How committed is the development team to having all tanks perform within an "acceptable variance" on all encounters? In Cataclysm we saw several "niches" become severe problems for tank balance on certain heroic encounters.
Here's what was said about it:
We don't think any of those cross the line. If it were the same class showing up for all of those bullet points, that would be a problem. Our tanks all have strengths and weaknesses and unusual encounter mechanics may synergize or clash with them, but that's more interesting than extreme homogeneity, which would be the alternative. We like the puzzle aspect of "solving" boss encounters according to the comp and strengths of individual groups. We think it has helped contribute to the fun of killing bosses having such extraordinary legs (meaning that we're on tier 14 now and have made hundreds of dungeon bosses).There are good and bad sides to this response, of course.
If memory serves the first Spine kill was Blood DK / Prot paladin and the second was a pair of druids. Now granted, world firsts sometimes have to resort to unusual strategies since they undergear the fights because they haven't had weeks to farm up better gear. Your mileage may vary.
As a counter-example, paladins on Heroic Major Domo initially were able to solo-soak the scorpion cleave, letting guilds with paladin tanks keep him in scorpion form longer than those without. We thought that crossed the line and we changed the boss mechanics to disincentivize that particular strategy. I fully admit that these calls are subjective.
What’s he getting right?
Well, homogeneity is something nobody really wants; if all classes played the same and had the same strengths and weaknesses, then the game would be a lot poorer for it. Part of what made WoW so good until recent times was the “problem solving” aspect of setting up a raid group that had the right synergy with itself in order to maximise performance. Class-stacking has of course been going on for a long time and, truthfully, always will – the upper echelons of the raiding community will always look for the advantage. I agree with Ghostcrawler when he says that the developers shouldn’t balance around that. But generally for most of us, and particularly in 10-man raids, it’s worthwhile having a roster that can pick and choose the best classes, specs or individual talents for an encounter.
It’s also right to say (in my opinion) that this is fine, assuming that every tank is viable for an encounter. If we end up in the situation where a tank simply doesn’t have the tools for a specific encounter, then some changes will be made. The thing is, I suspect this is where the biggest problem lies in how the community views “viability” compared to the developers; language is key. When Ghostcrawler says all tanks need to be viable for an encounter, that’s exactly what he means.
Viable for an encounter; NOT viable for a specific boss.
Thinking back, there have been no encounters that I can recall where a tank was totally sidelined from an encounter. Warriors, for example, couldn’t tank heroic Arthas – but Safeguard was wonderful, just as Concussion Blow and Shockwave were. Anub’arak on heroic required a shield tank for the adds, but it didn’t require a shield tank for Anub’arak himself. Moving into Cataclysm, a similar pattern emerges. Certain tanks might be particularly strong for certain encounters, but none ended up completely non-viable. Personally, I think the example of Majordomo Staghelm does Ghostcrawler no favours because I don’t believe it was broken to the point he clearly does, but that’s just my opinion. The mechanic was changed and guilds moved on.
I feel a disagreement is coming.
While I agree that homogeneity shouldn’t be an aspiration, I can see absolutely nothing wrong with each tank having the same basic functionality but with a different feel. For example, warriors severely lack cooldowns in comparison with paladins and death knights. Yes, we can line up Shield Wall/Guardian of Ancient Kings/Icebound Fortitude and Last Stand/Ardent Defender/Vampiric Blood as major cooldowns. We can also line up Shield Block/Holy Shield/Bone Shield as mitigation cooldowns. All’s well so far, and this is the developer take. Yet, that’s where the warrior cooldown toolkit ends and that’s not the case for death knights and paladins; Anti-Magic Shell, Divine Protection, Divine Shield and Lay on Hands all say hello, while paladins have the added benefit of Word of Glory to add to their general mitigation.
Why? What’s the reasoning? No answer is ever forthcoming here.
I also get the feeling that single-tank encounters exasperate this issue. If there are two tanks required for a fight, then there’s a lot more wiggle room to use them to their strengths. If it’s a one-tank encounter, as most seem to be becoming these days, the demonstrably stronger one will almost always be chosen assuming availability. It’s fine to say that all tanks are still viable, but this doesn’t address the problem when one class is demonstrably weaker than another. Throughout Cataclysm, and mainly throughout WotLK, warriors were simply a poor man’s paladin and the state of the MoP beta implies that this isn’t going to change.
If we consider the mitigation example above, and compare warriors to paladins, the issue is made clearer. If you have both classes available, and only want one tank for an encounter, it’s blindingly obvious which one you would want to take. Yes, a warrior will be able to tank the encounter and this is where the developers draw the line. Unfortunately, it simply isn’t fun to be the warrior who’s far less desirable because a stressed raid wants the tank that can make everybody’s job easier.
So this is just another warrior-whinge, then?
I suppose so.
The problem, of course, is that I now play three tanking classes in endgame and that makes the discrepancies show up far more dramatically than they ever did before. I could previously be argued off this point because I didn’t really know or understand how the other classes worked, but I’m now in a position where that’s no longer the case. As previously hinted in other posts, paladins are simply better tanks than warriors but the wild variance in power between shield tanks and non-shield tanks also worries me. Paladins and warriors were comfortably better options during the Firelands, say, thanks to the abundance of physical damage that shields were great at dealing with.
Enter the pendulum into Dragon Soul, and death knights rose to the fore thanks to much of the incoming damage avoiding traditional physical mitigation completely. I suppose you could argue that the safest bet is to have a tanking team that has one shield tank and one non-shield tank to cover all bases. That would certainly work on any encounter, as you can assign the right tank to the right job on two-tank fights and simply pick the best tank available for any single-tank fights. Unfortunately, that doesn’t solve the problem of paladins being superior to warriors, but it won’t harm raid groups unnecessarily in the largest majority of cases.
I suppose, after four years of endgame raiding as a Protection warrior, I’m just sick of Blizzard telling me that warriors are fine when the class is often no better than “viable, but weak”.
That’s what I’d like addressed, and what will seemingly never be addressed.