Last week, we were given the chance to ask questions directly to Greg Street (Ghostcrawler) and his team. The subject of the interview initially was Classes & Systems, but we asked a few questions about raid design and the Brawler's Guild, so eventually, the entire WoW design team pitched in to answer our questions.
Overall, we think the concern is fair. Blood DKs do have some useful group utility in things like Raise Ally, Death Grip, Blood Worms (which we buffed in 5.2), and Anti-Magic Zone (which we want to buff in 5.4). Blood DKs are still really popular raid tanks, probably second only to Protection paladins, who to be honest probably bring too much raid utility. We’re also asking ourselves if things like Skull Banner and Devotion Aura are too good abilities for tanks to have period. If a tank can bring those class abilities, then specs like Fury and Retribution have a tougher road in justifying their raid spot.
Except for AMZ, we’re talking mostly philosophically here. We have no specific changes planned, but want to provide some insight into the types of things we think about.
Druids — In 10-man heroic Throne of Thunder, it was difficult for Restoration Druids to keep up with the healing throughput of Discipline Priests and the utility of Holy Paladins. Do the proposed balance changes in 5.3 address this?
we did nerf both Discipline and Holy paladins in 5.3, but our suspicion overall is that absorbs are still too potent and prominent.
HoTs used to be the mechanic that provided some healing “cushion” and now it really feels like absorbs have shouldered hots away. We buffed Resto druids a little in 5.3 and we have plans in 5.4 to emphasize their hots even more, especially in AE healing situations, which have become the dominant way to heal raids. We’ll see what the 5.3 changes bring to absorbs and make further changes as necessary. We’re glad that 10-player healers are having fun playing their Holy paladins and Disc priests, but the shaman, druids, monks and other priests want to have fun too. Healer representation is much better at the 25-player raid level.
Hunters — For Hunters, picking their talents for Tier 2, Tier 3, Tier 4, and Tier 5 is usually very straightforward, as there is one talent that is best in nearly all situations (in PvE). Are there any plans to make talent choices for these 4 tiers more interesting for PvE?
As we did in patch 5.2, we plan on taking a hard look at talents in 5.4 to redesign or tweak some that are underperforming or feel mandatory for all the classes.
For hunters specifically, Silencing Shot is a problematic talent. We agree it is very attractive to the point of feeling mandatory in both PvP and PvE, but we are reluctant to give it out to all hunters and allow them to choose yet another form of crowd control from the tier 2 row. That’s just a lot of crowd control.
So, we haven’t come up with a solution for tier 2 yet. The other tiers we think are easier to fix. Aspect of the Iron Hawk feels like the strongest talent in its tier, which goes against our design intent of the passives generally being slightly weaker than the actives, which require more attention and skill to use. Tier 4 feels better and has more diversity among PvE hunters. For Tier 5, we may have made the new Blink Strikes too good, which again as a passive, runs against our intent.
Hunters & Mages — Currently, Hunters and Mages are the only two classes that do not provide any unique raid utility cooldowns (Warlocks have a neat Demonic Gateway, Death Knights have Gorefiend's Grasp, and so on). Can we look forward to any new such abilities for Hunters and Mages?
Full disclosure: you’re not going to like this answer, but we didn’t want to skip over the question. The utility arms race is something we worry about a lot. Not too long ago, DPS warriors didn’t bring a lot of group utility. We added Rallying Cry and Skull Banner, which are great abilities and fun for warriors to use, and gives them something to think about besides just tunneling on DPS meters. Unfortunately, the consequence is that other specs don’t feel like they bring enough utility. We worry that Demonic Gateway and Gorefiend’s Grasp are too valuable in certain situations, such as the Lei Shen encounter. We’re also concerned that warlocks are just too attractive in raids overall – they bring great damage in nearly every situation, mitigate a lot of damage, and have some really powerful utility. Damage mitigation is the mechanic we’d most likely nerf, but it’s too early in the patch 5.4 cycle to talk about specifics.
So the honest answer to this question is that we don’t know. If we give a great new ability to hunters and mages, then 10-player raids or perhaps Rated BG teams are going to have to reevaluate which classes or specs they bring, and neither can fit everyone. We’re not improving the game if we give mages a transportation mechanic that is better than the warlock one, or even a survival ability that means the transportation mechanic is less important. That’s what we mean by the arms race. Is there a theoretical design space where we can come up with 34ish different forms of raid utility that are equally useful in most situations? Possibly, but our hunch is it would take a lot of iteration to find that space.
Hunters are universal buffers, which is really useful in 10-player raids. Mages have a lot of escape tools and the ability to survive near-fatal damage. Do those forms of utility rival Demonic Gateway? It’s reasonable to argue that they don’t. At this point in time though, both mages and hunters are still fairly common in all forms of raiding, and while that’s certainly not the only measurement of spec efficacy, it’s a good bellwether for when something is completely off.
