Tobold's Blog
Monday, March 10, 2008
The terrifying Deathknight

A rare example of Blizzard delivering faster than promised: They promised us that the Deathknight would be terrifying, and quite a lot of players of warriors and bloggers are already terrified! Via Random Battle I found this excellent analysis of Deathknights from Wolfshead. It is pretty negative, but well worth reading. Read both Wolfhead's original post and Cameron's comments and then come back here for my take on the subject.

At the root of the problem is a mismatch of the current reality of tanking classes and the promises Blizzard made about Deathknights being dps tanks. If we assume that Blizzard holds their promise and makes the Deathknight a class that can tank well enough in most group situations while still doing enough dps to be good for soloing and PvP, there is an obvious problem for the other tanking classes, especially warriors, for who this is not the case. The other possibility is that Blizzard doesn't hold their promise, and as Wolfshead suggests pulls a bait-and-switch job on us. You can see how neither alternative is very promising.

Playing a warrior I obviously don't want a new class in the game, played by a large number of players because it is the first new class since 2004, which takes exactly the same role that I have, only doing it better, and which rolls for exactly the same loot, except for shields. If that happens, I can kiss my warrior goodbye. But on the other hand I have a vested interest in Wrath of the Lich King being a big success, I don't want my already low-population server to become even emptier, so I don't want people to be totally disappointed by the Deathknight class either. And I think Blizzard is aware of these two problems, and wants to avoid them. But how?

One alternative is following a classic MMO class design rule, which says that a hybrid needs to be weaker in all of the roles he can perform than the specialized class which can perform only one role. Thus a Deathknight would be a less good tank than a warrior, and a less good melee dps than a rogue. Unfortunately that approach has two problems: it isn't very attractive, and on the tanking side it is very hard to design "less good". Damage is easily scaleable, tanking is not. Either you hold the aggro or you don't. If you scale down tanking so the Deathknight needs a bit more time alone in combat before the other players can start dealing damage, and then need to tone down their dps to not out-aggro the Deathknight, the average player will just declare the Deathknight being useless for tanking. You can already imagine groups of three Deathknights spamming the trade channel for a healer and a tank in that case, because everyone will think of them as dps classes. And a bit further down the road you'll see groups that still need a dps class advertising "need dps, no Deathknights please", because they prefer other classes with higher damage or more crowd control or other useful abilities. This is what Wolfshead describes, a solution where from initial design or with nerfs the Deathknights ends up being less popular than other classes, after the inevitable first surge.

A better alternative would be to make Deathknights as good as tanks as tank-spec druids and paladins are now. That is perfectly viable for most group situations, even including some raid encounters. There is a certain logic behind having all tank hybrids be equally strong. But to make this work, Blizzard would need to do a major rework of the warrior class, significantly improving the viability of the warrior tank in solo and PvP situations. And I'm not talking about minor improvements, as announced in patch 2.4, like Cleave not breaking sheeps any more. I'm talking about changes where a tank warrior would solo grind mobs at the same speed as a feral druid or Deathknight, and where a warrior with a shield is a serious threat to some classes in a PvP situation and not a cause for laughter. The 4 tanking classes would basically be equivalent in tanking, with each class having advantages in some situations over the others; and they would be equally good in soloing and PvP, just using different styles. One could for example imagine tank warriors shining in PvP with various shield maneuvers, for example being dangerous to casters with a much improved shield reflection skill. Basically the warrior would turn from being a specialized tank class to one of four equally good but different tank hybrid classes, and that without being penalized by having to pay dearly every time he wants to switch roles.

So this is where we are: We still have very little information about WotLK, and what we know is that introducing the Deathknight is not without risks for the overall class balance in World of Warcraft. You can take the alarmist point of view like in the quoted articles and be terrified of the Deathknight. Or you can hope that Blizzard takes the opportunity and creates a class balance that is even better than before, by upgrading the warrior and removing many of the problems that protection spec warriors already have before the Deathknight class is there. Does it make sense to have ONE dedicated tank class which isn't much use for anything else when chosing the tank spec? For a game that stopped being all about PvE groups, I think not. We don't need "group only" classes or talent trees in World of Warcraft. Let's all be hybrids!
I agree with your mostly grim conclusions. Blizzard should have simply added another paper tiger DPS class, as that would have been the easiest to balance against rogues.

I would have voted for monks )
Uhm.. the Warrior class is a tank/dps hybrid.

I also think that tanking is perfectly scalable on the premise that one introduces multiple kinds of damage (which already exist in wow). A tank is not only there for holding aggro (every class can do that) but for absorbing and surviving damage. And the damage that a specific tanking class can absorb can be very well scaled.

