I think Affliction, from a pure game design standpoint, is one of World of Warcraft’s strongest talent specializations. It’s one of the few that I would be genuinely sad about if it were ditched wholesale, and it’s actually got a significant amount of value when judging how different specializations can actually be “different”. In fact, I often catch myself wondering just how much fun I might have had if I’d gone down the warlock route as a whole rather than the warrior route.
But that’s water under the bridge, now.
Needless to say, I think warlocks are a well-designed class and each specialization feels different to the others. The blunt force magical trauma of Destruction really plays well against the minion-orientated dastardly deeding of Demonology. But I’ve never really played Destruction because it feels too similar to the Fire mage, and I’ve never really played Demonology because it doesn’t really capture the control of demonic entities; your minions remain relatively fire and forget.
Against this backdrop, however, we hit the Affliction warlock and see one of those cases where Blizzard absolutely, positively, completely, unconditionally and wonderfully nailed it. There is nothing about playing an Affliction warlock I dislike, and it’s very rare that I say that. Even warriors infuriate me at times when I’m rage starved or simply don’t have the tools for the job I’m being asked to do. But from top to bottom, the Affliction warlock is awesome.
It’s close to unique, with a DoT heavy spell repertoire.
Unstable Affliction provides the physical agony we like.
Haunt literally terrorizes with a psychological assault.
Drain Soul brings a wonderful execution of body and mind.
Spells are interdependent with one another throughout.
But more than anything, Affliction is a step back to a time in World of Warcraft when players felt the pain of their own mistakes. While most specs have been made idiot-proof in an effort to save players from themselves, there’s little to no room for that type of thing if you’re playing Affliction. Every mistake matters, to the point where the nuke-heavy dominance of mashing keys in most DPS specs is practically ditched entirely. Don’t ever let Haunt fall off. Don’t forget Dark Intent. Don’t leave Drain Soul too late. Don’t tunnel Shadowbolts. Don’t forget Bane/Curse restrictions when using Soul Swap. And as you set up your hotkeys, prepare your gear and fine-tune your AddOns, don’t forget the most important thing:
Nobody cares about target dummies.
Living, breathing bosses will try and ensure you can’t keep haunting them. They’ll try and keep you on the run so that you can’t drain their soul. And this is the second part that makes Affliction such a great spec – as a player, you have to learn the best way to maintain this painful, magical assault for as much time as possible.
Of course, this is true of all DPS specs. One of the biggest misunderstandings when long term tanks and healers say “deeps is ezmoad lol” is to assume that maintaining a rotation is all there is to high damage. It’s not. Damage dealers don’t fight rotations, they fight encounters – they need to figure out, ahead of time, how they can best apply their arsenal of spells and attacks throughout an entire encounter, and how best to time them. A tank or healer is much more passive, when you think about it. The tank goes about his threat generation, hitting a cooldown every once in a while and maybe moving a bit. The healer is reacting to what’s going on, plugging health gaps as and when they appear. Clearly, each role needs to be able to plan for those big moments that separate decent players from great players, but damage dealers are the ones that have to construct their plan before the fight and during it.
I’d say this is the biggest difference maker with regard to DPS through successive resets. It’s not gear, it’s the time the player spends learning where and when to squirt out damage to best effect. When fighting Ragnaros, hitting him with a Haunt just before he becomes submerged is a complete waste of time. Fitting in that one extra Shadowbolt is “wrong”, but far better. Funnily enough, it was a healer who first introduced this concept to me (Quaterstaff, Kilrogg EU) during WotLK while we were in the throes of the healer mana debate. He pointed out that healers appear to have too much mana as progression moves on because they learn when they have to heal in maintenance mode, and when they have to remove the handbrake and pump out as much as possible. As the player gets better at an encounter, he ends up accounting for those moments of maintenance and doesn’t waste mana he doesn’t need to; instead, he prepares his ramp up for those phases where he has to pump out as much as haste lets him.
The result? Well drilled healers look like they have limitless mana. Scrubby healers (like yours truly) prepared badly, cast too often and ended up losing people.
The Affliction warlock, due to the pre-eminence of DoT spells, suffers this problem more than most. The aforementioned Ragnaros example highlights the issue quite well; when your best spells don’t do their damage immediately upon landing, you have to rethink what your “best spell” is for that part of an encounter. When Mortal Strike is available, it’s always my best button. When Haunt is available, it’s not always my best button. This design is depth personified, putting the player in complete control as to whether or not he can make a good decision, and execute his plan accordingly.
I recently commented on how punitive Affliction is on one of MMO Melting Pot’s posts regarding the spec in 4.3. If you’re playing five-man content, you shouldn’t expect to see yourself topping damage meters very often at all. When push comes to shove, though you can do well in that content, the facets that make up five-man dungeons don’t translate very well to Affliction. Burst is king in most of them, a trait that your shadowy warlock isn’t endowed with, and even the boss encounters consistently play off the weaknesses of Affliction rather than its strengths.
But look at some of the videos of the top guilds in the world, or even external raid parsers such as raidbots.
Specs like Affliction are almost always represented thanks to the depth of their potential in the hands of skilled players. A skilled and committed player will study an encounter as well as his class, make his preparations and then execute that fight strongly. Shadow priests are almost always found amongst the top parsers for the same reasons – their damage goes up and up as the encounter is learned, because their players figure out where they can pump out that extra pain. In lower or more casual guilds, you start to see Affliction warlocks replaced with Destruction and/or Demonology because “that’s the better spec for the fight”.
In reality, it rarely is.
This is why the community as a whole MUST fight for these talent specializations to remain pretty much as is. I’m not saying tightening up of problems or a couple of added bells and whistles should be scorned; I’m saying that Affliction, as a damage spec, is extremely rare and must never be lost to the sands of time. Skilled players should be allowed to show that skill, and with the new monk class now getting its auto-attack put in, I worry that Greg “Cluelessness” Street will look at Affliction and say:
“Gee, you know what, I don’t like this big discrepancy between good and bad players, hurdy gurdy herp derp”.
Affliction, and to a slightly lesser extent Shadow, are examples of what I like to call “maintenance” specializations; they’re different to “nuke” or “ramp up” specs because they need to be carefully maintained throughout, and good players will establish how they work best in a given encounter. They’re not about the crash, bang and wallop of console game button-mashing (something most DPS specs have morphed into, unfortunately), they’re about control and damage potential in a specific setting while making solid, strategic decisions throughout.
They’re the expert specs, not the beginner specs, and they must be allowed to remain that way.
Happy haunting. :)