Whether you like the idea or not, it’s still crazy, over the top, cool, and came in with this expansion.

There is a downside, of course. No one gets excited about playing the class which has nothing fun to look forwards to. And when you get a glimpse into the future, there is no guarantee that you will like what you see. A lot of players will also be looking at the class previews to help decide which class they want to play as a main in Cataclysm — if in doubt, pick the one that is getting the coolest new stuff.

Still, Blizzard will try to get every current player excited about the Expansion That Is To Come. So expect every class preview to include at least one really cool sounding tweak or ability as well as some housekeeping, and changes to some other aspect which will be made less annoying/ easier. (e.g. for warlocks – GREEN FIRE! Yes, I’m easily pleased.)

Is it time to sort out stances?

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I don’t expect to see many changes for Protection Warriors. The spec works just fine and is more fun to play than ever.  If they can get the rage changes in smoothly, I’ll be happy. However, there still need to be three new abilities for the next expansion. I have no idea what to expect but hope it won’t require too many extra key binds because … I have small hands and most of the keys I can easily reach are busy!

Nope, the big issue for warriors from a design point of view is the stances. Like a druid, each stances locks out many of our abilities in return for giviing access to others. Unlike a druid, we don’t get much in return for this, especially with battle/berserk stance. Switching from a Death Knight (who can use all of their abilities in any presence) and being forcibly reminded that warriors can’t interrupt in battle stance is like having a bucket of cold water thrown over you.

And also, we just don’t stance dance in PvE any more. Don’t get me wrong, it was fun and quirky, and warriors were originally designed to be switching stances a lot. So if you needed an ability (like fear resist), you would quickly switch to the right stance, use it, and then switch back. These days, the design is to pick the stance which goes with your spec and stay there. I don’t expect a return to the stance dancing days – it was fun, but it’s counter to every direction in which the game is going.

So I’m hoping for some answers to the questions:

  • What are stances really for these days?
  • What benefits should we get from them? And when should we switch stance?
  • Does it still make sense to lock out so many abilities via stances?

Also, heroic leap (an ability which was notoriously present in Wrath beta testing but then got removed)!

On warriors, and nerf/ buff cycles

I wonder sometimes if players enjoy the idea of a cycle  of nerfs and buffs. Where if a class is overpowered at one point, it is guaranteed to be underpowered again when the wheel turns. And the underpowered classes will be buffed up to be the next flavour of the month. It’s like a wheel of fate. Everyone gets what they deserve. The last will be first and the first will be last.

Except that it’s stupid.

Ideally in game we want to get to an equilibrium where everyone is roughly equal for whatever that means. So that people can just play whatever they prefer and if it is below par in some respect, trust that it’ll be brought back into line, without feeling that they deserve to be overpowered as some kind of reward for having been underpowered in the past.

Who cares about tank dps anyway?

The Blizzard developers continue to experiment with giving players a heads’ up about future changes before the specific changes are announced. I think this is partly to allow people to get through their grieving cycle and also to stop players jumping on the bandwagon of overpowered classes too quickly – if Blizzard say immediately, “We think this is wrong and it’s being fixed next patch,” then it probably won’t seem worth the effort.

Changes coming down the line soonish are a buff to warlock damage, and a nerf to protection warriors damage because the spec has been performing too well in PvP. Naturally, since the majority of tanking warriors are PvE focussed, this raised an uproar. In PvE the spec isn’t remotely overpowered, if anything it is slightly behind the other tanks in terms of threat generation, effective health, how easy they are to heal, and so on; so a nerf was never going to be a popular move.

If a spec IS overpowered in PvP then they do need to act quickly, because top end PvP players are notorious for how quickly they’ll switch to the flavour of the month.

And no one really wants to pick a tank because of their damage. They want to pick them because they’re tough, hard to kill, good at keeping threat, and doing whatever other tanky things the raid requires. For a tank, damage is part of their utility, it’s a small buff to raid damage that you get as a bonus when you slot them in.

So I think the warlock buff will be way way more significant to future raid performance than any protection warrior nerf. But it’s still harsh to be in a spot where you think, “Actually, the best thing the raid could do to make this encounter easier would be to bench me and get one of the bears or paladins to tank.” Even worse if they could just grab a lesser geared alt or offspec paladin and still find things easier.

It just doesn’t make you feel good about the game.

Goodwill to all PUGs

Happy Christmas, blogoverse!

Hey, even as a non-believer I can get behind the notion of a season of goodwill and peace to all men. I just wanted to share a couple of positive stories to wind up for the holidays on an upnote.

