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The Care and Feeding of Warriors: A short intermission

Matthew Rossi

In all the talk about the beta, about nerfs and buffs to the class, about design philosophies and alterations to talent trees it can be pretty easy to lose sight of the class as a living entity. The other day, while trying to level my night elf warrior on test in the face of the 132 error (I'm pretty sure my drivers are up to date, but I'm going to check to make sure after I get done writing this) a friend asked me why, since I'm almost always tanking, I'm so concerned about the fury and arms trees and their upcoming viability.

"You never DPS. You're always tanking. So what if fury and arms aren't as good?"

I had a hard time answering this until I logged onto my old Horde server and talked to Elle, a friend of mine who plays a warrior. Elle has never played prot spec seriously, doesn't like tanking. A discussion of the state of the various trees made her unhappy, and she made the point that even if prot were capable of good DPS, it wasn't a playstyle she wanted for her warrior. This makes sense to me: she's always leveled as fury or arms, generally, and she's done so in a guild with at least two serious, dedicated tanks around most of the time. The thing about tanking is, you only need so many. In a guild that fields at best a 10 man raid by itself, two or three tanks is plenty.

With paladins, druids and DK's as well as warriors, that's four tanking classes, all of whom are expected to be viable for trash, offtanking and MT positions. Warriors are one of the most played classes in the game, so it's clear that with four tanking classes not all members of these classes are going to be tanking. And two of those classes can only DPS or tank, there's no healing DK or ranged caster DPS warriors.

So, even though I almost always tank, I want the class to retain its viability in other areas. I want fury and arms to work, and work well, and be fun and exciting for those players who choose to spec in them. I want a level 68 warrior in bad gear to be able to go to Northrend, pick a spec he or she likes, and level effectively in whatever style he or she chooses to do as long as reasonable intelligence and skill is displayed. I don't want arms or fury warriors to have to succeed despite of their talents.

Now, I don't believe the designers want that either. When I was younger, it was easier to go to the forums and make ridiculous and petulant posts about how angry I was that Intimidating Shout was being nerfed, or weapon speed normalization, or rage normalization (grrr) or what have you. And I certainly don't believe that the current state of arms and fury's talent trees in the beta is due to the designers deliberately wanting them to be bad trees, or have bad talents, and I wouldn't even go so far as to say they are bad trees. There's lots of good stuff, and a lot of it is still unfinished and not yet fully formed into a coherent whole for us to consider. I know that my level 70 draenei warrior was doing very well soloing the ghosts outside of Karazhan last night for lack of being able to go to Northrend with a heavy arms talent spec including Bladestorm. (For all its flaws and weaknesses, it can be a surprisingly fun ability.) The problem is, in part, cause by a perception of time crushing down on us.

A lot of the complaints on the forums come down to "Are we going to get fixed before launch?" and this is in part due to the history of the state warriors were in when TBC launched, rage starved and underwhelming. This time, at least, tanks will be in good shape going forth even if the last vestiges of warrior tanking supremacy are stripped away: sure, you won't be the default tank anymore, but you haven't been that for five mans for a long time now. Leveling to 80, you're going to be a very good option for tanking if you choose to go prot, and that's a step up in my opinion. (The effect it will have on raiding is a separate issue.) That, however, doesn't necessarily mean that warriors who want to play a fury or arms playstyle are going to be decent tanks for five mans (one of Blizzard's stated goals) either. The class is not in ruins, it's not awful, but it is much like the roof of the inn in Westfall, unfinished and not showing as much progress as we'd hope.

Since the warrior class is so populated, it is necessary for it to be well developed and fun in all three of its trees. Frankly, I'm sick to death of the 31 point arms talent dominating the tree. I leveled back in the pre-Maraudon days as an arms warrior, I tanked as arms using MS as my rage dump before Tactical Mastery increased its threat, I don't hate the ability. But I'm tired of it dominating the tree. I think what they're trying to do with arms is laudable, giving it more options, making it more about synergy. But the random chance factor of the tree has gotten so ridiculously bloated that it feels almost like the tree is at war with itself. But at least there's a direction clear in the design elements introduced so far. Fury doesn't even have that: the capstone talent will be awesome once you've assembled about 600 or so hit rating at 80. Leveling, each time you ding, the talent will get worse. Do we really want talents to feel like punishments as you level? How is that fun or engaging?

It's not a question of DPS, or a numbers pass. If Warrior DPS is low, it can be tuned up very easily/ If warrior playstyles are boring, or feel like more of the same, or don't reward you until you itemize heavily in endgame for them, then that's harder to fix and will have an effect on people while they level the class, which means that months down the line when I'm level 80 tanking in the Eye of Eternity, some new warrior off the boat to Northrend will still be finding himself disliking his talents as he levels. I want the game to be fun for that guy. In fact, I think how fun the game is for that guy is more important. And to be fair, the fun potential is there. Arms play right now is tantalizingly close to being new and different while still retaining the old standards. Honestly, with some tweak to make Bladestorm less passive in feel, and some reduction in RNG and a numbers pass so we can see what the DPS shakes out to, I think arms is poised to be competitive for high level play and fun for leveling/soloing as well.

Fury is also closer than you'd expect from the complaining. I won't pretend that I didn't find some of the changes to fury yesterday unpleasant, but I do think the tree is going to see an upswing before Patch 3.0.2 goes live. Frankly, the talents themselves are pretty solid, it's their current performace that's underwhelming, and that is squarely in the camp of 'can be adjusted upwards'. Yes, right now fury does less DPS, and does even less if you take the capstone talent until you've assembled a boatload of hit gear, which would be very hard for you to get unless you were raiding already, and that would be hard to justify without the gear that you need to raid to get. It's the old vicious circle from last expansion: the gear warriors needed to be competitive DPS didn't exist until 25 man raids, while everyone else was gearing up in 5 and 10 mans.

But I expect that Blizzard is paying attention: while not every beta build has been blissful for us, they've shown a great deal of concern for how the process is unfolding. The fact that all raids have 10 and 25 man settings, that heroics have noticeably better gear, and that the factions all seem to provide nice options for an up and coming warrior combined with the fact that up until now most of the focus of the beta process has been in catching bugs and smoothing the content means, at least to me, that fury is in a very unfinished state. Fury is all about raw DPS. Raw DPS is exactly what we're not really looking at yet.

It's important to all warriors, even tanking ones, that these two trees be in presentable shape at launch. Heck, I don't know many tanks who don't like to spec arms or fury every so often to go tear around in a BG or do some DPS in a raid or heroic. Even I do it from time to time. (Although I usually just hop on a different warrior for it... I have four I can play at any given time.) I remain hopeful that in the time we have left, warriors will continue to be looked at and adjusted.

Today's column was a touch on the contemplative side, I admit. I just found myself wanting to get away from thinking about things in a nuts and bolts, talents and skills way when everything changes from week to week anyway. Until its patched into live, nothing's set in stone. Next week, however, we're going to take a look at itemization for warriors: will it be hard to hit the defense cap? How much hit will I need at 80? What are the gear options from factions and dungeons so I can start raiding again? All of this, and the Runeblade of Demonstratable Power, which wins the 'as opposed to?' award.

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