It’s funny how much a game can change over the course of the week, especially if it’s in Beta. In the space of a week we’ve had a complete change to the way buff stacking works (short version – it doesn’t anymore) and all of the racial abilities have been totally reworked.
Now I don’t know about you guys, but as a Human Mage planning to spec Arcane I was very happy with the Human Spirit racial, a flat 10% boost to my Spirit? Yes please! Except, no, not any more. Oh well, easy come, easy go. So what is it getting replaced with? Well we get a groovy new ability “The Fall of Humanity” that works like the evil offspring of a forbidden union between Hunter Feign Death and Priest Fade. We pop this and drop all threat while we’re faking death, but once we get up again we regain all previous threat. Sounds useful for those ”Oh noes!” moments when both Ice Block and Invisibility is on cooldown, so it would be churlish of me to complain. No, don’t try to find any justification for this in the game lore, there isn’t any. Just nod, smile and accept it.
Full details of the proposed new racials can be found all over the place, but WoW Insider is where I got the scoop. Check it out at your leisure.
Moving on to buff stacking. or rather the end of buff stacking. The short version is this: Any buffs that provide a similar effect will no longer stack, they will just overwrite each other so you will instead get the effect of the most powerful buff. Or in other words, Gift of the Wild won’t be worth the mana it costs to cast it in a raid, since everything it does can be better provided by some other buff. This buff stacking nerf also applies to debuffs, so Warlocks and Shadow Priests will no longer be able to stack the ZOMG SHADOW DEBUFF OF DOOM COMBO LOL on bosses that makes every other dps class wonder why they bothered turning up. Look past the initial knee-jerk flood of QQ on the forums and this is both a good thing and a bad thing. But it’s mostly a good thing.
- Bad Things:
1. Warlocks and Shadow Priests will no longer be able to stack the ZOMG SHADOW DEBUFF OF DOOM COMBO LOL. Most other useful debuff synergies are also kaput.
2. Hybrid classes whose position in raids were dependent on the buffs and synergies they brought are starting to sweat. Yes, I’m looking mostly at you, Enhancement Shamans and Retribution Paladins.
- Good Things:
1. You’ll no longer have to stack your raid with a Shadow Priest and as many Warlocks as you can lay your hands on simply to get the most from the ridiculous synergy between those classes. Raid Leaders will be able to breathe a sigh of relief, ensure that they’ve selected 10 or so of whichever classes provide the most essential buffs/debuffs, and pick the rest of the raid based on whoever’s the most skilled instead of whoever’s a Warlock.
2. Most buffs will now affect the entire raid instead of just a single group, so no more trying to sweat over the ideal way to stack your melee or caster group.
3. Picking classes for a 10 man raid will be a walk in the park, since just about anyone can provide the most useful buffs. debuffs and skills.
I may just be a biased QQ’ing Mage (ok, I am a biased QQ’ing Mage), but in my book, the good things seriously outweigh the bad things here. Combine this with changes to the ways other buffs work and picking raids just became a whole lot easier. Say you have a seriously underperforming Shadow Priest, for example, but you have to keep taking him or your Warlock dps goes in the toilet. Well once these changes go live you can bench that sucker until he shapes up, there will be many other classes who can provide the bonus spell damage debuff AND the mana regen. There are big utility changes across the board, with Rogues getting a Misdirect ability (a Good Thing, that class was a serious one-trick pony who badly needed a bit of raid utility to add to their amazing single target dps) any number of classes getting raid mana regen abilities, target debuffs and all sorts of good stuff. But here’s the point that I feel has been missed by just about everyone amongst the flood of complaints and cheering that these changes have unleashed. Ready for it? Here it comes.
Blizzard is balancing the game around 10 man content, that’s what’s driving these changes more than anything else.
Think about it for a while and it makes sense. With every 25 man dungeon in Lich King having it’s own 10 man version, Blizzard are committed to ensuring that as many of their subscribers as possible get to see all the cool new content they’re developing. They learned the lesson from Naxxrammas where only something like 2% of their bazzillions of subscribers ever got inside the place, let alone even saw a boss. (That was a crying shame, because Naxx was some of the best-designed content I ever saw, even if I only cleared Spider Wing and Instructor Razuvious). Take these buff changes in context with the spread of key abilities around more classes (Rogue Misdirect, Druid out of combat resurrection, etc) and it seems pretty clear to me that Blizzard are doing all of this with the more casual 10 man raid in mind.
Let’s say you had to pick a 10-man Kara raid today and for whatever reason had no Paladins, Priests or Shamans. You’d be boned, with no-one to pick up players from the occasional death once the Battle Rezzes had run out you’d spend as much time waiting for the dead to run back as you would killing stuff. With no Blessing of Salvation or Tranquil Air Totem your dps would probably spend most of the night threat capped, and all sorts of other Bad Stuff. Well after the expansion you’ll still not have the ideal raid in that situation, but you’d not be completely shafted either. Druids will be able to ressurrect players out of combat, and the Tank (if they’re a Warrior) will be able to manage threat of the highest dps players to a degree. Mages and Druids can provide the same spell damage debuff on bosses that your missing Shadow Priest used to do, and the Mages (if they’re Frost) can also provide the entire raid, not just their own group, with the missing Face Melter’s mana regen.
The point is this: Yes, there will always be certain classes that excel at certain roles, that’s the point of having seperate classes, after all. Currently, if you lack one of those “key” classes in a 10 man raid you’re pretty much crippling your raid in any encounter that calls for whichever ability you lack, simply because you don’t have any of class “x”. Not having a mage or lock around when you need some Area of Effect dps is a pretty good example. However, with so many of the buffs/debuffs and “key” abilities being spread around in Beta, not having that particular class will no longer cripple you. Sure, you won’t be as optimal as if you had that specialist there, (you need AoE and have no Fire Mage, for example) but you’ll still be able to do it, just not as efficiently or safely.
In a nutshell, skill and competence will be the defining factors, not your class or talent spec. And that scares people. These changes are good overall for the 25 man raid group, but we’re in the minority of Blizzard’s paying customers. These changes are awesome for the more casual 10 man raiders and smaller guilds. There’s a bright and loot-filled future ahead, and you’ll only need another 9 raiders to see all of it.
Of course it’s as true with the shift down to 10 man progression from 25 man as it was with the change from 40 man raids: Skill becomes more and more a factor the fewer people you have in your raid. I know for a fact that back in Molten Core there were hunters who would start autoshot and go afk to watch TV on certain bosses. With another 39 players there was always someone who’d pick up your slack. You can get away with that in a 25 man raid in such few specific encounters that it’s just about neglible. You absolutely definitely in no circumstances can get away with it in a 10 man. So yes, while all this shiny new content is being opened up to you and made more accessable for all, you’re still going to have to bring your game face. 10 man raids in Lich King are not for tourists, but at last the vast majority of players are not only going to be able to see all the content they’re paying for, but with some skill, effort and determination, they stand a pretty good chance of being able to conquer it too, regardless of what class they are.
I’d say that was good news all round.