Monthly Archives: May 2012

PvP Playbook: Portrait Psychology

Your character portrait conveys useful information about your character to opponents in PvP. You can’t prevent this exchange of information – but you can use your portrait to wage psychological warfare on your enemies.

WHAT YOUR HELM SAYS ABOUT YOU

Consider what information is given when you target someone in the default UI: race, gender, resource type.

Human, female, uses mana.

Most players will turn on either numbers (my personal preference) or percentages:

The portrait also conveys one really important piece of information: gear level.

Your helm gives your opponents a clue about your overall gear level in PvP.

See, PvP gear in Cataclysm was standardized so you can approximate a character’s gear level by their health, regardless of class. (It’s been a good change, honestly.) So if you have numbers on, you can tell at a glance how geared they are.

It’s important to note that not everyone has numbers turned on, and those who do may not know what the levels are. In the heat of battle they may not bother to look at all. The character portrait, though, is a big tell about gear – if they are showing a Conquest PvP helm, their gear is likely at least decent if not great. If they’re showing a crafted PvP helm, or a PvE helm, chances are pretty good that they’re undergeared or not fully geared for PvP.

Now that we have Transmogrification, we can use this to our advantage.

MAKE THEM UNDERESTIMATE YOU

One of my favorite psychological games to play with portraits is to dress so I look weaker than I really am.

Looking weaker than you are won’t fake out experienced PvPers (who will look at your health, not your helm), but mogging your PvP gear to the distinctive crafted starter sets can cause many opponents to initially underestimate you.

While the visual appearance of gear isn’t everything, force opponents to look closer to see your gear level! Giving the wrong initial impression is tactically sound. If they think that you’re poorly geared and an easy kill when you’re not – great! If they think you’re geared improperly – like a Warlock in Spirit gear, or in PvE gear – even better.

The helm is just the start of your deception, of course. Mog your whole PvP set to a distinctive yet plausible lower tier to give the wrong impression.  (I’m lucky that I play a cloth-wearer, because the crafted PvP sets look pretty good.)

This option works best when your gear is good to great. If your gear really is bad, though, you’ll want the next option.

GIVE NOTHING AWAY

This is my default mode of operation – hide your helm in PvP. Doing so means my portrait doesn’t give away anything about my gear, which is good.

It also allows me to show off my character’s hair, which is a plus. And it tells nothing about my gear.

But it’s also wasting an opportunity to deceive opponents. When I started out my PvP gear grind this season this probably wasn’t a bad thing – hide your weakness – but now that I’m respectably geared I don’t know that I need to maintain a blank slate with my portrait.

Extending this to the whole body, I try to transmog my starter PvP gear and Honor PvP gear into something else entirely different – an old vanilla set of greens, crafted Mageweave or Netherweave sets, old Northrend PvP tiers – anything to hide that you’re not quite as geared as you’re going to be.

This tactic is best used while gearing up.

CONFUSE THEM

Noggenfogger Elixir has been a PvP standby for years. Furbolg form, Gnome/troll forms, Iron Dwarfs, Wolvar – whatever kind of disguise you’ve got, you can use. This isn’t about mogging your helm so much as it is completely confusing opponents with your portrait and silhouette. The best disguise conceals not only your gear, but your race and even your class. (Name plates will reveal your class, though, and everyone should have name plates on in PvP. No exceptions.)

I think the cross-faction disguises are honestly the best. I remember targeting Horde who looked like night elves in early Cataclysm – or goblins before goblins were a playable race – and wondering how the hell they had done it. It was a great tactic, because every time I targeted a night elf I thought I’d misclicked and gotten a friendly unit.

BE DISTINCTIVE

Sometimes you want to intimidate your opponents. You’re in full Conquest gear and rolling with your arena team mates? Show it. Don’t mind being singled out in the battleground? Wear something distinctive on your head. Engineering is great for this, with Deep Dive Helmets and goggles galore, but there are plenty of distinctive helms which will let people know that yes, they’ve got YOU in their sights.

Intimidation isn’t a bad thing in PvP. If you look at someone and immediately identify that they’re in a full set of Conquest gear while your team is a mix of crafted and Honor, you’re going to treat that player with wary respect. (Hopefully, you’ll also focus fire them; even more hopefully, you’ll focus fire them only when appropriate, and not while allowing their teammates to win the BG.)

I’ve recently hit a PvP gear level where I feel comfortable adopting this tactic again. The warlock Conquest helm is really great looking – first PvP one I can say that about since the Wrathful helm – and the outfit is killer. I don’t mind advertising that my warlock is in a lot of Cataclysmic gear, since if I get focused that usually means a healer or FC isn’t.

Adopting a unique, distinctive look can have its drawbacks, though. I’m using the Flying Tiger Goggles, an early engineering schematic, which not only helps opponents quickly identify me, but also gives away my profession. You can use this to your advantage, of course – there are non-Engineer goggles out there to fake out your opponents – but it is a tell that I’ve got bombs available to me.

BE MINDFUL OF YOUR APPEARANCE

I think it’s important to consider how you look to your opponents in PvP. Appearance isn’t anywhere near as important as, say, proper gearing and good solid play, but it’s a detail that you shouldn’t overlook. Much like which title you display, your portrait conveys information about your character and their gear.

Take a few moments to think about how you’ll look to your opponent across the battlefield. Make sure that it matches the impression you want to give.

Little details add up.

26 Comments

Filed under Cynwise's Warcraft Manual, PvP Playbook

On the Tyranny of Classes

I know I’ve said this a few times before, but it’s still strange to me, as a traditional RPG player, to be faced with the limitations of MMORPGs. In many ways these are two radically different mindsets that share the same type of setting and gameplay elements; the entire concept of and RPG character is flipped on its head for MMOs, especially WoW.

There are traits I’d consider immutable for an RPG character: race, gender, appearance, identity. (It’s not that they absolutely can’t be changed, but that they are beyond the normal magic/technology of a fantasy setting. You need strong magic to make this happen.) There are other traits which can be changed over time – professions, proficiencies, even classes (depending on your RPG engine of choice, of course.) Who your character is takes precedence over what they do, and – just like in the real world – they can change what they do, learn new things, take their own path.

World of Warcraft turns my expectation upside down. The only thing about a character that can’t be changed is their class; everything else is up for discussion. Who they are matters not at all; what they do is the important thing. My druid has gone from a female night elf to a male tauren and back again, all without ill effects in Warcraft – but there’s no plausible way for this to have happened. That’s okay! Not everything needs to make sense when talking about class mechanics. But it’s weird. It’s weird to think that that kind of radical character transformation is possible, but a warrior can’t become a paladin (or vice-versa). A Highborne mage can’t find the ways of Elune and become a druid; a disaffected mage can’t become a warlock.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this again while playing Cynwise, my warlock main whom I discarded about a year ago. Seemingly like a lot of folks, the effect of Decline and Fall on me was to pick up my warlock again and start playing her. At first it was to check things for accuracy, then it was to see LFR and Deathwing. After that I started PvPing again, first to get the Cataclysmic Gladiator’s Felweave outfit, then because I realized that now is a great time to work on Battlemaster. I’m having a mixed time playing her; there are times I enjoy it a lot, and other times I find it frustrating and absolutely no fun at all.

But she’s the closest one I have towards that goal, my only real vehicle in the endgame, and if I am going to be PvPing I may as well be working towards some goal. I enjoy it well enough most days.

It’s not the comeback I was hoping for, but it’s at least a quiet return.

