The eternal dance of melee vs ranged

I’m trying to focus on my dps spec at the moment so I’ve been running quite a few instances as an Arms warrior. I’m enjoying the spec a lot, and finding it fun to play at the moment.

But there are times when you wonder if it’s really necessary that ranged classes can do more damage, bring more crowd control, don’t have to deal with fights getting harder when you bring more ranged, and have a lot more room to move around. And they have interrupts too. (This is nothing to do with hybrid classes, incidentally. There are ranged hybrids who are just as good as the rest.) Is that balance?

Muckbeast has been wondering about this too, from a more general perspective. Instead he asks why it’s always so hard to balance melee vs ranged.

He thinks that being able to do damage from range is a huge advantage and that developers pander to ranged classes who don’t think that should come with a drawback.

I think a lot of the problem here stems from too much listening to ranged players who want to do as much damage as melee, also do it from range, AND have tons of escape mechanisms.

I only know that I’ve heard a few people ponder recently whether to switch from a melee warrior or death knight to a ranged class. And I cannot really blame them. I like playing melee but I don’t feel there’s much balance right now. I’m not sure if it’s a particular issue with WoW in Cataclysm at the moment, but there’s a reason our raid group is heavily oversubscribed with mages ….

Cataclysm Screenshot of the Day


I’m a sucker for sunsets. These two shots were taken from the air in old Azeroth (being able to fly around the old world is a feature which came in with Cataclysm) – I think the zones are Azshara and the Badlands respectively.

21 thoughts on “The eternal dance of melee vs ranged

  1. I think that’s where the balancing needs to set in. Based on my personal experience in Cataclysm, I have actually seen ranged do considerably lower DPS than melee, just with a lot more utility. At the moment I run a lot of instances with an unholy DK, and (un)holy crap, the DPS he does is monstrous. He’s in mostly pre-heroic gear and in most instances does twice the damage of the closest mage. He also likes to hog the aggro, sheesh. He brings no CC to the table, this is true, but along with his mad DPS he brings flawless interrupts and high situational awareness when he yanks unruly adds off the healer.

    Wrath of the Lich King was the expansion of the melee classes, IMHO. In most 10-man raid encounters, melee outshone all our ranged DPS considerably. With patch 4.0.1, ranged DPS began to outdps everyone else. Right now, unholy DKs and survival hunters are by far the top dogs. The first balancing patch will be interesting.

  2. Previously, any movement was always related to the boss; If the boss moves within a circle or does point-blank AoEs, then the ranged has a clear advantage. But quite a few bosses spew the proverbial fire all around the battlefield. Tornados, antimagic zones, black holes, void zones, falling rocks, fissure shockwaves, artillery barrages, shadowbolt volleys, charges, jumps and so on. Those require the player to move, cutting ranged DPS just like the boss moving a lot cuts melee DPS. The main difference seems to be whether the class has to stop DPSing when moving or not.

    • The issue here is that melee tends to have to react to the these things as well. And every moment melee doesn’t have their face nestled firmly in the taut buttocks of a boss is a significant dps decrease. Consider, for example, the sublime joy that is Whirlwinds or Tornados.

      Really, the only thing that’ll significantly cut only ranged DPS is requiring ranged DPS to have to do something else, like kite an add.

  3. Melee theoretical maximum DPS tends to be higher than ranged, but more difficult to execute. Warriors and DKs are the only melee classes who lack crowd control. Fights getting harder with lots of melee currently has more to do with melee having the blinders on and taxing the healer than anything else. Melee may have less room to move when they’re trying to keep DPSing, but ranged do either severely reduced or no damage while moving. Rogues, Death Knights and Enhancement Shamans (who are guaranteed to be inside wind shear’s range) are the kings of interrupts.

    Also, not that it has any bearing on performance, but melee weapons always look *so* much better than squid-sticks and such.

    • It’s a bit more than that. It is actually harder to spot nearly invisible whirlwinds when you’re on top of a) the boss and b) the other melee. As ranged you have a bit more room to see what’s going on and react.

