Existential angst of a new dps

1. Hurrah, run our first 25 man raid and made some good progress on Magmaw.

2. Boo, I’m about several light years behind the feral (cat) druids on the meters.

As dps, you’re largely looking to the meters to measure how well you are doing (with appropriate mental adjustments based on whatever else you were doing in the fight). So if you’re lower down, you’re going to start wondering what you can do better next time. That’s normal and perfectly fine. But what if it’s just a class design issue?

I’m not sure how well I‘ll get on with playing dps in raids if it means settling for a lower position and hoping that Blizzard decide to balance the dps out in their own sweet time. I generally prefer feeling in more control of my gameplay/ performance. I don’t know if I want to play a game that’s biased so that I can’t ‘win’ … or even feel as though I’m in the running.

This is very different from tanking or healing where, as long as my class COULD handle the content, I knew I could learn to do it. There might be whining if some classes had an easier time with fights than others, but it wasn’t this demoralising, “What’s the point in me even being there?” feeling.

dps players, how do you stay motivated to keep going when you know your class is behind others by design?

General trends, the core tank toolset, and is survival more fun than threat?

(Firstly, apologies for the flood of WoW related posts. I’m trying to use WoW class changes as a jumping off point for more general discussion, but yeah I get that the blog is a bit focussed right now.)

Usiel asked in comments if I had any thoughts about the bigger picture for Cataclysm, based on last week’s class changes. I can see a few vague trends:

  • Blizzard are addressing a lot of ‘quality of life’ issues (rage normalisation, focus for hunters, simplified stats, treeform). If these work out as planned, then I do genuinely believe that the game will become more fun and less frustrating for everyone involved, whether or not they get many new cool abilities.
  • They have said several times that one goal is to make healing more fun. We are starting to see what they think that means. Wide range of heals, interesting choices, less frantic heal spam, more movement, more emphasis on deciding when to dispel and mana management. But we won’t see the whole picture until we get a chance to try it.
  • DPS specs of hybrid classes are losing some hybrid-ness. We will see shamans and paladins lose some dispel abilities when in dps mode. Blizzard have also commented that retribution paladins will lose some survivability (because defensive dps specs are viewed as not working well, perhaps another reason why Blood DKs are being turned into tanks.)
  • DPS in general are getting more abilities to control fights, in one way or another.

I don’t get a clear view yet of the vision for tanking in the next expansion. Gravity thinks that raids will place more emphasis on mobility, which would make me happy because I find the mobility fights more fun.

The core tanking toolset is becoming better defined, with more tools being handed out to classes who lacked them. Hence more interrupts for ferals and paladins, and a demo shout equivalent for death knights. Those are all good trends. If the ability is that important, then all tanks should have access to it. Anything else is just pointlessly frustrating.

So if we try to define a core tank toolset, it needs to include at least:

  • similar threat, both AE and single target
  • similar survivability, both vs magic and physical damage
  • similar cooldowns and effective health
  • interrupt/s
  • burst or targeted threat, to neatly pick up adds
  • similar buffs and debuffs (ie. if three tank classes have a buff, then the fourth should probably have it too).

In some ways, tanks are more homogenous than either healers or dps. It’s hard to imagine a core healer toolset when one healer has bloodlust/ totems, another has combat res, and another brings paladin buffs. This has always been an issue for priests, since originally the hybrids got more utility to make up for priests having better healing.

Interestingly, it appears that being able to smoothly switch from tank to dps (ie. in a multi-stage fight) is not considered a core tank ability, because as of Cataclysm only druids will be able to do that. We can only hope that there is not a single boss fight where this will ever be important, because it has been an annoyance for years. (ie. druids have felt annoyed at being ‘forced’ into the off-tank role, and paladins/ warriors have been annoyed at not being good at it. Death Knights have been good off-tanks up till now, but who knows what they will be like in Cataclysm?)

In many ways we also need to wait to see the new expansion encounters to really understand how tanking may or may not change.

Another trend I see is for more responsibility for the success of a group to be spread between dps and healers, rather than so heavily focussed on the tank. For those control freaks (surely no tanks are control freaks!) who enjoy the current state of tanking, this may not be an entirely good thing. Expect to spend more time feeling like a dumb lump with high auto-threat while dps misdirect threat, put up smoke clouds, run rings around you, and generally do more of the work.

Survival vs Threat

Perhaps put more succinctly, a lot of tank players just seem to find the survival game more fun than the threat game.

- Ghostcrawler

It’s clear from previews that tank threat is not intended to be much of an issue in Cataclysm. The easier it became for tanks to establish threat in Wrath, the more people played them. That sends a fairly clear picture of what players want, and also DPS players hate being threat capped so if one tank lets them go all out and another doesn’t, the one who doesn’t will get benched.

I’m in two minds about the above quote though. I find the pure survival fights to be very dull indeed (omg I hit my cooldown 0.5s late and died, woe is me!). Instead of favouring the tank with the highest threat, they favour the tank with the highest effective health or best cooldowns. This is equally out of the player’s control. And that’s not especially fun either.

