Editorial: Fixing the Warrior Class in World of Warcraft

Blizzard taketh away… and then Blizzard taketh away some more.

The whirling sound of the nerf bat as it descends is a sound familiar to many a WoW player. As soon as it is perceived by the developers, sitting in the arcane sancta, viewing the digital auguries of top-end parses and casting their putrid runes upon the bones of the endless raid wipes, that a class is doing “too well” or is “overpowered,” the Nerf Bat is summoned from the dark spaces between the stars where it waits for the call of its malign masters.

Playing a Warrior in WoW is an exercise in stoicism. Due to a broken resource system for Warriors, the Warrior class scales too well. Every other class manages resources in one of two ways: either they start with a large mana pool that is deleted every time a spell is cast, or they start with no resources and gain them over a predictable period (e.g., a Death Knight’s Runic Power or Rogue’s Energy).

Only Warriors, and by extension, Druid tanks, suffer from the problem of the “Rage” resource mechanic. Warriors will gain Rage through two means: either by doing damage or by taking it. Therefore, Rage generation is entirely dependent on whether the Warrior is being attacked or is attacking, or through several special abilities that generate Rage. However, due to the nature of Warrior’s abilities, missing a single chance to use an ability (a global cooldown) means that the Warrior’s threat or damage output (depending on the role within the group) drops at an exponential rate for every missed cooldown.

Therefore, when Rage reaches “infinite” situations at higher levels of gear and in the hands of a skilled player that can manage the resource properly, Warriors scale exponentially well. A top-end warrior will never have to miss a cooldown and will always operate by being able to activate a special ability every “turn” in combat without ever having to worry about losing out on the increase in threat or DPS that this entails.

In other words, Warriors at the top are always going to excel beyond other players because as fight times drag on, Warriors do not suffer from diminishing returns on ability cost. Whereas a Paladin might run out of mana if she uses too many of her high-mana spells over a sustained fight, or whereas a Death Knight is always going to be locked in to a single resource rotation to avoid being without a necessary resource at a key time, a Warrior’s utility and flexibility never diminishes, but rather continues to increase because Rage can be virtually permanently at 100 Rage with no penalty.

This leads to well-played Warriors having the appearance of being overpowered, and forces developers to balance the class around the best Warriors, which leaves Warriors without the best gear and skill out in the cold, forced to suffer penalties that punish them harder than those that arguably need it.

The original design of the Warrior was as the ultimate and only tank for original content. Warrior skills were built on mitigation of incoming damage while using abilities to maintain the focus of enemies away from the group. With the advent of three other popular tanking classes meant to encourage more people to explore this vital role, the mechanics of other classes have proven their superiority to those of Warriors. Paladins, Death Knights and Druids, in order to be “balanced” with Warriors, were all given tanking “niches” to fill. Paladins remain the best tanks for large groups of enemies, whereas Death Knights and Paladins can put out much more damage as a tank than a Warrior can. Because Druids lack many of the avoidance abilities other tanks have (like the ability to block or parry attacks), they made up for this with higher levels of raw health and armor.

I hit things with metal
This picture accurately sums up the philosophy of Warrior class design: a metal-clad master of weaponry at home only on the field of battle.

As fights and bosses have scaled upwards in terms of difficulty, damage, and statistics required, Warriors have fallen further and further behind because the benefits given to other tanking classes to make them competitive have forced a redesign of the game around new mechanics foreign to the way the Warrior class was initially designed.

However, the “fix” for this problem is not immediately apparent. Do too much, and the flavor of the Warrior class would evaporate, becoming too much like other classes. Do too little, and it becomes just another band-aid put on the larger problem.

I propose these three changes to the underlying core mechanics of Warriors, in a way that will benefit both tanks and DPS and provide Warriors with comparable skills to other tanks and melee DPS classes.

3. Remove Stance Penalties

No other class, excepting maybe the Rogue, has a stance penalty. Warriors’ abilities are restricted by both equipment in hand and what “Stance” a Warrior is in. The “stance dance” mechanic of switching between Stances in combat has an unfortunate downside: it costs a global cooldown and the Warrior loses Rage. Even with recent changes, unless a Warrior is being played theoretically perfect, this is a heavy penalty. Removing the Stance penalties, such as a DPS decrease for Defensive Stance, or the ability to not use a signature move like Whirlwhind when in Battle Stance or Defensive Stance, serve no useful purpose. They are penalties for the sake of penalties. Similar mechanics, such as Death Knight Presences, contain no such penalties and are still “balanced.”

