Saturday, 10 April 2010

Bring back the A team

No, not them.

There's been a lot of talk in the blogosphere over the last few years about how Blizzard no longer have their best people working on WOW and have moved their most talented people to other projects, such as the new unannounced MMO. I've been largely skeptical about this, as I think Wrath was a superb expansion and generally changed the game for the better.

However, the recent Cataclysm class change announcements are starting to make me doubt that view. Some of the proposed changes seem bizarre and ill-considered to me and look like the work of inexperienced designers who haven't really thought through the consequences of what they're proposing. There are two key principles game designers should follow when making changes to a game with a large established player base.
  1. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
  2. What could possibly go wrong?
Some of the proposed changes seem to violate those. I won't go through them all (MMO champion has good coverage), but try to pick out some examples to explain what I mean.

Death Knight
"One of the biggest changes we're making is converting Blood into a dedicated tanking tree."
Eh? I can understand that it makes design difficult to have 3 trees all both suited to DPS and tanking, but blood feels like the wrong choice for the tanking tree to me. You tank with frost presence and frost is relevant to slowing enemy attacks and associated with defence in the game already (e.g. frost mages). A far more sensible arrangement would be:
  • Blood - specialist single target DPS, self healing makes it a good levelling spec.
  • Frost - tanking.
  • Unholy - specialist melee AOE class
"Tree of Life is changing from a passive talent to a cooldown-based talent, similar to Metamorphosis. Mechanically, it feels unfair for a druid to have to give up so much offense and utility in order to be just as good at healing as the other classes who are not asked to make that trade."
Why? Seriously - how does this improve the game one jot? You don't go into tree form for any reason other than healing. If you want to add DPS or other activities, it's easy to drop into caster form. Even assuming that Blizzard's reasoning is correct, why does it not also apply to shadow priests, bears or moonkin? Why should they "have to give up so much ... utility" in those special forms? This proposal breaks rule 1 - a pointless, irrational change that adds nothing to the game and wastes developer time and effort that would be better spent elsewhere.

To be fair, most of the hunter changes seem quite sensible. It always felt strange for a physical DPS class to use mana and the current implementation of ammo is just an annoyance. I'd prefer it if ammo remained (in a non-consumable form) to allow hunters more choices, but overall the hunter class changes aren't bad.

" We are planning to remove spells that don't have a clear purpose. Amplify Magic, Dampen Magic, Fire Ward, and Frost Ward are being removed from the game, and we may remove more."
Don't have a clear purpose? Do you even play this game? Fire ward protects you against fire damage. You know - that hot burny stuff bosses fling about all over the place that kills squishy little mages. Similarly for frost ward. Non-frost mages have few enough defences as it is and I've been saved many times by judicious use of these spells. This proposal breaks both rules. There's nothing wrong with the way the spells function now and this change could have horrible consequences for mages who play as anything other than frost.

"Leap of Faith (level 85): Pull a party or raid member to your location. Leap of Faith (or "Life Grip") is intended to give priests a tool to help rescue fellow players who have pulled aggro, are being focused on in PvP, or just can't seem to get out of the fire in time."
The potential for griefing with this spell is huge. Jump off cliff, life-grip, levitate on self or pull people *into* fire. Also, it moves the responsibility for for moving out of the fire from the person standing in it to the healer. You can see it now: "it's not my fault - you should have life-gripped me". Spectacularly ill-considered breach of rule 2.

I'll not comment on the rogue changes, because I've never really played one enough to understand the class properly. Not meddling with things you don't understand? Perhaps I should add that as rule 3.

"Cleansing Totem will be removed from the game, as we want dispels to be a decision for players, not something done mindlessly."
For me, cleansing totem is one of the signature shaman abilities - it's what makes people smile when they have a shaman in the group. I can understand the reasoning behind the change, but it's still a shame. I hope some of the old instances with mass poisoning going on that only a cleansing totem can handle will be re-designed. I'll miss you, cleansing totem.

"Heroic Leap (Level 85): This ability makes the character leap at their target and apply the Thunder Clap ability to all enemies in the area when they land."
To quote Mr Punch: "That's the way to do it!" A fun ability that solves an actual problem in the game: the difficulty of generating snap AOE threat in PUGs full of idiots.  Generally speaking, the warrior changes look sensible to me.

Generally, these changes seem quite well though out. The VW looks like being the levelling pet of choice, with its enhanced AOE threat. The guys doing the W class changes seem to be on a roll!

The random re-allocation of which classes can cure which ailments seems completely pointless to me. Clear break of rule 1: there is nothing wrong with the way things are now, so why are Blizzard wasting developer time and effort scrambling everything? It would be much better spent adding new abilities & re-working the existing ones to smooth out the progression now that ranks have been abolished.

Developing, balancing and testing new abilities is difficult. It's time to focus effort on changes that actually improve the game, not pointless shuffling of things that are working OK already.

Overall, I'm left feeling rather nervous about Cataclysm, which I'd previously been looking forward to. I do hope it won't turn into WOW's NGE moment.


  1. I understand what you mean about the loss of Fire/Frost ward and Amplify/Dampen Magic, although to be fair casting AmpMag on a raid of 25 people is a pain in the backside, which is why it tends not to get used. I think that if it had been made into a party or raidwide buff, it could have been much better and allowed for some more interesting bossfights.

    I think that we'll hear more on Cata at Blizzcon, but I'm expecting more on the Next Gen MMO soon...

  2. "You can see it now: "it's not my fault - you should have life-gripped me". Spectacularly ill-considered breach of rule 2."

    Fantastic! I love being more than responsible for your health bar; now I'm saddled with being responsible for your ill-conceived notion to stand in that flaming pile of pwn. Not to mention, the unwary pewpewer might be more upset that I interrupted his leetzor 3 minute cooldown than grateful that I actually saved his life.

    "Dammit, I had just popped evo. WTF!"

    As for:

    ""Cleansing Totem will be removed from the game, as we want dispels to be a decision for players, not something done mindlessly.""

    There's nothing mindless about it. You drop it, or you don't, based upon need and practicality.

    I've seen a very steep learning curve for a shaman with regards to this totem in, say, Professor Putricide when we gain a furious abom driver after he is suddenly thrust from his seat and left standing stupidly in a slime puddle, courtesy a la Cleansing Totem. Clearly, using this totem is greatly dependent on knowledge and relative importance to other water-based totems.

    It's a perk of the shammy class - somewhat like Mass Dispel for priests - and should stay. I really don't relish the idea of adding shamans to the list of "Get decursive, you fools, because the tanks are dying of poison and the damn druids aren't removing it, and it seems neither are you anymore" Boo Blizz.

    I'm with you, Sven, but Blizz has a notorious habit of fiddling with the game to suit the day of the week. I quit and returned amidst changes from +heal and +damage to +spell power gear and I'm still reeling. Now they're talking once more revamping things... The old fogey in me is stubbornly rocking on my porch, muttering "Ain't broke, don't fix it."