Fewer buttons? Yes, please!

Post on optimum number of buttons in a rotation & review some classes.

With news of the stat squish, reducing our insane number inflation back down to something more reasonable, there is another area of reduction that needs attention. This area is in the inflation of the number of abilities each class has access to and uses on a regular basis. As Lore pointed out on the forums, it could be easy to remove buttons people never use, but the bigger problem is in the number of buttons people DO use.

While some people are worried that reducing the number of buttons will increase homogenization, I actually think it would do the opposite. Due to 10-man raiding for high-end content, we have increased the number of buttons so that 10-man raiders wouldn’t be missing any necessary tools to defeat the encounter. You had to defeat the hardest content in the game with only 2 healers present (meaning that every healer had to bring every tool, or they would risk getting benched). In thinking about the “ability squish”, the nature of Mythic 20-man raiding means that you can require one of each  of the 11 classes to be present for optimal raiding, and can balance the game around the idea that you would have around 5 healers likely to be present in the raid. While requiring a “frost mage” or “resto druid” specifically could be problematic, abilities available to all classes allow for more unique flavor if an ability is taken away from some of the classes that had to bring the abilities just for the 10-man content. To get more unique flavor, while having fewer overall buttons, it may be time to remove some places of redundancy.

How should ability bloat be managed? By removing unused abilities and reducing the number of redundant abilities (if two buttons do basically the same thing, one should just be removed and the other potentially improved to compensate if needed). Below are some examples of potential areas by which redundancy and unused abilities can be identified for potential removal/consolidation. While I use specific examples from druids and mages (the classes I am familiar with),

