Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Fear of change

As someone who plays a tank first and foremost, it was with great trepidation that I began reading the latest Ghostcrawler Dev Watercooler, entitled "Threat Level Midnight".

"Oh god..." I thought, dread filling me. "What drastic change are they forcing into the game to keep the retards playing this time?"

Hotfix: The threat generated by classes in their tanking mode has been increased from three times damage done to five times damage done.
In an upcoming patch: Vengeance no longer ramps up slowly at the beginning of a fight. Instead, the first melee attack taken generates Vengeance equal to one third of the damage dealt by that attack. As Vengeance updates during the fight, it is always set to at least a third of the damage taken in the last two seconds. It still climbs from that point at the previous rate, still decays at the previous rate, and still cannot exceed the current maximum.

"Okay, okay. Sky not falling. They're just making threat a faceroll again."

Ghostcrawler then goes on to state an intention to modify tanking in the long run, replacing the requirement for active threat management with active mitigation abilities, holding the current Death Knight model up an an example of this.

So. Effect? In the short term, well tanking just got a whole lot cruisier. Tanking is fairly faceroll at the moment anyway if you're halfway-competent, the exception to this being on-the-pull threat, which I can see they are specifically acknowledging and fixing with the Vengeance "floor".

In the long term, tanking may actually become a lot more compelling when we have the ability to actually affect the mitigation performance we care about, not simply the binary: held aggro / did not hold aggro, with the only effect of any extra effort past this point being a very slight increase in overall raid damage.

I've read in the past about how the current design for Death Knight active mitigation cannot be made too powerful or central, lest the class become either overpowered when played perfectly or impossible for a less apt player to tank effectively with. I can only hope that once it is made a standard tank design, skill-based mitigation can be made to matter a lot more, perhaps even to the point where a significant and measurable difference in damage taken is possible through skilled management of the tanking "rotation", the same way that we currently see significant and measurable differences in healing and damage throughput for those roles. The possiblility of this type of gameplay is something I find very exciting.

Realistically, though, I forsee this being more a case of making Shield Block cost 60 Rage instead of 10 so you need to "manage" your Rage in order to use it, or making Holy Shield Block cost Holy Power so you need to "manage" your Holy Power to use it. Again, for the halfway-competent tank, very little will change.

Of course we can't for a second pretend this whole situation isn't yet another direct response to the "tank shortage" in LFD. We all know it. They all know it.

For bad players, and those who are randomly grouped with them [ie all of us] this is game-changing. Let's look at the current state of the five-mans in terms of unbalanced skill/gear level in groups:

A weak DPS will deal less damage. This can be compensated for by pretty much any combination of stronger players in the party.
A weak healer will have less healing throughput and run out of mana sooner. This can be compensated for by a stronger tank requiring less healing, or stronger DPS who can manage crowd-control and/or kill things faster.
A weak tank will take more damage and have a low threat output. These need to be compensated for by having both a stronger healer in terms of the increased damage they take and by the DPS making a conscious effort to either manage their own threat or execute outside-the-box play with threat-redirection/kiting/mitigation/lockdown abilities; or by a vastly stronger healer who has the reflexes, throughput and mana-management to heal any non-tanks that take aggro.

The imbalance is not hard to spot. Weak tanks require significantly stronger players to compensate for them or the group will fail. Making tank threat simple goes a long way in allowing DPS to compensate for a weak tank without necessitating more work for either themselves or the healer.

I still smile when Blizzard pulls out simple yet brilliant changes like this. Now they just need to follow it up with some compelling mitigation mechanics, or I might end up very bored with tanking.

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