For example: Warrior-tanks could migitate physical damage better than magical, whereas a Death Knight would be vulnurable to fire and holy damage but absorbs ice and arcane magic better and so on.
"whereas a Death Knight would be vulnurable to fire and holy damage but absorbs ice and arcane magic better and so on"

Yeah that makes a lot of sense. I am sure the LFG channels will be full of "looking for warrior tank because he mitigates physical damage better"

Umm no

The situation and unbalances in this game keep getting better and better. I love watching a franchise shoot itself in the foot.

Why not play EQ1 if you want that scenario?
I don't like the idea of deathknights, and here is why:

1. Adding one "hero class" per expansion is too little. Everyone is going to be a deathknight. Just because the have the title "hero class". The majority will roll a deathknight, all through not all will make the DK their main. If blizzard added two or three "hero classes" then we wouldn't be overwhelmed with deathknights.

2. I use quotes around "hero class" because how can a "hero class" be on a par with a regular class and still be titled differently? Blizzard needs to make a hero class OP. Unfortunately this loops back to number one. There needs to be more then just one hero class or everyone will just roll deathknights. I think there should be a hero class that branches off every class, or atleast every roll(ex. healer, damage, tank).

3. Deathknights will make tanking teh sux. I'm gonna guess deathknights will have a tank spec. I'm gonna guess they will have two other trees too. Most DK's will be the other (DPS) trees. DK tanking should be on par with that of drood or pally. So unless they spec tank, don't expect a good tank.
Oh, it's definitely going to be World of Deathknight )

In any case, the entire Hero class concept is bogus. Deathknights should be a standard class that begins at first level.

And it wouldn't surprise me if that's what we end up getting.
Blizzard needs to make a hero class OP.

Unless they want to completely throw off game balance, add restrictions in where the classes can go, or change around how the class system works, than making these new classes overpowered won't work.

(Restrictions would be something like, say, only allowing 1/5 of the classes in a group to be hero classes. Changes in the class model might be something like having a bunch of hero classes for the other ones to transition to, as well as new ones such as death knights. Both of these are just examples to try to get the ideas across for ways the game might be adjusted to try and allow overpowered hero classes to work.)

Otherwise, imagine a PvP matchup with one side accidentally getting a lot of extra hero classes (which adds an extra unbalancing factor onto the random grouping nature issues.), or imagine raids which turn into just a bunch of hero classes, with the starting nine just left out because they aren't powerful enough.
So far the three tanks have a major problem of being bad in pvp. Feral can have some success but overall it's just not very good. The major difference is that feral and prot pally can solo. But warrior is still the most preferred raid tank. When it comes to groups, I haven't seen anyone who is that choosey for groups where they would not grab any tank than can. So still think WoW must do three things:

1). make all three specs pvpable (even though they still won't be the best pvp spec.

2). make warriors soloable

3). make all four tanks equal but different with warriors still having edge. 2.3 pretty much did this by bringing pallies stam up. But ferals still have a problem with scaling. DKs need to find a niche and it seems they will be the caster tank who can deal with magical damage.

Will WoW fix this, not sure. But an easy fix would be to just let everyone have two preset specs to rotate for a smaller fee of say 15g. That way everyone could have a pve and pvp spec. But if you want to change one of your presets it would be the prices we have now. So they would still be getting people for money sink.

I would rather have every spec work in pve and pvp but Kalgan has arleady said that it isn't there top priority. So I doubt it will ever happen.
It's a good take on what may happen with DK's. Sure, it's negative, but when you look at it from that point of view, it's also quite serious.

But, honestly, my favorite part was the "Warden" here class in the 4th expansion. Oh, the irony...
Ah, the old class problem...

I'm still waiting in part for the classless MMO. The type where you never see "LFM for DOTPS, have tank need healer!" on the LFG channel. There should probably be a few ways to implement that but off the top of my head I can only think of one theme with many variations, let people choose their specs (class) depending on the situation. Heading for that cool new dungeon? Ok, you play the healer today and I'll do it tomorrow.

I'm pretty sure it could work one way or another.
So you want to try out that new Deathknight spec? Sure, just remember it's your turn to do CC tomorrow then in ULAF.
I am mystified at people who complain they can't pve/pvp/solo when it costs 50g to respec into a different spec which can very easily pve/pvp/solo. Granted some classes have it a bit easier and don't need as many respecs, but 50g is about 20 minutes of effort doing daily quests.

Most people I know respec a couple of times a week depending on what they are doing.
but 50g is about 20 minutes of effort doing daily quests.

So when a daily quest makes around 10g, which 5 dailies do YOU manage to do in under 20 minutes, travelling time and all? And if someone wants to go to a few BGs every evening and an instance or two, perhaps even not in sequence it's perfectly reasonable to spend 100-200g respeccing each evening?

Consider also that some may not have as much time on their hand as you do. There are people that can only play one or two hours per evening or less. It's also reasonable to grind money every other evening to finance the other ones according to you then?

