Monday, September 8, 2008

Flawed thinking with ferals and tanks in general

I first started playing World of Warcraft in March 2005, the day the original Combat Upgrade was released to live servers in Star Wars Galaxies. For the previous three years I had been playing SWG, but hated the CU so much that I packed up the very day it went live and joined the ranks of WoW players. And never looked back. Since I've developed into a full fledged alt-a-holic, and yet my play has solidified around one of my toons being a true "main". And that is my Druid. he wasn't my original high level toon. That honor falls on my Hunter, but since September 2006 my Druid has been and remains my main character. And I've played him in every tree possible for a Druid. He levelled as Feral 1-70, and in end game I've played him as balance and resto. And not for inconsiderable amounts of time either. In fact since September 2007, my Druid has been Balance for about 4 months, and Resto the remainder.

As Feral I tanked everything from Kara to Void Reaver in TK. As Balance I've raided Kara, SSC and TK. And as Resto I've healed every raid dungeon from Kara to BT. So I think I understand a little bit about the class and some of its issues. And establishing that is the only reason I mentioned any of this in the first place. Because quite frankly I have serious reservations about the direction Blizzard is taking with Feral Druids in particular, and tanks in general in the WotLK.

Its plain to see why they are doing it, but the way they are going about it causes serious problems and no one at Blizzard that has spoken publicly about it thus far seems to quite catch on with the deafening uproar the changes are causing on the Beta Druid boards. What is it that is happening you ask? It requires a little back ground to really understand. Warrior and Paladin tanks have long had a complaint that in order to be viable in end game (read as raiding), they were forced to spec into their respective Protection tree. Frankly no one really wanted an Arms and Fury specced Warrior in their raid because they didn't bring anything better than a Rogue, Enhancement Shaman. They had no utility other than DPS, because they made such poor off-tanks. They required separate gear and separate talent specs to be truly viable tanks of any level. The problem with it really came into force after a raid was over. What could a Protection specced Warrior do with himself after a raid? The answer largely nothing. Protection specced warriors had such little DPS that trying to do anything by yourself was a level of torture I don't even like to think about, let alone talk about. So it forced Warriors to constantly respec after raids to Arms or Fury, racking up hundreds or more gold per week in respec fees alone. Or the player would just side-line their Warrior to avoid the fees and play another character in between raids.

Paladins had only a slightly less problem with this because while a protection paladin offers low single target DPS, they have huge AOE tanking capabilities that enabled them to be somewhat more viable in their spec outside of raids. I always found the down time between fights to be more than I could bear myself. In any event, Paladin's situations were somewhat better than Warriors.

Then you have the Ferals. Despite the fact that from inception of WoW to patch 1.8 Ferals really were not viable anythings except healers--any then only as bomb healers with healing touch--they came into their own in patch 1.8 prior to the Burning Crusade. Life was grand between patch 1.8 and the early few months of Burning Crusade. That is until Druids underwent the single largest nerf of any class in the history of the game. And it was all to do with jealousy and whining about Arena play (PVP!).

You see, feral Druids are in a different lot than are Warriors and Paladins. Warrior and Paladins have three talent trees like every other class. Just like Druids. But where the differences begin to add up is that the Feral tree in the Druid class embodies talents for tanking and for DPS. A Druid could pick a talent spec, and only have to carry around two sets of gear to either tank effectively or DPS effectively. There were and continue to be serious DPS scaling issues in regard to other DPS classes and Feral druids, but we'll get into that later. The immediate point is that Ferals had utility. With Patch 1.8 they suddenly were sought after as tanks, and they tanked very well! And would typically be brought along as off-tanks on raids because they could transform into DPS when they weren't needed to Tank. Warriors and Protection Paladins really couldn't do that.

