I figure it's about time we discussed the threat hotfix, mages. And before we go any further, I should point out that from now on, the threat level is always midnight. The hotfix has been in the game for a few weeks now, and I would have brought it up long before now but I got kinda sidetracked daydreaming about the whole transmogrification thing. Now that I've spent a few weeks going through all of the pretty dresses in my wardrobe and deciding which one I want to wear on my next date with Ragnaros (he's a passable conversationalist, a snappy dresser, and the dates are so much more fun now that he's bipedal ... but he tends to shout a lot, and he's a lousy tipper), I'm ready to talk about what amounts to the complete removal of one of the most basic MMO battle mechanics from the game.
Now, removal isn't the right word, I know. Threat is still technically in the game, but it no longer really matters much.
It's been sort of difficult to wrap my mind around, to be honest. It's as if I woke up one morning and discovered that I no longer needed to wear pants. For so long, pants (or a reasonable pants equivalent) were pretty much a requirement when leaving the house, but now, pantslessness is considered the style. Do I still have pants in my closet? Sure, but I only keep them in there to hide my porn beneath.
So how does this new status quo impact us as a class? And is the change good, bad, or does it lie somewhere along the spectrum between those two extremes?
An abridged history of threat
So for as long as MMOs have existed, there has been a threat mechanic. Basically, any enemy in WoW is programmed to attack whoever it thinks is the biggest "threat" to it. Every action performed by every player during a fight generated a certain amount of threat, and whoever was currently generating the largest amount of threat was going to draw the ire of the bad guy. Tanks were tasked with generating enough threat to always keep the attention of the bad guys in question, DPS were tasked with dealing as much damage as possible without generating more threat than the tank, and healers were tasked with standing behind everybody, shaking their heads in disgust at our repeated failures to do so.
Instead of removing threat entirely, Blizzard has now simply made it irrelevant by upping the amount of threat tanks generate to the point where it's nigh-impossible for a healer or DPS character to generate more threat than the tank.
Does this simplify the game? Yes. But I prefer to think of it in a different way. Instead of lamenting the loss of old nuance, I choose to revel in new freedoms. The major sensation I've felt since the hotfix is one of lightness, of a burden lifted.
Threat was never the most natural of gameplay mechanics. It shackled DPS players to an unseen number, beyond which they passed at their own peril and the peril of the group. The only way to reliably tell where you stood along this invisible scale was with outside addons, which provided a visual display of threat in numbers -- that, or the very visual (and very abrupt) cue of a giant boss suddenly lumbering toward you instead of the tank. So you watched your threat meter, making sure your number was never larger than than the tank's number. It wasn't especially fun. I will not miss it.
What we've lost
Throttling This is the biggest loss and the biggest gain for mages, all rolled into one. We are pure damage dealers. Our purpose is to deal that damage as quickly and powerfully as possible. Having to throttle back, avoiding using our most powerful spell rotation for no other reason than that it would draw too much unwanted attention upon ourselves, always felt unnatural, clunky, wrong. The knowledge that you could potentially be undone by a run of crits, by having too much good luck, sucked fun out a situation that should have been nothing but.
No longer. There is now never going to be a valid reason for us to rein in our damage. From the start of the fight to the very end, we should be focused on constantly providing the best possible DPS at all times.
The 3-second wait I still catch myself doing this at the start of fights. One ... two ... three ... Arcane Blast. It's a habit as ingrained in me as any gaming habit. I've been doing it in pretty much every fight for the past six years or so. I have to consciously remind myself as each fight begins that I do not have to wait anymore. Just make sure I'm attacking the same target as the tank, then let 'er rip. It's incredibly liberating. I always felt a bit like a douche, watching the tank jump into the fray and knowing that the best way I could help him was by twiddling my thumbs for a bit. The 3-second wait was just another example of how awkward the whole threat-generation mechanic really was, and I can't begin to describe how much better it feels to actually start fighting when the fight starts.