  • Remove buttons that are not used by your specialization: While healers still need to be able to do damage to things, and damage dealers still need healing/survivability tools, there is really no reason for a frost mage to have fire mage spells, or vice-versa. We could actually reduce homogenization by taking away more of the unnecessary and potentially redundant off-spec abilities from the main spec of a class. For druids, while having the ability to use moonfire in feral forms could be interesting (with the new level 100 talent), that is likely just going to increase the ability bloat without being a useful or necessary tool in the first place. Removing more unnecessary buttons in terms of reducing off-spec buttons would actually help to keep button bloat from getting out of control, and this is especially true for pure-DPS classes where these tools increase redundancy and confusion without increasing effectiveness or fun. Now that we have gotten used to the idea of split tool sets, the hard decisions of splitting more tools and increasing the unique set of abilities available to each specialization within a class absolutely needs to be done.
  • Combine mechanics that are redundant with other mechanics – There are some things that actually should be “homogenized” in terms of having two things that function the same having different names and category labels for no real good reason. An example of how this has worked well in the past is putting multiple cleanse mechanics into one dispel button (instead of one button for removing poisons and another for curses). Another example in the current expansion, Soothe is still not consolidated with other dispel mechanics. In terms of what soothe does, it seems to dispel some (but not all!) enrage effects (what’s an enrage again?). In the end, enrage is really just another name for a type of “buff that increases your damage”, and there are also lots of other different classifications of “buff that increases your damage” and so it should share the same classifications and rules of game-play as other mechanics as other buffs that increase your damage. I’d suggest removing spells like Soothe and instead changing current enrage effects to either be dispelled by other class dispels or balanced around not being dispelled. Make all boss enrages either not dispelled or magic effects. The dispels for enrage effects are an under-utilized feature in PVE (I can count on one hand the number of raid encounters where soothe was useful in the last 9 years of the game), and an obtuse and confusing mechanic in PVP. The “enrage” warrior damage increase ability and mechanics could still be called enrage in terms of the name (the way that Eclipse is the name of a moonkin buff that increases damage), but “enrage” effects that are dispelled in PVE (or even in PVP) by things like Soothe could be changed to a different classification of spell mechanics – such as magic, or just not be able to be dispelled at all. At this point, I’m not sure that Soothe even removes warrior enrage in the first place (because enrage mechanics in terms of whether dispels work or not are so poorly defined that druids can’t actually agree on what soothe does at all). Removing things like “enrage” as a spell category with its own set of dispel mechanics could allow for consolidating buttons by eliminating the need for Soothe. While warriors need a buff that increases their damage, it doesn’t have to be its own special “enrage” magic type that is set apart from other mechanics that function exactly the same (that is really just a damage buff mechanic by another name). In fact, not being able to dispel enrage-type mechanics at all would make it easier to balance what enrage mechanics do in PVP and PVE alike. There is no reason for druids to have one button that specifically dispels enrages from enemy targets and another button that cleanses magic, poison, and curses from friendly targets. Just like combining the button that dispelled different debuff categories from friendly players, Soothe is a button that doesn’t need to clog up druid bars.
  • Put the breaks on healing button wars - Now that we can balance around 20-man mythic, healers need fewer buttons that are tailored around two types of healing rotations: a set of buttons for single-target and a set of buttons for AOE healing. There is no need for three single-target direct heals that are both redundant with the other healing spells, but also are the exact same for each healing class (the original “triad” model). Instead, each class should have the single-target heals that makes the most sense and are the least redundant with their class-specific tools. For druids, removing Nourish is an obvious candidate. In terms of AOE heals, the emphasis should be on making sure that all classes have an AOE healing toolset, but that the number of actual buttons they use for AOE healing doesn’t balloon out of hand (especially since raiders are likely to use both single-target and AOE heals in raids). In some places, redundancy should be reduced to increase the unique feeling of classes, even if that means we have to give up some tools we’re used to having (but with an emphasis on removing buttons we hardly ever actually use, or contribute very little to our overall healing). If a healing spell only contributes to 5% (or less) of your total healing being done across an entire expansion, is that spell still important to have access to? The number of buttons that healers are using inside and outside of raids should be examined and should be reduced. The emphasis should be placed on reducing redundancy in healing toolkits – and undoing some of the damage caused by the 10 vs 25-man healing split.
  • Reduce redundancy and increase uniqueness of single-target damage rotations: Bring damage rotation buttons back under control. Reduce number of damage cooldown abilities for each class (especially redundant things that people could macro together if they were on the same cooldown). For example, do we have too much damage from all classes coming from DOT/bleed effects? How many simultaneous DOTs/Debuffs does each class need? Are there places (similar to removing insect swarm for moonkin) where removing abilities could make the rotation feel better? While there is a core set of roles that have to be filled by a rotation, there can be complexity without the need to constantly watch 10 different timers in some cases. At this point, we have mistaken overloading memory and attention capacities as the primary criteria by which we evaluate “interesting” damage rotations. A rotation with 4 buttons could potentially be even more fun and interesting than something with 20 buttons – in this case, more is really not always better.
  • Reduce redundancy and increase clarity of intended AOE damage rotations: With my frost mage, when multiple targets are available, I have too many possible tools that I could use to deal with those targets, leading to more confusion than fun. If there was a more clearly defined AOE strategy (rather than 10 different possible damage spells that do damage to more than 1 target), frost mages might have an easier time dealing with AOE damage. You need a spreadsheet to tell you the maximum efficiency of the damage use between: DOT/bomb (the 3 possible bomb talents you can choose before the fight), Ice Lance cleave to spread mastery damage (likely used during a DOT-cleave strategy), frost nova (Does AOE damage and freezes them in place, on a cooldown), cone of cold (does damage and slows them, on a cooldown), Blizzard (is channeled, with a slow), frozen orb (on a 1 min cooldown), arcane explosion (stand in melee and spam the instant button), and flame strike (a cast time spell to place a damage circle on the ground that ticks over time). These 10 total abilities are all incredibly redundant and you can’t use all three at the same time. Instead, the muddiness and confusion of the AOE tools means that a DOT/bomb + cleave strategy almost always ends up working out the best, with not actually using the tools we should use for AOE. In a raiding situation, I’m only likely to use 3 to 4 of these 10 possible buttons (but, all 10 buttons take up space on my bars!). So, having all of these abilities in their overlap of roles is actually more harmful than good. What is the point, for example, of a frost mage having flame strike, blizzard, and arcane explosion? Instead of three super redundant abilities, if we just had 1 of these that was clearly defined in an AOE rotation, we could actually be better balanced in our AOE damage and have a more unique feeling AOE rotation between each mage specialization. So, if Blizzard was uniquely available to frost (and frost didn’t have either arcane blast or flame strike), and was designed to fit more intuitively within the frost mage PVE rotation (potentially channeled for a shorter period of time and worked with the frost mastery or the 8 other abilities I listed above), that could allow for frost’s AOE rotation to feel more unique vs. fire or arcane (and frost mages would still have 8 total DOT/AOE/cleave abilities even if they lost two of the 10!).
  • Reduce redundancy in damage/healing/tanking cooldowns: While moonkin needed one additional damage increasing cooldown (or some way to control Eclipse better) to allow for controlling their damage output, in MOP, they were actually given up to 4 new buttons for managing damage output (up to two thru talents and two given baseline), which contributed to some redundancy and bloat in the toolset. This largely just brought moonkin in line with the cooldown wars that other classes had been participating in for a long time (because when everyone else has tons of cooldowns, moonkin needed them, too). As a frost mage, I have 4 cooldown buttons I hit to increase my damage: frozen orb, mirror images, alter time, & icy veins. Alter time is actually an ability I could live without ever using as a DPS increasing talent. While it was originally designed to add some fun utility, due to this spell’s interaction with buffs that increase our damage, this is used only as a DPS increase in raiding situations (with a huge drawback of randomly placing you in fire puddles of death). I could live without time warp and be perfectly happy with the four other abilities that increase my burst damage potential. Most frost mages actually just use mirror images, alter time, and icy veins all at the same time, so while mages would complain at the idea of losing any of them, the area of cooldown management is still an area for most classes where there is a huge amount of redundancy in the cooldown buffs we use. In general, the buffs that should be removed are ones that provide either the least amount of unique flavor, or provide the most drawbacks (in the case of alter time sometimes killing me in fires or removing heroism from me when someone else casts it at an inconvenient time) where the buff is also a huge trap that inexperienced players will have problems with.
  • Make more PVP tools not be useable in PVE (and vice versa), with better UI marking/labeling and tools for management that reduce the number of things we put on our bars: The PVP vs PVE ability wars actually end up with over-complicated PVP and PVE situations. Things like excluding long cooldowns from PVP was one area of allowing for separation in toolsets. In addition, sometimes bosses are immune to PVP mechanics. However, there are not clear markings on the abilities themselves that designate PVP vs PVE settings on the tools, and as such, we tend to clutter up our bars with both sets of tools, even when the tool on your bar isn’t going to work in the content you are currently in.  In addition, with some outdoor bosses making outdoor-only tools magically become available, or some bosses that happen to NOT be immune to the PVP mechanic tool, this “set of abilities I can’t use here, but I might use somewhere, at some point” turns into ability bloat on our bars. Even with mods that help us manage our bars, the pvp vs pve toolset becomes confusing and contributes to bar bloat. Inconsistency amongst where tools may or may not be useful leads to people throwing anything from their spell book into a bar somewhere that they can reach in the 1% chance it might be useful at some point.

