Bear Repsonse to Ask the Devs # 9: Tanking

Today’s Ask the Devs answers were exactly as I predicted. Blizzard never announces anything new or super insightful in this series (that’s what their official blogs and Dev Watercolers are for), and they often answer questions that pop up a lot with newbies but make veterans cringe. I don’t really mind the newbie questions; I think too many people forget how difficult it can be for a brand new or returning player to jump into the information ocean that is World of Warcraft, and that they have the same right to answers as us more seasoned players do.

Anyway, on to the things that might interest bears!

Q: Vengeance is a great tool to help raid tanks hold aggro over DPS, but in 5-man heroics it doesn’t stack high enough to keep up with the threat generated by overgeared DPS burst damage. Are there any plans to address this? Are there any plans to help warriors put out more initial threat before Vengeance has been ramped up? – Nikelsndimes (NA), Cémanana (EU-FR), Arthur (TW), Mancake (NA), Migol (NA)

A: We think Vengeance works well overall. It provides sufficient threat without causing the tank to do more DPS than the dedicated DPS characters, and doesn’t let the tank just neglect abilities that cause threat. A full stack of Vengeance probably provides too much threat, but we didn’t think it was necessary to nerf that mid-expansion. Overall, we don’t want tanks to have 100% guaranteed threat on a pull, so we don’t want to buff that aspect of Vengeance, but we also don’t want DPS specs to constantly have to throttle the DPS they can deliver midway through a fight, so we have to strike a balance.
Note: There are fights with tank swaps or incoming adds, or similar mechanics, when threat may matter mid-fight. This is intended – encounter design varies widely.

What I get from this is that Vengeance is there to prevent damage dealers from catching up to the tank’s threat in the middle of an encounter, but we still need to work hard at the beginning to manage threat. I have to admit that Vengeance fulfills its goal. I have some problems with Vengeance, like I wish that Savage Defense didn’t depend on it or that we had a reason to perform our threat rotations after the initial 30 seconds of a pull, but it doesn’t look like that’s where Blizzard’s goals lie.

Q: Have you considered normalizing initial Rage for feral druid tanks? For example, when a warrior uses Charge, it generates 15 points of Rage, which lets them use another aggro generating ability quickly, something that Feral druids tend to be a bit short on. Why in Cataclysm was the bear bonus health pool was reduced, as well? Their survivability always depended on the amount of health since they don’t have parry or shield block. Do you have any plans to improve bear tanking in the future? At the moment, it’s considered to be the weakest tank. Have you considered giving druid tanks an additional tool to pull casters at range? It’s the only tank class that doesn’t have a talent or spell to help in those situations. – Pødêrøsø (LA), Вирко (EU-RU), Амелья (EU-RU), Condenacion (EU-ES), Whitewnd (KR)

A: Bears are getting a significant mitigation buff in 4.2 and we’re retuning their damage such that it’s a little easier to hold aggro at low gear levels, and a little harder at higher gear levels. While we definitely don’t expect the community to ever agree on anything, we’ve seen little evidence of a widespread concurrence that druids are “the weakest tank.” There are plenty of druid tanks out there, handling everything from Grim Batol to Sinestra. Tank balance overall is in a really good place. Players may focus on potential problems that could arise in the future but we also have ample time to address those problems should they occur. Gone are the days when we would just release a class into the wild and refuse to touch it again until the next expansion.

Uh, isn’t this an awkward question? I can see where the rage concerns are coming from. They are a huge pain in five mans and a detriment to leveling a bear through the dungeon finder. I wish this poster didn’t tack on the whole “druids are the worst tanks” part, because that transformed this question from a valid concern into an uninformed QQ-fest. This question asker even brings up the traditional “druids need more health because they can’t block or parry” argument, which is still painful for me to read. The answer doesn’t even reference rage, they just reinforce that druids are strong tanks (which we are, I don’t want anyone out there thinking bears are underpowered).

I wish the blue response would have talked about how druids don’t need parry because they have extremely high dodge, or how Savage Defense is our version of block, or how we have the best passive damage reduction in the game, or how druids still have the highest health modifiers but we have low health simply because we don’t need more, so that this common train of thought could be forever squashed. Sadly, this question (or statement, rather) will never stop showing it’s ugly face.

Q: What are your intentions with each tank’s mastery and mastery in general? – Migol (NA)

A: Druids: We’re pretty happy with how mastery has turned out. It scales well, doesn’t have any unintuitive or unfortunate interactions with other stats, and provides solid performance value.

I don’t really think Savage Defense scales well, but mastery on our gear is still highly valued so maybe that’s what they are referencing. We will probably always value the mastery stat over the other secondary and non-dodge stats (crit, haste, hit, expertise). Savage Defense is not so intuitive, but our mastery, which increases SD’s absorption by a percentage, is. There aren’t any stats that negatively interact with Savage Defense, unlike how avoidance weakens a Death Knight’s Blood Shield. We value mastery less than paladins and warriors, but it’s still our best stat that appears naturally on gear. That’s probably where Blizz wants it.