I remember those first few months of the Burning Crusade well, and I loved them. But Arena season 1 (PVP) really killed things. There was near universal condemnation from Warriors (predominately) and others about a class that could tank as well as it could, and DPS as well as it could. Which of course ignored the reasons--a Feral could wear tanking gear and still do good DPS in cat form. They weren't as tanky as they would otherwise be in bear form, but could still soak up a little damage. Or a Feral could wear DPS gear and remain in Dire bear form. And that's really where the problem laid. The armor boost from DPS gear wasn't as good as tank gear in Dire Bear form, but it was enough to afford true damage soaking, and allow the bear to chew through opponents because of the DPS stats on the gear. Frankly the arguments were weak as far as I was concerned, and people piled on the lemming train, resulting eventually in Blizzard deciding they had done their job too well. This was of course after weeks and months of play testing on the beta realm, where Druids had already been subjected to a series of nerfs before patch 1.8 going live. To me it spoke volumes regarding how Blizzard really moderates their game.

So what's the real issue you might be asking yourself right now, right? Well there are trade offs for having utility. A Feral tank has none of the emergency abilities Warriors have, and Paladins have to a lesser extent. Their only form of mitigation was Dodge, with their only form of direct damage reduction being high armor. Consequently Druid tanks were meant to be able to soak up damage instead of avoiding it like Warriors and Paladins do. Druid tanks also couldn't drink potions in animal form (so no health pots while in form), and didn't benefit from weapon enchants that relying on procs (enchants don't proc while a Druid is in animal form). Cat form had its own host of trade offs, the least of which was sub-par DPS in comparison to a Rogue, Hunter, Mage, or even a Warlock. Feral DPS scaling has been universally condemned and as of Friday's WotLK beta build, still has not been fixed. I'll also just mention that Feral cats do not have any of the other nifty escape or DPS enhancing capabilities that their "parent" class the Rogue has either.

Despite the trade offs I love the class, and had accepted it as a whole. The Feral tree combined tanking and DPS aspects, offering terrific utility, but at a price. Abilities that other classes that didn't have our utility enjoyed, were kept from Druids. Acceptable. However it wasn't acceptable to a litany of people who have continued to loudly complain about Druids in one form or another. Most of those being Arena jockeys, who complain about Resto druids, which is another discussion entirely.

So still, you are asking, what the heck is Blizzard doing!! Well, they're creating virtual talent trees, as I like to refer to them as. They've split the feral tree into tanking talents, and dps talents, which will force Druids to choose DPS or Tanking for the first time in the nearly four years of WoWs history. Of course they're espousing the line that Ferals that choose to focus more on the DPS talents can still be fairly good tanks. But testing on the beta realm has clearly shown that not to be the case. They added so many new talents in the trees that it simply is not possible to pick them all up, which was also done for another reason I also have issue with, and that is to keep people from spending points in other trees. Such as a Resto/Balance spec. Imagine if the Druid trees had remained as they are right now on live, what you could do with 10 additional talent points. Makes the mouth water does it not? Well, that's where Blizzard had to rain on our parades. Instead they instituted what as been called "bloat" in the trees. So it's no longer possible for a Feral to maintain a single "Feral" spec. They're forced to go DPS, or Tanking, which destroys the utility of the class. And for essentially nothing in return. Weapon enchants will not be allowed to proc in animal form, and ferals can now drink potions in form as well. I guess those are the big pay offs for losing our utility entirely.

Except that all reports on the beta forums indicate that feral cats still lag horribly behind Rogues, and Druid tanks are in even worse position because of gear changes. Oh yes, I forgot to mention that feral Druids will no longer have gear designed specifically for them. Instead they will have to use Rogue gear. Which means no additional armor. And yes, Ferals still have no additional damage mitigation than Dodge. And they there was also the Agility nerf. So that Dodge Feral tanks rely on to avoid what damage they can was cut drastically. I'm having a hard time envisioning what Blizzard could be thinking, by doing these things. Do they think raids are going to want to bring feral Druids over other classes now?

Anyone that has played this game for even a few months can clearly see how things are done. It doesn't matter what additonal abilities a class brings to the raid. Either they offer the best of whatever niche we're talking about, or they don't get to go. If a Feral Druid specced as DPS offers lower DPS over a Rogue, guess who's going? If a Feral tank offers less capability than a Warrior, guess who's going? That wasn't necessarily the case up until now, because Ferals might have exhibited less DPS than a Rogue, but they sure offered more tankiness than one. And that was really the best thing they had going for themselves. Bringing a Feral enabled you to really bring 11 people to Kara. And I'm afraid that opportunity for Ferals will not be found so easily if the existing changes in Beta are brought to live.