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The Warrior’s Charge: Stances and hybridization in Legion

The Legion alpha is trucking along and we have a release date for the expansion (about four months from now) so it’s time to start talking turkey on where the specs are, where the class is, and where it’s going. As of right now my impressions on each spec are as follows:

Protection’s rage generation is better, to the point where I almost don’t complain about it when I play the spec. I definitely feel like it needs both a survivability boost and a DPS boost to be a viable tank spec, and doubly so if we’re expected to level from 100 to 110 on it. (With Artifact catch up mechanisms going live, that’s not as mandatory as it was, but it’s still important.) As for Arms and Fury, we’ll talk about them below.

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What is our class fantasy?

Fury still feels fast paced and fun to play. There’s a lot of flexibility in how you can choose to almost design your Fury spec — do you want Raging Blow to be a reliable attack instead of a proc? Or would you rather build an AOE focused monster who will blow everything up on trash pulls and add fights? Or are you interested in making synergy between Execute and Rampage? These are all possible (and not entirely mutually exclusive) design choices you can make. Right now I think Fury has the best combination of survival and damage output of the two DPS specs.

Arms interacts best with the PVP talents, has solid damage (as best as I can tell before the damage pass, anyway) and a pretty solid specialization identity. Arms feels less like the brutal berserker and more like a dedicated armsman, which is exactly how it should feel, and with Slam made baseline the rotation feels a lot more dependable. Arms and Protection share Second Wind right now, which means they have a lot more healing outside of combat than Fury does, but Arms suffers during combat. I’ve found myself resorting to a Shockwave/Heroic Leap/Run away kiting strategy sometimes just to get healed back up while playing Arms, assuming you take that talent.

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Do stances contribute or hold us back?

What all three specs lack, now that stances are gone, is the feeling of being a hybrid. Recently Arms and Fury got Taunt back — it had been taken away from them in a previous build — and that’s all to the good, but don’t be fooled. Neither DPS spec is in any way a viable offtank. The progression of Warrior design since Vanilla has moved steadily away from the days when a Warrior could be specced 31 points in Arms and still tank every boss in the game. It’s now at a place where non-Protection specs might be able to snag a boss until a tank is resurrected, but they don’t even have a threat generation stance to hold him with.

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I should stress that I don’t feel that the class design at present is bad. It’s actually shaping up to be pretty solidly robust for each spec. But a good design can still miss a few targets, and one of the emphasis points for Legion is “class fantasy” — getting back to the heart of what makes each class unique and cool. That’s an admirable goal. I support it. And I think it’s hard to argue that Warrior Stances haven’t been a part of that class fantasy for twelve years now. Can they be done away with? Yes, absolutely. But should they?

My answer so far is a resounding maybe. I understand the intent. I definitely think the loss of Gladiator’s Resolve and the move away from the flexibility of the Warrior isn’t to my taste, and that it takes a certain special essential quality away from the class, namely that it is a hybrid that can perform two roles. Losing Defensive Stance, for example — I realize Arms gets a version of it, but it’s really just a button you hit when you want to take less damage for them, not a true stance — it adds no threat even as it lowers your damage output, so it’ll actually hurt your threat generation to use it. If you’re trying to clutch tank until the real tank can get up or save a healer with it, you’ll fail all the quicker.

I’m not going so far as to say “bring stances back” yet. For one thing, I was the guy who pretty solidly rejected the appeal to tradition when we lost Heroic Strike, and I’m not sure it’s the warranted move here. What I want to see preserved is the Warrior ability to do some of the other role while sitting in a dedicated spec, the flexibility that we’re always told we have to pay a tax to keep. Honestly, with Legion I feel like the last nail has been driven into the hybrid tax concept’s coffin. If your spec essentially isn’t a hybrid, and you have to switch specializations entirely in order to perform the other role (as well as then gather Artifact Power over the course of weeks to actually perform in that role) then there essentially isn’t any hybridization outside of the most limited form.

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Our future in Legion

With specializations as they currently are, everyone is essentially playing a character who can be one of three classes. Druids can be four, and Demon Hunters can only be two, but the basic concept is there — the only hybridization left is the choice of what spec you pick and what it does in combat. Warriors in Warlords are truly hybridized. A Protection Warrior can make talent choices to be a DPS player. Both DPS specs can slap on a shield and go Defensive Stance and hold a boss. But with the removal of cooldowns, stances, and even any form of increased threat generation, this is no longer the case. The return of Taunt to Arms and Fury is basically a bit of genuflection towards the idea of class hybridization. It doesn’t actually achieve it.

Perhaps that’s for the best — we have to ask two questions, the first being is being both a tank and a DPS part of the Warrior class fantasy and then how do we best achieve that? If the first answer is yes (and I’d argue it is) that doesn’t necessarily mean that the second answer is with stance switching and the ability to offtank in a pinch. Perhaps Warriors being able to switch roles by swapping talents is good enough. Perhaps the full depth of current offtank/Prot DPSing needs to be sacrificed for a more coherent vision of what each spec is and how it does it. But to my mind, that remains an open question.

And we’ve got four months or so to settle the issue. Legion is on its way.

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