The hard choices: When to cut abilities people love?

Blizzard has a problem. They have been adding abilities to World of Warcraft for the last 10 years. Some of those abilities work great (see: Lifebloom in Burning Crusade becoming druids’ primary healing spell), and some of them cause more problems than they solved (See: Starfall pulling all the things, all the time, even when every patch says they fixed it, and isn’t even the AOE spell it used to be). Blizzard decided that for the WOD expansion, they want to trim back some of the button bloat, and get back to something a little more streamlined. This means that if Blizzard does their button bloat fixing, you will have fewer buttons in WOD than you did in MOP. This means that some button you loved is going away, and is probably not being replaced by a new button. (See: the old Ten Ton Hammer for an explanation of ability bloat & why Blizzard is looking to fix it).

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This is the tough question. There are people who truly love every spell, no matter how terrible it actually is. There was a response to this tweet from someone talking about how much they missed “Thorns” (a druid spell that reflected damage back when you hit the druid with melee attacks). However, most everyone also agrees that there is a certain amount of “button bloat” that needs to go. Blizzard has argued that the way to fix button bloat, however, isn’t just to just cut out the buttons no one uses.

In fact, I think people will argue that they do use Soothe (druid ability that dispels enrage effects), even if they haven’t used it for an entire expansion. You could argue that we should keep Soothe because we might sometimes need to use it if they happen to put a boss in an encounter that we need to Soothe. Still, though, if they removed Soothe, they would need to change how enrage mechanics work and streamline the buff/debuff/dispell system more generally. So, they wouldn’t be able to put in an encounter that required Soothe if the button no longer existed (thus, arguments for keeping soothe are really circular – because the game can be balanced either way around the abilities we have, or don’t have).

Cutting the buttons people love

If we can’t just cut spells people use once a year, what can we cut from rotations people use every day that people will learn to live without?

In terms of spells that could be removed, the player base has to be willing to accept that some of Blizzard’s spell experimentations didn’t work, that Blizzard added too many spells to the game, and that creating the illusion of choice and interesting PVE rotations isn’t about who can balance a plate on their head while jumping up and down and repeating the alphabet backwards. Somewhere, Blizzard has to make the hard choices and cut spells that we use every day, but could easily live without.

For example, Blizzard had to remove Insect Swarm from moonkin because it caused more balancing issues than the spell was worth. The best places to cut are things like the removal of Insect Swarm that never really worked well with Eclipse in Cataclysm, and just cause more problems than was worth fixing. Plenty of people loved Insect Swarm, but we learned to live without it, and it turned out that moonkin were just as fun without insect swarm. All the petitions in the world to save Insect Swarm wouldn’t make it work with the new moonkin rotation – it still always left Eclipse out of balance, and was better for the game to be removed. There weren’t any really solid arguments for keeping insect swarm, and thus it was better for moonkin that the button was taken away.

In a previous post, I suggested the best places to remove buttons would be in reducing redundancy. In addition, I suggested making some buttons only for PVP and others only for PVE in a way that was much more distinct than previous expansions. In the case of Alter Time, it is a perfect example of a spell that could work better as PVP-only (providing only utility, without any interactions with our main DPS spells, procs, trinkets, heroism other damage buffs in our primary raiding rotations), rather than working in both PVP and PVE. It would remove a PVE rotational button while still technically preserving the original utility design.

Places where it makes the most sense to remove abilities are places where there is redundancy (in the case of any class that has a bunch of DPS cooldowns that all largely get macro’d together). Yes, all the classes “love” all of the DPS cooldowns that get macro’d together, but they won’t hate their class if they have one less thing bound to the macro. So, places where things get macro’d together are good places to cut buttons, because this largely starts to reach the point of the actual definition of “clunky” (having to hit X number of buttons before doing Y) if people don’t have them macro’d together. There are plenty of these examples for every class, but even if people love the cooldowns, it would be really an easy place to cut and streamline abilities from player rotations.

People often mistake poorly implemented mechanics for “flavor”, but if Blizzard is looking to reduce the number of buttons we use, it would be in Blizzard’s best interest to remove the most poorly implemented mechanics instead of trying to make the mechanics work. This is also why they should probably remove some of the crowd control buttons in PVP, however, to give players back their sense of control.

