It has been slightly over one week since the latest World of Warcraft expansion launched. In that time, I have hit the level cap on my main character, worked on getting him endgame ready, and started leveling a second character.
I am equal parts pleased and fucking furious about this game.
On the one hand, Blizzard has continued to refine and expand the game. The new zones are beautiful. The quest design is absolutely top-tier. Although it is now perfectly possible to solo every last quest in the new zones, their solo-ability does not detract from their group-able nature either. NPCs step in to help lone wolves fight the boss-level creatures, and going it alone simply means taking longer to accomplish the same tasks.
Zone design is more immersive and linear. While it may feel a little on-rails, those who love to explore and wander have been given excellent tools to do so in the form of a new profession, Archaeology, which grants weapons, toys, and lore artifacts to players.
The simplification of the stat system and improvements to the character data window also make game mechanics more transparent and lessen the need for out-of-game research on theorycrafting sites. Crafting is once again engaging and useful, with more than just 2-3 professions “mattering.” Production professions do lag behind gathering professions in profitability and usefulness, however.
Even the dungeon design has improved: bosses require quite a bit of strategy. The DPS/TPS/HPS meter is not the be-all-end-all of success in a fight. Player skill is rewarded…
But by Mjollnir, the great hammer of the Thunderer, are the people one has to play with are awful.
And I do not mean awful-in-the-sense-of-Lusipurr-who-cannot-be-my-WoW-friend-anymore-because-he-is-a-dick way. I mean awful in that even among the skilled players, prejudice and ignorance rule the day.
Only two classes in the game lack an ability to control the amount of damage coming in to the tank from large “crowds” of enemies. Most classes, especially DPS classes, have at least one ability that can take an enemy out of the fight for upwards of 30 seconds, that requires nothing more than a simple button click. This type of strategy becomes increasingly important as the dungeons in the game increase in difficulty. It was a staple feature of dungeon-running in the Burning Crusade expansion, even to the point of excluding classes that lacked crowd-control abilities from ever getting in to groups to do these dungeons, unless they were being carried by friendly and indulgent guild members.
Back in the original game, this was also known to be a problem: melee classes in particular were susceptible to the problem of having very little utility, being prone to taking the most damage, and therefore being a larger liability to the group. This was offset in part by their ability, when played correctly, to outperform other classes. There was a trade-off, in that every group wanted a melee class, but only the most-skilled melee players were of any use.
During the Burning Crusade expansion, melee classes were given more utility in the form of some ways of controlling the crowd, except for (notably) Feral druids, Warriors, and Enhancement shaman. If one played any of these classes, it was impossible to find anything but a low-level dungeon group because for any dungeon that required skin-of-the-teeth playing ability, a druid, warrior or shaman was a greater liability. Even good warriors, druids and shaman were passed over for mediocre players of other classes because the imbalance was so strong.
The answer from people that did not play these classes was, “oh well, those classes were not meant to fill those roles. Be a tank or a healer.”
For those who wanted to tank or heal, this was acceptable. The DPS specs of these classes were merely unfortunate afterthoughts of the developers and remained broken throughout the entire expansion, except for those lucky 1-2 people per raiding group that played those specs to round out a 25-man roster.
Blizzard, for the past two years, loudly decried this approach as rightfully flawed. It took away important player choices for the sake of balancing the game around hypothetically-correct group makeups. Thus, they said, “one should bring the player, not the class.” The result was that Wrath of the Lich King was, without activating specific harder difficulties for bosses, way, way, way too easy.
The pendulum has reversed itself: Cataclysm is again appropriately difficult, but instead of learning the mistakes of the past, Blizzard has made them again. Death Knights and Warriors (the favored classes of yours truly) are the only two classes in the game that lack a crowd-control ability. Other plate-wearing DPS classes have a crowd control ability (Retribution paladins). Other hybrid tank/melee DPS classes have crowd control (Feral Cat druids). Other off-tank capable classes have a crowd control ability (Feral Cat druids again). Other melee classes have a castable crowd control from range (Enhancement Shaman). Only Warriors and Death Knights are left out, without appreciable reason.
Sure, it is possible as a Death Knight to off-tank a single enemy, whether caster or melee, and not be a drain on the healer. But that requires a tank that will (1) allow this to happen and (2) the group to understand the strategy. Explanations typed in to party chat go unheeded. Instead, the attitude is either “that is not how to do it” from party members raised on Wrath‘s baby-food dungeons or “that is not how we did it three years ago” from more experienced veterans. Warriors also have a very short fear that can sometimes work, but it is on a long cooldown and cannot be used reliably.
And the response from other players has been predictable: you rolled a tank class, queue up as a tank. Which completely ignores that players’ raids might have requested that they gear up to perform as a DPS Death Knight or Warrior. Or, “well, my tolerant guild group that always runs at the same time every day allows me to come along and we get by just fine.”
Yes, that may work for some, but it is no excuse for a bad design decision. The level of frustration I have experienced in being removed from groups simply because of the class I chose to play (and played highly successfully for the past two years) is a throwback to the days of BC, and not a good one. It is more along the lines of “spurring me to cancel my subscription.”