In fact, I’d prefer to see both pure survival and threat become less of an issue, and instead focus on movement, situational awareness, and working with the other tanks and the rest of the raid. The tank who can both survive and hold threat whilst balancing a spoon on their nose and dragging a mob neatly through a dog agility course? That’s the one I want to play.

I’m just not really sure if that’s the way the game is going. We’ll know more after the paladin changes are announced.

Do you like class specific questlines?

I’ve been easing off on my main in WoW lately as burnout hits with Wrath. I’m still enjoying the weekly raids, but if I have learned anything from my time on MMOs, it is that it is totally fine to play less when you aren’t in the mood.

And all it means is more time for levelling alts with sisters/ friends on other servers, playing single player games, and enjoying the Spring sunshine. So, in the spirit of new alts, I picked up a new night elf druid chick. And there were two things I had completely for gotten about low level night elves, and druids.

1. The Ban’Ethil Barrow Den is a maze of night elf hating monstrosity!

The Night Elf starting zone, Teldrassil, is generally very good. Even after five years of Blizzard improving on quest layout, it stands up pretty well. There is more running around from one end of the zone to the other than I’d expect to see in a more modern zone, but they did a great job of hiding extra little quests away. I’m sure I find more new quests that I haven’t seen before every time I go there.

However. There is one unholy blight on the face of Teldrassil and it is the barrow den. This is an underground mazelike area with a few associated low level quests. I got lost in there. Everyone gets lost in there.

But I had a saviour :)

lostdruid

I was wandering around, hopelessly lost, and a high level (well, level 14!!) night elf warrior gallently asked me whether I was OK. I said, pathetically, “I’m lost!” and he offered to come help me find my quests.

This screenie shows us sitting down to discuss things with another lost little druid girl who we picked up en route.

I feel we may have set the cause of feminism back about 50 years by being such pathetic girlies and needing to be rescued by a brave warrior. But it was very nice of him to take the time, so thanks if you are reading.

2. Class quests are really pretty darn cool

Druids get a glut of class quests fairly early on in the levelling period. There’s the bear form quest at level 10, poison curing quest at 14, and then the quest for sealion form and cat form not very long after that.

And it’s great! What I had forgotten is that after you finish the quest for the bear form, you get a special letter in the mail.

druquest1

A special druid letter from your trainer saying how awesome  it was that you got your bear form, and reminding you that he has another class quest lined up when you get to 14th level.

It’s still cool, even five years on after launch. I do find that class specific quests do a great job of immersing me into the setting, and — yes — making me feel a bit special.

I was talking about SWTOR over the weekend and their stated goal of getting large numbers of subscribers. One of the big draws to this Star Wars MMO is that every single class will have its own fully featured storyline with associated quests, all the way to level cap. I assume they will mix this up with some general quests and group content, but still, it’s a very appealing idea.

bearbutt

Dealing with Unfairness in Games

Human Beings spend a large proportion of their lives thinking about whether they are getting a fair deal, whether someone else is getting a better one, and complaining about it. We’ve all heard the adage, “Life isn’t fair,” and it is demonstrably true. Anyone with an ounce of empathy cannot watch the news without having this hammered home.

How societies decide what ‘fair’ means, which aspects of life should be fair, and cope with actual inequities is pretty much the history of humanity. All civil rights legislation, for example, is based on a shift in views about fair treatment for all and what that means.

So it isn’t surprising that players in MMOs also spend a lot of time eyeing each other up and complaining when they think things aren’t fair. After all, in a game, you can design the playing field to give everyone a fair chance. But sometimes, the design introduces something that is deliberately unfair.

I was thinking about this after reading Tam’s complaint about people who refuse to run back to an instance after a wipe, and about how he dealt with it.

So here’s the situation: In Warcraft, if you die then you have three options for resurrecting (ignoring soul stones for the moment). You can release and use the spirit healer, you can release and then run back to your body which will spare you a debuff, or you can wait for a healer to resurrect you which they will do if they are in your group and not dead.

If there is no resurrection spell in your group then everyone must run back. Otherwise, you only need one person with a res spell to be alive in order to get the whole group back on its feet. So if you are the only healer and you die, you must run back. Everyone else can if they want.

It wasn’t quite that simple though. Before Wrath, there were healers who could not res out of combat (druids) and non-healers who could (any hybrid who wasn’t in a healing role). Then they added the ability to the engineering trade skill, shamans could self res as well as ressing other people, and warlocks could give people a self-res buff via the soulstone. So there was never a strong design that said resurrections needed to be rare or restricted.

I never understood why every class didn’t get an out of combat res spell. There was no need to force healers to always run back, just because they happened to heal. There was no need to make that part of the healer role. And also, there was never a need to make the run back into the instance so long. In LOTRO, for example, if you die in an instance, you release to the beginning of the instance.

But instead of complaining about either of those things – which are honestly outdated mechanics from the start of the game – players prefer to bitch at each other. The unfairness of the healer’s long run back has become part of the accepted fabric of the game.

And what I wonder is whether having some unfairness in the game by design makes for more interesting social environments and social challenges. Does the shared experience of always having to run back make the healer role feel stronger? Did druids feel less like ‘real’ healers prior to Wrath because they didn’t have that pressure on them? (No point running back if you don’t have a res handy, unless you just want to laugh and point at the corpses.)