This is also why the mage level 90 talents need to go. Rune of Power is another ability that requires the mage to stand still and takes away control from the player. Having to risk death to your character just to do equal damage to the other people in your raids means you are a liability, not an asset, to your team. Rune of power isn’t worth saving or fixing – it would be better to just cut it (and the rest of the level 90 talents) and start over again with new level 90 talents. Yes, some people “love” the level 90 talents, but that isn’t reason enough to save failing mechanics.

Thus, for PVE reasons, Alter Time is really a poorly implemented, hard to balance, and redundant cooldowwn that feels like it has unique flavor, but that “flavor” is just in the form of being able to randomly kill you – and becomes my primary example of DPS cooldowns that aren’t really needed (Even if lots of people “love” the spell). Random deaths that are largely out of your control, however, do not add any actual fun to the game. Just like having starfall aggro all the mobs in the zone doesn’t actually add any fun to the game (I think Starfall is another good candidate for the “this never worked right anyway” chopping block, to be honest).

Random PVE deaths aren’t particularly fun, and they can really let down your team. An ability that essentially randomly causes you to explode is fun for an expansion or two, but isn’t really unique “flavor” that makes a class fun (and while I originally suggested that living bomb should require the mage to explode and come back in the form of a Phoenix, there’s a good reason why that joke suggestion was never implemented). So, when I joke about wanting “alter time” to die in a fire, this is mostly because of the number of times it has caused me to get sucked back into randomly spawning fires I just moved out of, and the feeling that every time I use Alter Time, the spell is essentially taking away my ability to truly control my own character’s movement for the next 6 seconds.

If I have to give up a button, I would rather give up this button that doesn’t work right than ones I think are actually well designed for current-day content. When we got to actually stand still in raids, being rooted to the ground for 6 seconds wasn’t a problem, but with more and more running in actual circles happening in raids, abilities that take away our sense of control are good places for Blizzard to cull because they start to be incompatible with how encounters are designed. Even though some people love spells that root players to the ground, the game isn’t about who can stand still and nuke Patchwerk to death the fastest. Encounters are now designed to make you jump through hoops (literally in the case of Firelands), and having to balance plates on your head (and having you die any time you drop the plate) while you jump through the hoops really isn’t what this game should be about.

Would it be possible to fix spells like Alter Time and Starfall rather than cutting them? Yes, absolutely. However, the primary goal of reducing button bloat is the goal is to cut spells – and the best place to cut spells is to cut what isn’t quite working as intended so you can focus on making the actually more functional spells work better. In many cases, buttons that could be cut are buttons we asked for in the first place, but we have to be willing to let go of something, or there will never be any fixes to the button bloat. In some cases, I’m being particularly antagonistic just because I want people to think more about what buttons would be the best to chop, not just about why X spell should be kept – but what button would you give up instead to be able to keep X spell? In picking on spells people love, but could live without, my point is to get people to think more critically about the seriousness of the consequences of Blizzard’s attempts to reduce button bloat.

The point I’m trying to make is less about any individual spell, however, and more about the fact that Blizzard has to make hard choices. In the end, we can all make suggestions of things we love and couldn’t live without, or things we hate and wish would go away. If I have to give up buttons, I would rather give up buttons that take away my sense of control over my character, are redundant with other buttons, or serve no real purpose other than providing a sense of “flavor” without any real meat behind it.

Are those buttons also things that people love? Yes, but the fact that people love every single ability in the game isn’t reason to avoid fixing the problem of button bloat. It sucks to lose spells that you love, but we can’t fix button bloat if we don’t cut spells that people love. You can learn to love your class again even if you have fewer buttons.

Just a little boost… to 90

The recent Warlords of Draenor “scouting report” gave us an update on how the level 90 boosts would work. To recap:

  • If you order your digital version through Blizzard, you get your free 90 boost right away.
  • If you buy a boxed copy, then, you would get the level 90 boost when you added the code to your account.
  • You may be able to buy additional level 90 boosts from Blizzard later on.

