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Balance and barking up the wrong trees

September 16, 2010
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Balance in this case meaning the much sought after design of class which is equally powerful in any scenario you care to dump it into. This post is not about balance between the classes; that’s a more simple rant: X class is more powerful than Y class, and the next month it all gets shaken up again. Generally, these things are down to how well you can play your class (despite the fact that many Paladins moan on the forums about Retribution Paladins having no gap closer or interrupt, it doesn’t seem to have hindered my PvP progress.) No, what I’m talking about today is the balance within each individual class, so that it performs well in both PvP and PvE.

This is a nightmare to get right, and I’m not completely certain why Blizzard still persist in it.

I’ll give you an example of a very PvP centric spec – Frost Mages. Through TBC and a lot of Wrath, this was the premier Mage PvP spec. No-one took it for raiding; it was a clear 2k dps behind Arcane and Fire in Wrath. Did this mean that it was a terrible spec? No. Frost’s skills lie in keeping the enemy in place, and if they get to you, making sure you can get away or protect yourself. Skills like these are irrelevant in raiding, as all casters stand at the back and throw their magic at bosses and adds without any fear (hopefully) of attracting a bosses attention. The ironic thing is, if you did overaggro as a Frost mage, you couldn’t even defend yourself against a boss. Most of them have inbuilt CC and slow resistance to stop any abusive mechnics (such as taking 25 dps with slowing abilities and infinitely kiting.)

Later on Blizzard mentioned Frost amongst the specs they felt they had really failed at. I haven’t got any direct quotes, but it went something along the lines of ‘We would love to have all specs of all classes effective in both scenarios (PvP and PvE) and we feel we didn’t deliver that to everyone in Wrath.’ They also mentioned Beast Mastery for Hunters and Subtlety for Rogues as specs they felt did not shine in all areas.

I don’t wish to be rude about Blizzard, but I feel they’re barking up entirely the wrong tree with this. (I had it pointed out to me that this might be a Britishism that doesn’t translate, I mean I think they are pursuing a foolish idea and will continue to do so. Also it’s a funny pun because it’s barking up the wrong tree… harf harf harf.) Trying to balance specs for PvE and PvP is a veritable mine-field.

Take Shadow-priests. Earlier in the expansion, they were laughably weak. They could be splattered down in a few seconds, their defensive abilities could be broken through very fast and their only real method of saving themselves was Dispersion and Trinkets. This is… kind of still the case, but the whole setup has changed. With the simple fact that Shadowform caused DoTs to benefit from haste (not all of them I think, but the significant shadow ones) Shadow Priests became insane in PvP. They are still fairly squishy, but it’s not a squishyness you can take advantage of in a 1v1 scenario. They can stack you up with a line of dots, maybe a CC or two so you don’t remove them or heal, and you’re dead. With the slowing part of Mind flay and the Psychic Horror (stun and disarm), and indeed their own special brand of instant cast AoE fear, they can lock down virtually any target and nuke them to death.

You might say ‘So what? They’re having their day, like every class does. It won’t last.’ Maybe not, but it’s an inescapable truth that Shadowpriests became this way because they were under-performing in raids. You barely ever saw a raid with a Shadowpriest in before, even the top guilds in the world only took one for whatever buffs they bring. But now, you see a lot more of them. The haste change brought them in line for damage for PvE, and yet it translated into PvP as a major nuke bomb.

You may think I’m overstating their powers, or I don’t know how to counter a Shadowpriest properly. I’m not certain there is any way to counter a Shadowpriest for me. A Shadowpriest of any gear can lock me down and have me nearly dead by the time I get to them in a fair fight, regardless of the cooldowns I use. And they can remove my Bubble, stop me healing, and if I finally raise my axe above their squishy head, they break into their component molecules and speed away. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve killed plenty of them, but it’s never been whilst I’ve been their primary target of damage. I’m not complaining about their amount of control, or there massive toolbox (much, although Mana Burn can go jump in a lake) more that their damage is so overtuned right now a Priest in Blue gear that can find his primary damage buttons, and the control ones mentioned above, can kill me with ease.

