It’s time for the melee DPS role to be about more than stabbing backs and taking names.
The final looking-back-on-Patch-5.2 WoW designer interview went live on Icy Veins just before the holiday weekend began (don’t they know the rule about trying to get folks to pay attention to news on a Friday?). If you’ve got a passion for end-game raiding, there’s a lot of cool stuff in that interview worth reading — nothing earth-moving or particularly surprising, but we don’t often see WoW designers talk at length about role balance and class mechanics in raids, so this is a rare opportunity to look into the crystal ball and see anything more than clouds.
There are two sections of the Icy Veins interview that I wanted to call particular attention to from a rogue perspective. The first touches on the “ranged-vs.-melee” question in raids and how their respective roles are evolving. (The second touches on our four-piece Tier 15 set bonus; I’ll talk about that in my next post.)
From the interview:
Icy Veins: In the past, melee DPS were seen as having a significant disadvantage in heroic raiding. During Throne of Thunder, however, there are some fights where melee do very well, like Iron Qon, and others where they do really poorly, like Ra-Den. Are you happy with each having their own niche fights, or is it a goal of yours to design fights where both range and melee players will perform roughly the same?
Blizzard: Overall we like for there to be fights that favor different play styles. In Throne of Thunder, there are good fights for range and good fights for melee, and nobody is underperforming to the degree where it is widespread for guild to sit a lot of melee on one fight or a lot of ranged on the next. We agree in previous tiers that melee felt like more of a liability, but we don’t feel that way about the current content (but see the next question).
Icy Veins: Does granting range players the ability to retain more and more damage on the move (as illustrated by the upcoming Lightning Bolt changes in 5.3) make it harder and harder to design encounters where melee DPS are not trailing behind?
Blizzard: Traditionally, the melee advantage was being able to do damage while moving, but now a lot of ranged are also good at movement. We could certainly go back in and prune a lot of cast-on-the-move and instant spells from casters, but on the other hand we know players think those abilities are fun and you can even argue that having to stand and “turret” as a combat mechanic feels a little dated. There is also a continuum here: casting Lightning Bolt while moving isn’t a big balance problem, but something like passive Kil’jaeden’s Cunning might be.
Rather than making casters terrible at moving, we’d rather develop a niche that melee are really good at. For example, we could emphasize that melee are really good at cleaving multiple targets, or they could be more survivable, or both. We are going to explore these ideas more.
I agree that the “turret” approach to damage-dealing no longer makes sense within the context of WoW — or possibly within the context of any complex MMORPG. Only being able to do serious damage while standing still is not a fun way to play a class, especially in a game as fast-paced and movement-based as WoW tends to be. The must-stand-still requirement also severely inhibits the creativity raid designers can use when crafting new encounters. I embrace the growing trend of ranged classes evolving a greater ability to deal damage on the run, most recently embodied in Shamans’ Lightning Bolt spell being castable while moving in 5.3.
At the same time, if we look at raiding rogues in particular, we haven’t seen — and perhaps we *can’t* see — a similar shift in range/movement flexibility. Yes, the designers have tinkered with stealth speed, Sprint and Shadowstep (and they’ve introduced a worthwhile alternative, Burst of Speed, as well as a formerly-borderline-superior-but-now-extremely-niche alternative in Cloak and Dagger). They’ve also made case-by-case adjustments to boss fights to make it easier for us to hurt them (e.g., making their hitbox larger, or increasing the angle at which we’re technically “behind” them). But these are largely tweaks, bandages and temporary solutions to a bigger, much more intractable issue: When a rogue isn’t within melee range of its target, the player pulling that rogue’s strings is most likely not having much fun.
We can’t, and shouldn’t, expect for every raid fight to be equally rogue-friendly. We *want* variety in our raid mechanics, and if we accept that, then we have to also accept that “variety” is going to include various levels of challenge in us maintaining uptime on our targets.
But there is a difference between a fight that is rogue-unfriendly and a fight that is borderline infuriating for a rogue. Hardly a raid tier goes by without at least one fight that literally murders a Combat rogue who dares to use Killing Spree, one of the spec’s core DPS cooldowns (and, importantly, one of the most fun cooldowns we have when it works properly). And if you had the pleasure of experiencing the Twilight Ascendant Council fight during Cataclysm, then you know what it’s like to spend an encounter doing your impression of chasing after Benny Hill.
This expansion has been better than the last one, to be sure. There are no fights yet in Mists where rogues perform atrociously relative to other classes (the extent to which we may struggle to shine on fights like Council of Elders falls within my range of acceptable variance for the sake of raid mechanic variety), and it’s nice to see design decisions like what was done for the Durumu maze, in which there is both a melee path and a ranged path to allow all DPS to continue dealing damage while weaving their way through trouble.
Meanwhile, our class has gotten a major survivability boost this expansion thanks to the available-to-all-classes combination of Feint (50% reduction to AoE damage) and Elusiveness (30% across-the-board damage reduction during Feint), which can drastically reduce the burden we place on our healers during heavy-damage moments while only costing us a small amount of DPS. And in Patch 5.2, Smoke Bomb was also given some raid utility in the form of an AoE damage reducer. Both of these changes fit with the theme the developers stated above: Trying to offset ranged classes’ additional mobility by giving melee some *unique* tools that provide demonstrable raid utility.
I like this direction. I think our instinct might be to call for 1) harder-hitting melee abilities or 2) more mobility (i.e., additional/more powerful gap closers) to make up for us losing ground to ranged classes in the uptime-on-target category. But to me, that’s not a fun solution. I want raiding with my rogue to be about more than just stabbing a boss repeatedly for six minutes using a set rotation of abilities. I want to be challenged, and I want to have to spend (a reasonable amount of) time off my target every now and then — but I want that to be offset by the greater feeling of fulfillment that comes from bringing more to the table than my DPS.
What if the change to Smoke Bomb were just the beginning? What if we gained a whole host of powerful, but niche, raid uses for our abilities? What if Cheat Death were redesigned into a baseline cooldown that could be cast on yourself — or on an ally — once every five minutes? What if we (and warriors) could use Dismantle on raid bosses once per fight, similarly to how other classes can use battle res? What if Feint temporarily increased our crit by a percentage of the incoming damage we reduced? What if Tricks of the Trade didn’t just transfer threat to our target — what if it also transferred the effects of any defensive cooldowns we used while the buff was active, such as Evasion and Cloak of Shadows?
The days of pigeonholing classes into single roles with narrow definitions of “success” need to be over with. MMOs like WoW — and the people who play them — have matured past that point. For a class like ours, DPS should always be relevant and important, but it’s time we moved on from the idea that we somehow deserve to be the DPS kings in raids because we’re so handicapped in other areas. It’s time we instead called for those handicaps to be removed or altered in ways that make rogues as a class, and melee as a role, feel unique, more compelling to play and genuinely useful in ways it’s never felt in raids before.
At the same time, it’s time for WoW’s designers to truly practice what they preach. Developers such as Ghostcrawler are fond of chastising players for paying so much attention to DPS meters, and rightly so. But they’ve provided so few alternatives for us to feel *tangibly* valuable in raids outside of damage-dealing that it’s no wonder we continue to latch onto our DPS performance as our only real measure of success. In last week’s Icy Veins interview, they promised to explore new niches in which melee could be valuable. Let’s hope they really push the envelope, take some risks and get creative in doing so for the next expansion.