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Lichborne: 3 things death knights need in patch 4.1

Every week, WoW Insider brings you Lichborne for blood, frost, and unholy death knights. Join World of Warcraft's first hero class as we head into a new expansion and shed the new kid on the block label.

Now, before you get too excited about the title, we still don't know when patch 4.1 is dropping, much less when it's coming to the PTR, so don't think this is any sort of announcement. That said, it's never too early to wish and speculate. I won't deny it, I love death knights and I love balanced classes, but not everything I want for death knights is ironclad. A lot of what I want would probably turn them into horribly overpowered machines of death and destruction, powered by the tears of lesser classes. That said, as I've played my death knight day by day, there are a few things I've noticed time and time again, quality of life issues that could really use some TLC from the dev team -- things that I am relatively sure wouldn't overpower us if fixed up.

This week, I'm going to discuss three death knight issues I've noticed in Cataclysm and how I think Blizzard should fix them with the next major content or class balance patch.

Bring the crowd control, not the class

Now, to be absolutely fair, ilevel 359 gear makes heroics a lot easier. I'm already seeing people if not tackling heroic dungeons Wrath-style, then at least being a little less cautious and a little less worried about crowd control. That said, there's still a lot of people who don't have more than one or two pieces of ilevel 359 gear, and even for those who do, there's a few pulls in almost every heroic that are made a whole hell of a lot easier with some crowd control.

And that's all well and good until you get in a random heroic or even get a guild heroic together and find out that your DPS is a feral druid, an arms warrior, and an unholy death knight. Now, the feral druid can sort of kind of make do with Entangling Roots and Hibernate, but if you need to crowd control a humanoid caster, you're 100% out of luck with this group unless your healer is a crowd control-capable class -- and even then, it's pretty hard for them to crowd control and focus on their other role.

While "take the player, not the class" is somewhat overstated by a lot of players, I do think this a case where it is kind of unfair to expect people to just make sure they are not taking more than one death knight/warrior/druid DPSer per dungeon. For guild groups, that means kicking or refusing a guild member. For random groups, it means kicking some poor schlub who just waited 45 minutes for a group, and then only after navigating the arcane rules of the group kick system and hurting your ability to kick actual deserving people later.

A long-term crowd control method

This is why death knights could really use some sort of long-term crowd control, probably more or less similar to the retribution paladin's Repentance ability. As to how we get it, here are a few ideas.

One is to let us glyph an existing ability such as Strangulate or Hungering Cold and turn it into a single-target crowd control ability. Honestly, the issue here is that most of our current abilities are actually incredibly useful, and it would be a huge burden to lose one just for what should, at this point in the game, be a default DPS ability by reason of simple equality and necessity. Glyphed crowd controls work best when they make some existing crowd control simpler or more convenient to use, such as in the case of warlocks' glyphs for Seduction or Fear.

The next idea is to give us something talented -- again, similar to a retribution paladin's Repentance. The problem here is that while paladins do have a talented DPS crowd control, their other two trees are for tanking and healing. While a pro group will often have a healer or tank throw out some crowd control before the pull, crowd control duties almost all fall on the DPS because the tank and healer have roles that require a bit more concentration.

Death knights have two DPS trees, both of which by rights deserve their own crowd control. So unless you put the talented crowd control into the first two tiers of a tree, one of the DPS trees is going to be out in the cold.

All in all, the simplest solution is to just give us our own targeted crowd control. As far as I'm concerned, the best change Blizzard could add to patch 4.1 is to give death knights and warriors a carbon copy of Repentance, untalented and changed to reflect our unique class flavor, whether it be to make the target trapped in a block of ice or gripped by a paralyzing disease or whatever else. It would make us a better contributor to groups and make it a little less likely that our fellow group members let out a groan of dismay when we join up.

A redesigned rune interface

The default rune interface for death knights has been pretty lackluster for a while, but it's become an even bigger problem since patch 4.0.1. Runic Corruption and Runic Empowerment have changed our rotations to a much more flexible and much more frantic priority system, where we have to be watching for newly refreshed runes so that we can use them in the best manner possible. Having to constantly watch that little row of tiny icons in the upper left hand corner of your screen is no longer conducive to good gameplay for most people. We need a new, easier-to-see and easer-to-understand rune interface.

That said, the best thing I can do here is recommend that Blizzard yet again take its cue from addons. I've been using Doc's Debug Runes since the Cataclysm beta, and I cannot be happier with them. They take pretty much everything you need to know about death knight abilities and runes and put it right front and center on your screen so you can keep track of your cooldowns and resources while you also keep track of what's going on around you. Your runes are represented as energy bars, so you can get a better idea of how the new rune system works and how much time you have until an individual rune is ready, and there's also a handy indicator for disease time, blood shield uptime and amount, and more.

Really, all Blizzard probably has to steal from this is the energy bar concept for runes. The runes are graphically good-looking, but they no longer really represent the way death knight resources actually work very well. Until Blizzard redesigns the interface, I'll continue to strongly recommend that every serious death knight who's still using the default UI (and maybe even some who aren't) give Doc's Debug Runes a try.

Equality between DPS trees

This final point is honestly the one that's a little more difficult and nebulous to tackle. Blizzard didn't do a half-bad job with its latest round of DPS balancing, don't get me wrong. Two-handed frost, at the least, can now stand pretty close to dual wield frost. That said, there is still a noticeable gap between unholy and frost DPS.

It's actually bigger in practice than it is on paper. This is in part because of the more capricious and unpredictable nature of frost DPS, which is sort of dependent on the optimal use of procs from such sources as Killing Machine and Runic Corruption. If you do not use these procs to their fullest, you will not do as well at DPS as you could. Since unholy has fewer of these random procs to worry about, you don't have to be quite as lucky to do your optimal DPS.

The way to bring DPS parity, then, might very well be to remove some of the randomization from frost. I'd love to see Runic Empowerment replaced by baseline Runic Corruption for all trees, frankly, but there's also the possibility of making Killing Machine apply only to one form of attack as an automatic thing. Then again, taking away the randomness from frost may be removing too much of what some people like about it. This is probably the thing on this list with no easy fix, but it would still be nice to have frost offer more DPS parity for people who aren't quite down with the idea of Festering Strike or a pet.

Overall, we're still a pretty solid, well-built class. I don't agree with every design decision the team's made, but I can't say the death knight is not still currently a fun, engaging class that can hold its owns in both tanking in DPS. Still there are always a few things that could be changed. If we're lucky, maybe we'll see a few of these tweaks come patch 4.1.

Follow our road map to leveling your DK from 80 to 85, and then learn the ropes of endgame play with WoW Insider's DK 101 guide. Gear up with pre-heroic gear for DPS DKs and keep track of what's happening on your hotbars with our guide to DK spell alerts.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Death Knight, (Death Knight) Lichborne

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