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Shifting Perspectives: Why the tank Q&A sucked

Every week, WoW Insider brings you Shifting Perspectives for cat, bear, restoration and balance druids. This Tuesday, we started writing this column last Wednesday.

Don't get me wrong: It's not that I don't like the developer Q&A sessions. They're a great idea, and although they don't make up for Ghostcrawler's absence from the forums, they're a nice insight into the developers' thought process and a peek at the issues that matter most to players. The effort's appreciated even when players ask pointless questions (of which the need to do so appears to be a congenital disorder) or use the opportunity to grandstand about issues no one cares about.

But the tank Q&A was ... not Blizzard's best effort. To borrow a phrase from Harry Knowles, I love hard-working Blizzard, I'm blown away by creative Blizzard, and I'm in awe of big-dreaming and overreaching Blizzard.

But I freaking hate lazy Blizzard.

In the tank Q&A we had the perfect storm of questions that didn't need to be asked, evasive answers to the questions that were asked, and on occasion, a complete lack of answers to questions that did need to be asked.

Ask the Devs #9: Tank Q&A
Q: Have you considered normalizing initial Rage for feral druid tanks? For example, when a warrior uses Charge, it generates 15 points of Rage, which lets them use another aggro generating ability quickly, something that Feral druids tend to be a bit short on. Why in Cataclysm was the bear bonus health pool was reduced, as well? Their survivability always depended on the amount of health since they don't have parry or shield block. Do you have any plans to improve bear tanking in the future? At the moment, it's considered to be the weakest tank. Have you considered giving druid tanks an additional tool to pull casters at range? It's the only tank class that doesn't have a talent or spell to help in those situations. – Pødêrøsø (LA), Вирко (EU-RU), Амелья (EU-RU), Condenacion (EU-ES), Whitewnd (KR)

A: Bears are getting a significant mitigation buff in 4.2 and we're retuning their damage such that it's a little easier to hold aggro at low gear levels, and a little harder at higher gear levels. While we definitely don't expect the community to ever agree on anything, we've seen little evidence of a widespread concurrence that druids are "the weakest tank." There are plenty of druid tanks out there, handling everything from Grim Batol to Sinestra. Tank balance overall is in a really good place. Players may focus on potential problems that could arise in the future but we also have ample time to address those problems should they occur. Gone are the days when we would just release a class into the wild and refuse to touch it again until the next expansion.

This didn't just skirt the question. It hair-netted, Underoo'd, and pantsed it as well.

Let's take this train wreck station by station:
  • Rage normalization for feral tanks Not answered, and this is a real issue in any situation where you can't depend on an oversupply of rage from a boss that hits like a truck. Feral rage gain is simply not the equivalent of protection warrior rage gain, and it's not going to be as long as we're getting 3 rage per dodge, blowing rage for Feral Charge, and praying for Enrage to come off cooldown before the next pull. Hell, it took us until the most recent patch just to get Blizzard to yank the damage penalty off the damn skill. Compare this to the warrior's 15 rage for Shield Specialization and rage generation with Charge. While you can make the argument that the bear has Primal Fury to compensate, crit's rage generation doesn't reliably cover the difference. When you have to dodge five times to generate the same amount of rage that a warrior does with a single block -- and when you lose everything to shift out for anything else -- that's not good.
  • Bear bonus health This one is all on the players and didn't need to be addressed yet again. Asking the developers the same question over and over again in the hopes that they'll somehow answer differently is pointless.
  • Ranged silence Not answered. This is a perennial sore point for bears, as we're unquestionably worst-off while trying to make a clean pull with caster mobs. Every other tanking class has gotten DPS players accustomed to the practice of DPSing straight off a pull with a high-threat, ranged ability that forces a caster mob to move -- Death Grip, Heroic Throw, or the ne plus ultra of pull abilities, Avenger's Shield -- and the idea of waiting while the bear ducks behind a wall somewhere is completely foreign to modern groups. I have not had a single 5-man PUG since Wrath where every player was on board with the idea of waiting patiently for a line-of-sight pull.
  • Everything else Nothing concrete or truly informative was said about bears here.
Let's be frank: Players are not well-served by foolishly accusing the developers of negligence. Tank balance with respect to survivability versus single targets is probably the best it's ever been, and this is a huge leap forward from the classic game and The Burning Crusade. I have very unpleasant memories of druid tanks being singled out by discriminatory boss mechanics like Fear, Pyroblast, Deaden, and Shear, and the odds of our ever dealing with crap like that again aren't high. Hell, Cataclysm is even a step in the right direction from encounters like Sartharion (death knights), Vezax (bears), Algalon (warriors/paladins), Anub'arak (warriors/paladins), and Arthas (bears). The problems we've got today are peanuts by comparison.

But not all tanks are created equal with respect to resource generation, rotation interest, utility, or multi-target tanking, and the two legitimate issues raised above show no signs of being addressed. It is enormously frustrating to see two decent questions wind their way through the approval process only to get picked but not answered.

Ask the Devs #9: Tank Q&A
Q: Have you ever considered adjusting DPS HP? Seems that while their large pools of health help them on "accidental" situations, a fair portion of the time they can take aggro and tank adds without consequence. – Jainel (LA)

A: We're generally happy with how well DPS are able to tank (which is to say, not very well). We like that they can take a hit or two (depending upon content) before dying, and that the penalty for that happening is a huge drain on healer mana.

If you're playing like a jerk and the person being punished for your poor gameplay is someone who is not you, there is no functional incentive not to play like a jerk. The only leverage that healers have in this situation is to nag DPS players to watch their aggro. Ask me how successful this technique usually is.

