Ability bloat and what to prune.

If five of your spec’s abilities had to go, which five would you choose?

If you’ve been watching official Blizzard sources for the past two years, there have been plenty of comments about the number of abilities players have, and how the game has reached or even surpassed its saturation point.  If you’ve read past forum posts or blog posts of mine, I’ve been a supporter of ability pruning for quite a while.  I think too many abilities for each individual causes 3 significant problems with the game, though I do still sympathize with people who just like to have a lot of situational buttons to press.  I see both sides of the argument quite well, but can support only one.

What are the problems with having a lot of abilities?

1. Keybind real estate.

While this is probably the problem I would see as the least influential in wanting to remove a number of abilities, it’s probably the one the most players have felt.  Needless to say, there is a point where it becomes difficult to add more abilities to your keybinds when more buttons keep getting added no matter how efficient you are or effective you are with macros or just how many buttons with modifiers you can hit.  While there are plenty of exceptions out there, I know people who have as many as 80 or 90 keybinds, I think we’re probably a bit past the comfort point for the majority of players.

2. Homogenization and redundancy.

I see this as the largest problem with ability bloat.  As more and more buttons are added, each class and spec individually will gain capabilities that they didn’t have, and these abilities will nearly always be ones that belonged to someone else in some form.  As an example, Warlocks were the first class to have a stun ability that hit more than one target in Shadowfury.  Now, we have Leg Sweep, Shockwave, Blinding Light (glyphed), Capacitor Totem, Binding Shot.  While each ability individually works a little differently, their ultimate effect and role they fill in combat is pretty much the same.  This makes the Warlock’s Shadowfury feel a lot less special.  There are almost no unique abilities in today’s World of Warcraft.  We have Gorefiend’s Grasp, Demonic Gateway, and Leap of Faith… and that’s about it.

The question for years now has been “How do we make classes and specs feel unique without giving them capabilities others can’t duplicate?”
With the change in raid formats having the hardest setting be a fixed size that can easily allow for one of every class, the question should now be “How do we give each class tools that makes them feel unique, powerful, and desired?”

In some cases, namely Gorefiend’s Grasp and Demonic Gateway, those unique, powerful tools already exist.  For the rest of us, though, removing redundancies like more than one AoE stun and more than one AoE interrupt probably has to happen to get back to that point.

3. The spellbook novel.

It’s difficult to see the game from the perspective of someone who’s a lot less experienced than you are, but when my sister returned to the game about two years ago after a five-year hiatus, it gave me significant insight into what a new player experiences.  My sister originally introduced me to the game in classic, but she was as lost as one can be.  Classes had a lot more abilities than they had, and the spellbook doesn’t do a very good job of piecing things together, and there’s very little in the way of resources that just show you how to improve your play outside your basic spec’s DPS rotation for beginners.  They don’t need to know the math behind stuff, but they might need to know how to track buffs and debuffs in an easier way than the default UI does it.  The game is improving in these ways, with spell alerts and glowing buttons, but the sheer volume of abilities, both passive and active and their interactions, is a lot to handle for someone just getting into the game.  Having 47 active and 14 passive abilities in your spellbook is not doing new players any favors, and trimming the fat could help a lot.  It might also do a lot to hide some of the stuff players really don’t need to know about.

Is there a way to remove many of these passive abilities?

Is there a way to remove many of these passive abilities?

While I understand that having a lot of buttons can sometimes add a level of complexity that some players like to have, I think removing some abilities is absolutely the right direction to go.  Complexity can be added through encounter mechanics.  My question here isn’t “Do you agree with or disagree with removing some?”; my question is “If five abilities you use in combat had to go, which five would you choose?”

Pures may have a harder time coming up with 5, so post 3 instead.

Please comment and let me know five abilities you could live without.  Feel free to say why.  My list is below:

Spiritwalker’s Grace – Needless to say, it’s something we’ll use occasionally with Chain Lightning, Elemental Blast or some healing spells, but it’s pretty inconsequential in the big picture.
Healing Tide Totem – I feel that hybrid healing cooldowns and healing contributions in general are far too numerous, so seeing this disappear wouldn’t bother me one bit.
Earth Shock – It’s been with the class since the dawn of time, but I think Frost Shock could fill its place just fine.
Either Elemental Totem – I wouldn’t miss having two elementals.  Earth Elemental has never been what one would call a high-impact ability in any setting, though it had some uses very early on in Challenge Mode.  If Fire Elemental disappeared from Enhancement and Earth Elemental’s damage beefed up a bit in its place, I wouldn’t be disappointed.
Healing Rain – Same reasons as above, I don’t think hybrid damage dealers should have as much essentially free healing contribution as they have.  Sacrificing significant DPS to do some healing is probably okay.  Healing Rain’s cost isn’t significant at all.
And a 6th just because I can: Flametongue Weapon – Just like with Earth Shock, I think Frostbrand could take its place just fine.
I can even do a 7th: Magma Totem – This ability has been a resounding “meh” since Cataclysm.

