Recently, I’ve read a lot about what a warrior “is” and how well that relates to our in-game representation. The sad fact is that, particularly in PvP, we’ve been lumbered with ancient mechanics and hotbar fluff that do nothing but hold the class back. Paladin players are comfortable with this notion, given the fact the rest of their toolkit is based around their ability to use Divine Shield which, particularly in PvE, is situational at best.
But at least paladins have saving graces that keep the class worthwhile. Everything that made warriors unique, and worth the effort of gearing up, has been stripped away in the name of balance.
It’s time to restore some.
So, where do we start rebuilding warriors?
We start by tossing the class into a furnace and melting it down for salvageable parts. Just as sculptors remove clay from statues rather than adding it, the warrior developers have to strip the class to the point where its bare essentials remain and nothing else. And while many will disagree or prioritise differently, there are four things that warriors must have as part of an identity that’s strongly represented in game:
Mastery of weapons.
Income and use of rage.
Stances and utility.
I’ve deliberately chosen these four because they’re fundamental to any warrior archetype, but also because they’re already supposed to exist in the game; it’s just that they suffer from the patchwork class design that makes them all extremely unintuitive. Warrior mobility looks great at first glance until you realise that it’s aggravatingly blunted by the simplest of crowd control, and that a signature ability in Heroic Leap still doesn’t work a year and a half down the line. Rage, again, promises much; a limitless resource pool that the developers have desperately tried to rein in due to absurd gear scaling as more comes in. Finally, expertise in weapons is close to meaningless when there is invariably a single weapon per tier that you’d want, and what it is makes absolutely no difference to you outside of statistic priority.
The problem is, of course, endemic. Our mobility was neutered by robbing Arms of Intercept and Fury of Charge, so the promise of a highly-mobile class is broken by default. Rage is such a burden that multiple abilities like Inner Rage need to be thrown on top of the basic warrior toolkit just to flatten it out. Mastering a weapon once had meaning when a certain type gave a certain benefit, but that was another thing that was simply thrown out of the window only to be resurrected as “perfectly fine” for other classes.
Accompanying this mess of the basic warrior archetype are things such as Disarm that doesn’t work on bosses, Spell Reflection that suffers likewise, PvP dependence on other classes, DPS cooldowns we can’t stack (or defensive ones in the case of Rallying Cry and Last Stand), stances that are being developed into meaninglessness and tanking mechanics such as block that are either too good or completely useless.
Blizzard is currently spending too much time, in my opinion, with a predisposition of managing failure. I can completely understand where Ghostcrawler is coming from here, though; changing a class too significantly might well alienate huge swathes of players and there’s absolutely no guarantee that a development overhaul will work.
What gives me confidence that it would is the fact that mobility, weapon mastery, rage and our other utilities have promise if looked at in their purest forms, rather than the plastered-up incarnations they currently are (or are about to become).
What can we learn from the past?
First of all, being highly-mobile is highly-fun. I adored my Protection warrior in early WotLK thanks to Warbringer and the fact that I was impossible to keep away from my friends. In my view, moving back to that would be a huge step in the right direction. I accept that a warrior owning Charge, Intercept and Intervene was much too powerful in PvP, but that’s no longer the world we live in. Intercept is gone (a good change, really) and the cooldown on Charge has been extended. In the world we’re about to enter, there is no reason why Charge cannot break roots at baseline; three times a minute isn’t too much to ask when druids can shapeshift out of roots with gay abandon.
While we’re at it, remove the glyphs that change the cooldown and make the baseline range 30 yards to also get rid of that glyph. The Safeguard talent should stay as it is, thanks to the powerful external cooldown that comes with it. Frankly, at this point, I’d be comfortable with the removal of Heroic Leap entirely. Flag carriers have become dependent on it in RBG’s, but that’s because of Smoke Bomb – another skill that should be entirely removed from the game.
So, Charge fixed and a huge dent is made in our dependency.
Moving on to weapon mastery, then. There used to be talents that would provide passive bonuses to Arms warriors, depending on what weapon they used. Naturally, these were changed over time because they were either obviously unbalanced or mechanically broken. Using a mace increased armour penetration (gone), using a sword delivered the chance of an extra free swing (now our mastery) and using an axe or polearm delivered more critical strike damage. This was during WotLK, an RNG upgrade from the Burning Crusade where maces and hammers would periodically stun a target.
