Is it time to kill pure DPS?

Matthew Rossi
M. Rossi|09.02.11

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Is it time to kill pure DPS?
Hi guys, you may remember me from last week when I threw a rock into a hornet's nest. I was frankly blown away by the responses, some of which were very well thought-out, that supported, refuted, or elaborated on the issue of tanking and if it is here to stay or on its last legs. Since I find that kind of discussion valuable, I thought, "Well, I can always find another rock, right?" And so here we are.

The DPS classes in World of Warcraft present us with a conundrum. If we consider the holy trinity of tanking, damage dealing and healing to be a pyramid that the game relies on, then the base of the pyramid is most easily envisioned as cornered by the tanking and healing classes and the apex occupied by the DPSers. The issue is, only four classes can hold up the tanking corner, only four can hold up the healing corner (and two of those classes are also in the tanking corner), and absolutely every single class in the game can stand on the top of the pyramid. This results in a pyramid that's metaphorically heavier on top than at the bottom.

Furthermore, of the game's 10 classes, four of them (the rogue, mage, warlock, and hunter) can only stand at the top. Whether or not they want to do something else is immaterial (although one assumes that they do not, elsewise they might have chosen a different class), because they simply cannot do so -- at least if we continue to visualize the game as based around the tanking/damaging/healing triad. So what to do?

Well, we can get rid of DPS classes entirely.

Crowded at the top

Note that I'm not saying kill all the rogues as much as I'm saying kill all the pure classes -- and in this case, kill means making them not be pure classes anymore. Of the four pure classes, three could fairly easily have a tanking role created for them either via talent trees or by altering their mechanics. Rogues could become dodge tanks, hunters could use their pets, and warlocks could tank via a mixture of their transformation, pet, and soul drain abilities (a variation of what we used to call drain tanking). Mages could become healers or tanks with some work. The mage arcane tree could pretty easily become a healing/buffing tree, although it would require a serious shift in its flavor, but other games have pulled it off.

The real issue here to consider is if it is at all in the game's best interest to have all classes be what we currently view as hybrid classes.

How hybrid are you?

A hybrid class in WoW terms isn't simply a class that combines aspects of two other classes, as it is in some games. Rather, a hybrid designation is purely given to a class that can perform more than one of the three roles of tanking, damaging, or healing. As a result, all tanks and healers in World of Warcraft are hybrids. Two classes are capable of doing all three roles, four classes can either heal and damage (shaman and priests) or tank and damage (warriors and death knights), and the remaining four classes are purely damagers, or pure classes.

This has led to notions such as the hybrid tax on DPS for classes that are not purely damage dealers, the reasoning being that if a class can tank and DPS, or heal and DPS, or do all three, why would anyone play the DPS-only class if it didn't do more damage? It's a fairly straightforward notion. Granted, it ignores elements of flavor (some people like playing sneaky dagger users, others plate-clad juggernauts, and still others love nature magic and the animal transformation abilities, etc., etc.), but we know that at least in many cases, players will make the decision that gives them the most reward for the least effort. It makes sense on the face of it to argue that classes that can only damage need to be able to do the most damage to keep them viable.

It does leave us with two questions, however. The first one is, why even have classes so limited if they need a damage handout to keep them viable? Two classes in the game can do everything, but there's no corresponding effort to make sure they do everything worse than the four classes that are less flexible than they are. Why should four classes designed to be limited to one role be kept if no one would play them if they weren't constantly tweaked upwards of everyone else? If hybrids are so much better than pures that the mechanics of the game have to be made to favor pures to keep them viable, then why isn't everyone a hybrid?

Maybe you're a hybrid already

The second question is, however, rooted in the very idea of the holy trinity, and it's one we've touched on before: Is there a trinity at all? Are there three roles, or four? World of Warcraft has to some extent played down a role made much more explicit in previous MMOs, but it hasn't removed it from the game's basic building blocks.

Any WoW player who played during The Burning Crusade can remember the clarion cry of "LF1 DPS Slabs, CC" that meant that, say, a fury warrior needed not apply. That role in other games is often called by varying names: the mezzer, crowd control, and so on. If we include the role of mezzer to a discussion of World of Warcraft, we suddenly see that we in fact have a more complicated situation. Two classes can only tank or DPS (DKs, warriors), but the rest all have some form of crowd control. (Priests can Mind Control or Shackle; shaman Hex or Bind Elementals; warlocks can Fear or Banish; paladins have Repentance in one spec; druids have Hibernate, Entangling Roots and Cyclone; mages can Polymorph; rogues have Sap; hunters have Freezing Trap.) If we include this role, then we come to see that we already have no pure classes in the game.

If we decide to include crowd control in the discussion, of course, then we have to consider how and when it is used. Groups are notorious for hating to crowd control, to the point that AOE tanking in Wrath of the Lich King reached a fever pitch of ludicrousness, and many DPS players complained they never got to Sap, sheep, or Hex anything. (I know a DPS warrior who didn't have those options ... oh, wait, it's me.)

As a result, Cataclysm increased the difficulty and damage of individual mobs in the opening months of the expansion, and even though gear inflation has rendered some of that content AOE-tankable, it's fair to say that even very well-geared tanks simply can't pull all the trash in the Rise of the Zandalari dungeons without greatly taxing the healer. I just experienced this today, in fact, as a tank with pretty solid valor gear blew himself up pulling the four-pack before Jan'alai without any form of CC on the Flame Casters.

The recent changes to CC abilities to make them possible to apply without causing a fight to begin only makes the role seem even more important, and those classes possessing such abilities to be valued and sought-after. Does this make them hybrids? In the current paradigm, no, it does not. However, it's simply a matter of Blizzard's deciding they are and designing from this point forward (which it's done in the past, naming warriors and priests hybrids in Wrath after not considering them so in vanilla and BC) to end pure classes forever. Whether or not it should is really the issue. It's clear Blizzard could and that enough classes have CC (only two lack it entirely) that CC could easily be seen as a vital role.

So now that I've tossed my second rock, I turn the floor over to you for discussion.

World of Warcraft: Cataclysm has destroyed Azeroth as we know it; nothing is the same! In WoW Insider's Guide to Cataclysm, you can find out everything you need to know about WoW's third expansion, from leveling up a new goblin or worgen to breaking news and strategies on endgame play.
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