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Swing Hard,  Sweet Champion on Game and Player

Swing Hard,  Sweet Champion

Michael Ubaldi  //  January 25, 2010

WoW's protection warrior is due a damage increase.


ear with me as I brainstorm in mostly jargon.

The warrior — seen in legend as Sigurd, Bran the Blessed, Cuchulainn — holds a longstanding place in Blizzard Entertainment's World of Warcraft. For the first few years after the MMO's release, the sword-and-shield variety of this class was the first, and some might argue only, choice for the dungeon-crawling vanguard position of "tank." Mages invoke, priests heal, rogues stalk; the tank stands between them and the enemy, seizing the attention of any monster at hand.

Until the end of WoW's first expansion, The Burning Crusade, neither the paladin nor the druid could catch arrows, quarrels, caltrops, axes and bad intentions better when serving as the colorfully celebrated "meat shield." With the November 2008 release of Wrath of the Lich King, a fourth class for tanking — the saturnine death knights — joined the stable. Fifteen months and four tiers of epic weapons and armor later, a confluence of playstyle, content, and readjustments from Blizzard's design team leaves the quartet in four distinct places.

Warriors do not lead in a single major category. They trail druids and paladins in terms of hardiness, or effective health — the ability to block, evade or simply withstand damage. Paladins and death knights, with unique, persistent area-of-effect abilities, can gather and hold groups of enemies more easily than druids and warriors. And every other class can mete out more damage per second (DPS) than a comparably geared warrior by at least 20 percent.

This last metric of inferiority, once a matter of player debate, is now one of policy. Greg "Ghostcrawler" Street, Blizzard's lead systems designer, announced a tune-up of warrior damage; intended to accompany a few curtailments of the class seeing overuse in player-versus-player matches. The warrior's settling to the bottom has been gradual and inconspicuous. But Festergut, a particularly challenging, timed boss in the new Icecrown Citadel raid instance, has some players fingering the class for failing to beat the clock.

While I don't have much sympathy for arguments that protection warrior DPS prevents raids from beating progression content — for the simple fact that appropriately geared guilds with warrior tanks are succeeding — I acknowledge that the warrior's damage ranks a distant fourth. Aside from the exploitation of certain combinations of gear and abilities in player-versus-player contests, there is little justification for it; nor an explanation beyond emergent mechanics over the course of this expansion.

It may not be possible to make up for the disparity before the release of Cataclysm, the expansion which is all but a sequel. Still, I have a few suggestions. They can be picked and chosen; no need to apply them all.

Remove the 5% damage reduction of defensive stance. Symmetry to the balanced battle stance and headstrong berserker stance looks attractive on paper and seems to function properly in level ranges up to 65 or so, but the penalty serves no good purpose in endgame player-versus-environment encounters; especially in contrast to the powerful damage modifiers of the other stances practically unavailable to a protection warrior. This is the single, most direct method for increasing sustained DPS.

Revitalize the Revenge ability. Something is wrong when a substantial minority of warrior players passes over the two-point talent investment for a fundamental ability. Ghostcrawler believes only an "enormous" boost would noticeably contribute. Make it enormous, then. Increase the damage multiplier of Improved Revenge three-, four- or fivefold. Or consider reducing the ability's cooldown. Revenge rewards successful blocking or evasion — a riposte by any other name, it is essential to the shield-cradling portrait of the game's traditional tank. It should figure much higher in DPS breakdowns.

Increase the scale of One-Handed Weapon Specialization to 1/3/6/9/12%. Currently, the fully invested talent increases damage by 10 percent. Is that modifier calculated; or round, and perhaps a little arbitrary? Twelve percent, a twenty percent increase, is a bit less arbitrary — and like removing the damage penalty for defensive stance, raises protection warrior DPS as evenly as possible.

Widen the arc of Cleave permanently. The Glyph of Cleaving allows warriors to strike three, rather than two, enemies with the wide-arc slashing ability Cleave. In the past, Blizzard developers have admitted that glyphs often provide a usefully tentative means of testing new or augmented abilities. Is the Glyph of Cleaving is a successful trial balloon? Say it is: remove it from the game and incorporate the extra target into the Cleave baseline.

What will Blizzard do? We don't know exactly, although Ghostcrawler intimated that a single-target ability here or there should be hitting harder. Leave it to the developers: few companies as valuable as this one speak directly, let alone adumbrate, in front of players. There are classes to balance, customers to keep happy, and an iron-plated legacy to preserve.

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