Threat meters These addons have been rendered pretty much useless now. If you're still running one, you can stop now. We'd been asking since the game's genesis for a threat meter to just become part of the default interface. It was so integral to raiding that only the most hardcore anti-addon player dared raid without a threat meter. Why would Blizzard leave it out of the default interface if it was so blatantly needed? I guess now we know. Blizzard didn't like threat as a mechanic, anyway. Now it's negated the need for threat meters altogether. I am not sad to see them go.
One more thing to pay attention to This is the major argument of those who oppose this change. Making threat a non-factor is just one more way to dumb the game down, to appeal to the lowest common denominator, to make the game have more mass appeal, be more accessible, and lower the skill level required to play it. The concern is valid, I suppose, but I can't say I agree with it.
Threat didn't add anything even remotely resembling complexity or challenge to the game. It only added one more thing to have to keep track of. For DPS, it wasn't especially difficult to deal with, just annoying. While you tried to deal damage, you just had to make sure your threat wasn't approaching the tank's. When your threat got too high, you had to throw out a threat drop ability (like Invisibility) or just stop hitting buttons for a while. No skill involved there, just a rudimentary understanding of how the game works. Your threat meter told you what to do, and you either did it or died. Losing threat as an important mechanic simply removes one more detail to pay attention to in battles.
What we gain
DPS Now, the difference isn't huge. It's not as if I was having to hold back all my best spells before. With a good tank, I never had to throttle back much even before the change, and not having to throttle back now hasn't changed my DPS much. The place where I notice the difference is in random dungeons, where the tanks I was getting might not always be fully capable of outdoing my mage in the threat department.
Now we can basically go full on, balls to the wall no matter the situation, no matter the tank -- and I like that. With threat no longer a concern, we can focus on reaching our maximum damage potential without reservation. You'll notice a slight change in your DPS overall, but a very major one when dealing with situations where you have previously had to restrain yourself. Delayed gratification as a gameplay mechanic was never fun, guys.
Our defensive and offensive cooldowns Yeah, now that we'll never again have to waste things like Invisibility and Mirror Image on threat control, we can use our defensive and offensive cooldowns for actual defense and offense. This is exciting for me. You mean when I Ice Block, it'll be to avoid AOE damage instead of to inadvertently kill the healer next to me because I popped it after generating too much threat, and the healer just happened to be next on the boss's aggro list? Fantastic.
Freedom Before the change, my decision-making was always tempered slightly by the ever-present need to control my threat generation. Now, that need is gone. I have the freedom to focus on everything else: optimal rotations, cooldown management, removing curses, interrupts, self-defense, movement, mana conservation, encounter mechanics, situational awareness ...
Threat management was never a massive weight on our shoulders, just a constant concern. It didn't require a lot of attention, but the part of our brains it did occupy is now completely unencumbered. We can now devote that portion of our awareness to other pursuits, like deciding which of that warlock's appendages we're going to burn off next.
A small section of our screen space What are you using that small piece of your screen where your threat meter used to reside for now? I haven't done anything with it yet. It's still sitting there, empty, showing me a few more pixels of Azeroth than I used to be able to see. It's nice. I may just leave it empty.
I'm anxious to hear your thoughts, mage community. Why is this change good? Why is it bad? Is it the greatest thing to happen in the game ever? Is it a sign of the impending apocalypse, as prophesied in biblical texts? I'm planting my feet firmly on the positive side of things. I do not miss threat, and I don't believe losing it has lessened the game in any way. I still have plenty of Fireballs to hurl at Deathwing when I see him, only now I won't have to hold any of them back. He can totally have all of my Fireballs.
Every week, Arcane Brilliance teleports you inside the wonderful world of mages and then hurls a Fireball in your face. Start out with our recent beginner's guide to being a mage, then check out our three-part State of the Mage columns on arcane, fire and frost. Don't forget to look at some of the addons your mage should probably be using.