CHANGING THE ACHIEVEMENT GAME

One rather important development that’s happened in the past month has been the announcement of account-wide achievements in Mists of Pandaria. Basically, most achievements will now be applied across all your characters, so if you Explore Mulgore on one toon, you’ll get that achievement on all of them. Meta-achievements will roll up the accumulated achievements of your characters, so if you have done all the quests in Kalimdor, but not all on the same toon, you’ll get it across all the toons. Some achievements are going to roll up your totals across characters – honorable kills for the Bloodthirsty achievement, for example – but details of which and what are sparse.

This is a cool thing. As I come out of my data-induced warlock stupor I like it more and more, even without the details which would help me answer questions like:

  • Will accumulated wins contribute to the Veteran achievements of specific battlegrounds? I have 80 WSG wins on Cynwise, but 253 on my extant toons. Will victories be rolled up into a single total like Honorable Kills, or not?
  • Will the individual BG Master achievements be treated as meta-achievements? I have almost everything for Master of Arathi Basin on Cynwise except Resilient Victory, which I have on Cynwulf. How will this work?
  • Will PvP reputation be additive? I am about halfway through the absolutely brutal and ever-worsening Justicar grind on Cynwise; will the rep I earn on other characters apply? I’ve played in 522 WSGs and 410 ABs on my non-deleted toons, but only 202/234 with Cynwise. Will reputation across toons be added like HKs?
  • Will Battlemaster even be a Meta-achievement? There are no guarantees here! Things change in development. Some metas may get left out due to coding constraints; others due to policy discussions. To preserve prestige, Battlemaster might be deemed an achievement which needs to be done on a single toon, perhaps like the Insane.

The old advice is to not count your chickens before they hatch, and that applies as much to software as it does to poultry. It’s interesting to speculate about account-wide achievements, but I’m having a tough time convincing myself that they’re going to be there, and that if they’re included at launch they’re going to work all in my favor.

I mean, the idea is great. The idea is awesome! Quoting Greg Street from his post announcing the change:

Overall, we never want you to play Character A instead of Character B because of achievement concerns. If Character A had the Violet Proto-Drake, then you might not play Character B. If Character A was only one holiday away from the Violet Proto-Drake, then you may not play Character B. If Character A had completed most of the raid achievements from Dragon Soul, you may not want to bring Character B for one fight and miss out on the achievement. Having alts is cool and working on achievements is cool, but we don’t want the two systems to work against each other.

I like this direction a lot. Play who you like, in the situations you like, and it all counts. Which toon you play – which class you play – doesn’t matter anymore. So many achievements I work on that I’m like, this doesn’t need to be done on Cynwise. Some I can motivate myself to do – cooking and fishing dailies, since she’s Chef Salty Cynwise. Others – Loremaster – I just look at and go, I would get so much more benefit from leveling an alt through that zone than taking an 85 there. This change is so, so very welcome from that standpoint.

But the implementation of something this complex causes me concern. There are caveats, and gotchas, and corner cases; I’m just wary. I want to see it in action, on live, before I let myself relax and go, yes, this will be okay.

See, it comes back to the immutability of classes in WoW, and the experience of Warlocks in Cataclysm.

TRAPPED BY A CLASS

What do you do when you decide a class isn’t right for you?

I think the answer to this is heavily dependent upon how long you’ve played Warcraft. When I’d been playing for a few weeks and I didn’t like playing my Paladin, deleting him was no big deal. There was no commitment to the character besides a fondness for the name.

But as characters grow, and level, and become a player’s main character, that kind of abandonment becomes more difficult. That character accumulates stuff; not just levels and gear (though don’t discount them!), they get pets, awards, titles, achievements, mounts. They have experiences and start forming part of our amorphous digital identity. They get reputations in game, and with guilds, and with real people. Their UI gets customized, their abilities get internalized, their macros get fine-tuned. It’s progressively harder to say, eh, fuck it, I’m going to switch and play something else. It can be done! But it gets harder than ditching a level 46 character.

Players I know who have switched mains for raiding or PvP seem to go through certain stages of anguish over this. Every time someone drops a pure DPS to tank or heal, it’s always emotionally complicated. The player is experiencing the content, but not necessarily on the character they’d like the experience on. Or they enjoy the class they’re playing on but it’s not their main. Sometimes it works out well – the new class is a better fit than the old one – but even then there are questions of discarded mains, of emotional attachments which need to be resolved. Rerolling is a tough step to take.

Changing for the need of the group is at least voluntary – players can at least take a stand and say, no, I’m a Hunter, take me as I am or else – while changes to the class are more pernicious. What do you do when your class changes underneath you to the point where you don’t enjoy it anymore? This happens to many classes between expansions, but it can also happen in the middle of them.

I think that when this happens to players it’s a very dangerous thing for player retention. When a player is forced to choose between playing a class they don’t enjoy (to achieve their in-game goals) and one they do (but doesn’t contribute to those goals), a crisis is created. Play the game in a way you don’t like to get what you want – or play in a way you like but not get the rewards. This is a no-win situation for the player.

Furthermore, this crisis removes the incentive to keep playing the game at all, which makes it a problem for Blizzard. If the options are:

  • Don’t have fun + get what you want
  • Have fun + don’t get what you want

Players will rightly say, why should I play this game? They may be able to force themselves to do it for a while, but eventually fatigue will win out.

I call this getting trapped by your class. You want to play something else, but don’t want to not be playing your main. Or you go and play something else, but regret leaving your main behind. Whenever I hit a BG on my warlock and there are no healers, I’m immediately sad panda because I would rather be playing a healer. Give me a healing spec, even a shitty one, and I will be all over it in PvP.

But now that I’ve started working on Cynwise again, and she’s so damn close to so many of those Battlemaster/Justicar achievements, it seems a real shame not to at least make the attempt.

RELEASE FROM BONDAGE

I still wonder what it would be like to have class changes in World of Warcraft.

I’m sure that technically, a class change is more complicated than a race change, and probably more complicated than a faction change. There are quests that need to be checked, abilities which need to be reassigned, mounts which need to be modified.

I think gear is probably the easiest thing to consider. If I wanted Cynwise to have a radical transformation and become a Paladin, for instance, I can see Blizzard saying that she shouldn’t be able to wear Warlock tier sets anymore. This should be simple, because the class restrictions on the class-specific gear would go into effect as soon as the class transfer took place, leaving players with the daunting task of both gearing up with the new class tier, while trying to juggle bank space in case they ever changed their mind and wanted to go back.

But is there a compelling reason to not allow class changes in WoW?

Say there’s a concern about people changing classes too often to suit the needs of a patch. Put a 30-day CD on it, but also use class change data to track population and identify balance issues with the class. If Shadow Priest DPS is off the charts, or a specific tank performs really well in a given tier – and everyone changes to take advantage, that’s 1) revenue for Blizzard and 2) an indication that that spec needs tuning. Migratory data would actually be a net positive.

I suppose that one advantage of account-wide achievements is that low-level characters can contribute. In a way, this provides a way to “delevel” your characters – you can have different characters twinked at different levels to play in certain brackets, at-level content, or to play with friends. That’s something to consider in favor of achievements.

While I like the idea of account-wide achievements, I can’t help wonder what would have happened if Blizzard went a different way and considered allowing class changes. Changes would end class tyranny but preserve the uniqueness of a character, of feeling that you really have done it all on one toon.

And they would generate a huge amount of class migration data. That kind of shit would be analyst porn.