Q: Will we see a tanking Legendary sometime soon? – Pedoso (NA)

A: The tanking community both loves and hates when this question comes up, but it received a lot of votes, so we’ll answer it. The answer is not soon, but probably eventually. The problem with tanking legendaries, of course, is that the shield-users and non-shield-users tank with different weapons. That’s not a deal breaker, but it is a consideration. We could allow the legendary to be transformed from a one-hander to two-hander or we could just design an item for a more narrow audience (such as a shield). The 4.2 legendary has fairly wide appeal, and the 4.3 legendary will have much more narrow appeal. We don’t want to fall into the trap of making legendaries too formulaic.

Ok, I’ll admit it, I want a tanking legendary. I know that only bad tanks want an item that will create imbalance and that gear envy is so very un-tank-like, but it would be so cool. I’ve always wanted a legendary. @_@

I’m glad that they didn’t just shoot it down. The left a little room for a orange-crossed feral to dream.

Q: Do you plan to bring other tanks to the same level as Death Knights who have a lot of advantages over other tanking classes (easier to heal, quite a number of various safe abilities, etc.)? – Меланори (EU-RU)

A: Death knights are a somewhat different style of tank compared to the others. They take significantly more damage than other tanks, but then heal/shield that extra damage back instead (and sometimes more). Due to taking more damage, and that damage coming in spikes, they’re also the most likely to die to unexpected burst (such as when they don’t have runes up to Death Strike, have no cooldowns available, and fail to dodge or parry a few attacks in a row. They also have more personal impact on their own survivability and mitigation than any other tank, by tying much of their performance to Death Strike (and especially optimally timing their Death Strikes). So in the hands of a really skilled player, they can do some amazing things, but not usually much better than the other tanks. We’d actually like to head more in that direction with the other tanks (making them tie more of their defensive performance to their ability usage), in the future.

On the surface, this looks like just another QQ-fest about how overpowered Death Knights are (they aren’t). The point that caught my attention was “We’d actually like to head more in that direction with the other tanks (making them tie more of their defensive performance to their ability usage), in the future.” I really hope this happens sooner rather than later, as I’ve mentioned before. I’m glad Blizzard has stated this as a goal.

Q: Protection Paladin is not only the most desired tank because survival abilities for groups and various utilities, but players also generally consider Paladins as an indispensable Class in raids. I know all tanking Classes are being equalized constantly, but survival abilities of Protection Paladins give huge advantages compared to other tanking Classes. Can we expect that other Tanking classes will see more survival abilities for groups in terms of equity? – 디아소르테 (KR)

A: Like druids, paladins have the enormous benefit of being able to fill all three roles in a group. Paladins also retain a wide variety of buff and utility abilities from vanilla when they (and shaman) were more of a support class that was intended to have low individual throughput but made other classes in the group shine. We have been slowly moving away from that design in our effort to avoid class stacking and support the “bring the player, not the class” philosophy, but it’s hard to move quickly on changes like this. (As one small example, we briefly removed Lay on Hands during Cataclysm development, and there was an outcry even from within the team.) Because they can fill many roles and still provide a lot of utility, it’s not surprising that you see a lot of druids and paladins in your raid groups. We’ve tried very hard to not make any particular tank class mandatory, and we feel we’ve been pretty successful in Cataclysm. So far we haven’t seen an encounter like Sartharion or Anub’arak where a certain tank class was perceived, probably accurately, as necessary for progression.
Protection paladins do bring a lot of utility, but it is quite difficult to make a table comparing a paladin’s Divine Guardian to a Protection warrior’s mobility or a bear druid’s ability to cast Innervate or even Rebirth during lulls in an encounter. They are fundamentally different abilities that have greater or less utility depending on the encounter and your individual raid comp. We don’t want to just hand out a Divine Guardian equivalent to every tank class, just like we don’t think warriors or paladins need the ability to battle rez. It’s a fine line to walk. Homogenization really rankles some players (as it should), but being unable to tank (or heal, or DPS) an encounter because of lack of tools is equally unacceptable to many players.

What I find interesting about this answer is that Blizzard believes Innervate and Rebirth are our utility skills. Really? Innervate is 5k mana. I use it when there’s a lull in the encounter because I have nothing better to do, but that’s it. Otherwise it’s not worth the two GCDs I have to spend on it. Rebirth is a good skill, though with all the battle rezzes that are available these days, I’ve even considered unglyphing it due to overwhelming supply. Add that to how difficult it is for a bear to actually use both these utilities, and that cats, moonkins, and resto druids all have either stronger versions of these cooldowns or easier access to them, I’m surprised that this is how developers think. They didn’t even mention Stampeding Roar, a skill that is legitimately awesome and accessible to a bear.

Now, those two skills are hardly utility in my opinion, but this answer also tells me that Blizzard doesn’t officially consider our off-tank dps to be a utility. I would love an acknowledgement of it, just so I can stop worrying about how they will nerf it to the ground. The utility to deal a ton of damage when not tanking is unique, powerful (but not so powerful that it significantly sways your tank composition), and fun. I don’t want them to take it away. :(

In the end, I was actually pretty satisfied with these questions. We now know how WoW developers stand on a few important topics. Nothing game-changing or truly surprising, but I think most of the answers are useful in one way or another. I know that the vocal minority will find ways to disparage this edition of “Ask the Devs”, either nitpicking about certain word choices (the minor connotations of certain words unimportant details, people! They’re game designers, not poets) or the questions they answered (“but they didn’t answer my question that obviously was the best question”). If you’re anything like me, you’ll be happy just to get these little tidbits of game design and direction straight from the horse’s mouth.