Blood Pact: Learning from the witch doctor

Tyler Caraway
T. Caraway|10.03.11

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Blood Pact: Learning from the witch doctor
Every week, WoW Insider brings you Blood Pact for affliction, demonology and destruction warlocks. For those who disdain the watered-down arts that other cling to like a safety blanket ... For those willing to test their wills against the nether and claim the power that is their right ... Blood Pact welcomes you.

I have been grateful as of late to have been invited into the Diablo 3 beta. While this might just seem like some bragging that has no relation to WoW, you couldn't be more wrong. If there is one thing that I have learned while playing through Diablo 3, it is that the game has been heavily influenced by the many paths that WoW has taken over the years. While the ARPG and MMO genre may not appear to have much crossover at first glance, the fundamentals are all there, more so in a game such as Diablo.

The witch doctor class in particular has been heavily inspired not just by the Diablo necromancer but also by WoW's warlock, even going so far as to have the Haunt spell, much in the same capacity that we do. As much as the development team has clearly learned from WoW, I think it is fair to say that there are quite a few things that went into creating such an amazing new game, and some of those things can also be brought back into WoW.

Taking that which we need

One of the key aspects of the witch doctor is something that warlocks are very familiar with: draining the power to sustain yourself from your enemies. With spells such as Drain Life and our multiple talents that allow us to refund health from certain abilities, stealing away the health of our foes in order for ourselves to survive is a common aspect to warlocks. The witch doctor, too, shares many of these same abilities, but he actually takes it one further. While the witch doctor can drain the life from his victims, he is also capable of draining away mana as well.

We all remember Drain Mana and the sad day it was ripped away from us, but that isn't entirely what I'm talking about. Non-player characters in Diablo don't have mana to steal; instead, witch doctors have several options for abilities to allow them to refund mana from the damage that a spell deals. All of this got me thinking, why don't warlocks try the same?

There's already a similar type of ability in Mana Feed, but the focus there is on the pet, and it isn't based off of damage but rather just refunds a percentage of our total mana. What if some of that were tweaked a little bit, perhaps in affliction or destruction, to have a few talents that cause certain abilities to refund mana based on the damage of a spell? It's a rather neat concept. With Mana Feed, warlocks are currently able to completely ignore mana anyway, so what does it matter if we recreate that system but do so in a fashion that's more true to warlocks?

There is a hiccup, and that is Life Tap. Life Tap is generally our mana source and the flavor that it brings to the class is notable in its own right. The idea that warlocks have no moral opposition to drawing out magical powers from their own blood, should they find themselves trapped without the ability to fuel their spells through more traditional means, is certainly demonic in its own right. It would feel wrong to completely wipe away the need for Life Tap, although this tends to happen on its own in one way or another as expansions progress, anyway.

It's a minor thing, more flavor than anything else, but leeching away health and mana from those that suffer from your spells is an interesting concept, and it suits the warlock rather well. It'd be neat to at least have the option in one of our talent trees.

Disabling before the kill

A key aspect of the witch doctor is his ability to control mobs, which is vastly different than any of the other classes in Diablo 3. Not every ability that he has is focused on damage, and his more defensive skills aren't exclusive to merely reducing the damage he takes or increasing his run speed to get him out of a tight spot. Instead, the witch doctor focuses on various methods of controlling his foes through abilities like Hex, which turns random targets into chickens; Horrify, which sends them running off in fear; or Mass Confusion, to force combatants to attack one another.

Control is a very big part of the witch doctor's skill set, just as control is much a part of the warlock's. Warlocks have many control abilities as well, yet when it comes to actual PVP action, a majority of these skills are tossed to the curb. We've multiple ways in which we could force players to stand down for a time, yet over the years, these skills have been a constant target for nerfs and complaints. Much as Onyxia deep breathing more, Fear would also seem to break sooner. These repeated nerfs have left our control as something to be desired. Sure, we have it and still use it, but it isn't nearly as powerful as it once was, nor is it really effective in the way that it should be.

The reasoning that we've been given is quite clear: Players hate to die when they don't have control of their character. It's understandably frustrating; you feel as though you can't fight back. I think we all get that. Yet Fear, and warlock control in general, has almost been exclusively targeted by this. Keep in mind that Fear has the most counters out of any of the control abilities out there; on top of being dispelled, as with other effects, there's Will of the Forsaken, Fear Ward, and Berserker Rage, which can remove it, prevent it, or make you immune to it.

Fear has been struck down so many times that it just doesn't feel like the control ability it should be. No, warlocks shouldn't be able to take you down to 50% health in the duration of a Fear, but doing some moderate damage from DOTs really shouldn't instantly break the effect. Fear isn't like Polymorph; it is more akin to a stun. Classes with stuns rely on being able to deal that damage during the effect in order to get their kills; we, too, rely on Fear damage. Allowing warlocks to be what they are and excel at what they should isn't so much to ask.

Weakening foes

There is another underrated function warlocks already posses that shows up in many ways with witch doctor abilities. Warlocks have been known since release as the debuffing class. Although many players today seem to forget that we even have skills like Curse of Tongues and Curse of Weakness, both of which are extremely useful, a part of that is due to Blizzard's destroying these abilities in the first place.

There's a problem with introducing Tongues back into PVE content. The cast times of mobs are all finely balanced; if you allow Tongues to work on them, then it's virtually the same as flat-out requiring the debuff. To be fair, this effect can come from several places -- a few hunter pets, death knights, arcane mages, and rogues -- but this is one of those fights that I feel isn't worth taking on because you'll never win it. That's fine. It's cool -- we don't have to have Tongues back in PVE, and every tank applies Weakness on his own, so that's good too ... and balance druids and unholy death knights passively bring Elements ... so, well, I guess that's super, as well.

What was once the premier debuffing class in the game has now been reduced to practically having the worst debuffing abilities of them all. That's slightly unfair to say; Elements is still a great raid debuff that sees its use time and time again. But do our curses really play into the game at all other than that?

Curses should be another fundamental part of our PVP tactics, yet I've rarely ever seen a warlock use anything other than Elements. Sure, that 8% additional damage is stellar, but having Weakness on a rogue or Tongues on a mage is a heck of a lot better. Not everything you do has to center around the more damage, more damage, more damage mindset; a lot of times, it's all about staying alive. Disabling those who try to kill us by Crippling their offensive abilities should be a strong countermeasure.

Yet not all of this can be blamed on warlocks or our need to constantly fuel larger and larger numbers. Curses have largely fallen by the PVP wayside because, as with every other debuff and DOT out there, they can be stripped away by healers in an instant. Now, not as many classes are capable of removing curses as they are magic effects, but there's still a wide number of them, and it happens in a flash. We've known it for a long time now -- dispels are simply far too powerful -- yet that conversation has always revolved around DOT-based damage, without any consideration for the multitude of other debuffs out there that classes rely on.

Curses should be an important function of our defensive mechanics, yet it is difficult for Blizzard to actually do this because they can be stripped away far too easily -- and that's often what does happen. Now, clearly we aren't talking about mages because you won't believe how many will sit there trying to cast with COT on them, totally oblivious to the fact that they could just remove it themselves, but healers are generally on the ball with these things. It's sad that we have such great utility that we could offer yet can rarely make use of it because the entire system can be blinked away in an instant.

Blood Pact is a weekly column detailing DOTs, demons and all the dastardly deeds done by warlocks. We'll coach you in the fine art of staying alive, help pick the best target for Dark Intent, and steer you through encounters such as Blackwing Descent and The Bastion of Twilight.

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