This may seem like a bitter tirade, and you may have a point, so I’ll launch off on a different angle, this time from the opposite direction. When I first started Paladin healing, they had a bigger toolbox. Now that toolbox is all tangled up in each other, unable to use one cooldown without locking out the rest. I’ll give you an example. Take the Kel’thuzad fight. The tank tanking Kel takes a lot of damage. Healable through, obviously, but it was a fair amount in the day. There’s also a lot of stuff to watch out for on the outside, including Ice Blocks and Void zones (I forget the precise names.) Just imagine a couple of nasty things happened to me at once. I’m on low health, something is about to go boom nearby me, and the tank is on 10% HP. Panic! I bubble, use Lay on Hands on the tank, then pop my Avenging Wrath & Trinkets Macro and spam heal myself, my Beacon of Light meaning I can safely save both me and the tank. Overpowered? Maybe. Was it hurting anyone by being overpowered? No. Did it mean that raids were flooding with Holy Paladins? No. There was no issue with it. But look on the other side of the coin…

Retribution Paladin is chasing you in PvE. Say you’re a Warlock for example. You’ve DoTted him up, and then feared him and started to Soul Drain. You’re on 45% health, but he’s about to die. Suddenly, your debuffs on him are wiped clean as he spins around, a massive bubble protecting him from all harm. He proceeds to Lay on Hands back to full health, pop all his cooldowns and nuke you down from within complete invulnerability, and you die. He comes out with full health, and you come out dead, no matter how you both started. This is bad PvP – a nasty bullet you just have to take because there’s no way for your class to get around it (like fighting a shadowpriest). Other classes whine on the forums about how overpowered that is. Developers realise the truth in this, and they make it so that Avenging Wrath cannot be used whilst bubble is up, or 30 seconds after, and so that Lay on Hands puts a bubble debuff on you, so you can’t use Avenging Wrath OR Bubble for another minute or two. This is all fine in PvP, and probably what was needed to bring them in line. But you push down on one end of the scales…

Myself as a poor raiding Paladin on p3 of heroic Putricide 25. A few people are dead, and someone managed to get Malleble goo all over MY SPOT. No-one is to invade Zal’s spot as Zal cannot move from his spot because Zal cannot heal P3 Putricide whilst moving, but someone didn’t realise how important Zal is to the success of the fight (ego trip) and got him covered in Haste killing, damaging ooze. Bummer. I pop my bubble. In that global cooldown, plus the heal I got halfway through casting before realising what had happened, the tank might well have gone from 100% health to 10%. Previously, I would have been able to use Lay on Hands and then pop everything I had to keep him up. Now I have a choice between praying that another healer is a microsecond away from landing a massive heal, and start one of my own massive heals, or using an instant (but crap compared to tank health) Holy shock. Whatever I choose, the tank might die a few seconds later, simply because I had to try and save myself to try and save them. Why has this happened? Because they had to give our abilities all these inbuilt links to stop them being overpowered in PvP.

Is it just me, or is that plain wrong?

The way I’d do it? I’d have it so there was one spec you could ONLY use in PvP. It could come in the form of Tabs for your talents, much like Dual spec is today. PvE one, PvE two, PvP. You could only challenge someone to a dual, queue for a BG or Arena if you were first in your PvP spec. Likewise, you could only enter a raid instance or use the LFD tool if you had one of your PvE specs on. This would cause a firestorm from the community, as everyone loves things how they are etc etc etc, but I truly believe that would be a MASSIVE step in the right direction for making this game more popular to play. They could even make the specs auto-switch. I’d happily hand away any of my specs to PvP. If they told me Paladin’s Holy spec was going PvP only, and for PvE I’d only have access to Prot and Ret, I’d be alright with that. At least I wouldn’t be being jerked around by something that didn’t affect me.

I mean, they could even do it in a way that didn’t affect anyone. How about a PvP mirror for your Dual spec? If you’re doing PvE, you have a Holy spec like it is now. If you’re doing PvP, you have a different talent tree to fill out. This would mean upkeep of 60 trees for Blizzard, which sounds daunting. But they make money through the wazoo. I don’t doubt if their lead designers though this was the way to go that they couldn’t finance the extra developers and whatever else.

