Editor’s Note: For more on BlizzCon 2014, visit our coverage hub.
One of the most prominent issues surrounding MMORPGs that have been around as long as World of Warcraft has is the hypnotizingly long list of powers and abilities these titles develop over time. That is why Blizzard finally performed a number squish in WoW for Patch 6.0.2 (goodbye, huge streams of numbers!) and decided to do away with a fair chunk of our abilities. Yes, there’s such thing as too many abilities.
There’s a fine line between having not enough abilities and having too many abilities, however. One of the most common dissatisfactions among veteran WoW players currently is the fact that many of our classes saw a significant decrease in the number of abilities—and therefore part of our classes’ versatility and complexity—that we’re accustomed to having. Is getting rid of abilities and adjusting class mechanics dumbing down the game, or is it simply part of WoW’s timeline?
To answer that question, we must first talk about versatility and complexity. What make a class versatile and/or complex in the first place?
Versatility, in essence, comes down to having multiple options. If a raid’s in danger of wiping out to some big nasty boss, versatility can be defined as a DPS (Damage per second) class hitting an ability that suddenly gives the raid more survivability or a tank healing everyone for a massive amount of health. Versatility gives players room to save the day by doing something largely unexpected of their class/role. This is why hybrid classes (any class that can perform more than one combat role) are so enticing. The ability to do decent DPS plus throw out some amazing heals if need be can be pretty friggin’ amazing during a tough progression fight.
Versatility in itself can be complex, but complexity is more broad. Damage-over-time snapshotting—one combat mechanic that is no longer in the game—allowed players to line up powerful cooldowns and use their damage-over-time abilities during those cooldowns to see really high numbers. Blizzard got rid of this mechanic because they felt it was complex, but also easily accomplished by addons.
Complexity should make players think outside of the box and change their decisions in combat based upon what happens in any given moment. An encounter that often requires the raid to completely adjust their tactics mid-fight is complex. A class that has a myriad of rotation options based on which class they’re up against in PvP might be considered complex.
Is there a base number of required abilities that make a class complex or versatile?
The types of abilities often matter as far as versatility is concerned, but even a class like the Esper in WildStar can be considered complex despite the fact that each class in the game is limited to 8 abilities total. Complexity is more about having meaningful choices and a lack of repetition. WildStar’s focus on mobility makes combat complex. In WoW, complexity typically comes down to a set ability rotation. If there’s no way to diversify a rotation and mix it up between the various phases/mechanics during an encounter, there’s a good chance that rotation isn’t very complex.
Let’s take a closer look at 6.0 now.
Some WoW classes saw the removal of more abilities than others. Some classes, like Retribution Paladins, changed very little. Others, like Hunters and Blood Death Knights, changed quite a bit.
Blood Death Knights might have seen some of the heaviest ability pruning that affected their base rotation. Many Blood DKs currently feel the class has been dumbed down quite a bit, but others are hopeful that Warlords of Draenor will give the class a better feel once players hit level 100.
Complexity, in part, depends on the nature of the fights and their difficulty. This is why it’s hard to judge class complexity on the current state of live WoW servers. There’s nothing extremely difficult in the game at the moment once gear comes into play. Even Mythic raids—the most difficult raids in the game at the moment—are not a solid benchmark of complexity. Mythic WoD raids? That’s another story altogether.
There’s also concern regarding the removal of many utility abilities that allowed classes to be more versatile during heavy damage moments in progression fights. DPS and tanking Druids, for example, all lost Tranquility, their huge AoE heal, which has been one of the Druid’s most iconic spells for years. The goal here is to force healers to play a more active role when it comes to using their “save the day” cooldowns, but for players who enjoy being as versatile as possible, it seems like the goal is to divvy out less options and less complexity instead.
This decision will also likely play out differently at level 100 than at 90, mostly due to the fact that each class will receive additional stats, talents, and perks that may provide more in the way of versatility. There’s also the fact that many classes still have versatility—just not in as many ways as before. Protection/Retribution Paladins may not have Devotion Aura, but they still have Hand of Freedom, Sacrifice, Protection, etc. The options are there. They’re just not as numerous.
Not all of Blizzard’s spell removal decisions make a lot of sense (especially in the versatility department in my opinion), but one simple fact remains—most classes had way too many abilities previously. Ability bloat can lead to a severe lack of character individuality and flavor as well as an overabundance in homogenization. Nothing’s really special when it all looks the same.
Character flavor is vital, even with a whole lineup of expansions in tow, and that, frankly, is one area where Blizzard has generally excelled. Priests always feel like Priests—and never quite like Paladins. Feral Druids may have combo points like Rogues, but they’re never quite rogues. And that’s the way it should be. We should wield our classes with pride.
As Blizzard sets the stage for Warlords of Draenor, we have a lot of content to look forward to and hopefully just as much complexity and versatility as we’re accustomed to—just in a different setting to test our abilities in. Change is inevitable with WoW’s vast history and timeline, but that doesn’t mean the orc-filled sky is falling just yet. Well, okay. The orc part might be right. There are a lot of orcs waiting for us in Draenor.