The Melee Disadvantage

Any who have been raiding in recent years has probably heard complaints about melee in raids or seen people excluded from raids just due to being melee.  Be it a PuG Flex group forming or a Heroic raiding guild’s recruitment, there has been a bias toward ranged DPS since Cataclysm.  The reasons for this are varied – at times it’s been damage output, at times it’s been damage intake, and much of the time there’s been an inherent inability for melee to deal with numerous situations that a ranged can.  There have been a few encounter-specific outliers, but the “norm” is that ranged are viewed as superior, even at the lowest levels.

The situation has changed since Cataclysm, where the melee group as a whole spent the majority of the expansion doing less damage than ranged were capable of, which led to constant buffs to individual specs and eventually an increase in the attack power buff from 10% to 20% in Dragon Soul.  Though there are some who surely believe melee damage is at a disadvantage even now, it almost certainly is not.

Damage

When I say damage, I mean ability to win the meters.  There are other forms of damage I’ll talk about later.

At several points since late Cataclysm, there have been statements from official sources suggesting that Blizzard would tune the damage dealt by melee specs to be higher than that of ranged, so that once encounter mechanics came into play, the two roles would be nearly equal in damage capabilities.  At this, they’ve done a pretty good job.  Comparing average melee specs to average ranged specs, there really isn’t much to complain about in an overall fight/instance-wide view of the damage capabilities of the two different roles.  There have certainly been outliers (ahem, Warlocks), but melee are currently in a pretty good place here.  This certainly hasn’t been the case all along, with melee easily coming up near the bottom through most of tier 11 and Firelands, but it really is not something to complain about in today’s game.

Any belief that raw damage is a disadvantage is a perception or bias rooted firmly in the past.

Visibility

The ability to see your immediate surroundings is an important thing to do in WoW, as it is in any MMO (or pretty much any game).  Difficulty in games such as this one hinges on making players move for various reasons – to kite something, to stack up with other players, to spread away from other players, to avoid a telegraphed ability, to get out of fire, and so on.  This is one of the most significant legitimate complaints melee players have.

Needless to say, it’s always been more difficult to see anything with 10 other players crowded around you, but the frequency at which visibility of various boss mechanics is vital has only increased over time.  You had to avoid fire patches while fighting Magmadar, and avoid Baron Geddon’s Hellfire  in Molten Core… and that’s about it for the entire zone.  Now you have to avoid several different forms of “fire” in every encounter in Siege of Orgrimmar.  Sha of Pride alone has more ground effects or positional mechanics to be aware of than all of Molten Core and Blackwing Lair combined.

Visibility is worse now than it was in Vanilla, but not so much so as to be the cause of the visibility problem in WoW.  The reality is that your need for visibility has increased dramatically, so anything that interferes with that is more noticeable.  Wrath of the Lich King, especially Naxxramas, was a melee visibility nightmare, and I would go so far as to say it the problem hasn’t worsened since then.

So what exactly are the problems?  Why can’t melee or any group of tightly packed players see important things?

  • Legendary Cloaks.  While still far from what I would call ideal, WoW had been taking slow but steady steps toward an appropriate balance between visibility and cool spell effects.  When Siege of Orgrimmar was released, along with it came several legendary cloaks whose effects add a lot to visual noise.  They are all bright and flashy (especially the melee one, ironically), and when stacked, are impossible to make out anything through.  Thankfully these are temporary, but I sincerely hope nothing a player wears ever looks like these things again in combat.  The subtle change in color of the Death Knight Challenge Mode transmog set is a great way to make something look awesome without adding to the problem significantly.  The legendary cloaks are not.
  • Holy Spells.  Basically, anything that a Holy Paladin or a healing Priest casts on you, (along with the basic visual of Chain Heal) contribute far more to visual noise than nearly anything else players cast.  Having a light flash when a player is healed by one of these specs is probably fine, but the persistent effects of various absorbs and heal-over-time effects aren’t necessary for players to see.  Devotion Aura is among the worst contributors as it tends to be activated when visibility is most useful, turning the entire raid into brilliantly white glowing balls during times of heavy damage and movement.  The aura effect under the Paladin’s feet and the distinct sound that comes with it are probably enough for this ability.
  • Ice Trap.  This ability seems to have been created and persisted in its original visual state for so long for the sole purpose of pissing off every melee I know every time it’s cast for DPS (or cast for any reason, really).  Do I need to say anything else about it?  I mean what the hell?