Firstly, massive props to the tank in my random group who nailed every single pull in Old Kingdom perfectly yesterday. It may feel old fashioned in these days of ‘charge in and AE everything’ but the Old Kingdom instance was notorious for the tricky trash pulls when we all were in blue and green gear. I find it somehow soothing to watch a tank manage all the pulls so neatly, it reminds me of what I enjoyed most about tanking instances. And somehow it doesn’t surprise me that he was a warrior — if there is a warrior ethos for tanking, it’s to do with finesse rather than barging in and hitting random AE abilities. That just comes from the huge toolset that protection warriors are given, whereas if all you have is an AE hammer (aka swipe), everything will look like a nail. When you see it done well, warrior tanking is the WoW equivalent of poetry in motion.

Heartwarming story two was the guy who was asking around for a blacksmith in Dalaran. So I asked him what he needed, and it turned out that he wanted to give his girlfriend some epic plate armour as part of a christmas present. We looked at her armoury together (she plays a retribution paladin — go girl!) and picked out a nice upgrade that he could afford. I even sold him some titansteel cheaply because I’m a sucker for that kind of thing.

Hint: All women love epic plate, especially if it has cool spikes on it.

And lastly if you haven’t seen it yet, and particularly if you are a fan of Glee or Beyonce, check out this brilliant WoW filk, Ninja Raiders. I’ve been humming it all day. QQ QQ QQ.

The Way of the Shield

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There’s something about shields. It is not only a piece of armour that marks you out as a defensive fighter but also one that is traditionally decorated to identify the user. Is it any wonder that shield using fighters in games feel attached to their shields? More than that, even though offensive fighters and gladiators in real life did use shields, in MMOs the shield has become associated with tanks.

It is the armour piece that says ‘I’m here to protect other characters’, and ‘this is not my PvP spec’. It’s strange how bound up your online identity can be with one item. Often players like to show off their weapons (sic), and compare the glows, the stats, the size. And you’ll find the tanks in a corner eyeing up each other’s shields instead. Even in a game like WoW which has tanking druids and death knights, there’s always a sneaking feeling that you can’t be a real tank without a shield.

Shields have always been decorative as well as useful, even when the decoration was mainly to mark you out as friend or foe on the battlefield. Graphics guys have really come home for us with shields, even in games that don’t massively feature glowing, speaking, skull-laden equipment. On Spinks, I love that my shield is big and solid and unsubtle. No one could mistake it for anything other than a tank’s shield. And somehow it isn’t as aggressively butch as a glowy weapon. But still, my character feels badass when she picks up a shield. She’s not just getting ready for a bit of light self defence before running off and screaming, she’s a defensive warrior, gearing for action. When a badass monster turns up, she’s going to grit her teeth, find solid footing and stand her ground. She’s the first person into a fight and the last (wo)man out.

I imagine the shield being heavy and unwieldy enough that if any other type of character was to pick it up and heft the weight, they’d wonder at how it could be used in battle and look at our tanks with grudging respect because they shoulder the weight daily.

So, I love shields. I love blocking attacks, I love hitting people in the face with a shield slam,  and I wanted to show off a few of the cooler ones I have come across during my time in WoW.

shield 1

shield 2

shield 3

Draconian Deflector and Red Dragonscale Protector, from UBRS and BWL respectively.

shield 4

Bulwark of Azzinoth, also known as the fridge door.

shield 5

Hero’s Surrender (Naxx).

Why people love their warriors

The official forums aren’t just a tangled mass of (spoiler-free) sniping. Sometimes they throw up the odd gem. And this week, on the tanking forum, someone started a thread asking people why they loved their warriors. Warriors are still the most popular class in WoW by a large margin.

Here’s a few snippets, sorted into categories. The most interesting thing to me is that no one has mentioned the mechanics — not a single person said that they liked the rage mechanic. I bet hunters and warlocks would have mentioned their pets, death knights would have mentioned runes, rogues would have mentioned the energy ticks and finishers, shamans would have mentioned the totems, etc. But nope, mechanics are not part of the warrior appeal.

People who love specific warrior skills

Dual wielding TWO TWO handed weapons.

Disarming ret paladins, hunters, death knights and rogues at key moments

chargin in with a giant wep and smashin someone in the face :D

Charge…. there is no better skill in the game.

Charge/Intercept. I love the instant mobility. It is the biggest reason why I can’t play any other class past lvl 40 or so.

the Shield Slam animation and sound effect is what sold it for me.

Shields are the coolest looking pieces of gear in the game (imo) and we get to smash them in the enemy’s face!

nothing says awesome quite like reflecting a 6k fire shock crit

Deep wounds. Hit something hard once and it will die, sooner or later.