      You also tend to have to get out quickly from any boss AE effects and some bosses (I’m thinking the guy in Lost City with the yellow circles) seem to stack the effects quite close together in melee range.

      Plus in any encounters where players need to spread out, it’s harder for melee the more of them you bring because they all want to be within melee range.

  4. Add in PvP and it gets even more complicated.

    In LOTRO PvE Champions are wonderful for AoE farming skirmishes and doing quests like the master-level dwarf quest below Thangulhad much more easily than other classes. Wardens can solo so many things, but they are not very good DDs. Captains have many important roles, but shine only in a group.

    Hunters have ranged DPS and travel abilities and all that, but no AoE. Runekeepers can heal or do damage, but not at the same time, their attunement system is quite sophisticated.

    Getting kited to death in duels or PvP by said ranged classes is not very nice for a melee class. If the opponent has half a brain you are simply done. Yeah, range is a huge advantage.

    I sometimes wonder if this can ever be balanced at all.
    So rather forget about PvP and focus on making all classes fun to play in PvE? Without giving too many goodies and advantages to a particular class.

  5. Playing on my rogue has made it pretty clear that there just aren’t that many melee friendly fights in Cata and that, yeah, in a lot of cases they’d be better off bringing someone who didn’t need to to spend 10 seconds running over to kill adds or require the tank to pull the boss out of the fire.

    Adds which all have damage auras that require them to be killed by ranged for some reason.

    Something I remember from Vanilla is that melee died and there was really nothing they could do about it. No gear, no skill, no strat. There was only fire. Which you stood in. Because there was nowhere else to stand. Which was handy because the nature of the fights mean they weren’t much use for any of the final raid boss encounters anyway.

    While Cata isn’t that bad, though it’s definetly worse than BC or WotLK, I think a lot of the issues come from the same point. The mechanics in a lot ofcases are geared around the generous reaction times allowed for ranged and actions that require a minor commitment for them require a major commitment from Melee.

    • I actually am wondering if class and encounter design might be easier if, just as every tank and healer has a dps spec, every melee class also had a ranged dps spec.

      • You know? The more I think about this idea the more i like it. However, in Wow, unless they invented fourth trees, I could see it being tricky.

        I could easily see a Warrior-Archer. I mean traditionally, archers were not people that ran around with pets, but badass mounted barbarians who were dominating(Mounted Archers were evil back in the day), and the worth of the Longbowman in old wars? They were warriors with bows.

        Also, to me, the classic ‘guns akimbo’ guy of newer media is a warrior with guns. Rambo is a warrior with a big machinegun and a bow. (Sure he’s great with his knife, but Rambo’s bow and explodey arrows is quintessential.)

        Shamans and Druids of course get a pass as they have a ranged spec. DKs? I could see them a spec more of the ”Classic” Death knight who had a lot of spell type abilities(and it would give them an excuse to slap spell plate on one more spec.)

        Of course, then you’d likely get some ranged mumblings along the lines of ”Where is my battlemage spec” (mages), where is my monk-spec(priests-though I wouldn’t complain ;)), and where is my Hexblade/Ranger(Warlock/Hunter.)

        Then again, I don’t think that would necessarily be a bad thing either-that way people have a better chance of finding the exact spec/class they want to play, and I always felt more choice=good.(I have several friends that liked the old D&D DKs with their fireballs and the more Lichlike DKs of WC1.)

        That being said, while I’m a melee for life, this time around when people ask me ”I want to do a lot of damage and be relatively not as screwed” I point them toward a high-DPS, CC oriented ranged class. I find it true-sure there are fights where they have it bad as well(definitely), but in general, this expansion is ”Time of the Ranged” IMO.