Account-wide achievements need to be fairly seamless – and include reputation and other earned currencies – to match a class change.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ll take ‘em, and gladly. If account-wide achievements been in place during Cataclysm I think subscriber numbers would look better – if nothing else, the trapped by a class crisis could have been avoided.

But don’t forget about the benefits of class changes, either. It’s a conspicuous hole in WoW’s polished portfolio.

35 Comments

Filed under Cynwise's Warcraft Manual

Decline and Fall, Now Available in HTML and eBook Formats

I appear to have written a small book about Warlocks in the past two months. It’s not quite NaNoWriMo volume, but there are graphs, and that evens things out, right?

Well, after some cursing at ebook format converters, I’m happy to announce that The Decline and Fall of Warlocks in Cataclysm is now available as a single electronic book for your reading convenience. Two files are available:

  • HTML – single web page, with original links and graphics
  • eReader Archive – a .zip file with HTML, EPUB, MOBI, and TXT versions of the series. Kindle users should try the MOBI, others the EPUB or HTML.

There’s some formatting challenges when moving from one medium to another – images go missing for no reason is my big problem. I’ve tried to smooth it out as best I could – the HTML file should be the best one to use.

Enjoy! Thanks again for reading!

15 Comments

Filed under Cynwise's Warcraft Manual, Warlockery

Out of the Mists: Reclaiming Warlocks in Pandaria

This is the seventh, and final, post in the Decline and Fall of Warlocks in Cataclysm.

The first few weeks of the beta release of Mists of Pandaria was filled with all sorts of amazing news about changes to Warlocks. Every class received some changes, but it really seemed like Warlocks were getting a complete overhaul. Demo and Destro got new resource systems, Affliction’s Soul Shards were revamped. New demon models were added alongside the old stalwarts. Spells were simplified or redesigned, cruft was removed. Many spells were limited to specific specs.

Then came unexpected news: Demonology as a tanking tree. Green fire through a quest. Massive changes to the class were coming. The Cataclysm Warlock was going away, and in its place was going to be a something … very different. Even as things changed and the dual bombshells of Demon Form Tanking and Green Fire were retracted, the reports from the beta showed a class getting completely gutted and rebuilt.

The changes are pretty staggering.

I remember starting this series right around the time the beta came out and feeling a huge sense of urgency to get it done. I needed to get my findings online so people could see the reason for the attention. It’s not that Warlocks can’t DPS or PvP, it’s that the class is shedding players. It’s not that other classes don’t need help too, it’s that Warlocks were vanishing. More than a quarter of them quit. The trends were all going in the wrong direction.

But I also remember glancing at the changes and wondering: will these changes really fix the problems which caused the decline of the Warlock population, or are they just bandaids? New demon forms can get people excited, but if the demons weren’t the original problem then it’s wasted effort. Cosmetic changes can help sell a spec and class, but they can’t solve underlying mechanical issues. Cosmetic changes aren’t bad, at all! But there need to be major mechanical changes, too, or players won’t stick with the class.

I’m done with Cataclysm. Let’s move on to Mists.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Holy shit. Warlocks are going to be so much fun in the next expansion.

I can’t bring myself to level my baby Forsaken Warlock on the live servers anymore. Why? Because the leveling process is so much better on beta. If you are wondering if you should level a Warlock now or in Mists, wait for Mists. Gone are the awkward talents and abilities; in their place are simple, logical spells which fit the theme of the spec. Leveling Destro, for instance, I no longer shoot Shadow Bolts and dot on the run. Instead, I:

  1. Set people on fire.
  2. Explode people and stun them.
  3. Throw fire at people.
  4. Drop fire on groups of people.

And that’s pretty much it. It’s wonderful.

Simple for leveling? Yes, and that’s great for new players and new Warlocks alike. Affliction DoTs. Demo gets demon form early and gets to use it often. Destro slings fire at everything. By the mid-40s all the new resource systems are in place and you’re starting to learn the basics of how things work at endgame.

The class is very different at endgame. If you are going from 85 to 90, mentally start preparing to learn a new class. Affliction still feels familiar, but the changes have made it faster, more frantic at times. Demonology and Destruction are completely different; not only do they have new resource systems, they have jettisoned much of the shared Warlock abilities used in Cataclysm and are focused on the fantasy of the spec again.

The biggest problem, I think, will be the transition for current endgame Warlock players. I went in not knowing any of the new systems or having read any guides and was overwhelmed by how different things were. I had to start over from scratch to get used to the new way of doing things, nuking both my UI/keybinds and my preconceived notions of how the specs should work. The transition from Wrath to Cata was easier because it was just more stuff on top of stuff I already knew; Cata to Mists is new stuff. Jettisoning old concepts is hard but vital to the changeover.

I can already see that the developers recognize this is a problem by the appearance of clear, concise in-game directions on the Core Abilities tab. It’s relatively easy to put together a clear out-of-game guide, but a bit harder to teach people in-game. The Core Abilities tab wasn’t there when I started but it’s a really useful guide. The What Has Changed tab is another recent addition which I think will be helpful in-game advice for returning Warlocks.

CORE ABILITIES

I think the Core Abilities tab is a great addition to not only the Warlock class, but to every class in the game. Each spec gets a tab in the spell book summarizing their key abilities for use so that players understand the intended way to play, like this:

I love this tab. It provides a good overview of the endgame rotation of a spec. It lets you drag the abilities down to your action bars and go, okay, I’m playing Demo, here’s what I’m supposed to do: keep Corruption and HoG on the target, cast Soul Fire when MC procs, turn into a Demon when my Demonic Fury bar is full, otherwise cast Shadow Bolt. Got it.

It seems so logical in retrospect, but if there is a way a spec is supposed to be played, it makes sense that the game should teach it. This allows new and old players alike to pick up a class and get the basics quickly, while still allowing a lot of room for player growth. Mastery of the nuances of a class won’t be taught through the Core Abilities tab, that’s not what it’s there for. You won’t see things like “time your DoT refreshes with trinket procs with Demon Soul for max damage” or “use Fel Fire while moving” in these tabs, and that’s okay.

Core Abilities are the basics. Great addition. Love it.

LIMITED SPELL SELECTION CREATES FOCUS

You’ll notice that the number of spells on the Core Abilities tab is pretty low – the page supports six, which is a good number to try to get your head around when learning any spec.

One of the things I like best about the changes to Warlock in Mists is how the Core Abilities are not just the suggested abilities for the spec, they’re usually the only abilities. Competing abilities are just not available. Looking at Demo above, you might ask what happened to Immolate? It’s not available anymore to Demo! You can’t cast it, don’t even try!

This focus is created either by only granting abilities to certain specs, or transforming basic spells when the spec is chosen. Corruption turns into Immolate for Destro, so now there’s not a choice between the two, or a possibility that Corruption will enter the rotation. It can’t.

Locking many abilities to individual specs not only reduces player confusion, it eliminates the possibility of unintended crossover and the complexity that goes with it. The number of shared Core Abilities between specs is very low – Corruption is the only one, and it’s only shared between Affliction and Demonology. Everything else is different.

While this means we will likely see the three Warlock specs drift further apart in Mists, I think this is a very good thing for the flavor of each class and reducing overall class complexity.

The Destro Core Abilities (above) are a good illustration of how much more focused each class is on a few central, thematic abilities in Mists, and not presented with the dozens of choices you have in Cataclysm. I’m reminded of Bruce Lee’s quote on expertise:

I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.

