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The Warrior’s Charge: Tanking Design in the Legion beta

I’m writing this column purely from a Warrior standpoint, and purely as someone who has tanked on a Warrior and Death Knight. I will say that so far I prefer DK tanking in Legion to Warrior tanking. That doesn’t mean either of them are where they should be, but DK definitely feels stronger.

As of right now, the basics of tanking haven’t changed all that much. You generate resources with your threat tools and use them for survival. The active mitigation model doesn’t feel very different: if you’ve done it in Warlords you’ll grasp the basics very quickly. But after a discussion with other tank players, I’ve come to the following conclusions about how Warrior tanking feels in Legion as of the time I’m writing this.

First, active mitigation no longer feels powerful.

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Over-dependence replaces self-reliance

Essentially, from my own observations and from what others are telling me, Shield Block and Ignore Pain are up a lot — as much as they possibly could be — and they don’t feel like powerful tools to mitigate damage. They feel like necessities to just barely stay alive before a heal lands. Blizzard Watch’s own A.K. Hamid and I had a long discussion about this, and I’m willing to accept that all tanks have this problem, but it’s very bad for Warriors. Part of the problem here is that rage generation has been tied to damage taken for Protection, but it’s simply not generous enough. Even with buffs to how much rage your Shield Slam and Revenge generate, you’ll need to be basically almost dead before you get enough rage to really hit your mitigation options and when you do they don’t mitigate enough to save you.

I understand that this is part of the design decision to emphasize healing more and make healers feel like they’re doing something, but it ends up leaving you feeling less like a tank and more like a prop, to be held up entirely at the healer’s discretion. Now, I’ve been tanking for years. I’m well aware that a skilled tank can do quite a bit to not die. A skilled Warrior tank can Heroic Leap or Intercept away to give the healer time to land a heal, can use Shield Wall and Last Stand in addition to AM abilities. All of that is true. But they’re all weaker and/or can be used less often in Legion, and with rage a lot harder to come by you’re desperately pounding on abilities hoping to get enough to save your life.

Should tanks need healers? Of course they should. I wouldn’t argue otherwise. But for Warriors at least, a skilled tank can easily blow through every survival option and still end up dead because none of them really work as well as they should, and that I don’t see as good design. What ends up happening is, instead of AM abilities feeling meaningful, they feel like they have to be up or you’re dead.

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You are special just like everyone else

That, in a nutshell, is the real difficulty here. Active mitigation doesn’t feel special or important, it doesn’t feel like something you use with skill at a key moment. It feels like it has to be up as much as possible, and that’s not a compelling design in my opinion.

The second problem I have with Protection as a tanking design is that it lacks anything special or cool or unique. Warriors started World of Warcraft as the tank everyone else compared themselves to, and now we’re in the middle of adding our fifth tank class. This one can best be described as ‘Warlocks on sterioids’ — Havoc Demon Hunters are just as mobile as Warriors are, joining Monks in usurping that role from Warriors, and since we’ve already lost so much class identity to Paladins and Death Knights, we end up feeling like vanilla tanks waddling along doing the job but without the panache and flavor other classes bring. We’ve seen Banners come and go, we’ve been stripped of some of our most iconic abilities, and the big add from Warlords, Gladiator Stance, died along with Warrior stances. The class fantasy for Protection should be the Gladiator, it should be the bruiser with their shield as much a weapon as their sword or axe or spear — and if you’ve seen 300, you know we should have the ability to use polearms as tanking weapons.

The lack of sufficient rage generation (it’s improved, but it’s not there yet) and the lack of things to use it on outside of mitigation (because you won’t really have enough for anything else) means that the shift away from Heroic Strike to the new Focused Rage mechanic doesn’t feel as meaningful as Blizzard hopes, in my opinion. For one thing, Focused Rage is a button you push to buff another button you push, while Heroic Strike (despite its flaws) was an actual attack that made the use of rage more of a choice — do I  burn rage on mitigation or do I bleed it off with several non-Global attacks?

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I think there’s room to improve. The talent choices are about 50% compelling — I’m a sucker for Heavy Repercussions, and I like how it makes Shield Slam buff Shield Block and vice versa. Perhaps Ignore Pain could actually have an attack component? Or make Devastate reduce the damage a target inflicts by 5% for 10 seconds, something that directly rewards you for using it while actually doing something?

I don’t think all hope is lost or that Warriors are utterly broken on beta, but I do feel like they come off as both fragile and less than effective at hurting anyone. There needs to be some work done to give them back the feeling of a tank — a big, armored, dangerous thing. No 0ne should see a tank coming and say “well, that’ll be easy to deal with” in my opinion.

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