Healing Tide Totem – Same reasons as above.
Healing Rain – While it’s significantly more costly for Elemental to use, I think beefier Chain Heal and Healing Surge would be fine in its place.
Either Elemental Totem – Same reasons as above.  Elemental having only Fire and Enhancement having only Earth would be cool to me.
Spiritwalker’s Grace – While more useful for Elemental, most of Elemental’s damage can be done on the move already with Lava Bursts often being instant cast and Lightning Bolt already usable while moving.
Earthquake – Its impact is low and uses are few.  It gets used in PvP in some situations but I wouldn’t call it a game breaker.

Unleash Elements – It was once a situational spell with some uses, and now it’s just a rotational part of Healing Rain.  I don’t think it adds much of anything to the Restoration spec.
Earth Shock – Very situational.  Sees rare use, but not worth keeping around.
Healing Tide Totem – Very different reasons from above.  This is a mindless fire and forget healing ability that does far too much healing for the effort required.  Throughput cooldowns that either change up how you play or are based on how you play (like Ascendance) are a much stronger design in my opinion.
Lava Burst – It’s a cool spell, but not really a necessary part of what Restoration can do.
Stormlash Totem – This actually applies to all three specs, but raid-wide DPS boosts have contributed significantly to problems in the PvE game.  I’ve felt Stormlash shouldn’t exist from day one.

So what are your picks for the spec you play?


14 responses to “Ability bloat and what to prune.

  1. Nice post! As a Hunter, I feel like I have a ton of buttons, many of which are used rotationally. So from a Hunter PVE perspective:

    Aspects! Pointless. Perhaps trade all aspects for a Stampeding Roar style ability to replace Aspect of the Pack.

    Rapid Fire. Make Stampede hit harder and remove this cooldown completely.

    T60, T75, and T90 talents. Pointless extra buttons. It’d be nicer if they just augmented other abilities. Too many of our talents affect our rotation. One tier of new buttons would be fine, but there’s just too much going on here.

    Focus Fire. A very annoying Beast Master ability that isn’t remotely as exciting as, say, Lock and Load.

    Black Arrow. It’s just maintenance. It needs to be more interesting or removed. Lock and Load is a great, fun mechanic, but having an extra dot that has a high cost, high cooldown, and mediocre damage is not interesting.

    Hunter’s Mark. It already pretty much is marginalized to pointlessness. Just ditch it.

    Scare Beast. Beast Lore (maybe; it’s fun at times and isn’t a keybind, but doesn’t really provide much value except for theorycrafting…).

    Widow Venom.

    Explosive Trap. Or, make it more interesting. Ditto snake trap. Traps are iconic and have value but we probably don’t need so many. They should be utility not damage.

    Rabid. Generally not keybound but just a pointless ability.

    Heart of the Phoenix. Revive Pet’s recent change makes this less interesting.

    Camouflage. No real purpose.


    Trap Launcher. Traps should just all be launched.

    • Black Arrow was cool in Warcraft 3 – it would summon a skeleton under your control when the target died. Needless to say, that doesn’t work well for WoW hunters, it was an ability Sylvanas used. At the very least, I’m not sure it deserves to be called Black Arrow if it doesn’t do what its very original purpose was.

      • Yeah, it totally lacks flavor. It’s like Explosive Shot… *it doesn’t explode*! It’s, at best, a Throbbing Shot. WotLK beta had it be an AOE but that was quickly removed, and so now, it just throbs.

        • I was a little confused when they chose to take that aspect of Explosive Shot away. The cleave damage it did was pretty negligible, but it’s the kind of flavor that made it feel like and explosive bullet (or arrow).

  2. Bind Elemental – too much CC in the game already
    Unleash Elements – outside of Healing Rain, how often is this used in PVE? Hint: never.
    Stormlash Totem – not an interesting ability, it’s just another cooldown that’s babysat by an add-on or macro.
    Earth Shock and Lava Burst – these should be elemental only in my opinion. Resto already has Lightning Bolt, Shocks and Totems for offense if needed.

  3. Resto Druid:


    Ysera’s Gift – Completely uninteresting and practically mandatory choice for Resto.

    Perma-efflo attached to Wild Mushroom: Inferior version of healing rain. And imo mushroom needs to go back to the t15 version, or even that of t14.

    Ironbark: Inferior version of DR from priest / pally.

    Hibernate: Minimally useful CC that rarely gets any use.

    Soothe: Almost never gets any use. Merge with Hibernate and call it “Pacify” imo.

    …as an honorable mention since that would technically reduce down to four, Mighty Bash needs to count as a spell for Resto/Balance druids so our stun option can be relied upon to land.


    Very much agreed about the lack of diversity in classes these days!