2. Provide Warriors A Unique Weapon Mastery Mechanic

With the advent of the in-game equipment manager, the ability of the Warrior to swap weapons on the fly is feasible. A use of a global cooldown to switch weapon sets at different times during fights would be beneficial. Imagine that a Warrior tank is entering a phase of the fight where the boss’s aggro table drops and increased DPS is necessary. If that Warrior could switch between a shield and one-handed weapon to a two-handed weapon, with different abilities, but still retaining the same basic tank utility, then Warriors could retain their flavor while providing them with the flexibility seen in other tanks.

On the other hand, a DPS Warrior could switch between slow, heavy-hitting and bursting damage with a 2H weapon to faster, smoother area-of-effect damage by dual-wielding.

If the idea for the warrior is an iron-clad behemoth charging around the battlefields, possessing a mastery of all things physical and having the discipline to stand toe-to-toe with all enemies, then integrating Weapon Swaps and the concurrent changes in abilities those signify is something that must be streamlined and simplified for the Warrior. It must be taken out of complex macros and add-ons and put within the basic interface of the game itself. Of course, penalties need to apply, such as a cooldown on switching weapons, not to mention the necessity of obtaining all of the equipment necessary. However, in the end, the ability of the Warrior to manage not only her primary resource, Rage, but also her secondary resource, Weapon Skills, would add an additional layer of strategy to the Warrior playstyle.

1. Fix Rage Generation

Rage generation through combat makes sense, stylistically. But Rage’s effectiveness is too much tied to its gear, in a way that no other class’ resource is. However, making Rage generation too regular turns it into Energy 2.0. Rather, have certain “fight starting” abilities like Charge, Intercept, Bloodrage, Recklessness, etc., provide a full Rage bar, and then have Warriors manage their abilities within a pre-determined time period until the cooldown on a Rage-generating ability can be used again.

For instance, consider this basic DPS warrior single-target boss pull. The Warrior Charges in, gaining a full Rage bar. Mortal Strike is the first ability used, and consumes 30 Rage. 70 Rage remains. The Warrior then Rends the target, applying his primary damage-over-time spell. 60 Rage remains. The Warrior then queues a Heroic Strike, which costs 15 Rage. 45 Rage remains, and then the Warrior gets a Sudden Death proc, which means that the Execute skill can be used. Execute costs 30 Rage at this point, dropping us down to 15 Rage remaining. At this point another Heroic Strike is queued, putting us at zero Rage just as Bloodrage is pressed to increase our Rage bar back to 100, whereupon we start a new rotation based on the abilities off cooldown. This highly-strategic playstyle rewards skillful Rage choice while keeping Warriors from having the problematic “Endless Rage” situation. Talents such as Endless Rage and Anger Management could function like the mp5 stat for healers and provide some Rage recapture based on gear and skill.

These changes would be a good start toward rebalancing the Warrior class with other tanks and melee DPS classes, while still preserving what it is that makes Warriors awesome: the ability to smash someone’s face in large, sharp pieces of steel.

0 comments

  1. I completely agree regarding stance penalties. No other thanking class gets bitchslapped like the Warrior does for something so stupid. Even DK auras aren’t as bad.

    I heard that they want to rework Warrior’s rage for Cataclysm, and do something similar-ish to the new Hunter resource pool they’re developing (bwuahah no more mana!) We’ll have to wait and see, I guess.

  2. LOL at “thanking class.”

    Cataclysm is supposed to be a panacea, but it’s in alpha. We have a lot of ICC left, and Warrior tanks are a little laggy compared to Paladins and Druids. Poor DKs though.

  3. Curse you Lane, I was thinking it felt like Friday all day and your column showing up in my RSS reader certainly didn’t help. Why must you screw with my sense of time!

  4. @DG: To be fair, it’s not Lane’s fault!

    Eric is moving this week (and last week, and next week), and so that leaves a slot open on Tuesday.

    Jenifer’s post ends the week (it’s a news round-up), so we’re moving Lane to Tuesday and Jenifer to Friday until Eric is back in a fortnight.

    After that, Lane will be back on Friday and Jenifer will be on Saturday.

    That’s really all there is to it. OR YOU MAY INSTEAD PREFER TO BELIEVE WE ARE FUCKING WITH YOUR MIND.

  5. I would like to add that I am fucking with DG’s mind, but not in the way I am being accused of here. I am currently picking a single hair out of his head by night and rubbing, ever so gently, a bit of salt in the wound.

    He will go bald night by night, and by the time he realizes it, it will be too late. TOO LATE!