Mages — Incanter's Ward is a very strong and interesting PvE talent for Mages, on paper, but is rarely used in practice. With Patch 5.3, you will be reducing its damage buff and increasing its duration. Are these changes meant to make the talent more desirable in PvE? If so, on which fights do you expect that Mages will take it?
We changed Incanter’s Ward in patch 5.3 largely to reduce PvP burst. It already wasn’t a super popular talent in PvE, so we didn’t think this change would have a big impact there. Overall, we do want to work on the mage level 90 tier. It’s interesting for Arcane, but too heavily tied to mana management overall. Depending on the solution we come up with, it could be too large a change for 5.4, but we’ll know more soon.
Monks — Chi Wave sometimes gets lost to irrelevant adds and pets. Would you consider giving monks more control over this ability, maybe through a glyph?
We fixed this for 5.3. Chi Wave now does “smart healing,” so it will prioritize injured players over pets. It can still be wasted on the wrong target, but it’s hard to predict which target players consider the right one to be. Overall, it’s still a really dominant talent and not in imminent danger of not being taken. Making it too easy to use might make the other talents even less attractive.
Monks — In 25-man heroics, Avert Harm has a high chance to kill the tank, even with Zen Meditation and Shuffle active. This can put monk tanks in a situation where they are reluctant to use Avert Harm to help their raid. Is this design one you are content with, or something you would like to change?
We agree with this concern. Avert Harm is a ultimately a trap for raiding Brewmasters. We could buff it, but related to the first question, we think Brewmasters have a lot of raid utility already and don’t really need yet another way to benefit the group. We might end up cutting the button.
Monks — Windwalker Monks lack a defensive or offensive raid cooldown. Are there any plans to add one?
We don’t think they need a new mechanic. They can provide healing, but it is currently at a personal DPS loss, which makes Windwalkers somewhat reluctant to do so. One idea is to make the healing less of a personal DPS loss. Another idea is to have Tiger Eye Brew benefit healing as well.
Priests — Following the Patch 5.2 changes to Tier 3 talents for Priests, Solace and Insanity has become the de-facto Tier 3 talent choice for Shadow Priests Are there any plans to change this situation?
Feedback on Solace and Insanity following the 5.2 redesign has been really positive overall, so we don’t want to nerf the talent. We can buff the other two talents, but in general we don’t want to declare it a design crisis any time there is talent which is fun and popular. As long as the other two choices aren’t terrible (imagine a slightly buffed Mindbender as an easier-to-use alternative to Solace and Insanity), we’re fine with it.
Rogues — The Tier 15 4-piece bonus for Rogues reduces the global cooldown of their abilities to 0.7 second (instead of 1 second). When this was introduced, you mentioned that you are "normally very reluctant to reduce the GCD lower than 1 sec" and that this "was very much an experiment". What are your conclusions on this experiment, after a few months? Do you intend to do similar experiments with other classes?
We always have issues with the server being able to accept input fast enough to support very small GCDs (say less than 1 sec or so). In this raiding tier in particular we unfortunately had some widespread server lag problems, which made it harder to evaluate whether the 0.7 second GCD alone made rogue abilities feel unresponsive. Our hunch is the low GCD solved this specific problem with tier 15, but we’re unlikely to do it often.
Shamans — Do you have any plans for major spell changes for Elemental Shamans in the near future (as opposed to small percentage adjustments)? For example, what is your take on giving Lava Burst a damage modifier based on crit (much like the Chaos Bolt of Destruction Warlocks) or on removing the cooldown of Flameshock in PvE?
We’re unlikely to change the Flame Shock CD. We might experiment with Lava Burst benefitting from crit, but we would have to nerf its damage to compensate, which would hurt shaman with lower crit chances. We’d rather find some other way to increase the value crit of the “when I crit, something cool happens” variety. Imagine that Flame Shock tick crits caused Lava Surge instead of just a chance on a tick. It may not be that specific implementation, but something along those lines.
Elemental overall is one of our more straight forward rotations, and we think it’s fine to have some classes who use fewer buttons overall. We are evaluating the feedback we get on Elemental Blast and whether the rotation feels fun without that particular talent.
Shamans — What would you say to Enhancement Shamans who feel that their AoE damage could use a buff?
Enhance has good AE but with a long ramp up time. While our goal isn’t to have every DPS spec tie in every specific situation, we do think we could shorten Enhance’s ramp up. We have one cool idea we want to explore in 5.4 as a tier set bonus that will benefit both single target and AE damage. We often use tier set bonuses as a testing ground for new class ideas. If it works out and players like it, that mechanic might become core in a future patch or expansion.
