This is the second of my WoW game design posts, a series about my take on World of Warcraft’s overall gameplay and visual design in many areas with an eventual focus on Shaman and Enhancement specifically. Mists of Pandaria, like each expansion so far, has introduced new things and done some things right, but there are always improvements to be made.
PvP in 6.0
As anyone who’s read my previous post on the PvP game would know, I don’t particularly enjoy the current PvP combat model compared to that of WoW’s earlier days. To me, every class and spec in WoW currently suffers from “too much stuff”. There are really no exceptions to that, every class in WoW has far more tools than are necessary for a compelling PvP game.
Here, we have a basic, boring old hamburger. Many players may look at Classic through rose-tinted glasses, but to actually go back and play the original WoW now is to see a game that is barely recognizeable compared to the current game. It was very basic, most of the game’s depth on an individual play experience level did not exist yet, most classes only had a few buttons to press, and countless features have been added and improved on since then; and yet, this boring little hamburger was the foundation for something great.
Here, some toppings were added to the hamburger, the first truly significant iterations on class design were made – classes had many of their most glaring flaws and shortcomings addressed, and a lot of new mechanics and ideas were added to various classes and specs to further differentiate them from each other while simultaneously giving numerous specializations that were nothing more than afterthoughts in Vanilla an actual place in the game. While the game as a whole has improved dramatically since this era, class design and the flow of combat was at its peak in the Black Temple era. Each spec played differently, each spec worked differently, each spec brought unique things to the table, and while improvements could certainly be made and features could be added to make it more casual-friendly, the in-combat gameplay experience was delicious.
Over eight and a half years after the original release, class design has … evolved … into a hideous monstrosity. Reading nothing but the passive abilities in your spell book is like reading a novel. Add in the active ones, and the sheer volume of “stuff” will overwhelm nearly any newer or returning player, regardless of gaming background. It’s like asking the entire playerbase what they want on their hamburger and giving in to all of it. Feral Druids needed an off-the-GCD interrupt. Elemental needed damage on the move. Retribution needed a snare. Priests needed dispel protection because Warlocks had it. Restoration Shamans needed magic removal. Holy Paladins needed area heals. Hunters needed an immunity effect. After three expansions of players asking for – and receiving – many of the things that used to make specs unique, we now have 34 specializations that can all do a bit of everything, and have twice as many buttons as necessary and 10 times as many passive novels to read than they need, and just simply too many convenient, high-efficiency control, utility, healing and damage abilities flying around in combat in all areas. Where a player – once upon a time – would rely on their allies to provide the things they needed to be effective in PvP (Ferals and Rets would need someone else to snare their target as an example), that same player now relies on their allies to help them escape from the overwhelming volume of control effects flying in their direction. If a Feral in Burning Crusade didn’t have an ally to snare their target, at least that Feral could keep control of his character and defend himself. Even if he was helpless, he didn’t feel it nearly to the same degree. He may have been just as helpless back then without those allies to support him, but now his helplessness is shoved down his throat because he can’t do that while stunned… silenced… frozen… feared…
I can only speak for myself, but a hamburger like this is difficult to digest.
What has gone right recently?
Significant efforts have been made recently to make PvP more accessible – resilience was removed, which removed a barrier to entry for new players, and a conquest catch-up mechanism was added, allowing people to begin to do competitive PvP in the middle of a season and have some hope of catching up to the gear level of those who have played the entire season. Conquest item level upgrades were also not re-implemented when Valor upgrades were, which reduces the gear disparity between new and veteran players.
I see these things as mostly positive changes, but I don’t think it’s enough to make the PvP game a better experience for newcomers, returning players, or long-time players who only PvP casually. As for players who compete for Gladiator… I’ll let them speak for themselves, as it’s been a couple expansions since I was competitive at that level.
What needs to be done?
- Crowd control needs to be a tradeoff. CC effects should have a significant resource cost attached, or have a cast time that allows players react to it. In most cases, an increased cost along with a cast time would be a good thing. The idea is that if you have a crowd control effect used on you, you can guarantee that the player who used it can’t deal a significant amount of damage for a few seconds, or that you were able to prevent it or defend yourself. Currently, there are far too many instant-cast, resource-free crowd control effects for their use to be a choice in low and mid level PvP matches. If you don’t use them right away, you might not get an opportunity to at all – but if players are costing themselves damage to crowd control someone, they might think twice about just using them as early and often as possible, which would result in players at most levels able to control their characters a larger percentage of the time without removing the volume of CC tools players have at their disposal. Crowd control adds a lot of depth to the PvP game, and WoW would be terrible without it, but there’s a happy medium between no CC at all and the crowd-control spam-fest we’ve had the past two expansions. Good design: Gouge costing 40 energy. Bad design: Kick costing no energy.
- Healing spells need to be a tradeoff for damage dealers. Player A has 2 resource units. Player A can choose to use 2 heals, 2 damaging abilities, one of each, or one of either and a crowd control ability. A heal should cost you more damage than it does currently, damage should use resources that you could spend on healing, crowd control should prevent the use of a significant amount of damage or healing. Cooldowns are not enough of a cost for most CC or healing abilities. Good design: Word of Glory costing 3 Holy Power. Bad design: Flash of Light being instant and free under the effects of Selfless Healer (free or instant would probably be okay).
- Diminishing returns rules on crowd control effects need to be made more transparent. While having different diminishing returns types on crowd controls adds to the depth of the PvP game, there might be another way of doing it. An idea might be that each player has a crowd control “tenacity bar” that works similarly to decaying rage – an individual CC effect that hits you charges the bar, and reduces the length of further CC effects by the percentage the bar has been charged, with each CC effect – almost regardless of type – charging one third of the bar. For example, this power bar might have 15 energy. If I was hit with Polymorph, my charge would be increased to 5. Followed up with a Hammer of Justice, my charge would increase to 10 and that HoJ would be 66% duration. The Fear following that would have 33% duration and increase my charge to 15, making me completely immune to CC until my charge decays below a certain threshold (say, 11). Decay would happen slowly while not affected by a full loss of control or silence. Roots, slows, disarms and spell lockouts can work as they do now.
- Armor types need to have distinction again. Strangely, spell casters tend to take less damage than melee players, which seems a little odd when you consider that melee characters tend to be wearing heavier armor. Cloth wearers should have more active defenses instead of the passive ones they currently have, while mail and plate wearers should have more passive defenses and sacrifice some hard crowd control abilities for it. Shadowform and Fel Armor might be candidates for damage reduction removal (compensated for in other ways), with Armor Specializations having passive damage reduction added depending on armor type.
- Healers need their mana bars to be more of a concern. The amount of efficient healing a healer is able to put out on an empty mana bar is entirely too high. Running a healer out of mana should be more of a viable strategy. Heals that can be casted at low mana should nearly always be long cast times that are vulnerable to interrupts and CC effects.