This was drilled into me when I was learning martial arts: most black belts only really use 5-10 moves, but they know how to use them in dozens of configurations and combinations, and adapt them to any situation or environment. I feel like that’s what we’re seeing here. The cruft is being cleared away, leaving us players to focus on using those abilities we have.

MORE USEFUL SPELLS

Spells which weren’t useful in Cataclysm have either been jettisoned or made useful in Mists.

Searing Pain is gone. This was mostly a PvP spell, but Fel Flame can replace it nicely.

Shadowflame is gone. I love this spell, but it was both awkward to use and very, very mage-like. It’s been rolled into Hand of Gul’dan now.

Fel Flame generates Burning Embers and Demonic Fury now, making it an easy choice for whenever a Warlock moves. You move, you cast Fel Flame for damage or Life Tap for mana, period.

Curse of Enfeeblement takes the place of Curse of Tongues and Curse of Weakness and is actually attractive now, especially while leveling!

Demon Soul now has spec-specific iterations, decoupling it from the deployed demon and eliminating Demon Twisting.

Demons appear (and this is, of course, subject to change) to be chosen based on utility, not on spec association or DPS. Any given spec doesn’t have a specific demon that benefits it through talents or abilities, which I think is a great change.

Spells transform into new versions when Warlocks do things. Demon Form doesn’t give you new abilities, it changes the ones you have into new, related abilities. Curses become Auras. That’s clever. If you use Burning Embers to do AoE, your spells change to reflect that.

All of these things are pretty damn cool.

SIMPLER CLASS BASELINE DOES NOT MEAN A SIMPLE CLASS

That said, there’s a set of other abilities that are shared across Warlock specs that are also needed – things like Life Tap, Demon Soul, Guardian Demons – that still need to be cast. There are also talents which are independent of spec.

The division of abilities into Core/Non-Core is great for playing multiple Warlock specs because it allows players another way to chunk up their abilities. I can look at my UI and go, Core (DPS) abilities go in one place, baseline Warlock abilities (defensive, movement, utility) go in another, and maintain a great deal of consistency in layout between specs.

Compare my Affliction and Demo setups in Beta:

This is Affliction, arguably the spec with the most buttons right now. You can see that most of the Core Abilities are grouped in the lower bars and the primary 1-10 keys, while utility spells are on keys around the QWES keys, like ADFGT.

This is Demo. The utility keys are almost identical between specs, withthe only variation being different talents or glyphs I’m testing out. The Core Ability section is different, but not overwhelmingly so – there’s still a relatively uniform layout there.

I’m amazed at how much space I have with my keybindings, to be honest. I know some people have been able to play Warlocks in Cataclysm without using all their keybinds, but I have had fully loaded binds from the start. I’m a bit in shock that I won’t need 60 binds and can use WASD without feeling like I’m sacrificing valuable keybinds space to do it!

The Talent system revamp is excellent. Instead of trying to shape your character by taking certain necessary abilities, you’re choosing utility and options instead of possibly making mistakes which affect your core abilities. What I like best about the Warlock talents is that you can often tailor the complexity of the spec based on your choices – often you are selecting between another button to push, replacing an existing button, or adding a passive ability to a button. This allows Warlock players to take 3 or 4 different damage absorption CDs if they like, or just have two.

I saw this with the Glyphs, as well. The Glyph of Demon Soul is fantastic, because it gives a passive bonus when DS is not on CD, effectively allowing players who don’t want to have a burst CD to ignore it – yet still get some benefit from it. The Glyph of Wild Imps is working like this too, only in reverse! It takes a passive and adds a button with CD, which is awesome!

The abilities are simpler, but I wouldn’t call them simple. Not by a longshot. The interactions with each new resource spec are still up in the air, but there is still a lot of mental juggling going on. Affliction feels much faster now with changes to Malefic Grasp and Haunt. Destro feels very rhythmic, where you build up to this absolutely massive discharge of damage (oh god, 6 Chaos Bolts on 2 targets with Havoc and Demon Soul, be still my beating heart) and then start over again. Demonology is in the strangest place right now, with a hybrid melee-caster rotation that’s unlike anything Warlocks have seen before. Meta form is no longer just a CD you use to increase your damage, instead it’s an entirely different way of playing.

VISUALLY EXCITING ABILITIES = SPEC WISH FULFILLMENT

Near the beginning of the beta there was a report that Warlocks would get a quest which would allow them to change the color of their fire to green.

There are times that I feel like I’m in the minority because I don’t really care one way or another about green fire for Warlocks. I mean, would it be cool? Sure? But I’d rather see mechanics fixed than spell graphics updated?

Well, that’s really a crumudgeon’s attitude, and it took me playing in the Mists Beta to realize it.

I chose the screenshots above deliberately because they show off some of the very cool new spell effects that are available for Warlocks. Chaos Bolt is now a HUGE green energy dragon with a swarm of smaller dragons launched at the target. Shadow Bolt can be made to swarm in a pack of three instead of a bolt, and it’s AWESOME. Soul Fire is huge, like, HUGE. Harvest Life is wild when you can get 3-6 targets in range. These spells are great.

I was leveling my baby Warlock when I realized how much happier I was that she was slinging sheets of fire instead of shadow bolts at her targets. This is how Destro is SUPPOSED to feel! I yelled more than once at the screen.

And that’s really what the new graphics are all about; fulfilling the fantasy of a spec. The abilities have to do it, the mechanics have to do it, but the graphics have to do it, too. And the new graphics are delivering on that fantasy. They are making each spec different from each other – you will not have to wonder for long what kind of Warlock you are facing. They’re also making the class visually distinct from other classes very early on – you won’t wonder if you’ve got a Fire Mage or a Destro Lock in your group anymore. You’ll know.

I know Blizzard came out and said that green fire wasn’t happening, but given the scope of graphical changes I’ve seen in the Beta – I wouldn’t rule it out just yet.

WARLOCK TANKS

I have not seen a class community polarize faster than Warlocks did over the discovery of the Glyph of Demon Hunting, which allowed for Demon Form to work… well, to work like a tank. A real tank, not an off tank. Huge amounts of armor. Taunts. Melee attacks. Defensive cooldowns. All the basic abilities were there, they just had to be fleshed out.

Then there was lore that appeared, later – about how the Demonologists on the Council of Six Daggers went to the Demon Hunters of Outland to learn their secrets.  The reason for the name of the glyph became clear, at least.

But, after all that excitement, it was not to be.

Greg Street wrote:

Just to make our intent clear, the Glyph of Demon Hunting isn’t intended to turn Demonology warlocks into a tanking spec. You won’t be able to queue as a tank for Dungeon Finder for instance and won’t have the survivability or tools of say a Protection paladin.

Thus the dream of Warlock tanks ended.

If there was anything that indicated to me that Warlocks were really in trouble in Cataclysm, and that no idea was too wild to save them in Mists, it was this one. Tanking Warlocks represented the most outrageous thinking I’d seen yet on the class. Oh, sure, bloggers had talked about it before, but nothing had ever come out of Blizzard indicating it was a possibility. Taking a pure DPS spec and turning them into a hybrid? This is madness!

No, this is amazing.

Let’s assume for a moment that the intent really was to make Demo a tanking spec. Humor me.