While I have put in some specific examples above, this is not a complete list of what tools might be removed (especially when some abilities are contingent on other class’ abilities). However, there is still a great deal of redundancy and unnecessary confusion built into the current toolsets for each class that could be fixed to improve the unique fun and feeling of each class.

10 Comments

  1. Posted November 26, 2013 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    “While healers still need to be able to do damage to things, and damage dealers still need healing/survivability tools, there is really no reason for a frost mage to have fire mage spells, or vice-versa.”

    Except this is irrelevant since a Frost mage won’t have Fireball on their bars. Making Fireball unavailable to Frost doesn’t change anything since it’s not on a hotbar or bound regardless.

    If you have specific examples of Fire spells that Frost DOES use but you think Frost SHOULDN’T use, sure, remove those, but removing abilities which aren’t used in the first place won’t help.

    • Posted November 26, 2013 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

      There were times when I played my Mage for AoE that I would Orb/Bomb, Flame Strike, Blizzard for a large group of mobs. Don’t know if that is used much anymore but it was/is possible.

    • Lissanna
      Posted November 26, 2013 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

      Bal, I do get into the specifics for frost mages more when I talk about AOE spells (and the fact I have 10 of them). I still have fire blast on my bars because it’s in my spell book and there isn’t any way of knowing when it will or won’t be useful, so then fire blast is a frost mage spell because frost mages have it (even if using it isn’t optimal). I found a use for fire blast on Thok (because interrupts!), so I keep Fire Blast on my bars even though it contributes to less than .05% of my total damage done in actual raid situations. I also keep flame strike on my bars even though I know I probably shouldn’t use it – but what if I do need it at some point? If it is a spell available to all specializations, and it could have a use, how do I know (without doing an incredible amount of math) if I should have it on my bars or not?