People who love the role of tanking and/or leading the charge in PvP

I like how people tend to follow you around like puppy dogs. Its weird, its also hilarious. In bg’s people ( especially alliance ) are pussies and to afraid to be the first in, they see a warrior 35 or higher in the 30’s bracket for example they follow you around even if all you do is fight in the road.

This is true, people do tend to follow you in battlegrounds when you run off in some random direction. It’s like Dirk Gently‘s habit of following random cars because they looked as though they knew where they were going.

Having healers seek you out to follow in bg’s

Tanking is the single biggest ego feeding experience in this game. You feel like the RPG hero with a squad of NPCs at your back

i love charging into a group in BGs knowing i am gonna die most likely but not giving a crap because chances are i am taking down a couple with me before that happens.

People who like the look

We warriors look badass in plate.

Coolest looking class in the game, plus very fun

I look BA in my gear.

(Bloody awesome? Or did he mean he looks BAD in his gear?)

onyxiahat

I don’t personally feel that the Onyxia hat makes Spinks look awesome, except in the sense of forsaken-with-an-axe-through-her-head. But I guess they can’t all be winners.

People who love the warrior vibe

Playing a prot warrior allows me to live out my fantasy of being a spartan.

I’ve never  had a fantasy of being a spartan.

I love the face-smashingness.
I’ve played a warlock, shaman, druid, rogue, and warrior, and warrior always felt the most “true” to me… like they got the warrior “vibe” down.

I liked the mythos of the warrior to begin with.This is the 1st character I ever created.

Raw power. No magic crap, no casting, just raw power.

Warriors don’t call upon %@**, we strap on our armor, pick up our swords, shields, and axes, and then proceed to put our foot dead in the ass of our enemies.

Lowest THAC0
Highest hit dice
and 18/00 ftw

Sir, you won the thread (don’t tell him that the THAC0 mechanics have been changed and higher is now better!)

Checking out the Warrior Q&A

I’m a big fan of Blizzard’s recent series of class Q&A (question and answer) articles. I like that the devs are willing to come out and chat about the design of each class, mechanics, unique aspects, and design issues that they’d like to highlight more in future. I’m finding the articles very interesting, even when I’d probably already guessed most of it.

I don’t really expect to be surprised by anything in a Q&A about a class I’ve been playing for awhile. Hopefully by that point I should have figured out what the unique parts are and what’s most fun about it — but it’s nice to see that those things are there by design (or at least that they’re well understood).

I know it shouldn’t surprise me when the bboards erupt with pent up aggression in the wake of each Q&A, complaining that they didn’t say enough, talked about the wrong things, or failed to give a detailed point by point prediction of all the buffs that are due to that class in the next year or so. I just think they’re missing the point. I guess people are just so desperate to engage with the developers (and talk about their character from a me-first point of view) that they aren’t that interested in the wider picture. I had a friend who went to GenCon once with a T-Shirt that said ‘Don’t tell me about your character’ … but I digress.

Anyway, onto the Warrior Q&A. Most of this won’t be surprising to anyone who knows the class. A lot of basic warrior issues are because the design goals the class was first created with became outmoded by either later design decisions or other classes.

It’s fine to have a class with one tanking talent tree, but how can you compare with death knights or druids (who can switch very fluidly from tanking to dps)? And paladins share many of the warrior issues, but because they were designed as a utility class first they bring a ton of extra utility and buffs. So we’re all roughly equivalent tanks (at least that’s the intention) but all the other tanks just …. do more as well.

Warriors are, however, still considered by the player base to be one of the most fun classes in the game. Any time you look at a bboard thread asking which is the most fun tank, a lot of people will still point to the warrior. And I know I find mine to be one of the most fun melee classes I’ve played in any game.

And in the Q&A, they discuss why the class is fun and what makes it unique. Lots of situational abilities, being able to switch stances as necessary, and rage (which is not actually unique but counts as warrior-specific because druids only have it to mimic warriors … ok then.)

I change my stances like I change my shoes

See, I’ve had this pair of Doc Martins that I’ve worn with jeans for the last year or so. Then there’s this one favourite pair of sandals that come out in the Summertime, as well as the obligatory espadrilles, and cute ankle boots in the Winter. Plus smart shoes in various colours when I’m dressed up for the evening. And so on.

But what I don’t do is change my shoes several times a minute. Unless I’m in a shoe shop trying on some new footwear.

The purpose of stances is for warriors to have to make decisions in combat. How badly do I want to Intercept now? Should I pay the cost of Spell Reflect? Ideally, we want warriors to switch stances in combat — not every few seconds, but a few times over the course of a battle. Now we realize it’s going to be harder to enforce this in raid fights unless you have a battle with a lot of movement or other unusual circumstances.