Let’s consider the benefits:

  • Turns the class into a hybrid, resolving issues with the Simplicity Tax and Bring the Player, Not the Class model. This also invites players to try Warlocks who might otherwise be hesitant to roll a pure DPS character due to the needs of their raid composition.
  • Increases the number of potential tanks in the game. This both helps the general tank shortage, as well as offset the main quality of life disadvantage of a pure DPS – queue times for PvE dungeons and raids – by letting them jump in as a tank.
  • It is new and unusual, which can be quite a draw for players looking for something different. It also gives long-term Warlock players an opportunity to experience a different role in the game without rerolling.
  • Sets up the possibility of a fourth spec for other classes. Demo tanks would be an experiment in making one spec fill multiple roles (DPS/Tanking), much like Feral Druids did. If both roles are successful, spinning off a separate 4th spec becomes a logical extension of the tanking experiment, which opens up possibilities for other classes extending their specs.
  • Fits the theme and fantasy of the spec. Instead of transforming into a demon to make your spells hit harder, you turn into one to rip and tear into your enemies, using demonic magic to augment your physical prowess to be the equivalent of a giant dire bear or warrior in armor.

There are some challenges to overcome with this idea, though.

  • Automatic role determination by spec. Splitting apart Feral into two specs allows Blizzard to code LFD/LFR to only allow characters who have learned a tanking spec to queue as a tank. If this restriction comes to pass, Demo either needs to become a full-time tank spec or have the tank spec be split off from the DPS spec entirely.
  • Automatic quest reward determination by spec. If quest rewards are going to be chosen by your current spec, should Demo get DPS or tanking gear?
  • Attachment of Demo DPS players to their spec. Given the massive changes made to Demo in Mists, it doesn’t really resemble the Demo DPS spec we’ve enjoyed since Wrath, but current Demo players may not want to give up their DPS play style of choice. There is a related argument that Warlock players don’t want to be a hybrid and be pressured into tanking.
  • Balance with other classes. Demo tanks brings the number of tank classes up to 6, which can be a challenge for balancing under the Bring the Player model. There are also PvP concerns to consider, though to be frank those concerns exist with the glyphed version anyways.
  • Tank Cloth itemization. Honestly, I think this is the biggest obstacle for Warlock tanks. How will they gear for avoidance? A conversion of Intellect, Haste, Crit, Mastery into Dodge, Parry, or Expertise might be possible, but how will that work? New gear would be an easier answer, but adding in an entire new class of Tanking Cloth gear is a monumental undertaking, and fraught with the same perils as Intellect Plate.

The problem of making a cloth-wearing tank viable is an interesting one. Do you follow a Bear/Guardian model and convert Intellect into Dodge? Well, that probably needs to be coded, and only for Warlock tanks (since Agility gives Dodge already as a default).

What about health pools, do you make it so their damaging attacks suck life out of the bosses and give them a large effective health pool (but then how do they survive the big hits?) What about Parry, Expertise, melee Hit – how do you make it work, exactly, when there’s no available gear with tanking stats?

There’s also a question of theme. Demonology, as it stands today in Cataclysm, provides both the conjuror and  metamorph archetypes in one package. In some ways those concepts are at odds with each other – a conjuror summons other beings to do their dirty work for them, while a metamorph transforms to do the job themselves. Tanking stresses the latter philosophy, of internalizing the demons and becoming them, more than the former, which is more of a ranged DPS idea. Spinning off the transformation of Demonology into a separate tanking tree would allow both themes to flourish, but if only one can be chosen – I’d rather have some flexibility in my theme.

The Glyph of Demon Hunting is an interesting experiment. Because it’s a Glyph you can’t enable it in the middle of a fight, but perhaps it could be changed into an ability which allows Demo to activate tank mode for 5 minutes? That at least makes it an attractive option for tank death or tank swap fights. As it stands now, the best use will be for soloing or – as gear gets better – tanking 5-mans with a friendly guild group who likes pushing the limits.

That’s pretty cool, but I know that if there was more time in the development cycle this could be even cooler.

I would not count Warlock tanks out of the picture just yet. If not now, look for them in the expansion after Mists.

THE REBIRTH OF WARLOCKS IN MISTS OF PANDARIA

I find it ironic that I named this series after Gibbon’s masterpiece, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman EmpireGibbon assembled a wealth of material around the collapse of Roman governance in Western Europe in the third through sixth centuries, but he used it to formulate a monocausal theory – that the Roman Empire’s fall was inevitable because of the influence of Christianity. This theory overlooks much in pursuit of forwarding an Enlightenment viewpoint of the Medieval period and Christianity as bad, and the Greco-Roman classical tradition as good.

As a historian, I have always preferred the works of J. B. Bury, who did not dispute the evidence Gibbon presented, but rather interpreted them differently. Bury posits that Rome’s fall was not inevitable, but rather the result of a series of incidents which lead to a catastrophe. Internal political pressures, external migratory pressures on the Germanic tribes, inflation, increased taxes to deal with the Sassanid Empire’s threat, a series of terrible decisions by Imperial and Provincial leaders alike – all these contributed to the calamity of the fourth and fifth centuries. I recommend reading Gibbon so you’ve read him, but I recommend Bury if you want to see the vast scope of problems in Late Antiquity, and how monocausal theories need to take them all into account.

To quote Bury:

The gradual collapse of the Roman power … was the consequence of a series of contingent events. No general causes can be assigned that made it inevitable.

It’s my hope that this series has been more like Bury than Gibbon. While there has been a central theme to this work –  inelegant complexity without reward led to the decline of Warlock populations in Cataclysm – it is my firm belief that it was a series of design decisions and balance changes during the expansion which contributed to the decline of this class. Attributing it to any one specific change misses the big picture. Our personal reasons and agendas need to take a back seat to the data.

The Warlock class declined in Cataclysm. Based on what I’ve seen so far in the Mists of Pandaria Beta, it is too early to write its epitaph, but its recovery is by no means a certain thing. It is transforming into something very different what came before, and it is my sincere hope that it flourishes and thrives in its new incarnation.

Let’s see what the future holds for this great class.

THANKS

I honestly thought this would be a two-post series at the beginning. More than thirty thousand words later, I realize that I had a lot more to say about Warlocks than I thought I did, so, first and foremost, thanks to the hundreds of people who commented and shared your thoughts and opinions in comments, forums and emails, for promoting this work in the Warlock community. Thank you.

I’d like to thank Xelnath for his for his insights and convincing me to give the Mists beta a try. It’s been a delight discussing this work with you, and I can’t wait to see what you have up your sleeve next.

I have to also give many thanks to my undercover editors, Catulla and Narci of Flavor Text, for their unflagging support in the face of a mountain of text regarding a class they didn’t play. Narci deserves special mention as the one who convinced me this needed to be a series, and then stayed with the idea by reviewing every single draft, even the ones I threw away. Thank you both for your ocular fortitude.

Finally, thank you for reading. This has been a long journey, and I’m humbled and thankful that you chose to go on it with me. Thanks!

60 Comments

Filed under Cynwise's Warcraft Manual, Warlockery

Appendix C: Haste and the Butterfly Effect

Why did all Warlock specs become so DoT heavy in Cataclysm?

I’ve been wondering this as I’ve gone though the changes in Mists, because the difference is so startling; why did every spec start using all DoTs, all the time? Why did Destro end up getting damage from 5 DoTs and lose the nuking feel? Why did everyone end up using Corruption and Shadowflame?

Was it a deliberate design decision, or was it an accident?

I can’t answer designer intent, but I think the root of this was an innocuous quality of life change made to DoTs at the start of Cataclysm. Ironically, a small change to make DoTs easier to use ended up making the Warlock class harder to play overall.

