For the past two weeks, we've been taking a look at the future of warlock design -- a bit of clairvoyance on my part, with Blizzard's asking for player feedback of a similar nature this past week. First we looked at affliction's concerns, and then we talked about demonology. This week, we'll round out the series by discussing what might come of destruction, the current wayward child of warlocks.
It's easy to talk about the problems that destruction faces now, as they're things that we see inside of the game, yet damage balance is a very fickle mistress. Numbers can be tuned at the drop of a hat; whether they are or not is an entirely different matter. Dealing in numbers and figures really is a simple matter. This week's focus won't exclusively be on the damage disparity that destruction currently suffers from, but rather the mechanical difficulties and identity crisis that holds it back. Damage is meaningless when Blizzard could easily hotfix in a random buff or nerf without a moment's notice; again, it's more so a matter of if or when.
Destruction has often been something of the black sheep for the community. While the history of destruction is rife with success in terms of damage and representative popularity, it's never really held the same communal love that we see for affliction or demonology. The spec is a bit mage-esque, focusing on direct damage instead of pets or DOT effects. This tends to polarize some players against it. Yet, at the same time, this focus has been what makes destruction unique among the warlock specs.
While warlocks as a class overall are stylized as disablers with a penchant for attrition, destruction has held a long history of focusing on burst. The image isn't so far-fetched, and it's this distinction that many players feel is missing. A lot of the burst damage of destruction has sort of, well, been toned down. At the start of the expansion, this wasn't so bad in terms of overall damage because the spec kept up fine, but now even that doesn't hold true, which leaves many of us wondering where the spec is going to end up.
Before this can go any further, we must first define what is burst. To many players, burst is merely the simple act of dealing large amounts of damage within the confines of an extremely short time frame. Usually, burst happens either instantaneously via a single spell or two spells that land together, or it's the damage possible during a CC effect such as a stun, which can last anywhere between 5 to 3 seconds.
In many ways, destruction once placed a large focus on the former, though it has been slightly shifted off to the latter. That, I feel, is destruction's largest issue: It is confused with itself. It is desperately trying to cling onto that large, single-spell burst style while somewhat being transitioned off into the latter form of burst.
Bursting out for a change
The reality is that burst is defined by the area of gameplay you're in and how each matters plays into that as well. PVE, just as PVP, has burst as well, though it is slightly different. In most PVE burst situations, the window is around 15 or 20 seconds instead of 3 to 5. In either, the damage you deal in the full time limit is all that matters; dealing massive amounts of damage in 5 seconds matters little if you can't keep up for 20 seconds.
As I said, destruction is being pushed off toward a new style of burst that players need to be accustomed with and which the development team needs to work the kinks out of. Conflagration is still a high-burst ability, though it isn't what it used to be. Yet aside from that one spell, destruction really doesn't have anything else. What it needs is to complete the transition away from relying exclusively on Conflag's burst and instead have a burst window that consists of several spells.
Much of this already exists. Conflag already procs Backdraft, which reduces nuke cast time by 30%. It's a great start, but the problem with destruction is that even its most basic nukes don't really hit all that hard. Incinerate hurts, but it isn't that much more painful than getting nuked by a demonology warlock. While I don't want the focus to shift towards this topic, there is also the concern that's destruction's current damage just isn't keeping up to par.
Backdraft holds all of the answers to all these problems. Instead of merely increasing casting spell, Backdraft should also increase the damage of our nukes, probably by the same 30% (although I've not gone into number balancing work). This creates the extension of burst damage that destruction needs. No, it isn't all balled up into one spell, but Blizzard hates that, and it leads to balancing issues. However, getting hit by a Conflag followed by three super-quick, juiced Incinerates or a Chaos Bolt will bring someone down and do it quickly. That, my friends, is burst, and that is what destruction should be about.
Fixing Chaos Bolt
Speak of Chaos Bolt, that brings about another glaring issue that has faced destruction for several years now. Chaos Bolt is a spell that has no life of its own. It merely is; it exists, but it doesn't quite understand why it exists. The damage that it deals is only slightly better than that of Incinerate, which makes it worth casting, but that is all that it is -- a nuke with a cooldown that deals slightly more damage than our primary nuke. If you removed Chaos Bolt from the equation, there'd be little to make up for. If affliction lost Haunt or demonology lost Hand of Gul'dan, that would create a pretty massive balancing and rotation hole to cover up, but Chaos Bolt? No one would even notice it were gone.
The factor of it piercing through absorption effects is a silly addendum to add into a spell; clearly, it was designed exclusively for PVP because this factor has little to no influence in PVE. It's silly to create an entirely new nuke that a player must spec into for such a limited purpose. If you're going to add something as impressive as Chaos Bolt into the game, make it worth having that title. Have it do something, anything!
Ideally, Chaos Bolt should be slightly interactive with the rotation. The easiest solution would just be to have it deal additional damage, or cause a buff on the player which increases damage, or debuff the mob hit to take additional damage. All great remedies, to be sure, but that's all been done; let's have something interesting.
Have Chaos Bolt explode to deal fire damage to targets within 10 yards if you hit a target debuffed with Immolate. Have it warp Corruption into shadow-flame damage if the target is afflicted by it. This is Chaos Bolt! It's uncontrolled fel-energy being blasted at someone's face! It should do a little bit more than simply sting them a bit. Piercing? Could be interesting if it had any practical use, but it doesn't, so why do we care? Oh, joy, we can be slightly more annoying to priests and paladins every 12 to 10 seconds! ... Pass.
This is not in my contract!
Another aspect of warlocks that Blizzard took more than a little time revamping this expansion was pets. All of the pets have their own variety of uses with different buffs, utility, or debuffs that they provide. Neat, but mostly useless for a majority of the warlock community, particularly destruction. Destruction has been a slave to the Imp as much as the Imp is our slave for over an expansion now, and it makes me question why Blizzard revamped pets the way that it did.
In some respects, it is understandable; only demonology has no talents or special interaction with a specific pet that forces them to use that particular demon. But the problem is that by shifting our class utility onto pets, having any spec require a certain pet to perform optimally now becomes a major issue.
If you run in a 10-man raid group, utility is a premium, especially things like interrupts. Warlocks have a pretty good interrupt, but it's tied to the Felhunter. The Felhunter also brings the additional mana and mana regeneration buff, both of which are far more important than players often realize, and it has a Purge effect, which hasn't been too prominent in this expansion but has held a key role in many previous encounters. Yet it is impossible for destruction players to bring the Felhunter; I'm sorry, not impossible -- you just lose thousands of DPS.
In many ways, warlocks don't have a choice in pets; we have a choice in specs. Need the Felhunter for this encounter? Don't just bring out the Felhunter, switch to affliction which uses it as its primary pet. Need the Imp? Switching to the Imp as affliction or, at this point, demonology is silly; just switch to destruction instead and now you'll be using the Imp anyway. Pets haven't become a utility choice; the specs that utilize the pet you want is the choice.
It makes sense that demonology would be the spec that offers the most versatility with pets, yet I really feel that is the wrong direction to take the class. When the warlock's primary utility comes from which pet they choose to bring out, pets should be optional, not spec-dependent. Destruction needs to have its total reliance on using the Imp removed. Instead of allowing demonology the freedom to use whichever pet it wants, give the Felguard new utility that is entirely unique, something that warlocks don't already posses.
Blood Pact is a weekly column detailing DOTs, demons and all the dastardly deeds done by warlocks. We'll coach you in the fine art of staying alive, help pick the best target for Dark Intent, and steer you through encounters such as Blackwing Descent and The Bastion of Twilight.