Tanking and Healing changes in the Legion alpha
If you’re paying attention to the Legion alpha, you probably already know that there have been some changes to how Active Mitigation tanking works. Essentially, the design’s being tweaked to reduce AM ability uptime. And the reason for that is simple enough, because tanking ability and dungeon/raid damage output are essentially forever locked in an arms race. If tanks mitigate almost everything, then encounters get burstier and burstier to try and overcome that mitigation, which ends up with everything in the encounter — and on the way to it — hitting harder. As tanks have gotten better over the course of Warlords of Draenor, it’s become the case that defensive cooldowns and active mitigation means that healers don’t really have to heal tanks as much.
Now that’s great, if you’re looking at this from the perspective of said tank. But it makes healing said tank boring, which isn’t engaging gameplay. It also means that (as just one example) anything intended to be tanked has to hit much harder so that it can actually hurt said tank, and that in turn means a stray add has the tendency to immediately ruin anyone else’s day. Clearly that’s not ideal. Thus we have this latest Alpha release, and its experimental look at curbing cooldown excesses.
In the latest Legion Alpha build, tanks and healers will notice significant changes to the tuning on many of their defensive abilities. These may appear to be “nerfs” at first glance, but are actually part of a widespread adjustment to improve overall tank (and tank healer) gameplay, that includes reducing the strength/frequency of defensive cooldowns, and adjusting creature tuning to compensate.
Over the course of Warlords of Draenor, tanks have been mostly self-sufficient, providing the vast majority of their own survival, with only minor direct assistance required from healers. Encounter design has unfortunately reinforced this, focusing tank damage into more and more bursty moments in an attempt to challenge tanks. This has made long-cooldown defensive ability usage more and more important, while also further trivializing direct healing requirements.
For Legion, we want to return the overall tank gameplay to a more stable environment. In that, we have laid out some specific goals that we aim to hit:
- Tanks will require more direct healing. This will also improve on healer gameplay, as it’s more engaging when there’s a mixture of the types of healing that need to be used on any single encounter.
- Active Mitigation abilities for tanks (such as Shield Block or Death Strike) should feel rewarding, allowing an experienced tank to meaningfully reduce damage taken.
- Healers should care about the time and mana required to heal tanks, so that taking less damage as a tank is considered valuable.
- Tanks and healers’ long-cooldown defensive abilities (such as Barkskin or Shield Wall) should feel like a valuable resource. These abilities should be strong, but not necessarily available for every danger during a specific encounter.
- Tanks should have much more survivability than a non-tank. However, they don’t necessarily need to be extremely more sturdy. If the difference in ‘tankiness’ between tanks and non-tanks becomes too much of a gap, we then risk having situations such that if any one add gets loose, it’s likely to instantly kill any poor healer or damage dealer they hit–as the damage that these creatures deal would need to be exponentially higher to offset the sturdiness of the tank. This also brings a risk that tanks would opt to ignore enemy abilities that are designed to be dangerous to non-tanks, just taking those relatively minor blows rather than trying to avoid them as intended.
- In raid encounters, tanks should spend more time tanking, and less time waiting for their turn to tank.
- Tanks should be able to handle solo content quite effectively. They need to do less damage than dedicated damage dealers, but that difference can be moderate. It doesn’t have to be a massive difference.
First off, they don’t appear to be nerfs. They are nerfs. Sometimes it’s best to just admit that’s what you’re doing. There’s nothing inherently negative about realizing something is too strong and making it less so, it’s a simple game balance change.
Tanking cooldowns and active mitigation abilities are so strong that tanks at max level can, in the right gear, essentially be healed by passive healing effects like Beacon of Light. The healers don’t have to focus on them. Part of the problem here isn’t in the tanks themselves, but rather in how strong passive healing abilities and healer cooldowns are. In other words, it’s not that tanks are OP, and it’s not that healers can set it and forget it, but combined the synergies between tanking cooldowns and AM abilities and healer spells that can be fired and forgotten. Their cooldowns mean that we’ve reached an age where raid damage is once again extremely bursty, and any non-tanks that get aggro are expected to just get pulped because of how high the damage on tanked mobs has to be.
So Blizzard wants to make tanks squishier and harder to heal (which is a nerf) because they want to adjust raiding so that it’s less instantly lethal for everyone else, as well as forcing tanks to actually try and avoid certain mechanics instead of just relying on AMS or Shield Barrier. I’m not completely sold on this reasoning, but there’s some merit in the idea of reducing the overall lethality of raiding in order to make it less likely someone gets turned into a greasy smear beneath an add’s feet.