I covered this early after Cataclysm’s release in How Warlock DoTs Work in Cataclysm, which looked at the different ways Haste affected DoTs in Wrath and Cataclysm. There were two changes:

  • You could now clip most DoTs without losing the final tick, and
  • DoTs would gain ticks of damage at certain Haste values.

The clipping was the quality of life issue, but to make it happen, the mechanics of DoTs had to be modified.

In Wrath, Haste meant that your 18 second Corruption with 6 ticks could be done in, say, 12 seconds, at which point you’d recast it. In Cataclysm this was changed so that DoT spells would remain roughly the same duration, but add additional ticks of damage when they got fast enough. Your 15 second/6 tick Corruption could potentially become a 13.64/6 tick or 16.25 second/8 tick spell.

This was, in retrospect, a really big deal.

Haste increased DoT DPS by making ticks faster, that’s easy. But in Cataclysm, Haste also dramatically increased the DPCT (damage per cast time) of DoTs like Corruption because each cast generated more overall damage. If a Warlock with no Haste cast Corruption, that’s a GCD to cause 6 ticks of a set amount of damage. If that Warlock has enough Haste to get an additional tick or two of damage, that GCD spent casting the DoT now does 16%, 33%, 50% more damage, depending on how many additional ticks were on the spell.

With Cata’s new Haste/DoT model, Warlocks of all specs had to cast every DoT available to them. They were too good not to cast. Corruption and Shadowflame became defaults for every spec. Destro was caught in a vice because Conflagrate was based upon Immolate’s total damage, so every additional tick Haste granted increased not only their primary DoT’s DPCT, it also made their primary nuke hit much harder, giving an additional DPS boost. So they’d stack Haste to get those Immolate ticks, which would in turn improve Corruption’s DPCT, making it even more important to cast.

Sweet delicious Haste, combined with shared spells across all specs, became a trap.
I think the changes weren’t intentionally designed to make Warlocks more complicated; changes were made to DoTs/HoTs for all casters, not just Warlocks, and in general the new model really is better. It’s certainly easier to be able to clip with the 2 second rule! And the extra ticks and associated Haste Breakpoints/Plateaus make Haste a more interesting secondary stat.

I think this points towards Warlocks getting hit by Lorenz’s butterfly effect – a small initial change in one part of the game had unforeseen major consequences in another.

  • DoT/Haste interaction changes with 4.0.1 release.
  • Corruption/Shadowflame DPCT rises.
  • All Warlock specs have Corruption and Shadowflame in their priority.

Plenty of other small quality of life changes were made that had an effect upon the class’s overall complexity. Banes being separated out from Curses, for example, seemed good at first (Banes caused damage, Curses were debuffs) because you no longer needed to do advanced math to figure out if you should take the 12% damage increase from Curse of the Elements or the damage caused by Curse of Doom or Agony. But then every Warlock ended up casting a Bane – and maybe a Curse too.

The DPCT of Shadowflame has always been surprisingly good, mostly due to its short cast time, so it was interesting to see it get used so prominently in Cataclysm. I haven’t really taled about Shadowflame much before, but it’s a spell that I adore – damage, dot, and a glyphed slow. It’s also a tremendous pain in the ass to use in PvE, and takes skill to use in PvP. It has short range so you either have to run in to use it or forgo it entirely. It’s not just a DoT or an AoE, it’s a spell that requires very good placement to use. Movement matters, which adds a layer of complexity far beyond just another spell.

Corruption presents an interesting problem because it was baseline damage for all three specs. Blizzard couldn’t change how it worked without considerable effort, so all that was left was tweaking the damage. If the damage was made too low, Affliction would be neutered, but if it was kept high, Destruction would benefit too much. So talents, Mastery bonuses, general damage all got modified – but Corruption’s DPCT was too good to pass up for Destro. (Demo always wanted it for Molten Core procs, but the damage was similarly good.)

I think the fact that Haste changed all DoTs and not just Warlock DoTs points towards this being an accident. I can’t prove it, and it’s not like it was the source of all Warlock problems in Cataclysm.

It was just a little butterfly, flapping its wings.

9 Comments

Filed under Cynwise's Warcraft Manual, Warlockery

The Loss of the Warlock’s Soul

This is the sixth post in the Decline and Fall of Warlocks in Cataclysm.

In a role playing game, each class presents an archetype; every specialization sells a fantasy. Your character’s being is tied into what they do, in their abilities and resources. Their class is a shorthand to describe and delineate them. In Warcraft, it’s the single most important thing about your character. You can change their appearance, their gender, their race, even their faction – but their class – what they do – is unalterable.

The archetypes that WoW classes present are broad strokes: a virtuous knight, a fallen hero, a religious ascetic, an archer or rifleman. Some have common themes but subtle distinctions: servants of natural balance versus servants of the elemental forces of the world. Others present the same idea with different polarities: brawny fighters versus dexterous skirmishers, scholarly wizards versus volatile conjurers. Within each of these archetypes there is a lot of room for players’ imaginations to flourish.

The first two posts in this series dealt entirely with identifying the problem: Warlocks declined in popularity in Cataclysm more than any other class. They were the least popular class and declined further. The next three posts examined the theory of Inelegant Complexity without Reward, the idea that the Warlock class suffered from increased complication without commensurate reward while lacking leveling elegance to offset churn. These posts are focused on measuring those things which can be measured, of looking at the data and class abilities as impartially as I can and trying to make sense of one question: Why did players leave? Well, here are a bunch of things that changed between Wrath and Cataclysm, they probably all had something to do with it.

But one thing I’ve avoided talking about has been the fantasy of the Warlock, the soul of the class. For one thing, it’s too personal, too steeped in a player’s imagination to objectively measure in the aggregate without a lot of surveys. For another, I think that there’s compelling evidence that the theory of Inelegant Complexity without Reward is right, that it’s the obvious reason why players put down their Warlocks.

Yet, I don’t think it’s the only reason.

I keep looking over the Warlock changes made in the various patches and the community’s reactions to them. Warlocks were able to perform at the highest levels of the game both in PvP and PvE, yet players abandoned the class en masse over the expansion. Objectively, the class got slightly easier to play from its apex of complexity around 4.0.6, which in turn implies that it was a combination of fatigue from class complexity as well as the complexity itself which drove players away, not simply the complexity.

Subjectively, though, I think the Warlock class lost its way. Each individual spec failed to deliver the fantasy it promised. The changes made during Cataclysm exacerbated the effect of this failure, so that even if a player wasn’t affected by complexity fatigue, they found themselves wondering if this was still the class they originally chose to play.

There weren’t any substantial changes to the vision or presentation of the Warlock class in Cataclysm. The failure came from muddled mechanics.

THE WARLOCK FANTASY

Setting aside questions of good or evil, the core idea behind Warlocks is that they’re the tough spellcasters who can survive a beating. This is in direct contrast to Mages, who are presented as fragile but elusive spellcasters, able to escape any trap. One class emphasizes durability; the other emphasizes mobility. Each classes’ spells and mechanics emphasize this contrast. (c.f. Demonic Teleport and Blink.)

The flavor of each specialization suggests a certain kind of character, to be sure. Affliction is good if you want a hexer, a corruptor, a dark enchanter or necromancer. Demonology is the conjurer, the witch summoning dark spirits, the summoner of devils and demons. Destruction is the mad invoker, the pyromaniac. There’s flexibility for players to define their own roles within each specialization.

But mechanically, the three specializations could be summed up very simply.

  • Affliction: damage over time spells, drains.
  • Demonology: demons.
  • Destruction: direct damage spells.

