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Blood Pact: The future of demonology balance

Tyler Caraway

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.

Last week, we talked about the future development of affliction warlocks, discussing how the spec is impacted by non-damage-related factors such as encounter design and utility. Both of these game features play a significant role in the viability of any spec. More so than ensuring that specs are balanced in terms of raw, dummy DPS, Blizzard also has to ensure that specs are compatible with a raid's design as a whole. This week, we'll talk some about demonology and what needs to be done to keep it viable, yet also interesting and fun to play.

It was noted last week that I wasn't able to get much into PVP balance, which is fair, as I didn't make many comparisons at all. PVP balance is an entirely different beast from anything else in the game. PVP balance rests just as much on which specs are popular as it does on the viability of a spec itself. If assassination rogues have a high representation and affliction has a slightly better counter to them, then affliction would end up being a better PVP choice, regardless of how the other two specs fare. I'll attempt to put more PVP perspective into the feature, but know that it's far more difficult to balance for all the variable situations you might come across.

Demons, demons, demons

We've brushed upon talks about demons before. The reality is that there are two entirely different schools of thought when it comes to demon balancing. On one hand, some players would like for demonology (if not all warlock specs) to have their choice of demon to use. As a master of demons, it is only fair that a demonology warlock be able to use whichever demon they see fit; locking them into a single choice based on damage seems odd to a spec that features demon control as its highlight. In many ways, this is understandable.

The key point here is that demons are each unique in their own way. While every demon is capable of dealing damage, each of them have its own special abilities that can play a part in the encounter as a whole. In many ways, this factor is often overlooked by players. We never really hear about talks on which demon brings an important spot of utility to a raid; instead, the focus is always on which deals the most damage. This is perhaps a weak point on Blizzard's part.

Blizzard has strived in this expansion to make each demon more unique, to give each its own set of useful abilities in an attempt to offer variety to warlocks in terms of which might be best for different situations. The downside here is that Blizzard never carried this philosophy over to damage. Affliction must use the Felhunter; destruction must use the Imp. Demonology, for its part, doesn't actually have a spec-forced pet, yet there's still one that's best in terms of damage. If Blizzard truly wants warlocks to view pets as a choice depending on the encounter they'll face, then it needs to do a better job of equalizing the damage of pets, at least for demonology. Locking the other two specs into a single pet can be fine, but the master of demons should be able to make use of whichever pet they want.

This is complicated by a small thing and the second school of thinking. Demonology has one thing that other warlock specs don't, the Felguard. As part of the demonology specialization, the Felguard is in an awkward position. Being unique to demonology, it feels as though there should be something special about this pet, yet currently there really isn't. If the damage of the Felguard is higher than the other pets, then no other pets are usable. At the same time, there isn't much of a utility niche for the Felguard to fall into.

The Succubus brings in additional CC and control abilities, the Felhunter excels at anti-magic targets, the Imp has a slew of defensive abilities and buffs, while the Voidwalker is a tank-based pet. Where then can the Felguard fall? What utility do warlocks or their pets lack that the Felguard can have?

Right now, the niche the Felguard has is AOE. With Legion Strike and Felstorm, the Felguard is great at dealing damage to multiple targets, something no other pet can do. Yet is that something worth having a pet for? Should we have an AOE pet? Further, should the Felguard really be an optional pet for demonology? It is demonology's specialization, after all, and it's awkward being virtually the only spec that has an optional specialization ability.

The master/demon relationship

Speaking of demons, the one thing that demonology has been asking for is abilities that allow them to support their demons. Demons themselves are rather passive. While not always a simple set-it-and-forget-it mechanic, they don't require a lot of active control. Giving demonology abilities that allow them to interact with their pet has been a longstanding request. Blizzard semi-caved in with Hand of Gul'dan.

HOG is a rather unique ability and certainly a rather fun one. While the ability is certainly awesome, it does have one major drawback. Demonology is perhaps the only spec in the game that is reliant on a tank's positioning abilities. Sure, melee have some issues with this, but it's a different mechanic completely. Dropping a HOG and then having the tank be forced to move the boss due to an encounter mechanic, particularly an unpredictable one, is annoying at best. The damage loss isn't going to destroy the warlock, but it's a damage loss nonetheless.

Allowing for HOG to leave the 10% crit debuff on the primary target whether they remain in the field or not would be a welcome change. While there are some PVP implications on this change, they really aren't of much concern. An increase of a 10% chance to be critically hit by a pet on a player just isn't that big of a deal; the debuff itself isn't overpowered by any means. It's merely a quality of life change.

Beyond those changes to HOG, it would be nice to see a larger focus on the master/demon relationship for demonology. While shifting more damage onto a pet is always worrisome, if that damage is a result of direct action by the warlock, then it's a different facet than simply having a mindless increase. The problem comes in bringing in this interaction without its being just another HOG replica. The easiest method is for the spell to provide some form of buff or debuff we already have, yet doing so is essentially no different than giving the pet the damage directly -- not to mention, juggling another buff or debuff isn't interesting gameplay.

The matter of being ranged

Last, there's one issue that has been plaguing demonology for the longest time -- range. Warlocks are ranged casters. When building a raid group, it is assumed that the warlock is going to be standing outside of the fray casting spells into the face of the enemy. It's true, we do, but demonology has a small issue of wanting to be in melee range due to Metamorphosis. Immolation Aura is a fairly significant damage increase, yet it requires melee range to use. In some ways, this is workable for the warlock due to Demon Leap. Getting into melee range isn't always too much of an issue. The problem is with the being there.

There are many times when being in melee range just doesn't work for the encounter mechanics; similarly, there are times when you are forced into melee range. It might "balance out in the long run," yet that's a philosophy Blizzard needs to discard. Being unable to make the most of your spec due to encounter mechanics is a terrible balancing point; not only that, but it creates major issues. When you have these types of situations, you run into the standard flaw that we've seen time and time again. Balancing has to be done in order for damage to be balanced overall. Thus, Blizzard usually takes steps to make sure that demonology is viable when it can't be in melee range.

In doing this, you create a situation wherein demonology is far stronger than other specs when it can be in melee range. Generating a middle ground is extremely difficult, if not impossible. Either demonology ends up being far too weak when it cannot get into melee range, or it is too strong when it can. The best middle ground that you can hope for is that the extremes of either case aren't large enough to warrant players' feeling as though they should be forced into demonology when they can use Immolation Aura but cannot play it when they can't.

Worrying about such a juggling act seems silly when there are far better solutions. Immolation Aura is a great flavor ability carried over from Warcraft 3 -- I get that, but sometimes we have to kill off flavor for the sake of balance. If we don't get rid of Immolation Aura entirely, allow for it to go onto our pet instead or as an option. Demonology generally only uses melee pets, so allowing the Aura to go on either you or your pet is a great compromise. Or turn it into a pure buff that can be cast on any other player. The flavor of the spell is nice, but it still causes far too many balancing concerns to let it stay as is.

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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