In my opinion the spec discussion is a very valid one and trying to shoot it down with such a reason alone is far from enough.
I think they should just give up on the whole tank aspect of the deathknight and make them a dps class. Give them terrible avoidance stats so that they rely on plate to mitigate damage (plus no shields), give them hybrid melee/spell damage dps, and let them go. Let them compete with rogues for pure dps without actually giving them more survivability, and a different type of utility.

Blizz has enough trouble trying to balance the 3 tanks they have, adding a 4th is just asking for trouble.
So when a daily quest makes around 10g, which 5 dailies do YOU manage to do in under 20 minutes, travelling time and all?

Skettis Bombing
Skettis Escort
Ogrila Bombing
Ogrila Wrangling
Ogrila Emanations

Sure, it may take you 30 minutes if you're not hustling.

Not sure why you're trying to bait me with your other questions. I simply suggested that respeccing a couple of times a week is not out of reach for most players.

As for the people who play WoW or any other MMO for only a handful of hours a week, they are naturally screwed. This is not news. We know this. They know this, and they've either accepted it and are getting by as best they can, or they've moved on to other hobbies that are more fulfilling, gratifying, entertaining, and/or socially redeeming. Good for them.

And for the record, I like the idea of a couple of preset specs you could flip flop between.
As for the people who play WoW or any other MMO for only a handful of hours a week, they are naturally screwed.

That's an overall problem for MMO's to fix, there's no reason to argue against it.

Also, for people who do have lots of time, doing a bunch of daily quests just to be useful in other parts of the game does sound like an easy way to add boredom.

Skettis Bombing
Skettis Escort
Ogrila Bombing
Ogrila Wrangling
Ogrila Emanations

Granted, I never got to unlock the Ogri'la quests so I don't know how fast they are but at least they are in the same area so that might be true.

As for the Skettis escort quest, if you are just a little bit unlucky there you might easily spend half an hour just to find that NPC before anyone else does.
I for one feel that tanking should be as viable a strategy in PVP as it is in PVE. Taunt and all it's variants should do SOMETHING in PVP, though I'm not players would go for losing control of their characters.

What could work perhaps would be having Taunt automatically select the taunting warrior as the taunted player's target, sort of like a reverse of Scatter Shot or Feign Death. Any attacks that were in progress would be sent the warrior's way upon completion.

In addition, for 8 seconds or so have the taunted character's melee damage against anyone but the tank be reduced by 30% or so and their distance attack range reduced by 15 yards, subject to diminishing returns.

::shrugs:: I don't know. I like Tobold's suggestion on letting shield carriers reflect spells more frequently, or even act as spell-sinks for their group, sucking up damage like a Grounding Totem. It would encourage group strategies in PVP beyond just the arena, and help make true tanks more useful in PVP.
Hybrid tanks should be no worse than a warrior Tank. They should be equal as far as ability.

A simple reason is specialization. A Paladin tank isn't going to be healing effectively.

Hybrids are hardly hybrids anymore.
As far as I understand, DK is a hero class because you need to complete some sort of questline to unlock it (at least I hope that's how it's going to turn out).

As for DK being better tank than warrior, I find it highly unlikely because afaik it won't have parry or block possibility (meaning it'd have to get 102,4% dodge to be able to be uncrushable in bossmobs).
I'm curious as to how well equipped a toon starting at 50 or 60 will be. You can't just run out naked and do the lvl 50 quests like a lvl 1 toon can do with their lowbie quests. DKs will have to receive some free equipment that at least allows them to survive. And would a 50 get a free Mount and 75-Riding Skill? Would a 60 get a Free Epic Mount and 150-Riding Skill? Will they start a 60 in full T0 gear, so he can do those first BC quests and not die a bazillion times?

And if they do start at 60, who in their right mind would want to run a BC PUG with a brand new, fresh out of the box, Death Knight, let alone three of them.

"Death Knight, huh? When'd you roll it? 5 minutes ago?"

"Yeah, I did. How'd you know?"
It somehow seems that Tobold still thinks that a warrior is the only natural tank and not a hybrid in any way.

1) The warrior is a DPS/ Tank Hybrid and as far as I see the DPS aspect is more common nowadays then the tanking aspect.

2) Druids and Paladins are just as good at tanking as Warriors are. They simply play differrent and they are are more effective in other situations. Each class has different advantages and disadvantages. Anyone who thinks that any of the tank classes is overall superior to the other two is simply not up to date and prejudiced.
Wow, you'd think this article were written in 2004. Warriors can stop QQing. They are not the only viable tanks, lest they forget that many first kills of Illidan were done with Paladins tanking. How many times do I get "LF Paladin tank for H MgT" etc.

If you guys want to think you are the best tanks, go ahead. You are not. The class does not the tank make. The person behind the buttons is. Be prepared to QQ more with droods being the highest in Effective Health with their high armor and health pumps as well as having the highest natural avoidance. Now realize that with WoTLK Paladins will block a LOT more than warriors will and will have more threat and more mitigation. Shield wall you say? Magic reflection? Why, Death Knights will take your lunch on the last stand you have.
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