Whatever it is, I’m tired of having my favourite playstyles jerked around in the name of fairness. (In the past, Beast Mastery Hunters, Holy Priests, Blood Death Knights, and now Holy Paladins.) I fully understand the need to keep people level in both PvP and PvE. I just wish they were seperate ballgames, because sometimes a class starts to lose its appeal when it has its already limited powers cut down even further because of the way the system works.

-Zal

8 Comments leave one →
  1. September 16, 2010 12:28 pm

    I guess the flipside to your holy paladin PvE example is “how is that not totally overpowered for PvE”?

    In the Putricide example, that’s a free get-out-of-jail card that means you’re immune to screwups, and I’d have thought one of the things that hard mode encounters should be looking for is the elimination of screwups. Obviously there needs to be some wiggle room, but if the encounter depends on the primary tank healer permacasting then members of the raid dropping slime/diseases/whatever on the PTH probably *should* be a wipe, in most cases.

    • September 16, 2010 12:40 pm

      That is probably the case, but we do invariably have problems. I think there’s a design flaw with the philosophy that if one of your healers needs to sneeze then the whole encounter goes down the drain. The thing with being overpowered for PvE is, in healers cases, how does that affect things? People don’t stack more than two or three Holy Paladins, because they’re very niche. I don’t think it would be any different if we had our cooldowns back to be used freely, other than more chance of the encounter being completed. I can’t really see how that’s a bad thing; that encounter is challenging enough to heal. I can only use Bubble once a fight anyway, regardless of what cooldowns I can pop at the same time; I could still be the victim of a screwup right after or twice in a fight or whatnot.
      I do see what you’re saying, but you’re talking to someone who got very settled into (and learnt how to paladin heal) whilst having that get out of jail free card as compensation for a limited healing toolbox, and right now our options are fairly sparse for a fight like that, or Sindragosa 25 HC. I know the future is looking better more tools and so on, but right now this is how I feel about things :)

  2. September 16, 2010 3:20 pm

    I’ve recently taken a 70 paladin alt to Holy spec, having had no experience of pally healing before. I made the switch after the Lay on Hands/bubble/Avenging Wrath change so I didn’t get to play both sides of the story, and neither am I of a level to raid with the character yet. But, the way those cooldowns interact feels clumsy to me, as though it’s not quite how it should be.

    I’m not sure how it could be changed for the better though; surely, this has fixed PvP playing and treating PvE and PvP specs as seperate entities would solve a lot, but it wouldn’t stop multiple allowable cooldowns from making a class overpowered in its home arena.

    • September 16, 2010 7:43 pm

      Indeed. I guess at the end of the day it’s up to them where they take it. Shame when they take away some of the fun stuff so fresh Paladins like your alt don’t get to enjoy them :(

  3. September 16, 2010 7:25 pm

    It’s funny that you should mention sw-priests in your article – while i don’t entirely disagree with it, sw-priests are possibly the class that has been nerfed the most in PVE on account of PVP in the past. one example was the huge vamp:embrace nerf in TBC that rendered the skill more or less useless in raids, taking away one of the primal strengths of the class as a raid utility.
    so they’ve certainly seen a lot of ups and downs and like you say, it’s a great issue trying to balance the same class for both PVP and PVE. I never quite understood why blizzard didn’t address this matter differently, for example by installing a pvp talent tree and pvp-only gear, thus separating PVP more from PVE. it’s not like they have less work trying to compromise the way they have to right now.

    • September 16, 2010 7:41 pm

      Yep, very much so! I’d forgotten about that TBC shadow stuff, it being a spec I never played in TBC on my priest, but I have memories of raging guildies telling me their woes :P

  4. devotchka permalink
    October 18, 2010 6:31 pm

    Amen Amen Amen! I have been playing since 2005, every class except paladin, warrior, and death knight, and I have long been sick to death of having my PvE fun ruined by efforts to please everyone in PvP . I will celebrate the day they find another solution. Yours sounds as good as any to me.

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  1. Blessing Of Fish To Blizz: How Not To Balance Gameplay | MMO Melting Pot

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