      It’s really not my place to say the exact buttons that should be cut, but to highlight design decisions that contribute to having too many buttons and too many traps for new players to not understand how to play the class.

  2. Posted November 26, 2013 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    As an Enhancement Shaman I love having buttons. The more buttons, the merrier. I’m personally not concerned about homogenization so much, but I play Enhance because of the rotational complexity. It’s funny, because with the exception of Inquisition, Ret is basically a simpler Enh (substitute Holy Power for Maelstrom Weapon and done), but I detest Ret. It’s boring, with not enough to do.

    Now, that’s not to say we couldn’t do without a couple abilities. I think we could combine Earth and Frost Shock, for example, and not lose any flavor, or just remove Earth Shock entirely.

    But totems are another question entirely. Shaman have sooooo many totems–don’t get me wrong, I love all of my totems–and each of them have a niche, but it wonder if there are any totems we could slim down, combine, or remove. On the other hand, a hallmark of a great shaman is being able to effectively use those totems. I think I’m rambling at this point, so I’ll cut it short.

    Basically, Blizzard needs to tread carefully here. Trimming is fine, but radically altering the feel of classes can be dangerous if the class doesn’t need it (ala Warlocks).

    • Lissanna
      Posted November 26, 2013 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

      There are great games with deep complexity that only give you access to about 10 buttons total at a time, whereas the number of buttons I have on my frost mage’s bars is somewhere around 40 to 50. In those 40 or 50 spells on my bar, they don’t all do totally unique things. There are a couple that do really similar things, only varying a tiny bit from the button next to it. It’s those places where a class has tons of redundancy in the name of “flavor” that could be consolidated to be a heck of a lot less confusing.

  3. Daniel
    Posted November 27, 2013 at 5:33 am | Permalink

    A very obvious example are priest “situational skills”: Fade, Feather
    Whenever skills are so situational, then they can be reduced into “one skill”. The way Fade lowers your threat and at the same time the incoming damage. It already acts as an “Ouch, stop doing that” skill. Why not also reduce “falling damage and speed”, upgrading it into a “Get away and live” skill — dropping one more button for Feather. Tadaa. One button less.

    Such combined skills would allow for a more fluent gameplay. The way ferals became more fluent when their skills started to include the shapeshifts. Also hunters that get “automatic Mark”. And Dots that refresh each other. Less individual buttons, no less complexity.

    Another way to reduce the number of buttons to bind, is the “automatic follow-up skill” way of doing things. Any skill can “change into the follow-up” but “on the same key” automaticaly. Other games are doing that. Your opener does not need an extra button, if you only press it once per fight! The same key can turn into your any-timer skill after combat has started. (Many are macro’ing that anyway with [combat conditionals. And thats a good thing.)

    • Lissanna
      Posted November 27, 2013 at 9:10 am | Permalink

      They already have the ability to have one button morph into another button, since they played with this technology with moonkin.

  4. R
    Posted November 27, 2013 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    I like the way you’ve approached this analysis. Expanding on a few ideas I had while reading it…

    The main focus I’d like them to have is to continue removing reasons to bring one class over another… I’m not looking for all classes to play the same, but make the the class differences more based on flavour rather than mechanics. Also, I’d like to see some simplification of the decision-making process about what rotation to use for what scenario.

    They’ve already done some paring down of abilities based on spec, I recall my shadow priest having a lot more healing buttons in years past than he does today. Ditto for my boomkin. They’ve already made some nice progress in that area but they can push further.

    For instance, shammy healers can interrupt… makes no sense for them to have that ability, they should generally be focused on their own team, not on hostile mobs. Leave interrupting to the dps and tanks, so maybe lose that

    Warriors have at least 3 standard buttons to move around… charge, intervene and heroic leap, if not others. Wouldn’t it be simpler to allow charge to work like intervene if a friendly is targeted (I have a macro that does this but why not make it baseline?) and just give it another charge to compensate? Is HL really a necessary ability? I don’t see warriors using it often as long as they have charge available.

