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The Care and Feeding of Warriors: How we change in Cataclysm

Matthew Rossi

The Care and Feeding of Warriors is about warriors. This week, we look at where the class is going in Cataclysm.

Sorry if you were desperately hoping for a discussion of leveling, but with the new Cataclysm beta and the lifting of the NDA, we have details -- Finally, glorious details! It's been so long! -- to discuss about where the class is going. While there are not actually a lot of new talents to discuss, a great many talents have been altered in order to fit with the new design elements. Safeguard, for instance, isn't useless; it's practically mandatory. You're not going to want to take it ... That intervene effect more or less fits the definition of "useless" still ... But you'll need to take it for the crit immunity. This is the way of things for quite a few changes with Cataclysm. You may like them, or you may hate them, but you have to deal with them either way.

I'm going to drop my usual attempt at detachment and be up front going into this. I like some of the changes a lot. I hate others. I am not unbiased about what's coming. How could I be? I've been playing warriors for over five years now. I love the class, and I'm never giving it up no matter what comes down the pike.

So let's take a look at what's coming down said pike. Yesterday we covered talent and ability changes. I'm not going to repeat too much of that here; no reason to reinvent the wheel and all. Supposedly, Inner Rage is trainable in the latest beta build. They're also moving crit immunity from Safeguard to Improved Defensive Stance. As always, beta means constant changes.

Holy gear resets, Batman!

First off, let me reassure you, there is absolutely a big gear reset this time out. It doesn't matter if you're in full, head-to-toe heroic 25-man raiding gear straight from ICC or not. It doesn't matter that there are only five levels to go this time out. You are going to pick up upgrades fairly quickly. There are green weapons available fairly quickly on with 359 DPS. This isn't The Burning Crusade, where Might of Menethil would have lasted you until heroics or Karazhan. This isn't Wrath, where if you had a Sunwell weapon, you'd be able to roll into Naxx with it. Get used to it now: You'll be replacing Shadowmourne with a crafted blue at level 81.

I'm even going to argue that this is how it has to be. I personally don't love the idea, and I'm sure a few players will keep raid gear for things like socket bonuses and the ability to slap some of the new +50 strength gems into a few sockets, but in general upgrading your gear earlier is simply necessary in order to design encounters that are challenging for as many people as possible. New dungeons have to be designed, and they require a certain threshold of gear to complete. It's simply easier to design them if you can ensure that everyone will be at least this tall to ride, so to speak.

Rage is the real issue

Looking over yesterday's post of talent and ability changes, it's clear that a lot of these ability and talent changes and new talents are aimed at helping with the transition to normalized rage. Frankly, it's good that they're making an effort to adjust the class this time out. Last time, they normalized rage and left the baseline mechanics of warriors in place, Heroic Strike spam and all. If you're going to adjust threat in the sweeping way this expansion aims at doing, you need just such a talent and ability overhaul.

Rage normalization is the big issue of this expansion for warriors. Heroic Leap, Titan's Grip vs. Single-Minded Fury, CC for warriors ... None of it is as important as getting rage generation right. If it's not, none of the other stuff will matter. If it is, then we can worry about other things.

It's also very worthwhile to repeat constantly the mantra, This is a beta test and everything is subject to change. Case in point, the new Heroic Strike.

Ghostcrawler - Re: Protection Warrior
Heroic Strike is something we're still not entirely happy with. The new design works technically, but it is still a little confusing (one of the things we wanted to avoid) and we are worried that warriors of all three trees will lose some of the visceral feel that warrior players liked about the class. Don't get me wrong -- replacing every white attack with a Heroic Strike was terrible gameplay, but being able to sneak more than one attack into a GCD could be fun too.

The new mechanic that we are trying now is Heroic Strike is still instant, but is off the GCD and with a short cooldown. The rage cost doesn't scale, but we can make it more expensive if it needs to be in order to adequately burn off rage. We are hoping the rage normalization and Inner Rare mechanics do a sufficient job on their own of keeping rage from ever getting infinite. We're still not fans of the next swing mechanic, so that isn't likely to return. It delays gratification, and ends up being really confusing because you lose the rage and damage that white swing would have caused etc. (It also causes a bug allowing dual-wield warriors to cheat their hit chance, but that's fixable in other ways.)

All of this makes us think that Heroic Strike isn't a good starting ability for warriors since teaching them to spam it is a bad thing.

As much as it can be confusing and vexing to see constant changes in these beta builds, I am ludicrously, obscenely thrilled to see them doing this much tinkering this time out with rage normalization and iconic warrior abilities. This is work that needs to be done before release. It's much better that these ideas are tried out now in testing, rather than have the constant up-and-down adjustments in game that make playing a class so frustrating.

Speaking as a long time warrior, that visceral feel is extremely important, and having HS as a watered-down copy of Execute just doesn't feel at all fun or interesting. I really hope all this tinkering results in an ability worthy of the appellation "heroic."

The changing face of threat and tanking

If you read this forum thread, you'll see a fundamental change in the nature of threat generation being discussed.