  6. I agree that PvE seems more unfriendly to melee now than it was in Wrath. Seeing some melee characters get cleaved to death in instances brought back memories of The Eye in BC, where our melee either had to be resed after every pull or just stood back and twiddled their thumbs to be on the safe side. 🙂

    Still, I have to say that as someone who mostly plays range, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be either, at least in PvP. Melee can mostly attack while moving in the same way as they would while standing still, so they can demolish you while running in circles while you as ranged are limited to selected instant casts. Casters can get interrupted or silenced, which is just as devastating to them as a melee getting rooted. And last but not least, melee have auto-attack, which is hugely powerful because it doesn’t require any input from them and is independent of their combat resources. A caster who’s out of mana might as well suicide (wand “auto-attack” gets broken by the tiniest movement).

  7. Maybe the problem goes the other way.
    I think a lot of the problem here stems from too much listening to melee players who want to do more damage than ranged AND have tons of closing mechanisms.

    Or maybe the problem is simply that no one likes losing and there are different skill levels to choose balance at. Maybe a bad mage beats a bad warrior but a good mage loses to a good warrior; is that balance? Or average they are about tied, influenced by relative gear and luck, but at the very very top tier the mage wins while at the lowest, worst PvP levels the warrior wins.

  8. I can’t speak for PvP balance, since I have no interest in it. I’m talking here about PvE, where a closing mechanism can at best make up for not being able to do much damage from range.

  9. I’ve talked a bit about this before, but one of the issues with challenging ranged is that the healers are normally standing at range as well. Thus any mechanic that makes ranged a pain tends to screw over the healers too.

    There have been fights where the ranged had a real challenge. Consider Vezax in Ulduar. That fight was dead easy for melee, and a lot of healers stood with the melee. Thus only ranged had to deal with shadowcrashes.

    I think there’s a lot of things Blizzard could do to make life challenging for ranged dps. But it’s hard to accomplish that without making life excessively challenging for the healers as well.

    I’m not really sure what could be done. Perhaps a fight could have “safe zones” which have a debuff that reduces DPS by 90%.

    A final thought is that ranged dps often depends on standing still. Fights with heavy movement tend to depress ranged DPS by a fair amount, even if the ranged character is in no real danger of dying.

    • They’ve certainly made encounters that stressed either tanks/ healers/ ranged and/or melee in the past. (I remember Aran being a much easier fight for melee than ranged, for example.) And if it was roughly equal amounts of each, that’s not an issue at all. Plus in raids they could give ranged and melee different things to do anyway.

      But when someone comments to me that heroics always seem easier when you take two ranged and one melee compared to two melee and one ranged, I wonder if they’ve got the balance quite right. (This wasn’t about CC, more about melee tending to die more, and about most of your dps stopping if a whirlwind goes through the boss rather than being able to spread.)

      I think with healing it’s OK to ask healers to be mobile as long as they have the tools to do it. Instas, preventative abilities, HoTs, etc.

      • Speaking as a healer, it’s the blinders thing. Melee are way more likely to ignore the fire/earthquake/void/etc., and I couldn’t tell you how many times in Cata heroics I’ve just let melee die because they still don’t understand how cleave works and they were too expensive to heal. Whether it’s because they’re unaware of how expensive heals are now, or they’re staring at their hotbars/recount, or because they’re simply zoomed in and looking up at the boss’s face; maybe I’ll never know.

        Ranged tend to be more aware of environmental hazards. Melee have no excuse not to be zoomed out to the max and, if they have insufficient coordination, prioritizing movement over maintaining their rotation.

      • When you’re on top of the mobs, and a tank keeps turning them, it can be very tricky to stay out of the cleaves. Or even see them. Being zoomed out isn’t going to make it easier to see what teeny mobs are doing or which direction they’re facing. And melee also pull aggro much more easily than ranged (I think ranged have to be 30% over the tanks aggro to actually pull, melee just have to be 1% over). If there is a marked kill order then no one has any excuse but that often isn’t the way things are done.

        It is actually more difficult. It isn’t that melee are all idiots. Might be that more of them do play with blinders on, but that doesn’t change it being more difficult than ranged in general.

  10. Pingback: Killed in a Smiling Accident. » Blog Archive » Goonies never say die! They always bring a healer.

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