In general, I support the idea of level 90 boosts. A bit of background: I have been playing since early Vanilla, I’m currently a recruitment officer in my guild (we’re still looking for ranged DPS!), and I re-rolled a mage last expansion because I got bored with my druid. I came up with several important observations relevant to why the level 90 boosts aren’t that big of a problem for me:

  • Most current players will boost up alts to try out, without having to invest in re-leveling through content they may already be bored with. Right now, my alts tend to die off somewhere in Burning Crusade content because I just really don’t enjoy leveling through all that old content anymore. It doesn’t impact anyone else if I pick up a new alt just to try it out, without having to level 90 levels to figure out I didn’t really like it.
  • People will still choose to level new characters when their time is worth more than their money. Most people won’t pay for a second free level 90 boost because it won’t really be necessary to have tons of level 90s next expansion (you still have to get them to 100!).
  • Attracting new or returning players to the game is beneficial for everyone. WOW could use a subscription boost, but people coming back to face a giant wall of content they don’t want to do will make it harder to keep our current guilds full and healthy.
  • Leveling 1 to 89 tells you almost nothing about how to play your class at max-level. Very few people level up to 90 and then consider their time playing the game over. This is usually when people feel like they start playing the real game. When you are recruiting, you’ll be able to see how much relevant experience a player has, anyway – so you’ll want to see sufficient progress after they ding 90 to prove they know what they are doing.
  • Giving people free 90s before the expansion comes allows people to have something to focus on while we’re all bored waiting for new content. Getting to play around with a new class can be fun and keep people active in the short-term.

The change, however, makes me think that the time of needing my druid leveling guide (that was started back in 2006) may soon be over. If most people are boosting characters to 90, they may not need guides that focus on the early playing experiences, and end-game guides may end up being sufficient to teach people the basics they need to know.

In conclusion, getting people caught up faster to everyone else is beneficial to the health of a nearly 10 year old game. So, the benefits of level 90 boosts outweigh any potential negatives. I am looking forward to having a level 90 warlock I can play around with. Maybe I’ll even like it better than my mage. What class are you going to boost to 90?

Raiding in the New Year!

Welcome to 2014! The last year has been a great year for my guild. We have been progressing in raids faster than any other tier, and our 25-man raid has reached 8/14 HM. I’m also having a lot of fun as a frost mage, and I really love the guild family. I enjoy spending my time in Azeroth with my guild, Undying Resolution.

As we move into the new year, we should hopefully see the beta for WOD start up “soon”. In preparing for the wait for mythic raiding, however, we are still working on making further heroic progress in Siege.

As the guild recruitment officer, it is my job to keep our raids happy and full of awesome people. Right now, our guild is looking to fill healing and ranged DPS spots for SoO and future WOD raiding. We have openings for:

  • Healers of any class, but we are especially interested in a holy priest or restoration druid.
  • Ranged DPS, especially moonkin, shadow priests, or elemental shaman.
  • It would be especially awesome if we could find a hybrid healer/DPS who may be able to swap seamlessly between roles in the transition between running 25-man normal-modes and the 20-man mythic raids.

We are raiding 25-mans on Wed/Thurs/Sun from 8 to 11 PM, Eastern time, on the Elune-US(Alliance) server. It is pretty rare for us to have healing spots open, so if you have been looking for a new heroic-mode guild that raids on a fairly relaxed (3 day) schedule, please talk to us soon! Our guild is almost always looking for ranged DPS, though we don’t have any melee or tank openings at the current time. You can see more about our guild and apply on our forums at: http://www.undyingresolution.com/

As always, if you have questions about my guild, or about anything else, you can contact me on twitter @restokin

Happy new year! Can’t out deeps that boomkin! Ember Isolte’s “Moonkin” parody song is slightly outdated, but I swear she sings “crit chicken,” not “carrot chicken”!!!

Happy Holidays!

I hope everyone has a happy holiday season! Merry Christmas and happy Winter’s Veil! I hope your gently shaken gifts bring you all that your heart desires! Lets just hope that you were on Santa’s nice list, and not on his naughty list this year!

Lets also hope that Blizzard brings us a new World of Warcraft expansion soon!