The thing is, if warriors are the masters of weapons, it should matter what weapon we choose to use and how we choose to use it. At the moment, we’re fighting for whatever drops and have no advantage whatsoever over Retribution paladins, Unholy/Blood death knights or even Fury warriors assuming Titan’s Grip. The previous weapon mastery talents didn’t work because they were horribly punitive depending on what dropped for you, or clearly indicative of what was best (the extra damage from axes).
What we need is a choice that’s both offensive and defensive, but one that doesn’t carry old baggage with regards to balance. Here’s how I view it:
Sword Specialization: Swords are lightweight and strike with dexterity and precision. Using a sword in the main-hand increases the warrior’s chance to hit by 2% and dodge chance by 2%.
Axe Specialization: Axes are weapons of momentum that can easily inflict grievous wounds. Using an axe in the main-hand increases Deep Wounds damage by 3% and parry chance by 2%.
Mace Specialization: Maces are heavy, crushing weapons that are hard to avoid. Using a mace in the main-hand increases the warrior’s expertise by 2% and increases his armour value by 3%.
Naturally, the numbers would require tweaking but the intent is obvious; we want to make weapons matter to warriors of all types, but not to the extent where a random drop is too punitive to take up. Every upgrade requires a trip to the reforger regardless, and warriors can choose the weapon they like the flavour of most without having to worry about what is technically best.
Make all of these skills baseline, and warriors have regained their place as weapon masters at no cost to balance.
Thirdly, rage as a resource has been a pain since its inception and particularly over the last couple of expansions. In theory it sounds interesting, and it is, but it’s hard to make it work in reality where you don’t want it to be free-flowing. Traditionally, warriors have built rage via white attacks and the excess (ever-growing with better gear) is bled off via Heroic Strike. Rage itself has undergone several “normalisations” which have all been intended to do one thing – rein in the flow of rage so it’s a resource warriors care about. At this point in the Pandaria beta, rage flow has been curtailed to the point where it’s actually breaking a warrior staple and promoting the redundancy of Heroic Strike; there are better rage dumps out there.
In short, pulling rage down to a point where it doesn’t overflow does nothing but wreck the way warriors play in other avenues. Reining rage in hasn’t worked. Now, it’s time to embrace it and balance warriors around a different type of resource management that assumes rage is coming in extremely fast. Basically speaking, we want a rage system that doesn’t change a lot from tier to tier, retains the build and spend nature of the resource, and is fun to use; “feast or famine” has got to go.
First of all, make every special attack that lands grant rage. Nothing too massive, but not the paltry 10 rage for Bloodthirst that Fury is currently lumbered with. Essentially, every 1.5 seconds should see some rage coming in with a rotation that doesn’t spend it and, therefore, can’t be curtailed by a lack of it. Then, we need rage-burners; abilities off the GCD that use up rage rather than simply having everything create it and building the perfect example of a meaningless resource.
The clue is in the sentence; off the GCD. Our traditional rage-burners have always been Heroic Strike and Cleave, something I see no reason to change. You could add Pummel into this, I suppose, but keeping it free is probably the better option. In any event, Heroic Strike is the main rage burner and I’d be comfortable with either a 1.5 or 3 second cooldown on it.
Of course, this doesn’t solve the problem of infinite rage or a resource system that simply doesn’t scale. Heroic Strike can’t be enough on its own to stop rage capping, else it’s a case of simply macroing it into your other abilities and forgetting about it; at that point, we may as well remove it from the game. No, we need something else that is a significant rage-burner that can form the focus of how warrior resources are handled from here on out.
Obviously, Enrage is the candidate for this.
Think about it. You’re building rage up quickly, pouring out as much as you can via Heroic Strike, but eventually you’re going to be so full of rage that you become *drumroll* enraged. At the cap of 100 rage, the warrior will activate an Enrage affect that will use his entire rage bar and will activate a self buff that lasts for 10 seconds. There are three options:
Enraged Regeneration: The warrior regains 2% of his maximum health every second for 10 seconds.
Enraged Assault: All of the warrior’s attacks now land for an additional 3% damage for the next 10 seconds.
Enraged Pursuit: The warrior now moves at an additional 10% running speed for the next 10 seconds.