This did surprise me because Blizzard have made changes in Wrath that actually make it easier to stay in one stance for the whole time. I no longer have to switch stances to break fear or use charge, for example. Protection Warriors basically live in Defensive Stance these days, even for soloing. So I had thought they were moving away from this idea.

I can only assume that he’s mostly talking about PvP here. I don’t disagree in principle, it is fun to be switching stances as needed and to be able to show off your stance dancing skills. I like situational abilities too, being able to react to what is happening around me makes me feel more engaged with the game world. It’s the main reason I don’t much enjoy playing dps — too much sitting there and just hitting your rotation, not enough responding to the rest of the fight.

It would be a lot more fun if each stance had different attack animations though. That’s the one thing I was most sad about when I first started to use them. I’d played MUDs which had a stance mechanic and always tried to imagine my character standing and moving differently. That’s what a stance means, right?

We like macros (obviously, or we wouldn’t have them in the game), but we like for them to simplify chains of things that you have to do often without making decisions in between point A and B.

I freaking hate macros. I particularly don’t want to feel forced to write macros to play my class as well as another class that doesn’t need them. Pointless chains of button pressing are pointless.

And this is the big problem with using stances to lock off abilities. An arms warrior can only interrupt by either equipping a shield and hitting shield bash, or switching to berserk stance and hitting pummel. Compare that to a death knight or rogue who has ONE BUTTON to use for an interrupt and can use it whenever they want. What exactly is the point of adding redundant chains of button pressing there? If the ability was unique, then fine (like the fear breaking). If not, it’s just going to make you think ‘why am I having to press these pointless buttons, oh wait I’ll write some macros and then I won’t have to do that any more’ — in which case, why force people to write the macros at all?

So I think stance switching to access abilities is cool, but there has to be more to it. If it’s just a case of macroing ‘stance switch – use ability – switch stance back again’ then is there really a point?

Repurposing the Arms and Fury Trees

We also need to make some decisions about the difference between Arms and Fury. Traditionally, Arms was the PvP tree and Fury was the PvE tree. We understand some players prefer that model, but we don’t like the way it cuts off such a big chunk of the class from players who might not have much interest in the PvP or PvE parts of the game. However, we would like to reinforce a little more the kits of Arms and Fury. Everyone (I hope) gets the difference between Frost and Fire mages. Arms is supposed to be about weapons and martial training and feel “soldierly.” Fury is supposed to be about screaming barbarians in woad.

I think this one is a lost cause.

Sure, we all get the difference between Frost and Fire mages. Frost mages use frost spells and it’s the most popular PvP tree. Fire mages use fire spells and it’s a PvE tree. That actually sounds quite similar to Arms and Fury at the moment (Fury uses dual wield and is a PvE tree, Arms uses one two-hander and is the most popular PvP tree).

Still, the class is stuck with two dps talent trees and the devs would like to give them more identity. I can’t help feeling that this involves fixing something that isn’t really broken. Having said that, if they want to cut loose and find ways to make arms and fury more fun and focussed, I’ll happily try them out.

So how is the damage looking

Warrior damage should look like that of Feral druids, Enhancement shamans, Retribution paladins, and death knights. If their damage isn’t at that level, then it’s possible our numbers need some tweaking. However don’t always assume that you can’t possibly improve your gear or your button mashing either. =)

People should really stop whining about this (yes our dps warriors are way behind the ferals and death knights at the moment), he actually said that if the damage isn’t at that level then there will be some tweaking.

But there is another issue here and it’s connected with the gear, and the rage mechanic. Rage is a closed loop, you get more rage when you do more damage. So as gear level increases, warriors also get more resources to hammer out higher dps rotations. You end up with a highly gear dependent class, so if devs take their dps checks from the hardmode guilds, it doesn’t necessarily apply for people who aren’t at that end of the gear curve.

Warriors need to become less gear dependent. It’s the one major design issue with the class. Yes, it’s fun to see how your performance increases with gear but the class can never be balanced as long as the hardcore guys are overpowered and the new 80s are underpowered. All they can really do is make it easier to get the gear — which would be massively easier if Blizzard would relent and put more weapons on the badge vendors.

There is some evidence that Fury may overtake Arms dps once you get really good weapons. Dual-wield yet again shows its propensity to scale very well.

Firstly the really good weapons need to drop in the first place. Then you need to fight off all the other two handed users to get two of the dratted things. And if you want them for offspec … it isn’t going to happen. But feel free to keep telling us how great life might be in that mirror universe.

(I would love to know what proportion of fury warriors might ever get good enough gear for this to apply to them.)

Still, the game is what it is. Hopefully the next generation of games will have figured out a way to do non gear dependent progression in a happier way.