There’s also the idea that while it’s understandable to want to be practically unkillable as a tank, it’s not awesome for healers. At the end of every expansion before this one, I usually ended up geared to the eyeballs as a tank and any time I’d go on a run with people I’d trivialize every aspect of the game for them. At the end of Mists of Pandaria I tanked a Mythic Siege of Orgrimmar run for a friend, and the healer assigned to me got so bored she started throwing lightning bolts around.
Essentially, think of survivability and DPS as two sliders on a board. They want to bring tank DPS up, while bringing survival down. We hear a lot about how tanks need better DPS to solo, but the inverse can be true as well. DPS players have in past expansions sat in awe as tanks soloed hard hitting mobs that the DPS couldn’t survive. It’s a balancing act and one that looks to be part of the process in Legion.
So we have what Blizzard sees as the issue. How will they be solving it?
- In order to ensure that tanks require direct healing from healers, we’re increasing the amount of damage that makes it past a tank’s mitigation. This will include reducing or removing passive defensive abilities, along with the below changes.
- We’re toning down how frequently you’re able to use Active Mitigation abilities. This change will generally affect the length of their cooldowns, and not necessarily the strength of the ability. We believe these abilities are important to tank survival; but, when the uptime on these abilities gets too high, skill in knowing when to use them strategically matters less.
EDIT: Passive healing from healers (such as Beacon of Light) will be toned down, and other tank heals adjusted to compensate.
- There are many long-cooldown defensive abilities that will be able to be used less frequently, and, in some cases, these abilities may be weaker. Many of these abilities are currently either too numerous or usable too frequently, resulting in a strong cooldown for almost every threatening moment of every encounter.
- Encounter design will be adjusted to account for these changes. Overwhelming burst damage will be toned down, in favor of more steady and consistent damage on tanks.
- The damage of creatures that are intended to be tanked in group content will be reduced overall, in order to ensure that tanks can still perform their role just as well as before.
- Damage output by tanks will be increased, and their scaling with gear will be improved. This is being done so that tanks can stay in-line with damage dealers as a group gears up together.
Please note that many of these changes are preliminary, and we’ll be tweaking our changes based on testing and feedback. We’ll continue making adjustments as the Alpha moves along, until classes are in a more balanced state, and we look forward to hearing your thoughts throughout this process.
For more info on the latest Legion Alpha changes, see our summary thread: http://us.battle.net/wow/en/forum/topic/20420212939
This all sounds great, but we’ve heard it before. It’s one of the perennial issues of tanking design in World of Warcraft, and I neither think it’s going to make much of a difference in the long run nor break any class too much. Since I tank on Warriors and Death Knights primarily, I can only speak to them, but I think we’ll see three things up front.
- Tanks will get worse at soloing. I get that there’s a trade off between damage output and survival in soloing, I do, but when you see a Blood DK or Prot Paladin soloing something close to max level, they usually do it by outlasting it. Reducing AM ability uptime is absolutely going to make them worse. The very best tanks will adjust quickest, of course, and there has always been an art to knowing exactly when to mitigate damage, this will just increase that threshold of skill.
- At least on the Alpha, the age of certain tanking specs is really going to show. Every time a new tanking class comes to WoW, it makes the other tanks look outdated if not actually weak. Blood DK’s weren’t weak in Mists, for example, but they sure felt old compared to the new rolling barrel throwers. Vengeance Demon Hunters will be the single most mobile tanking class in the game, and they won’t have any previous versions of themselves to be compared to. If you’re going to have to relearn how to tank anyway, why not do it on the new hotness?
- Healers are going to have trouble adjusting to a paradigm where they have to babysit the tank. One of the reasons Protection Warriors had trouble as tanks in previous expansions was that they needed more of an eye from a healer than other tanks did, with their much less potent self healing. Making all tanks like that certainly evens the playing field, but it can also exacerbate the problems with a specific tanking spec’s means of mitigation. An absorption barrier vs a self heal, for example, which is stronger for a particular moment, comes through more strongly when there’s less of them you can use.
I’m concerned with the idea of turning down how often you can use Active Mitigation because that’s what tanks do now — they hit those buttons. Making it so AM is up less means you need to give tanks meaningful things to do during an encounter besides stuff like target swapping or taunt trading. As for cooldowns, we’ll see how that shakes out — that one’s going to be a bigger problem for healers than for tanks, in my opinion. I remember when Shield Wall took much, much longer to come off cooldown so that you only used it once in a boss fight, period, and then had to wait for a very long time before you could use it again. That didn’t make it feel special or important, it just made it feel like you had to wait an extra ten minutes before you could pull again.
Of course, it’s the alpha, all things are subject to change, thou shalt not panic. But I’m watching and I’ll be testing on at least three tanking classes (Warrior, DK and Paladin, perhaps Vengeance DH as well) so if things feel horribly broken I’ll let you know.
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