    Classes with multiple 3m cooldowns seem ripe for cutting back… who doesn’t just macro them together as long as none or only one are on the GCD? Is there ever a case where stacking them isn’t the best idea? Just integrate the abilities into one button.

    Related to that are classes with a mix of 3m and 2m cooldown buttons… which probably also get macroed together except the 2m ability will have to be pressed by itself occasionally. Not exactly compelling gameplay.

    I’m with you regarding soothe (and rogue’s shiv)… I can recall exactly one time where that ability was USEFUL… some of the dragon trash late in the BWD (?) raid would enrage and actually start doing some significant damage. Raids without a druid or rogue managed to get past it regardless, though, so that isn’t a compelling button, at least from a PvE perspective. If it’s only useful in PvP why not include that functionality automatically with some other ability? Shiv actually does that, the button does a bit of damage and it applies a buffed version of the non-lethal poison (I believe it’s a 10% self-heal the way I have my rogue set up right now). Soothe could be integrated into something else the same way.

    I think most or all classes have examples of this type. Why do frost mages even have ACCESS to flame strike and arcane explosion? How about removing those and making blizzard a button worth actually pushing for 4+ targets? Bomb ‘em up and use blizzard until it’s time to re-bomb. THAT’s a decent AoE rotation. Is cone of cold useful for anything other than an AoE slow (PvP)? Blizzard can be used for that. Make frost nova a CC-only ability, lose the damage. Plus, FN in group content usually just results in stuck mobs attacking healers or other ranged in melee range, I don’t see many mages being conscious of mob positioning when they freeze them in place.

    Why do destro warlocks have fel flame?

    When was the last time an elemental shaman used Earthquake (and that’s a SPEC-SPECIFIC ability no less, it’s not like it’s more useful to other specs, they’re the only ones who get it). And did they ever fix the pancake issue from the early days when it appeared above the ground? Pretty sure I haven’t used it since then. When an ability is only a dps increase for 15+ mobs is it really serving a viable niche? Icy Veins doesn’t even MENTION it in their AoE rotation discussion, that alone should make it cut bait. Chain Lightning is plenty as the primary AoE ability for elemental shammies.

    Do paladins really need entirely separate CS/TV and HotR/DS rotations for AoE PLUS a switch to SoR at higher numbers of mobs… why not just make SoR a toggle that turns CS and TV into HotR and DS as well as providing its own effect? Combat rogues have something somewhat similar with blade flurry (turns single-target abilities into multi-target versions, basically), no reason it can’t be used here as well, although they also have different single-target and AoE buttons, they can be folded together similarly, especially since they already have BF. Fan of knives and crimson tempest are almost never worth using for a combat rogue, get rid of ‘em, just have BF scale up to a few more mobs to compensate for very high number of add moments.

    Resto shammies have healing rain and healing stream totem… since HST is iconic and would be missed, just rename HR as HST and put a totem down at the target location when casting it. Simple.

    Etc. So many examples.

    @Daniel Yeah, as Lissanna mentioned, that tech is already well integrated into the game and has been for a while now. Boomkins (with Moonfire turning into Sunfire when under solar eclipse, IIRC, I think that was the original implementation) but a lot of classes have it now when single buttons change based on spec… rogues, for instance, when eviscerate turns into envenom if you spec assassination (if evis was on your bar, it now becomes env (and I believe the tooltip actually mentions “Replaces Eviscerate”)). I’d be good with more of that type of thing, though, as mentioned above. In my pally example, have a two-part tooltip: “If using Seal of Truth does this, if using Seal of Righteousness does this”. Seems simple enough, you still have basically the same abilities, just using fewer buttons. Flavour without the bloat.

  5. Nathyiel
    Posted November 28, 2013 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    I totally agree.

    In fact, I was regularly referring to you’re previous post about the number of ability.

  6. Daniel
    Posted December 22, 2013 at 10:50 pm | Permalink

    The one aspect of this discussion your post over looks is the reason for ability bloat in the first place–the demand for novelty. Blizzard believes it has to keep giving players new tools to fend off the claim that either the class or the game as a whole is “boring” or “getting stale”. So while reducing ability bloat might be a good thing in the short run, one should not feel any confidence that Blizzard will be able to hold the line. As soon as they cut them, they will be under pressure to add new abilities back into the game again resulting in a vicious cycle. Perhaps some will find that cycle “fun”. I think not.