Shamans — Restoration Shamans shine at "grouped up" or "stacked" healing. When the raid is spread out, however, they cannot make proper use of Healing Rain or Chain Heal and many Shamans feel that they cannot compete with other healing classes, as a result. Do you share their concerns? Are there plans to improve their "spread out" healing?
Similar to the previous answer, we like for healers to use different spells and have different moments to shine. We think it’s a fair concern that Resto doesn’t heal enough when grouped to justify healing relatively less than other healers when not grouped. Furthermore, Resto suffers a little with movement as well, and those two limitations coupled with the paladin / Disc dominance in 10s mentioned above make Resto shaman less attractive in 10-player raids. Totemic Restoration has proven to be a problematic talent, and we’re considering replacing it in 5.4, so that is one area we could introduce something to improve shaman range. There are other solutions as well. Overall we like the niche, but agree it has gotten a little too narrow.
General — 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?
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).
General — 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?
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.
General — In heroic progression raiding, a lot of raid leaders choose how to fill the raid based on the utility that classes bring (such as Warlocks for Demonic Gateway, Death Knights for Death Grip and Gorefiend's Grasp), and not their actual DPS performance (unless the fight is a brutal DPS check or a class wildly out-performs another). Are you concerned about this aspect, and the fact that classes with no unique utility risk being left behind?
Frankly, we think it’s awesome when raiders can focus on class benefits beyond just who wins meters. We also accept that guilds in the progression race have to use every trick in the book, because they are so far ahead of the pack that they have worse gear than the ilevels around which we tuned the encounters. Now, we don’t want utility to be the thing that guarantees a raid spot (because that just leads to an arms race as we mentioned above), but we also like it when you get to use your cool ability to help with your group’s success.
While individual raid leaders of course have their own opinions regarding which specs are valuable and which are wasted slots, overall we don’t see any classes that are just not brought to heroic raiding overall, and the specs that are underrepresented are those like Subtlety or Arms, where there are multiple DPS specs per class that play similarly and bring similar utility. (In other words, it’s more acceptable for most DPS warriors to raid as Fury than it is to not have warriors at all, but Enhancement and Elemental feel like fundamentally different play styles, so we want to make sure they are both brought to raids.)
General — Do you have any plans on giving more spells different effects in PvE and PvP (like you did for Warriors' Colossus Smash) to make it easier to balance a spec for both game modes?
Our answer hasn’t changed here: we do it as a last resort. We’re always open to suggestions from the community about which spells are problematic and might need this treatment, but overall we don’t view it as a silver bullet that solves all balance problems. Players still complain about how warriors perform in both PvE and PvP even though we have different tuning knobs for things like Colossus Smash. It wasn’t a panacea to balance problems, and given that there is both a design cost (it’s more work for us to manage two versions of a spell) and a comprehension cost (players have to learn two versions of the spell both for themselves and for allies and opponents), the benefit just isn’t there as a universal solution. For certain specific spells, like CS, it is less work for us to just have two versions of the spell than to spend weeks brainstorming a clever solution that balances both PvP and PvE, and it is worth the player learning cost to not have e.g. PvP balance concerns cross over into PvP and “nerf fun” in the name of balance.
General — During 5.3 testing, there was a rumor floating around that the patch was going to bring Tri Spec. This has been dismissed, but there is an even older rumor regarding a fourth spec being added for all classes in a future expansion. What are your thoughts on adding a fourth spec? Is it something the developers have ever considered?
This is going to be another controversial answer, so we ask players to really consider where we are coming from and not just try to dismantle our arguments in the hopes of getting us to change our minds. This is one of those situations (and we try not to have too many of them) where we are going to proceed very cautiously.
With tri spec, we wanted to make sure we were solving the right problem. What we realized a lot of people on the development team were looking for was a solution to having to remember how action bars were set up (several of us have done the “take a screenshot of each spec” thing). If you harken back to the beta of the original game, talent trees were added as a way to differentiate yourself from other players of the same class. (Now the solution didn’t really work for reasons we’ve discussed before, but it was a noble goal). Letting players respec was intended as a safety net against frustration caused by making a decision you might regret. In Diablo II, once you spent a point, it was spent forever, which was kind of charming at the time, but felt outdated as a design by the time WoW came around. However, providing that safety net wasn’t intended to undermine the entire goal of talents being meaningful choices that help to customize your character, and that includes choosing your character’s role and spec.
Respeccing was never intended to let you have every tool at the moment you need it.