Mechanics have to support the fantasy of the class and specialization, or else the class feels wrong to play.

In Cataclysm, the mechanics of each Warlock spec failed to deliver on their promised fantasy. They created a dissonance between what players thought they should be playing versus what they actually played, which in turn contributed to the flight from the Warlock class.

  • Destruction had more DoTs than Affliction or Demonology.
  • Demonology had more (and better) nukes than Destruction.
  • Demonology didn’t have much to do with demons.
  • Affliction was forced to use Destruction spells instead of drains.

Let’s look at each one in turn.

THE PROBLEM OF DESTRUCTION

Destruction had more DoTs than Affliction in Cataclysm. Affliction had more overall debuffs to monitor, but in terms of actual damage over time spells, Destruction used more.

Destruction had 5 DoTs contributing to its PvE damage, with the player having to manage 4 of them. Affliction and Demonology had 4 DoTs, with players having to manage 3 of them.

If a player wanted to play “the DoT spec” and picked Affliction – which thematically is correct – they did it wrong. If they picked Destruction because they didn’t like juggling a lot of DoTs – well, that turned out to be wrong, too.

That’s bad. Players shouldn’t feel like they did things the wrong way, that there was a bait and switch between the fantasy of a class and its reality.

Contrast this with late Wrath’s model:

The only time Destro locks used Corruption in late Wrath was while moving, and even then only if you didn’t need to Life Tap or Death Coil was on CD. It was better than doing nothing while moving, but it was never part of the standard rotation. You wouldn’t use Corruption in a Patchwerk fight.

Destro had distinctly different damage sources before Cataclysm. Wrath Destruction had a few DoTs, Burning Crusade Destruction had a few DoTs – it’s part of the class flavor – but it was never the DoT spec.

Until Cataclysm.

THE PROBLEM OF NUKES

Demonology had more nukes, and more useful nukes, than Destruction.

While I counted Conflagrate as a CD-locked nuke for my complexity analysis, thematically it’s not really one – you don’t stand and cast it, and it doesnt have a travel time. It’s not visceral, like shooting a sheet of fire from your fingers or hurling a meteor at your enemy.

But even if we include Conflag, I also have to point out that at current gear levels, Chaos Bolt drops out of the Destro rotation because Incinerate scales much, much better with Spellpower.

Compare it to Demo, where Shadow Bolt is a solid filler – but when Molten Core procs, Incinerate becomes a better nuke – and when Decimation procs, Soul Fire becomes the execute nuke of choice. On top of that, Hand of Gul’dan hits harder than Incinerate, provides a debuff on the target, refreshes your primary DoT, and buffs your demon’s damage.

Destro uses Soul Fire to keep up a buff and as a proc, not an execute. The signature 31-point talent nuke doesn’t add anything special, and it gets beaten out by Incinerate.

Why does Demonology have more interesting nukes than Destruction? It’s not that Demo shouldn’t have interesting nukes, too – it’s that Destro fails to deliver on the spec’s promise that you’ll be slinging fire. You sling it, but only after you’ve gotten all of your DoTs ticking.

If anything, Destro’s use of Incinerate/Soul Fire feels more like Affliction’s Shadow Bolt/Haunt mechanic than Demo’s nuke weaving – one nuke for damage, another one for buff refreshing.

That’s not right. It should feel fast and furious – and distinct.

THE PROBLEM OF DEMONOLOGY

Why doesn’t Demonology have more to do with demons?

It’s kind of strange to phrase it like that, but when you look at the mechanics of what Demo Warlocks use, there’s demon form on 2 minute CD, and a unique demon… which is only used in AoE situations, not on bosses. And that’s it.

For the master of demons, that’s kind of disappointing, isn’t it?

This isn’t a problem I think got dramatically worse in Cataclysm. Rather, the spec has always lacked a real emphasis upon demons. The fel flavor is there in name, but not in execution. If you look just at the mechanics, Metamorphosis and Felguard are the extent of demonic influence for the spec. Demonology lacks cosmetic features (demonic horns and wings, demonic flight form, glowing fel tattoos on the character) to emphasize the vision of the spec, while the mechanics are grounded solidly in shadow and fire magic – not conjuration.

A demon form every two minutes, and the ability to save shards while switching demons. That’s what being a master demonologist got you in Cataclysm.

THE PROBLEM OF DRAIN LIFE SPEC

Cataclysm launched with some Warlock spells being unintentionally powerful. This was usually as a result of specialization and Mastery bonuses. There was a point where Searing Pain – formerly used for PvP and Warlock tanking due to its high threat component – was the best filler spell for Destruction, which made a lot of tanks very concerned. But that was quickly nerfed to prevent tank heart attacks.

From Cataclysm’s beta through May 18th, 2011, Drain Life was inordinately good for Affliction – so good that it offered a viable alternative to the traditional Shadow Bolt filler spec. Instead of spending talent points in Destruction, Affdrain buffed pet damage in Demonology and only used Shadow Bolts on Nightfall procs or an opener to get stacks of Shadow Embrace.

Drain Life spec had a lot of things going for it.

  • It’s thematically appropriate to the class. Warlocks should be tough and durable.
  • It’s mechanically appropriate to the spec. Affliction uses DoTs and drains.
  • It was new and different for a spec which hasn’t changed much in two expansions.
  • It offered challenge with reward.

That last part is worth emphasizing – Drain Life spec required a little bit more skill to play than Shadow Bolt because of having to watch ticks and interrupt your Drain Life at exactly the right time while refreshing DoTs. But the reward for this complexity was worth it; Affdrain brought the buff of survivability to raiding Warlocks. It freed up healers to concentrate on other raid members during some of the most intense triage healing this game has ever seen – T11.

Shadow Bolt, on the other hand, is a Destruction spell, and requires Destruction talents to buff it into usability. There’s only one thing in Affliction which affects Shadow Bolt – the base line passive Shadow Mastery talent. Regular Mastery (Potent Affliction) doesn’t, all the other Affliction talents don’t. You have to take Bane to make it even usable, and Shadow and Flame to buff it. This is problematic while leveling with the new talent tree restrictions (no help until level 71, minimum) but it’s thematically bad. To quote Tyler Caraway from Blood Pact:

Blizzard spent an entire beta lamenting about how it really wanted for Shadow Bolt to be affliction’s filler, and yet there is absolutely no support for the spell in the affliction tree. Does it really come as a surprise that the spell that is supported by mastery and several talents ended up performing better than the spell that got kicked to the curb?

Simple fact: If you want Shadow Bolt to hold such a lauded position within the affliction spec, then why is there not talent support for it?

Rightly or wrongly, this did not fit in with Blizzard’s design goals for how DPS caster classes should work in Cataclysm. Greg Street, in Explanation of 4.2 Balance Changes:

We nerfed Drain Life because Affliction was forsaking Shadowbolt in PvE, which wasn’t intended. We want Drain Life to be for utility, not primarily for damage, and we want all casters to have to hard cast at least some of the time. This was done via hotfix and players won’t see a change in 4.2.

The Drain Life spec fit Affliction’s theme. It fulfilled fantasy of the spec – a strong but tough vampire-like caster, taking health from their enemy and using it to fuel their own dark magics. It offered a unique reward for mastering the most complicated class in Warcraft. It was interesting and different. But, because Drain Life was a channeled utility spell, it did not fit the intended model for DPS.

It was therefore eliminated.