  4. I am shocked – shocked! – to see you advocate losing a DPS spell for Resto Shaman! Haha 🙂

    This is a tough question for me because I find ways to use almost every ability at least once, meaningfully, in each tier of raiding. Rather than purge buttons that I have, I’d rather see changes that make those “underperforming” buttons more useful. Like sure, UE is a part of HR now – except for on fights like Tsulong and Immerseus and even Test of Reliance on Norushen, where it is also for single-target-healing-bombing – but what if it was changed to no longer benefit HR at all, but do something else that would be well worth the GCD? What if in WoD, even in Mythic, there are incentives to cast single-target heals instead of mindless AoE spam? See, then UE could be good.

    I would be okay with losing:

    * Earth Shock (but this fails your ‘must be bound’ test since I don’t bind it in Resto spec)
    * Lava Burst (I mean I’d be sad, I love DPSing whenever I can, and having something more than just Lightning Bolt to spam makes it less boring, but I could say goodbye. I guess.)
    * Mana Tide Totem. It no longer interacts with anything interesting, so what’s the point. Just bump up Resurgence or Water Shield’s passive mana regen for us and be done with it.
    * Totemic Recall, because I hate hate hate HATE the Glyph of TR and its ridiculous mana returns in a fight. Let’s make mana matter again.
    * Searing Totem. As much as I love putting it down, it’s the most mindless of damage. Perhaps if it had the HST treatment – 15 on, 15 off, and extra powerful – I wouldn’t mind it as much – there’d be some thought to when to drop it to make sure none of it was wasted, or all of it was during a damage buff, or something – but it’s still pretty dull.
    * Lightning Shield. Yeah, I use this sometimes, when DPSing or screwing around out in the world, but really, there’s no need for us to have it.

    TBH, I’d rather lose HST than HTT. At least there is *some* thought inherent in placing a HTT when it will be most effective – waiting for the raid to already take some damage so the first tick isn’t wasted, etc. – whereas HST on CD is really dull. I hold it back sometimes to line up with random spike damage (like if it came off CD during Feng’s Epicenter, I’d wait until that was over, and then drop it to deal with Spirit Bolts, because Chain Heal/HR were doing well enough at Epicenter healing, but fail at Spirit Bolts), but I know most Restos don’t.

    Just … don’t you dare take my Wind Shear away from me.

    • To be completely honest, I forgot Mana Tide existed while coming up with my 5 for Restoration (I can’t believe I overlooked it), so that is absolutely a part of it. Lava Burst is something I don’t entirely want to lose, but it won’t be very effective at all in PvP after the coming changes (which is pretty much the only place it gets used for Resto), so it makes sense for it to be a casualty.

      I think Totemic Recall itself is a requirement for Shaman, but the glyph does some silly things.

      As for Wind Shear… yeah, I think that’s probably one thing the Shaman community regardless of spec would see as untouchable.

  5. Pingback: Button Bloat – Hunters | Cannot be Tamed

  6. I came up with 13 hunter abilities I’d like to see removed. My top 5 are:

    Misdirect – It’s not strong enough. And people should just remember how to wait 2 seconds before attacking something.

    Rapid Fire/Focus Fire – Two abilities that do too similar things. One can be removed.

    Hunter’s Mark – It doesn’t do anything interesting in PVE.

    Aspect of the Hawk – Again, doesn’t do anything interesting but we want it up all the time.

    Snake/Explosive trap – They don’t do enough damage and placing traps is clunky compared to the rest of our shots.

    • Hunters really do seem to have a lot of “junk”. I couldn’t stick with mine for longer than a tier because of that. Just so many things do very little, but it’s more than nothing so you need to use it sometimes.

  7. Nice blog. On paladin I’d remove…

    – Seal of Righteousness. The whole system needs an update, but this seal in particular is useless for Holy and Prot and nearly that for Ret.

    – Lay on Hands. This ability was cool in the past, but is it really required anymore when even Ret can save the tank with a well placed instant Flash of Light? Prot perhaps could to keep it in place of Divine Shield.

    – Repentance or Turn Evil. They serve the same purpose, just on a different DR.

    – Hand of Salv. Threat isn’t a big deal anymore, Salv is redundant with HoP as an oh sh!t ability, and five hand spells is a little overboard

    – Exorcism. Could easily be replaced by Hammer of Wrath.

    – Emancipate. Merge it with Prot and Ret’s Cleanse to make both abilities more full and interesting.

    – Blessing of Kings. If Arcane Brilliance can be spell power and crit, Might can be mastery and stats.

    – Rebuke. Prot might need this, but with mythic and flex I don’t think every melee DPS requires an interrupt. Removing some of these would do wonders for PvP.

    I could drum up a few more, but I’m already well above five!

    • I think I love you for mentioning Rebuke. Removing that kind of stuff that will make us all feel like unique classes again.

      As for your Blessings, I can absolutely get behind that… and everything else here as well.

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