Believe it or not, there is a method to this particular madness. Since Blizzard was so kind to go back and release more Q&A for warriors this week, I felt to some degree constrained to talk about the answers they gave (and the questions they answered, for that matter) and in going over the post, one particular passage brought me back to the beginning, so to speak. To the days of running MC, BWL and AQ, gearing up in anticipation of patch 1.11 and Naxxramas. Let's look at the particular exchange I'm referring to.
- Community Team: It appears that many players who enjoy the Warrior class for its damage aspects continue to feel that, without best in-slot items, their class's performance is very truncated.
- Q: Is this an issue that we have seen in the Warrior class? If so, do we have any plans to accommodate those players who do not have best in-slot items, while still keeping those with the very best equipment from being too powerful?
- A:This really just gets back to the way rage works, which is that damage leads to rage so you have to pick a point at which you balance warriors. High damage and high rage? Low damage and low rage? The way to fix it is to normalize rage even more so that you always get X rage per second regardless of gear. But once you always get X rage per second you essentially just have rogue energy. So, as with the previous question, we don't like the way it is working and want to change it but we don't have a perfect substitute in the can just yet.
Warriors damage output is tied to rage in a way that causes this issue at almost every single 'gear cap' that comes along in the game. At level 60, in the best epic DPS plate/mail/leather (these legs were particularly popular in the raids I attended) warrior DPS was constantly being retuned. Every time a new content patch with new items came out, warrior DPS had to be re-evaluated, which is what lead to the large rage normalization changes we talked about last week.
The problem is that it didn't really change the issue. There's an old saying that, roughly paraphrased, argues that men always prepare to fight the war they last fought - the Maginot line, for instance, would have been really effective if they could have teleported it back in time to World War I (and in truth, the Germans did get lucky on their assault on the Belgian fortifications but this isn't a column about WWII military strategy). Similarly, rage normalization was effective in rebalancing the damage output of warriors in the top gear from the original game's raid dungeons and had the unfortunate side effect of making warrior tanking harder in Burning Crusade until it was redressed in patch 2.1, but it didn't really counteract what would again start to happen once warriors began gearing up in Karazhan, Gruul's Lair, Magitheridon (well, okay, Mag loot was pretty bad) and beyond to TK, SSC, Hyjal and BT.
Basically, what we saw at the end of the raiding cycle in BC was what we saw at the end of the raiding cycle before it: at the top end of raiding, with the best possible gear and a fight that allowed for rage to be both generated and openly utilized, warrior DPS gains were astonishing. This is in part due to the nature of the resource system that warriors utilize for their DPS - rage does not have a standard regeneration rage like energy does, does not decrease over time without replenishment and other mana restoration strategies, and is not tied to specific moves that generate it as runic power does but its tied directly to the warrior both in terms of his/her white damage output and in terms of incoming damage.
This means that, as a warriors gear gets better, not only does he do more damage with his basic attacks, not only does she miss less and crit more often and sees less dodges, but all of this generates rage. Therefore, her special attacks not only do more damage (because they, too, are made better by the better stats on new gear) but they are more readily accessible. The increased white damage creates more rage which creates more opportunity to do more special attacks, which are designed to do more damage, hit more targets, or so on.
Once a warrior hits the gear threshold that allows her or him to no longer fear rage starvation, the biggest concern will always be positioning. Ulduar, for instance, has very few fights that are warrior friendly. A warrior doing DPS wants more than anything not to move. In Naxx-10/25 (that is to say, the Lich King manifestation of the instance) the DPS warrior dream fights were Thaddius, Patchwerk and Loatheb. Of these three fights, Thaddius and Loatheb had particular gimmicks that benefited a DPS warrior (increased stacking damage buffs or a highly increased critical strike chance) that warriors especially enjoyed for the same reason that warriors gain doubly from increased stats on gear: the more white damage the warrior does, the more rage he generates, the more special attacks he can do. Patchwerk, while it contained no such buff, allowed the DPS warrior to park him/herself directly behind the mob and simply go berserk without worrying about positioning beyond possibly stepping into the ooze a few times to ensure that they weren't ever a target for Patchwerk's particular affections.
No amount of rage normalization has prevented this mechanic from functioning this way. It was designed to function this way. This is the essential core, the mystery of the warrior class. In short, this is what warriors have always done. If you say The way to fix it is to normalize rage even more so that you always get X rage per second regardless of gear then what you are saying is the way to fix it is to make warriors not be warriors anymore.
The trade off the warrior class has always accepted has been that they will be slaves to gear. That when leveling, when starting in five mans, when struggling to attain decent PvP gear the warrior would be weak. It's a trade off the other classes have always ignored, selectively blinded so that they only see the warrior in full epics bladestorming in their midst but forget the mounds of warriors in quest greens and crafted blues they effortlessly stunlocked, rooted, trapped, burned and blasted apart on their way to that meeting. Warriors have never forgotten. Warriors have gone to raids and bided their time, carefully assembling their gear sets (I wore bug shoulders) so that they could one day slap on all that DPS gear and suddenly turn the suppression room into an abattoir of mangled whelps on the way to Broodlord. No matter what happens, if you continue to increase stats on gear, eventually warriors will always hit that tipping point where they no longer have to worry about rage starvation. White damage will always hit the sweet spot where it is not only high enough on its own to be a decent portion of your DPS (especially for the modern, 2h dual wielding Titan's Grip warrior) but where it becomes a source of enough rage to unlock the real damage potential of the warrior's special attacks.
We see this in Ulduar now. Warrior DPS is artificially hampered by fights that are specifically designed to keep melee DPS on the move: of all the melee DPS, warriors are the most easily curbed by such fights, as not only is their white damage kept low, but this also keeps their rage generation stunted, which keeps their synergistic effect in check. On fights like Kologarn and XT -002 hard mode, suddenly warriors go from 10th on the DPS chart to near the top. When I see encounter design like this, and I read sentences that basically say "we want rage to act like mana" I see a design philosophy that has shifted a great deal from the idea that the strength of the warrior class was rage, and that it was a special, unique element of the class that was to be embraced.
This seems counter-productive to me. We already have Rogues, Death Knights, Retribution Paladins and Enhancement Shamans. Why do we want to make Warriors copies of any of them? Perhaps the change is that, in Lich King, Warriors are treated as a hybrid class while in the original game and Burning Crusade they were designed as a pure DPS class. Perhaps it's simply a desire on the design end to make everything work the same way, a desire that doesn't have room for the unique synergy and scaling of the warrior's rage mechanic. Perhaps it's the spectre that's haunted the class at every 'gear cap'. Perhaps it's the selective blindness of those who have never had to eat the limitations of gear in the same way warriors have and can never understand how many times that warrior in epics had to run back to his corpse or stand at a winged angel waiting before he had them.