I don’t know if I can underscore this point enough. The fantasy of the Affliction spec was set aside for general design principles, not balance. It wasn’t that Drain Life was too powerful — it was on par with Shadow Bolt spec — it’s that it was too useful. Raiders don’t really care if a spell is channeled or hard cast, they have to stop moving for both of them.

But it was important to Blizzard that Affliction use Shadow Bolt and not Drain Life.

Why?

Why was it so important to force Affliction to use Shadow Bolt, instead of embracing the soul of the spec and going with Drain Life?

I think this is a legitimate question to ask in light of what happened to Warlocks in Cataclysm. I believe that had Drain Life spec been allowed to flourish, Warlock popularity would not have dropped as much as it did. Inelegant Complexity without Reward would have been replaced by Inelegant Complexity with Reward.

Yes, players would still have wrestled with the complexity of the class, but they would be able to say, I make our healer’s lives easier. I make it so we can two-heal this encounter instead of three-heal it, because I can heal myself through the whole thing.

I don’t know if keeping Drain Life spec Affliction would have been enough to save the class. I honestly don’t.

But I do know it would have given Affliction a fighting chance.

THE PROBLEM OF DRAIN MANA

OH MY GOD … they are right… I have no mana drain. Plus a bunch of other crap has been changed. I check the patch notes. UA weakened, devour magic weakend, CoE weakend, fel armour drastically weakend everyone who plays a warlocks wobby has been nerfed by 60% size reduction.(I look downstairs… MY GOD ITS TRUE… My wife is gonna be so upset) Why whyyyyyy? I dont understand… what did we do wrong?

I decide to go to outlands to take down some level 70s. But my dots are easily expelled and I have no mana drain to kill their healers and I dont have the survivablity anymore to propel their powerful lvl 70 attacks.

So I head to stranglethornvale to farm some mobs for my leatherworking. But my dots are easily expelled and i have no mana drain, so their level 30 healers make quick work of me.

Ive had enough. I log off wow.

By the end of the week my wife has left me for a new man in her life. Rodney Oboogaboo. A pygmy paupa new guinian 35 year old paper boy with a skin irritation that bleeds a smelly puss like substance. But he plays a frost mage and can pull more DPS then I can. But what can I do? my dots are easily expelled and I have no mana drain.

- Your kind aint welcome here, Zhing @ Frostmourne

The 4.0.6 patch had a lot of changes for Warlocks. Most notable was the complete removal of Drain Mana from the game, which prompted the classic Warlock forum thread above. The Felhunter’s Devour Magic (offensive dispel) was given a 20 second CD, up from 8. Unstable Affliction’s silence was reduced and Fel Armor was completely redesigned.

Losing Drain Mana sucked, but not for the reasons you thought.

These changes were all PvP changes, and in hindsight they were (probably) needed. They were part of a discussion of Upcoming Class Changes which included the following analysis from Greg Street:

The larger health pools, decreased impact of Mortal Strike debuffs, and slower healing are all having the desired effect in PvP. Burst damage has its place, but doesn’t determine the outcome of every encounter. There are several individual abilities that we aren’t happy with in PvP.

We’re keeping a close eye on dispels. We still like the design of making dispels more of a commitment rather than liberally sprinkling around dispel resistance or consequences for every class. Defensive dispels (removing a debuff) generally feel good, but we think offensive dispels (removing an enemy buff) feel too powerful, especially for DPS specs. In particular, Purge and Spellsteal will probably get nerfed.

We’re also looking at crowd control, interrupts, and self-healing in PvP. It’s possible we’ll reduce the durations of some crowd control effects, especially the area effect ones, and decrease the duration of interrupts.

Priests are a little weak in PvP, especially at mobile healing. We have made some changes to glyphs and talents to enhance their survivability and instant healing.

There was an overhaul of PvP mechanics during this patch, with CC durations being standardized, interrupts and counterspells being set on a standard CD, that sort of thing. Warlocks had a lot of changes to absorb, but they adapted. You cannot look back at the PvP changes of 4.0.6 and say they made Warlocks useless in PvP. You can’t even say that they hurt them much at the top levels of the game – Warlocks were strong in rated PvP throughout the entire expansion. The really good Warlock players adapted to every change and still excelled.

But this overhaul introduced changes which contributed to the decline of Warlocks in Cataclysm.

There were two types of changes:

  • Changes which widened the skill gap between the great and the good.
  • Changes which made other classes look more attractive or easier to play.

Changes to some PvP abilities were applied across the board in this patch – consistent CC and counterspell durations. When an ability is standardized across classes, no one really complains – it feels fair. But when it’s changed for one and not another, it makes classes feel singled out. It makes players compare classes and consider questions like: would I be more effective playing something else?

Drain Mana’s removal wasn’t bad in and of itself, it was that it was removed while Mana Burn was left intact that was the problem. It wasn’t that Devour Magic got a 12 second increase to its CD, it’s that other offensive dispels didn’t get the same CD – or any CD at all. It’s not that the automatic self-healing of Fel Armor was removed, but rather that other classes didn’t see a similar reduction.

“Priests are a little weak in PvP,” noted Ghostcrawler, and in that context the removal of Drain Mana without the corresponding loss of Mana Burn makes sense. Other caster classes needed to be made more attractive in PvP, so Warlocks were made less effective. This – combined with all these other changes – made it harder for average Warlock players in PvP, who then looked at the other classes and realized they were more attractive at their skill level: easier to play, more effective abilities, fewer buttons to push.

If it wasn’t Drain Mana, it was Fel Armor. If it wasn’t this patch, it was the 12% damage nerf in 4.1. The little things piled up until players decided it wasn’t worth the hassle anymore.

At some point, people started realizing it wasn’t fun for them anymore, and either rerolled or quit.

Inelegant Complexity without Reward strikes again.

THE PROBLEM OF HAVE GROUP WILL TRAVEL AND WARLOCK UTILITY

Have Group, Will Travel is an insanely useful level 21 guild perk. With it, any member of a guild can summon their entire party or raid to their location. It has a long CD, but since it’s available to everyone there are usually enough to bring any last-minute stragglers into any guild activity.

It’s easy to use, too – click on the ability and it summons your party/raid.

Compare this to the Warlock Ritual of Summoning: a single class has access to it, requires 2 other people and a bunch of clicking, but it has no CD.

Have Group, Will Travel is the superior ability. It eclipses the Warlock summons in nearly every aspect, effectively negating the class perk. This, no doubt, hasn’t helped with overall satisfaction of the Warlock class. It’s not special or unique anymore. About the best you can say is that it’s always available if you have a Warlock around. But Warlocks can’t use it on their own – it has to be part of a group.

The wrong thing to do is to remove Have Group, Will Travel so that Warlocks can feel useful about this ability again. This solves the problem of uniqueness for a small fragment of the playerbase at the cost of increased dissatisfaction for everyone. People like HGWT. It’s useful. Taking it away will just piss a lot of people off.

The right thing to do here is to make Ritual of Summoning better than Have Group, Will Travel. Make it as easy to use as HGWT – no need for a group – with a reasonable cooldown. Do it by Glyph – let Warlock players choose between a Demon TV (which can be used all the time but needs 2 other players) or a HGWT group summon with a 10 minute CD.

Don’t go backwards with quality of life improvements just to make a class feel special.

Make them feel special by giving them a better quality of life.

Next up is the final post of this series, Out of the Mists: Reclaiming Warlocks in Pandaria, where I’ll finally start looking ahead to Mists of Pandaria and the complete reworking of the Warlock class.

39 Comments

Filed under Cynwise's Warcraft Manual, Warlockery