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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.