In Burning Crusade, having to change your talent tree was a bit of a headache, because you had to make sure you spent the right number of talent points per tier. In MoP, it’s still a bit of a headache because you have to remember what spell goes on what slot on your action bar. Now imagine that we fix that problem as well. Now changing your spec is limited only by the relatively low cost of visiting your class trainer (rather than the higher cost of fighting the user interface). In fact, if we had the current MoP talent design in place with some system to remember action bars, it’s possible we would never have added dual spec in the first place.
Adding tri spec is one of those decisions that would be really hard to undo, so we want to evaluate really carefully if the game absolutely needs it before we do it. At the moment, we don’t think the game absolutely needs it. We know some players won’t like that answer, but at least appreciate that there are other players who share our concern that the game will be lessened by adding tri spec, and respect their opinions as well.
With regard to fourth specs, it’s an interesting idea that might bring some excitement to individual classes, but it’s also a pretty big idea in terms of the impact it would have on the game. It would require a lot of relearning for virtually every player who would have to understand what the new rogue spec did in a raid or what the new hunter spec did in PvP. We would have to add a lot of new spells and mechanics, and even things like set bonuses to support all of those new specs, and being honest, it would probably cause a lot of instability in the game as we iterated on all of those new spells to get things right. Maybe someday.
Brawler's Guild — When the Brawler's Guild was introduced, the Patch 5.1 Notes explained that the event would enable players to prove their skill. However, for higher rank fights, gear is just as important as skill, which prevents non-raiders from progressing past a certain point. For what reasons did you not use the same gear-scaling system as for the Challenge Modes? Is this something that you may consider changing in the future?
Our vision for Brawler’s Guild is something that you keep coming back to. A lot of the fun comes from getting past your personal “brick wall.” When you hit it, you can always gear up, then come back and exact vengeance. Our classes are better balanced against each other for group play than solo play. Allowing some gear fudge-factor makes tuning brawls more possible on our end. One spec might hit their brick wall at rank 6, whereas another might hit theirs at rank 5, but improving gear can help to overcome that rank. The alternatives might trivialize the encounters for some specs while making them nearly impossible for others. Yes, as a cost of this, non-raiders will lag behind. Their personal brick wall will come sooner, but they almost always have some options to improve themselves (which includes things like more reliance on consumables as well as just acquiring armor and weapons of higher item level).
Brawler's Guild — Patch 5.1 was released almost six months ago. On most realms, only a few dozens of players have cleared all fights of the Brawler's Guild (usually between 30 and 40). How does that compare with what you may have expected when you launched this event?
It’s about on par with what we expected. Brawler’s Guild was never intended to be a place for everybody on the realm. In fact, the gameplay suffers if too many people show up. Because of that, we never directly breadcrumb you there and the methods of acquiring a ticket are somewhat throttled or otherwise hard to get. In the same vein, there are no power rewards “forcing” players to participate in the content. We want it to have a discovered, niche feel. The rank 7 bosses were tuned to be difficult, but beatable with normal or heroic raid gear at the time of release. The “bonus” rank 8 bosses were tuned to be a little harder than our best playtesters could beat in the best gear possible. Since the 5.2 release, these bosses have started to fall much quicker, and that will continue with the new sources of gear in 5.3.
Brawler's Guild — Two new Brawler's Guild ranks are going to be released with Patch 5.3. Is it not a tad bit early, considering the small number of players who are going to be able to access them? Also, was PTR testing for ranks 9 and 10 satisfactory, despite the limited number of players who have progressed this far?
It’s difficult to tell from the question, but you might be implying that you have to beat the four “bonus” rank 8 bosses from 5.1 to advance to the next tier. That isn’t the case. They were intended to be very, very difficult and many have one-shot abilities that don’t even care much about your gear. Keep in mind the achievement was titled “Now You’re Just Showing Off.” Players won’t have to have defeated every 5.1 boss to move on to the new ranks, just Meatball. This is also part of the reason we added Challenge Cards. If you’re stuck on rank 5, two new tiers of bosses aren’t really exciting for you. However, there are 12 other bosses of varying rank that you can use to test your skill. Every Brawler should get something new. It would have been nice to get more PTR testing (it almost always is), but we typically don’t get as many volunteers for the smaller patches (e.g. 5.1 and 5.3) as we do for the larger ones (e.g. 5.2 and 5.4). We did catch several bugs from PTR results, and if we don’t say this enough, we are extraordinarily grateful for players who take time to participate on the various PTRs and provide us with feedback.
Regarding the last question, it is from me. I had not realized yet that the two new Brawler's Guild ranks can be accessed without defeating the 4 special bosses. The answer was interesting, so I decided to leave it like that, even though I make a fool of myself in the question
Before we finish, we remind you that there have been other interviews by other fansites for Patch 5.3.