Now, there will be some purists who will point out that tanks will always use Regeneration and damage dealers will always use Assault. Not so. The duration of each buff is important, as is the context of where it’s used; imagine an encounter with heavy raid damage where a DPS warrior might want to help his healers. There are encounters where tank damage is relatively light, so they might want to use Assault to help with the berserk timer. And don’t forget that there are far more movement-heavy fights than players like to count, fights where Pursuit would increase uptime and, thus, increase overall damage.
Of course, the real focus behind this is the PvP angle. Because only one Enrage will generally be up at a time (with limited scope for overlap), the choice is dependent on the situation; do you want the endurance of Regeneration because you’re taking heavy damage? Perhaps it’s time for pressure, so Assault is your choice. Alternatively, you need to prioritise grip with a particularly slippery opponent so you’ll activate Pursuit (which also reinforces the erstwhile discussed “mobility” strength).
The things to bear in mind are that the resource system for Enrage needs to make sense to beginners but reward experts, the time it takes to fill a rage bar has to work well with the duration of each Enrage effect and each effect needs to be widely desirable without being too powerful in a given situation. If we assume that the average time to fill a rage bar to full is, say, six seconds, then beginners will simply mash buttons and hit Assault every time it lights up. The more skilled players will know that this means a lot of lost Heroic Strikes because you’re spending your rage on a buff that’s already up. PvE will be easy to balance around certain assumptions (Assault being up most of the time), while PvP can also be balanced around each Enrage being… Well… An Enrage.
It can be dispelled. :)
So, free-flowing rage and our resource being changed to Enrage to compensate. While we’re at it, get rid of the current form of Enraged Regeneration and lose Second Wind and Blood Craze for good measure. Accompanying glyphs can also be filed under “13”.
Stances and utility.
It’s difficult to quantify warrior utility, largely because it’s either wonderful or junk. Disarming a Blood death knight can be great, as can reflecting a mage’s Polymorph right back at him. Unfortunately, neither tends to work on bosses so warriors are given other utilities to cover for the deficiency, and the base skills are nerfed so that they’re not too powerful when used in conjunction with each other. It’s a mess.
But before all of this, we need to get a grip of stances. At this point in beta, just to save the three stances and make them meaningful choices, we’re stuck with differing levels of rage gain for certain circumstances. Yawn. For me, it’s time to kill ‘zerker and just move forward with Defensive Stance and Offensive Stance; one makes you take 10% less damage while the other makes you do 10% more damage. End of story. The stance requirements for certain abilities are gone, so we no longer need to worry about that and any attempt to force stance-dancing at this point would be pointless.
But back to our utility regarding Disarm and Spell Reflection.
Due to these not working on bosses, warriors ended up with other cooldowns to compensate in the form of Die by the Sword and a reworked Demoralizing Shout. An inherent weakness with regard to magical damage has seen tanks pick up an absorb effect as part of their “active mitigation” package, yet we’re still seeing a spell reflect talent that will be routinely ignored by tanks thanks to the fact the ability itself won’t work when they want it to.
This is madness; more bloat to cover more broken mechanics.
Let’s start with what Disarm is designed to actually do; it’s a short-CD, short-duration reduction to incoming physical damage. In PvP, it has significantly more ramifications depending on who you choose to Disarm. In short, I feel it’s better we make Disarm powerful and ditch other cooldowns that are designed to prop it up when it doesn’t work.
Disarm does what it does now, at the same cooldown, but PvE enemies are no longer immune to it. Rather, if an enemy cannot be traditionally disarmed, then the ability will cost them 10% of their damage. From here, we are free to remove Die by the Sword and the new Demoralizing Shout entirely, as Disarm becomes the warrior answer for short-term damage reduction. It’s understood that a cooldown affecting an enemy is situationally worse than one affecting the warrior himself, so Disarming Shout with a range of 15 yards could be more appropriate.
So, Disarm does what it says on the tin and we lose more bloat.
Spell Reflect is a little more complicated, largely because of what it’s designed to do and when it’s designed to do it. On boss encounters, it’s practically useless due to how powerful it would be otherwise (imagine reflecting Sinestra’s Wrack back at her). That said, it’s not really something that just “reduces incoming magical damage” because there’s an offensive component to it as well, and not just offensive from the damage point of view. Often, the best spells to reflect in PvP are the more control-orientated ones such as Polymorph, Hex or Cyclone.
