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Lichborne: Addressing ability bloat in death knight skills


Every week, WoW Insider brings you Lichborne for blood, frost, and unholy death knights. In the post-Cataclysm era, death knights are no longer the new kids on the block. Let's show the other classes how a hero class gets things done.

Recently on Twitter, Lead systems designer Greg "Ghostcrawler" Street was asked what issues he'd fix if he could immediately wave a wand and make it better. One of the ones he mentioned was ability bloat. Ability bloat is the term used to describe a class needing to press too many buttons simply to perform the basic tasks expected of them in group PvE and PvP content.

Ability bloat is certainly something that's been on my mind as well, so this week we'll consider the possibility of ability bloat in death knights and figure out various ways to address it. Much like how talents were pared down for Mists, I wouldn't be surprised to see abilities pared down in major ways for the next expansion, and we might as well start anticipating it.

Streamline the daily grind

I personally don't know if our day to day rotations need much changing. I'm still not a huge fan of unholy's rotation, per se, but it avoids bloat because it uses different buttons than frost or blood as opposed to additional buttons. I'd still ultimately argue that it makes it overly confusing to switch between specs, but especially with addition of Plague Strike adding both diseases, it's a much more tolerable rotation.

Plague Strike, though, brings up an interesting point. Why shouldn't it work that way for all specs? Right now, in order to properly make sure we have the ability to apply diseases, blood and frost death knights have to have a lot of buttons their bar. Outbreak and, if you can spare the talent point, Unholy Blight offer free disease application, but each have restrictive cool downs. Thus, you also need Plague Strike and Icy Touch on your bars. Technically, frost death knight use Howling Blast, but there are times when you need precision single-target disease application (or a single target way to spend Rime procs) in which case only Icy Touch will do.

Giving Plague Strike the ability to apply diseases at any time could be invaluable in that it might neatly justify removal of at least 2-3 other buttons from a death knight's main toolbar, but it does have drawbacks as well. For one, since it costs a single unholy rune, it leaves an orphaned frost rune. Unholy death knights take care of that with Festering Strike, but that isn't (and shouldn't be) an option for the other specs. With that in mind, perhaps the proper option is to simply remove the cool down on Outbreak (We have a glyph that does that now, but it also makes it cost runic power, which makes it impossible to use as an opener). Consider it somewhat like a warlock's Corruption or a shadow priests Shadow Word: Pain. Both cost so little they hardly register as mana drains. Disease should be a step toward using our other abilities, not a shackle keeping us down.

Soul Reaper is another prime candidate for removal, and honestly the button I'd least miss if it were gone. This is an ability that directly complicates the existing rotation, especially for two-handed frost death knights. You have to wait for the right moment to fit it in, which includes tweaking your UI or using addons to predict it, and you have to . Personally, I'd love to see Soul Reaper gone, especially since you can essentially replace it with Merciless Combat, the old frost passive talent. It may be the most obvious way to reduce button bloat that we have.

When something extra is just extra work

With those two issues out of the way, it falls to look at our major cool downs and situational abilities to see if any of them could leave. I'm going to say that one of the first things to go would probably be Dark Simulacrum. In PvE, especially in unskilled hands, it often becomes more of a gimmick or a party trick than a helpful tool. It doesn't actually absorb many PvE boss abilities, and many of the spells it does absorb it shoots back at minimal damage because they require spellpower to work. It does have it uses, especially in PvP, and can even be manipulated using mind control for more predictability, but ultimately, it requires such a high level of skill and such specific circumstances to be used effectively that it seems a prime candidate for removal.

Army of the Dead is another candidate for removal. It has seen significant improvement in Mists with the introduction of a glyph to remove the taunt factor, and if used correctly, is a DPS boost, but if it's unglyphed it can cause havoc, and it's relatively easy to forget since it stays on cooldown for so long. I'm a huge fan of the ability for "look and feel" alone, but it'd be one of the easier abilities to remove. On the other hand, at a 10 minute cooldown, you can assign it to a relatively obscure hot key and not having to worry about getting too overwhelmed. Regardless, if they do remove it, I'm still pushing for that Wild Imps-style ghoul summoning passive as a replacement. It's basically my new pet issue now that we can make our ghouls look like geists, sorry.

Are we the ones in trouble?

When all is said and done, there's one more tack to take: Maybe death knights aren't really a problem class in this regard. One of my favorite alts is my hunter, and I can certainly confirm that between all of her stuff, even with macros, it's often a struggle to get all the buttons for every ability mapped and hotkeyed were I need them. So far, I really haven't faced the same struggle with my death knight. We have an established set of priorities with just enough extra burst or situational buttons to make it interesting, and I'm fine with it, for the most part.

Regardless, something like this would really have to be done as part of an expansion redesign, allowing the dev team time to re-balance the game and class to compensate for the missing buttons and giving us time to say goodbye to some old friends. It's likely something that's needed for the long term health of the game in the same way the Mists talent revamp was, and I can't say I'd fault the developers for doing it, even if I am a little still sore over losing old school Unholy Blight.

Learn the ropes of endgame play with WoW Insider's DK 101 guide. Make yourself invaluable to your raid group with Mind Freeze and other interrupts, gear up with pre-heroic DPS gear or pre-heroic tank gear, and plot your path to tier 11/valor point DPS gear.

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