Ghostcrawler - Re: The Tank thread
On threat, one of the changes we're considering trying out is to have threat decay pretty rapidly. The idea is that a tank should never be able to get so far ahead on threat that they can AFK for the rest of the fight. It might sound like a nerf, but really the intent is to make sure that the tank's job is never done -- that what you do will remain important.

The tuning wouldn't be such that if you missed a couple of swings that the warlocks would pull aggro. The feeling would be more that you have to still make decisions with regard to threat generation throughout the fight.

Well, sure, we all want to feel like what we do is important. If they do this, however, then they'd better damn sure not make any mistakes like they did with tank scaling in this expansion: letting tank DPS/threat double while letting DPS players scale by more than a factor of four. If not for DPS with threat handouts like Tricks/Misdirect, tank threat in the early portions of fights would never be good enough and we'd always lose aggro.

I'm not against this on paper; I just want to be clear that for a tank, if you're going to make threat generation an ongoing issue, you can't be screwing up on scaling. This idea makes tank scaling more important than ever. You'll need to bake in more passive threat or more DPS from active moves, stuff tanks can choose to do that will have a beneficial effect on threat and constant threat generation. Something as simple as threat's only decaying when it's not being actively generated would be enough; it would keep tanks working without penalizing them for a miss streak, if it were done right.

Basically, it goes back to the old story about rested XP: Make threat decay feel like a reward for doing your job as a tank rather than a penalty. If threat only decays when you aren't working to generate it, give people a generous amount of time for this (say, at least 15 seconds before decay starts) and couch it as "threat fixation" or something similar. As long as the tank is working to generate threat, he benefits from fixation and mobs won't just decay off of the aggro table. It's ultimately the same idea, but it feels like a reward for working rather than a punishment for not working.

I also have to admit I find this idea that threat and threat management need to be made more difficult a bit of a puzzler. Last I checked, when I sign up for a five man through LFD as a DPS player, I face a ten minute or longer queue. When I queue as a tank I get in instantly, even faster than when I heal. If tanking is so easy that threat is never an issue and tanks need a mechanic to keep them tanking, you'd expect LFD to be flooded with tanks looking to do the easy job. This feels to me like a situation where some tanks in high end raiding guilds (and to some degree I'm guilty of this myself) are having an easy time with threat, and the poor guy starting to tank next week is going to get hit in the face by threat decay because of it.

Ghostcrawler - Re: The Tank thread
Furthermore, we are exploring the threat generation of Misdirect and Tricks of the Trade being temporary. That way it would still be useful for initial pulls or when adds join the fray, but wouldn't be a crutch to keep tank threat consistently high throughout a fight. Tanks are already dependent on other classes for their survival -- we want threat generation to be primarily the tank's responsibility. (Don't take that to mean that dps classes won't have to watch their threat or use threat dumps -- it just means we don't want to have tanks relying on other classes to generate threat for the tank.)

We're also not happy with the new implementation of parry, where you take 50% damage from two swings. It sounded good on paper, but after testing it out we thought the second swing just feels goofy and confusing. Our plan is to revert parry back to 100% avoidance and remove the concept of swing speed increase for any creature (players could still do it). We would change the budget on parry to be exactly the same as dodge. We'd also like to add some more talent hooks that favor say parry over dodge for some classes -- stuff like "After a successful parry...."

The first part interests me in conjunction with threat decay as an idea. It's true that particularly in Wrath, bad scaling issues were plastered over by MD/Tricks. One way to keep tank scaling in the forefront is to make it less easy or even impossible for raids to use these abilities to wallpaper over threat discrepancies. It could be said that this is punishing the players for bad design choices, of course.

More interesting is the rollback on parry. I was never a huge fan of the "parry is 50% damage reduction for two swings" idea because it made parry the new block, an ability that hovered somewhere in between avoidance and mitigation. While it's not terribly imaginative to make parry effectively dodge's twin brother, at least it avoids kludgy mechanics. And if you're making parry into Dodge v2.0, at least having some talents and abilities trigger off of parry instead of dodge is a good way to make them feel different in experience, even if they're mechanically identical.

Frankly, a parried attack should in my opinion trigger talents and abilities like Revenge. You've pushed the enemy attack away in an unbalancing manner, and now you have an opening to counterattack. Dodges should be more purely defensive feeling, as you move and shift to get out of the way of an attack. Making dodge triggered talents/abilities grant small defensive bonuses would be one way to help differentiate them in terms of flavor.

The player base deep breathes more

Let's repeat what we said before: Absolutely nothing is set in stone yet. Any change could get reverted or even changed again into something else entirely. Yes, they're announcing a change to Intimidating Shout to make it more like Repentance, but that doesn't mean it will make it to live. It doesn't mean it won't, either. Some things are far more likely to stay in place ... It's pretty much a done deal that rage will be normalized, and I'd expect some form of threat decay to be implemented ... But take nothing as an excuse to panic. Take a deep breath. Belch fire on a group of crazed, loot-mongering midgets who fortuitously came to your lair so you wouldn't have to go out to feed.

Check out more strategies, tips and leveling guides for warriors in Matthew Rossi's weekly class column, The Care and Feeding of Warriors.

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