Dealing With Boss Mechanics

Here is where melee take another fairly obvious back seat to ranged.  Since Cataclysm launched, nearly any job that could be done by a melee can also be done by ranged DPS, but the reverse is not true.  Ranged are typically superior anytime switching to deal damage to a different target is necessary, due to melee’s need to travel to that target before resuming damage.  In many cases, melee can’t do so at all or are at much higher risk when they do.  Examples would be Crawler Mines on Siegecrafter, Blood of the Old God on Cho’gall, and Crusher Tentacles on Yogg-Saron.  Because of this, ranged damage is typically more valuable than melee, even if the numbers are similar.  The flexibility is a huge advantage that melee can’t duplicate.

An increasingly frequent trait of encounter design is certain mechanics excluding melee players, and other mechanics requiring X number of players at range, or X number of ranged specs/healers to work properly.  This makes sense in one way, many of these things would be very difficult or impossible for melee to deal with, but it does tend to leave melee feeling pretty much the same on a lot of fights, with a lot less to do than ranged typically do.  It’s pretty rare that anything in an encounter demands or expects melee to deal with it because there’s nothing melee can do that ranged isn’t able to, unless an encounter is specifically engineered for it.

Melee don’t currently have the ability to deal damage on the move advantage they once had.  That was their “thing” for many years.  Now, and ever since the launch of Cataclysm, it isn’t.

Current melee advantages

All of that said, there are several advantages a melee brings to a raid.  They tend to be very indirect, but they exist, and they are (#1 especially) why you continue to see them in cutting edge boss kills.

  • Gear.  A balanced raid composition is preferable to taking 90% ranged and 10% melee in 25 player raids for gearing reasons.  A balanced composition will naturally gear up faster than one with a huge number of spell casters.  The gear and throughput from it that a melee will acquire typically outweighs the disadvantages of being a melee on its own, as long as the compositional requirements are filled comfortably.  Raid DPS drives progression more than any other factor.  Gear (and therefore a balanced composition) are a very important part of that.
  • Interrupts.  While all roles can contribute to these, melee do so the most easily and with no direct DPS loss.  Making us maintain an interrupt rotation is a bit of an annoying way to add value to the melee role, though.  Once in a while is fine, but “interrupt every 6 seconds or die” for several minutes kinda sucks, and I’m glad it hasn’t been overused in MoP.
  • Healing.  The one major combat advantage of having melee is that they are typically easier to heal due to always being in the range of a Healing Rain from each other.  Melee are very convenient targets for ground heals and other heals that have splash effects, which does often improve the overall survivability of your raid.

Changes in WoD

Nerfs to smart heals.  This is potentially a reduction in the value of melee, depending on how it’s handled.  The most powerful smart heals are also ground heals, like Healing Rain.  These kinds of spells will almost certainly be significant targets of the reduction of smart healing.

Gear will be more flexible.  While indirect, this is another reduction in the value of melee.  Increased gear flexibility will allow for guilds to gear the best specs more easily, which is likely to result in slimmer melee portions of raid compositions … if nothing else changes.

More is changing, though.

There have been plenty of ideas to bring the overall value of melee up to the level of range outside gear distribution, such as having melee always win at AoE or just simply always win the DPS meters in general, but these are likely to be very unpopular options, even though they would be very effective at equalizing the value of the two roles.

Recent official comments and discussions regarding the disarmament of instant cast spells and the ability to cast while moving is likely the best option, which – if significant enough – could restore the advantage melee once had over ranged of being able to deal more damage on the move.  I hope this is enough to make melee important to a raid group on their own merit rather than gear distribution and healing intake being their advantages.  If visual noise is reduced and caster DPS on the move is reduced, melee should be in a much better place.  It really won’t take much more than that.

The melee disadvantage isn’t as huge as it once was, but it exists, and melee are “artificially” propped up by gear distribution and healing.  With a significant improvement in visuals and a reduction in mobile damage for casters, a reasonable facsimile of parity in value to a raid will be created.

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