website tracking
Cataclysm Beta: Existential Threat on Game and Player

Cataclysm Beta: Existential Threat

Michael Ubaldi  //  September 16, 2010

Is weakening tanks the answer to the Wrath playstyle?


anking — interposing one's character between his party and wicked, fanged, probable death — is a role I so enjoy in World of Warcraft that I've continued to run five-man dungeons on my warrior long after material rewards have lost their value.

I revel in the challenge of the Protection warrior spec. Nothing about holding aggro on multiple NPCs is automated: alongside well-geared damaging-dealing players (DPS), only an aggregate of abilities, as well as quickly alternating targets to apply single-target attacks, will maintain control of a group.

Group control wasn't always an expectation — or a necessity. But 2008's Wrath of the Lich King expansion introduced larger and larger groups of enemies in dungeons, equipping no less than four classes with area-of-effect (AoE) spells and abilities to keep pressure on monsters and keep monsters off friends.

Cataclysm, Blizzard has declared, will bring an end to Wrath of the Lich King's carpet-bombing zeitgeist.Most of the enemies lacked powers to make it foolhardy to gather them up. This playstyle, like a beat-'em-up exalting the fantasy equivalent of helicopter fists, culminated in Icecrown Citadel where groups of 10 or 25 players would corral swarms of undead minions and indiscriminately mow them down. Crowd-control — polymorphing, stunning — fell out of favor to the point where, today, it's gauche; excessive. DPS players don't wait long for a tank to pick up enemies — and for the most part, tanks don't need the deliberation.

Cataclysm, Blizzard has declared, will bring an end to Wrath's carpet-bombing zeitgeist. "If you tanked pre-[Wrath]," lead systems designer Greg Street told the community in July, "maintaining threat as a tank was a pretty big deal. . . . We lost that a little in [Wrath]." Group pulls? Difficult and inadvisable: the aggro of two enemies can feasibly be held, but any more will be drawn to threat from DPS and healers. Careful pulls, complemented with crowd-control, will become the norm.

Blizzard's goal is something of a fait accompli on Cataclysm beta servers: tanks' curtailed threat is now generated more slowly, in part an intentional function of a new — and useful — scaling mechanic called "Vengeance" but also the occupational hazard of tentative and disproportionate output figures. Anyone expecting similar handling is in for a surprise.

When class changes went live on test servers this week, conversations turned to the atavistic qualities of facing monsters that can't simply be collected into a huddle.I've tanked about ten dungeons since early July; those of us in the beta have become accustomed, if not sympathetic, to the changes. When class changes for the expansion went live on test servers this week, tank players reacted strongly to their sudden loss of authority — but conversations quickly turned to anticipation for the atavistic qualities of facing monsters that can't simply be collected into a huddle. In World of Warcraft's original release, players were admonished to wait sixty seconds before opening up on the dragon Onyxia. I recently watched a video of a five-man group conquering The Burning Crusade dungeon Shattered Halls. On a boss pull, the Elemental shaman whose player recorded the clip waited three seconds before casting the power-burst spell Heroism; then cast a healing spell on the tank; finally attacking the boss only after ten seconds had passed. Such discretion is unheard of in today's game.

"Back to BC," is one catchphrase. The rationale is that if impetuous players draw attention away from the tank, they're likely to endanger the entire party, evoke principles of self-interest, and be chastened. "DPS will learn to wait and use crowd-control," goes the other phrase.

If I have no choice in the matter of tank threat, I would like this to be so. I wish it were so now; but it isn't. Other players in the beta haven't all shared my experiences, but I have seen more players resist the new playstyle, disregard my character's need for additional time to build threat, and proceed as if they have for the last several months — resulting in ineffectual, discouraging tanking as I desperately try to contain a throng of monsters on the loose. A few days ago I finished the worst run endured since I began playing the game. The DPS wouldn't wait. They wouldn't focus on my target. Sometimes, they'd simply attack a monster and begin combat. Notably, their recklessness didn't once result in the party's wipe — the healer kept everyone alive, thus teaching them nothing and instead simply marginalizing me.

How likely are players to run roughshod over a tank in a guild raid? Nil — offenders would be benched immediately. But how much of Warcraft's endgame content requires formal organization? Technically, none of it; pickup groups can feasibly defeat the most formidable boss. Blizzard has institutionalized readily crawling five-man dungeons with strangers with its matchmaking-style Looking for Dungeon system. But matchmaking is as noncommittal as it sounds. How likely is misbehavior there? Well, consider the matter of motivation.

Blizzard has two solutions. The first is to lower tank threat. The second is to introduce mechanics in key encounters that can't be overcome through impervious tank threat.Blizzard has two solutions to the tedium of Wrath of the Lich King. The first is to lower tank threat. The second is to introduce mechanics in key encounters that can't be overcome through impervious tank threat. (Group pulls encouraging AoE, after all, aren't being entirely removed from the game — why make those unmanageable?)

Return to my recent disaster. I marked targets and, midway through the run, insisted that the DPS give me a few moments. By virtue of their actions, they refused — and the party might have wiped from the resulting chaos. It didn't. What motivation would they have, thenceforth, to hold back? None. But, see, the final encounter in the dungeon requires one or two players to get the boss' adjutants to chase them, shunting a disruptive energy away from the boss and the tank. What if players had refused then, desiring to blast away at the boss? The party would have wiped; no question. What did they do? What I asked them to.

One step further: what difference would it have made in that encounter had my character boasted the comparatively high threat of Wrath? Absolutely none.

Blizzard looks at Warcraft's dominant player base and sees complacency. Not inaccurate. The developers wish to improve their game by prodding their subscribers into smarter, disciplined play. Not misguided. But the least common denominator of impatient, uncooperative players lies far below sportsmanship. They won't take it easy just because doing otherwise will inconvenience others. In narrowing the purview of the tank through a reduction of that role's essential power, while coming up short in limitations of or penalties for misbehavior, Blizzard risks effecting precisely the opposite of what it intends for a sizable portion of content. The developers could entitle headlong players, whose rash style would force tanks to use the very tools they, come Cataclysm, lacked.

Articles by Michael Ubaldi

July 1, 2011

February 12, 2011

G&P Latest

July 1, 2011

June 28, 2011

About  //  Editors  //  Contributors  //  Terms of Use