Ol' Grumpy and the crushing disappointment of roles

There are no pure DPS classes in World of Warcraft that use two-handed melee weapons to deal damage and only one pure DPS class that can even equip them. There are literally hundreds of two-handed melee weapons in this game. This has always annoyed me, because I love big weapons. I know you know this about me.

One of the reasons I hate the argument that pure DPS classes should have dibs on top DPS weapons is that in order for me to play a character that uses a two-hander, I have no choice but to play a hybrid. In fact, in order to play as melee DPSer at all, I either have to play a rogue (all three rogue trees dual wield small, fast weapons) or a hybrid. Those are my options. If I wanted to play ranged DPS, I could pick from one of three possible pure classes, but if I want to melee, I'm forced to either give up the weapons I enjoy and take up a playstyle I don't like or accept that I will be forced to DPS at a penalty and be expected and/or pressured to tank.

This to me is asking me to pay twice, and it's unacceptable. Last week, Ghostcrawler posted an excellent discussion on class and role that I highly recommend everyone check out, and it seriously has me pondering what design I'd prefer for World of Warcraft and indeed how I feel about classes and roles entirely.

Cataclysm removes the pure class

If the rogue combat tree could equip, say, polearms and behave like a Blademaster, then I would be playing one. I don't have that option. Frankly, with all polearms being agility weapons now, I think making combat into a two-handed weapon tree would be a fantastic idea. I dislike when class roles become straightjackets that confine my choices unnecessarily or force me to be incapable of excelling at my chosen task not due to lack of skill but an inherent mechanical or systemic advantage given to another class to prop up their percentage of the playerbase.

At the same time, I understand the difficulties. Hybrid classes don't just gain the dubious benefit of being able to respec to tank or heal in order to benefit the other four, nine or 24 people in a group. They also gain access to the utility inherent in their other roles to a degree. No, a feral druid can't be expected to suddenly heal if one of the resto druids goes down. But he or she can use their Tranquility on big AoE damage fights, shift to Innervate or cast Rebirth, go into bear temporarily while someone else battle resses the tank, etc., etc. Druids are an extreme case in terms of hybrid flexibility, of course, and they've also lost quite a bit of it over the years. However, while this ability exists, it's hardly exclusive to hybrids anymore.

Utility abilities like Time Warp, Cloak of Shadows, Cauterize, Ice Block, Deterrence mean that many pure DPSers can do things that previously only two hybrids could do. Anyone who's working on heroic Ultraxion recognizes that druids and warriors would be far worse soakers than rogues, mages and hunters. As more and more utility abilities like Recuperate have been parceled out to pure DPSers, the line between pure and hybrid has grown weaker. Frankly, between all the CC and cooldowns some pure classes have, they've effectively become hybrid. Instead of worrying that hybrid classes do too much damage, we're now in the position of having to consider if pure classes bring too much utility to the table to be called pure DPS anymore.

But frankly, I'm biased. I admit this bias. I want to play someone who uses one or even two two-handed weapons. This has been my goal in World of Warcraft for the entirety of my time playing it -- I tanked because I was clearly good at it and because my groups needed a tank. If the game had not introduced the death knight as a class that tanks with two-handed weapons (which I indeed played for a while, enjoying both frost and blood tanking in Wrath) and had instead allowed arms warriors to tank with a two-hander, I'd probably never have stopped tanking. It's what I want to do. I don't pay the penalty of playing a hybrid so I can tank or DPS; I pay the penalty of tanking in order to play a class that uses two-handed weapons. When I started playing WoW, I didn't even know what tanking was or that I would be expected to do it.

Roles that we did not expect to play

This to me is the fundamental difficulty of role in MMOs -- it's counterintuitive. I can see emphasizing a light, agile combatant who relies on speed and grace to avoid incoming damage and deal it in return. I can see emphasizing a heavily armored brute who smashes his or her body into the enemy. I can see having archetypes from the Blademaster to the Juggernaut, from the Sentinel to the Assassin. But enshrining tank vs. DPS isn't something most people understand when they first come into this subgenre of game.

I played tabletop D&D for years, and never once did any of my characters think of themselves as meat shields. I killed things. Sometimes I did it with a shield, absolutely. Sometimes I did it in light armor with a great, honking sword. Sometimes I shot people with a bow, and one of my favorite characters used fist weapons exclusively. He was also a lizard man. The point being, none of these characters knew or cared about the dividing line between tanking and DPSing.

Healing at least fulfills a generally understood role that's clearly defined -- you keep your side alive while they make the other side dead (although it too can be confusing for newcomers and costs the player who merely has a healing spec even if he or she never intends to use it, does not gear for it, has never spent a point in it and is absolute rubbish at it). It doesn't matter if you could heal your way out of a fight with a level 16 using grey daggers. You're throttled in your DPS role merely because you have the potential to do it. The group benefits -- it gains your utility and can pressure you into switching to heals. Whether or not you benefit from this is entirely up to you, your willingness to spec, gear and learn to do it and your desire to perform that role.

What defines you best?

This also ignores the inverse. Class role decisions are made for you by the class you choose. If you picked up World of Warcraft, read the class list and decided that man, you liked the sinister and aggressive warlock because the idea of an arcane spellcaster who consorts with demons and learns their secrets appeals to you ... great. Hopefully, it won't turn out that you're an awesome tank -- or if it does, hopefully your group will have another awesome tank so that you're not faced with the prospect of being forced to switch mains. And even if you're not under that kind of pressure, selecting the warlock didn't just close you off from tanking and healing; it also locked you into ranged DPS. And this is despite warlocks' history of special tanking duties and Metamorphosis cooldown, which frankly baffles me. Seriously, look at that talent. All that would have to be is something that stayed up as long as you wanted and it would be a tanking stance.

My argument isn't that we should remove classes' having roles. My argument is more that we should loosen restrictions on those classes based on those roles and diversify those classes. A rogue two-handed weapon tree, a warlock tanking tree, a hunter dual-wield pistol tree (possibly even for ranged tanking -- other games do this and do it well) won't hurt a game that's seven years on and needs to break from its roots to a degree. It's time for role to be something cool that adds flavor, not a governor of what you can and can't do. If this means we all become hybrids to one degree or another, frankly, I think maybe that's already happened.

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.