Very often, what seem to be class balance issues or problems with a class or spec aren't, in fact, problems with that class/spec at all. They are instead consequences of encounter design or gearing issues. One example of this is the current state of the DPS warrior: on paper, there's nothing really tremendously wrong with either arms or fury for DPS in PvE content. Having used arms to great success in PvP recently, I sat down and really looked at what was hampering me when I switched to it for PvE DPS, and the problems I found seemed to be as follows.
- My PvE set is ridiculously high in expertise. Every piece that dropped with superior strength, sockets, and so on had expertise instead of armor penetration or crit to the point where I was forced to go back and wear older Ulduar gear over TotC 'upgrades' that had me at a ridiculously high 44 expertise and a shockingly low 33% ArP. Part of this problem was exacerbated by the 2h weapon that I'm using, a sword with lovely stats but so much expertise that I actually have gone back to using Aesir's Edge for PvE until I get a suitable axe or polearm. This is luck of the draw time: I took what dropped first and then noticed that over time my expertise was far higher than I needed at the cost of other stats, necessitating that I drop down to lower iLevel gear that had the mix of stats I needed.
- My tanking gear is now very enviable in most respects, but much of the upgrades that drop in TotC/TotGC lack hit rating. As a result, I can't wear my absolute best necklace or bracers because doing so drops my hit rating below where I'm comfortable even with Glyph of Taunt to help make up some of the difference. We're talking a difference of almost 2k health between my maximum stamina set (what I wear for tanking heroic Twins, because threat's really not an issue there) and the set I wear if there's any chance of threat being an issue. I'm basically going to have to go run TotC/GC 10 to get the hit rating tanking gear there.
- Both of these issues are gear related. But another issue is encounter related: warrior DPS is still dependent on rage generation and remaining in range long enough to turn that rage into damage output. Similarly, warrior threat generation is still limited by incoming damage being turned into rage and then outgoing threat. What this means is, warriors (and yes, druids use rage too but I'm not qualified to discuss druid issues) still start with the tank nearly empty compared to other non-rage classes. Tanking or DPSing on the DK I've noticed that having some abilities that use runes and others that cost runic power limits the DK without feeling like a limitation, while warriors are every bit as limited but can really feel the constraint.
One of the examples I've used before and will again now is the idea that avoidance (dodge in particular) has gotten too high in WotLK and the only way to counter it has been to design bosses that hit harder and harder. The problem with this idea is that it reverses the way the paradigm actually evolved. It's not that bosses were forced by the cruel, naughty players to hit us harder and harder because of our vicious and malicious dodge stacking until finally in Icecrown they threw their hands up in despair and nerfed dodge. It's that bosses kept hitting us like freight trains so that block rating, a once-useful stat, became basically useless and all anyone cared about was stacking Effective Health so to survive as long as possible when one of these ridiculous damage dealing machines was focusing its ire on us.
Please don't misunderstand. I'm cautiously optimistic about Chill of the Throne. If this is the way Blizzard chooses to get us off of the ever escalating arms race between incoming boss super damage and players stacking Avoidance/EH stats, well and good. But I've been looking at my Trial of the Crusader/Grand Crusader gear, and you know what? My dodge is ridiculous. Without making the slightest attempt to do so, without setting out to build a set with high avoidance, I'm sitting at close to 30% dodge and over 26% parry.
This means two things. Not only is the argument that players are forcing the evolution of encounter design flawed by focusing on the players instead of the encounters they're responding to, it presumes a level of player choice that is not valid. I didn't stack avoidance. It was stacked for me. I've actually had to go back to older gear and change enchants to ensure that my hit rating stayed anywhere near where I wanted it to because the hit rating is not on the gear. I'd be happy to do as Ghostcrawler has suggested in the past and stack some threat stats. Put them on the gear. If you're complaining that player avoidance is so out of hand that you have to nerf dodge by 20%, fine. Stop ladling dodge on the gear so heavily that I could easily stack 40% dodge if I really wanted to, then. Whose fault is it that dodge is out of hand, here? Is it mine, for using the gear you've provided for me? Am I expected to not use the best possible gear because that makes encounter design difficult to balance?
Chill of the Throne is a solution, but it's a ham fisted one. At least it hits all tanks more or less equally. But it's another example of a balance issue that really has nothing to do with the classes. Tanks aren't at fault for choosing to wear the gear that drops. DPS warriors often face this very issue and are often penalized for sitting down and figuring out which gear works best for them. Warriors are wearing leather and mail because the stats are better? Well, we could make plate with comparable stats. but instead we'll add talents that give attack power from armor value and change warrior talents so they work directly on strength instead of AP. (At least they realized they'd have to make strength necks, rings and so on to help balance this out to some degree.) This seems to me to be a case of the cart being placed before the horse, and then blaming the cart for getting itself in front of the equine.
Icecrown will most likely be the culmination of the current paradigm of encounter design and gear itemization, which is hardly all bad. I think we'll get a chance to really see exactly how each class shakes out when exposed to its utmost stress levels in the ultimate raid of Wrath of the Lich King. I expect that going into Cataclysm the designers will have learned from the domino effect of gear design/encounter design that we've seen so far in Wrath.