Editorial: Cataclysm, One Week In

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.
 

The man chose a crab as his avatar. Can we trust him?
Ghostcrawler, the lead systems designer for 'World of Warcraft', chose a crab as his avatar. Can we trust that?

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.
 

I will keep reusing this graphic as long as I have opinions on WoW.

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.”

19 comments

  1. I really like having CC and interrupts coming out of my ass in the form of Polymorph, Deep Freeze, Impact, and Counterspell. Plus I enjoy the ability to chain freeze enemies through a rotation of Frost Nova, Cone of Cold, Freeze, Cone of Cold, Repeat.

    No one seems to mind having me in a party for heroics! Guess ya should have rolled a MAGE. :p

  2. If I wanted to be a robe wearing tool playing with my wand I would have rolled a warlock. At least they get cool armor.

    These are the reasons we can’t be friends.

    I fired off a nasty email to customer support. We will see how that goes.

  3. Warlocks. The robe-wearing huntards of WoW. Yes, a massive improvement over DESTRUCTION PERSONIFIED.

    You’re right! These are the reasons we can’t be friends. I could never be a part of “Lane’s Amazing Warlock, Warrior, and Death Knight Guild”. Also, Alliance. Yuck!

    I imagine customer support is not going to crank out a patch to reengineer DK and Warrior to make you happy. But they may suggest an alternative like “Roll a DPS job if that is what you want to do.”

    It is what you want to do, right?

    Mage.

  4. You expect too much of me, Lane! I consider it my duty to chastise slow, Alliance boobies. How else will they learn?

  5. Listen, slore, I am 85 and my item level approaches 346. A few more rep grinds and I’ll be the first or second raid ready player in my guild. What I lost in UI reconfiguration I made up by slaughtering SFK yesterday.

  6. Too much time spent playing with your little UI boxes and trying to level up your guild a day early! You should have been 85 on the third day! I was ready for heroics that day! Tut, I say. TUT!

    Good show on getting to 346. After I ran a bunch of heroics and saw how shitty everyone else was, I decided to put it off until people learn to LISTEN TO INSTRUCTIONS. Too many people spoiled by WotLK who just charge in or don’t know how to deal with CC. (Hint: don’t attack the sheep.)

    In a month or two people will have learned that they can’t just chop their way through everything, and then I’ll start running heroics again. Until then, tired of dying because of party stupid, thanks, I’ll stick to jousting and beating the shit out of you guys in Tol Barad. :)

  7. I’ve tried. Blizzard responded that I should suggest likely solutions in their Suggestions forum.

    The same forum that was deprecated a month ago.

    I felt like writing back and saying, “BITCHES, YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW WHEN YOU CLOSED YOUR OWN SHIT! WHO HONESTLY TRUSTS YOU TO CODE A GAME?”

    Then again, I think I know why: Blizz is preparing to drop a new MMO. I’m sure that they’ve moved top WoW talent out, and that’s why we’re getting 3-4 year old ideas instead of actual, useful stuff.

    The worst part is that the lead designer promised to make sure that if CC were really required that all classes would have a roughly equal option.

  8. Also, it will be far too long to wait for people to stop being stupid. Right now we’re using our guild groups to push through as many heroics as possible. Case in point, last night’s group (warrior tank, feral druid, me, mage, priest healer) took down most heroics with ease. Only one fight in SFK seems overtuned at the moment, but everything else required strategy and careful playing, but it was nowhere near as problematic as the PUGs were.

  9. Shoulda rolled a real class, with a real race, as part of a real faction.

    I’ll be with Lusipurr in Southshore, countin’ my phat lewtz soon.

    (Yeah ok so it does kinda suck. Y’all are like the Rogues of TBC now)

  10. You wouldn’t be having this problem with a blood elf …

  11. But I would have the problem of being a cringing nancy with long ears and green eyes.

  12. I can see how such a state would be beneath the Fallen Sun …

  13. Yes. In the hierarchy, it goes like this:

    Gnomes -> Goblins (because they’re short too) -> Blood Elves -> Night Elves -> Undead -> Dwarves -> Trolls -> Orcs -> Tauren -> Humans = Draenei = Worgen.

  14. Well … he really does seem to have nailed this crowd control schtick …

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