Ask the Devs #9: Tank Q&A
Q: What are your intentions with each tank's mastery and mastery in general? – Migol (NA)

Druids: We're pretty happy with how mastery has turned out. It scales well, doesn't have any unintuitive or unfortunate interactions with other stats, and provides solid performance value.
Savage Defense as a mastery scales well. Savage Defense as a mechanic scales only to the Vengeance cap, at which point its usefulness in comparison to block goes into the toilet and stays there. That's not really an issue with current numbers, but its dependence on Vengeance is awkward at best compared to the 30% that block (more with the warrior's critical block) will always shave off an attack. More problematic is that bear and death knight masteries are poor fits for multi-target tanking, to the point where the use of either on something like heroic Nefarian's adds is an acknowledged liability.

If tanks have achieved an acceptable level of parity with respect to single-target tanking, but two of them take significantly more damage from add packs, that's not balanced. That the two tanks concerned are also much less represented right now than their shield tank colleagues is also worrisome.

Ask the Devs #9: Tank Q&A
Q: Protection Paladin is not only the most desired tank because survival abilities for groups and various utilities, but players also generally consider Paladins as an indispensable Class in raids. I know all tanking Classes are being equalized constantly, but survival abilities of Protection Paladins give huge advantages compared to other tanking Classes. Can we expect that other Tanking classes will see more survival abilities for groups in terms of equity? – 디아소르테 (KR)

Because they can fill many roles and still provide a lot of utility, it's not surprising that you see a lot of druids and paladins in your raid groups ... Protection paladins do bring a lot of utility, but it is quite difficult to make a table comparing a paladin's Divine Guardian to a Protection warrior's mobility or a bear druid's ability to cast Innervate or even Rebirth during lulls in an encounter. They are fundamentally different abilities that have greater or less utility depending on the encounter and your individual raid comp. We don't want to just hand out a Divine Guardian equivalent to every tank class, just like we don't think warriors or paladins need the ability to battle rez. It's a fine line to walk. Homogenization really rankles some players (as it should), but being unable to tank (or heal, or DPS) an encounter because of lack of tools is equally unacceptable to many players.
This was probably the toughest to read, and I can't fault the shock and disbelief it spurred in a number of bear players.

The first observation I can make in any discussion concerning tank "utility" is that the bear automatically starts at a heavy disadvantage relative to its plate tank colleagues. Why? Because every bit of utility we provide with the exception of Leader of the Pack is something that can't be done in bear form. In other words, you cannot be actively tanking in order to provide Innervate, pop Tranquility, or Rebirth a fallen player. While you can make a case for Stampeding Roar, in practice even melee DPSers are rarely within 10 yards of you given the size of the average boss' hit box.

Almost by definition, the utility that a bear druid provides to a raid is determined by the extent to which encounter design permits them to leave bear form. Not surprisingly, this is a strong disincentive to use a druid in a main tank capacity. The raid's better off relegating a bear player to the off tank role in order the maximize the number of opportunities he/she will have to leave form, and each time the druid will sacrifice all of his/her rage and Vengeance to do it. No other tank is asked to dump all of his/her resources or Vengeance stacks to, say, Raise Ally or Intervene.

And, as several players pointed out, comparing the feral Innervate -- a ghastly ~5,000 mana return to a single caster -- to a 20% reduction to damage taken by the entire raid (Divine Guardian) is somewhat irritating.

Ask the Devs #9: Tank Q&A
Q: As far as I remember, about five tanks were required in a 25-man group in Burning Crusade. However, the number of tanks in raids has been decreased to one or two since WotLK. I think this is one of the reasons heroic parties suffer from lack of tanks. What if raids have required more tanks? – 명장한니발 (KR)

A: We don't actually recall many four+ tank fights in Burning Crusade, and that includes fights like High King Maulgar where non-tanks could perform the tanking role. While we do find some elegance in a design where a 5-player group scales perfectly up to a 10 and 25-player group, that introduces some problems as well. It could potentially extend the tank shortage we see in 5-player dungeons up to raids (to be fair, it's also possible needing more tanks for raiding would create more tanks for dungeons). A larger problem is that we just don't want to over-constrain encounter design to always require 4 or 5 tanks. Sometimes it's nice to have a fight that's just a single bruiser without requiring a tank swap or meteor-style cleave. Nearly every raid fight in Cataclysm asks for two tank-specced characters, with a few requiring one or three. That's likely the model we will continue to use. If we wanted to do a fight with many tanks, we'd likely let some of the DPS specs step in.

Players have raised this issue a number of times in the past. Honestly, there's a valid observation here about nobody really knowing what effect requiring more tanks at the raid level would have on the game -- whether it would create a shortage of raid tanks or actually increase the supply at the 5-man level, or even do both -- but there's also a shadowy point about the effective bottleneck that a tank player will encounter in the attempt to transition from the 5-man to raiding level.

The game needs far more tanks for 5-mans than it needs at the raid level, and Blizzard is essentially asking the majority of tanks out there to play at the 5-man level with no real hope of advancement unless they start their own raids. The problem is guaranteed to grow worse as an expansion winds on because no tank in blues -- or even the piecemeal assembly of epics to which they'll have access as more badge gear opens up -- can realistically step into future raids in the same fashion that a DPSer or healer can.

To Blizzard, if you're reading: No one needs answers to questions that didn't need to be asked, and if you don't intend to answer a selected question, then please answer something else. I understand that highly-voted questions are the most likely to be selected, but that does prejudice question choice in favor of whichever questions are asked the earliest because most players don't have the time to trawl through dozens of later pages.

To players: Read the freaking patch notes!


Shifting Perspectives helps you gear your bear druid at 85, tempts you with weapons, trinkets and relics for bears, then shows you what to do with it all in Feral Druid Tanking 101. We'll also help you gear your resto druid.

Filed under: Druid, Analysis / Opinion, (Druid) Shifting Perspectives

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