But despite its rather unique nuance, it’s still an ability that typically wastes bar space in PvE because it simply doesn’t do what it says on the tin. As a result, a simple buff is in order, a buff that provides magical damage reduction alongside the reflecting component. Not only would this make it worthwhile in PvE boss encounters for all specs of warrior, it would make it more useful in PvP when its extraordinarily difficulty in timing often sees it reflect an Icelance and not a lot else. I’d also be more than comfortable simply removing its shield requirement, another archaic mechanic that there’s simply no need for in this day and age.
Another option for Spell Reflect is to make it reflect boss spells, but only up to a certain maximum of the warriors current health. So if a spell would otherwise land for 100k on a 200k health warrior, 25% (or 25k) would be reflected and the rest would be eaten. This could be more subtle but would still solve the problem of an ability that doesn’t pay for its place on a PvE hotbar.
Warrior cooldowns, particularly the offensive ones, are in need of serious attention. Truthfully, I think the beta has fixed the ludicrous locking out of Last Stand and Rallying Cry, which solves the most significant issue tanks were having. With Shield Wall being pretty standard and the active mitigation model for warriors having been decided on, we can assume our cooldowns are going to be just fine assuming we’re tanking. We’ve already discussed Die by the Sword and Demoralizing Shout, so we can leave them alone for the time being.
But offensively… What a mess. Deathwish is in Fury at the moment, but it’s been back and forward between Arms more times than I can count. We then throw on Recklessness, Inner Rage and Deadly Calm (depending on spec) and come up with a mess of cooldowns that aggravatingly don’t stack and don’t line up properly with each other. Not only that, these cooldowns are all actually pretty lousy with the exception of Death Wish and that suffers from the most awkward timing of the lot.
Thankfully, work is already being done here. Inner Rage has gone because it was essentially pointless, while Death Wish has also bitten the bullet but been replaced on the talent tree by Avatar; something that immediately looks awesome, but is actually quite weak when you think about what it really does. The sum total of these changes mean that Fury has Recklessness and Avatar to deal with (the talent is the best in the tier by a distance), while Arms is packing Recklessness, a reworked Deadly Calm and Avatar. For PvP purposes, we might find Bloodbath starts to become worth it due to the snare it carries inherently, so there’s a choice there, but the freedom and damage of Avatar makes me think it will still trump Bloodbath over 90% of the time.
My question here is simple; what’s the point in Deadly Calm and Recklessness? At low baseline critical strike rates, Recklessness isn’t only awkward – it’s abnormally weak. Deadly Calm should be renamed to Deadly Dull because it’s just more action bar space that is saved by using macros. For the life of me, I cannot see why Avatar is not buffed, put into our level 87 spellbook, and used to directly replace Recklessness at that level. At the moment, I can see a place for Recklessness itself, but not “as well as” other DPS cooldowns when one is perfectly sufficient. As for Deadly Calm, it’s just all backwards. The spec having the trouble with steady rage flow was NEVER Arms, so why on earth has it ended up Arms only? Fury is the spec that needs the help but, even then, in a world where rage is free flowing there simply isn’t a place for it.
Ditch Deadly Calm, have Recklessness as the lower-level DPS cooldown, then install Avatar to replace it at level 87. Considering the new use of Enrage, it’s enough to juggle without worrying needlessly about DPS cooldowns that all fulfil the same role.
Okay, it’s a long post – most definitely. And truthfully, it’s just the start of how I’d like to see warriors (and indeed the game) develop over a period of time rather than just for an expansion. Alas, I do think there’s a dire need for some “back to basics” thinking on the warrior team because as time moves on we’re just finding more and more of our stuff in the spell books of death knights, paladins and now monks. What warriors end up with as a result is diluted abilities that are bettered elsewhere, duplicates of abilities we have with a different skin, or a lack of a cohesive package that will be delivered to you upon selection at the character creation screen.
But of course, this is to start a debate. If you agree, that’s cool, but it’s also worth disagreeing so that we can talk about how we’d prefer things to go. What do you think would be better? How do you think the class should develop? Do you even think these issues are as glaring as I do?
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