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Blizzard's button bloat battle: What could you lose?

Blizzard Community Manager Lore posted today about their approach to removing the bloat from your buttons, and from your action bars too for that matter.
Lore
We do feel that, at least for some classes, there are a few too many buttons to keep on your action bars. It's an issue we'd ultimately like to solve, but something we have to be very, very careful with.

It's easy to look at your bar, go "LOOKIT ALL DEM BUTTONS", and decide that some of them need to go. In fact, we agree. It's much more difficult -- even dangerous -- to decide exactly which abilities to get rid of. Generally speaking, if you have an ability keybound, it's probably at least fairly important to your class. Getting rid of abilities you don't have bound doesn't really fix anything, so that means that, in most cases, we're talking about cutting the important ones.

That's not to say it can't (or won't) be done, but it does mean it's a fairly large task. Depending on the ability, there could be a lot of rebalancing or restructuring needed to make sure the class is still functional and fun to play. Again, it's something we'd like to do, it's just a very involved process.

And as ever, this got me thinking. This is a really, really hard task for Blizzard to accomplish, especially without upsetting people. So, I thought I'd ask myself a question, and maybe you can join in by doing the same and letting me know what you thought.


What can I lose?

So here we are. Button bloat is a problem. Blizzard isn't looking to cut us all down to Diablo III levels, just to thin down our current bar setups. I happen to play a class as my main that is on their radar for having too many buttons, hence why I posted my (now kind of old) UI as the header image -- I play a restoration shaman. We have a lot of buttons. Since the totem changes with Mists of Pandaria, we actually have over 22 abilities with cooldowns to keep an eye on, outside of our healing abilities. This is a bit much.

The thing is that you certainly won't use all of these abilities in normal play. Honestly, you'd be doing well to use more than, say, ten abilities when you were out and about questing, especially once you're done leveling. Now, you might say that actually you play a resto shammy and you don't use all those abilities right now, at all. What's the problem? Well, first up if you don't use them, you should have no issue losing them, right? But maybe you just don't go in for your utility spells. Maybe you're a dedicated set-role healer on a 25-man raid team, and don't even need to interrupt, let alone start throwing grounding totems around and binding elementals.

So the question is as follows: what could you lose? Now, I'll be talking a lot about shaman abilities specifically here, but I'm hoping that the reasons I'm giving could apply to your class too. I can't pretend to know all the classes inside out, but I suspect that there will be issues that apply to everyone.

The little-used

So this is an obvious place to start. If you don't much use an ability then it can probably go, right? Good examples for shaman would probably be things like Far Sight or Bind Elemental. But those things have their uses, too. For example, I use Far Sight all the time in PvP, especially in battlegrounds like Eye of the Storm, where it is really well-used to keep an eye on other bases or the flag. I also use it to get screenshots quite a lot!

And Bind Elemental I use in arenas against annoying Water Elementals when I need mages not to be able to use their Freeze root, and occasionally on shaman elementals. Sure, I don't use either of these abilities much, but when I do use them, it feels good. It feels good to baffle a mage by CCing their elemental with something they might not have ever seen before. And that's the slight problem with removing abilities that aren't used much, there's always someone you'll upset.

Also, what harm is Far Sight doing? It just sits in the spellbook or on an auxiliary bar somewhere, it's not part of your rotation, it's not a combat cooldown that you're monitoring. It just has this one specific use, looking at things, and that's it. Yes, it's barely used, but that doesn't mean it's contributing to button bloat. As Lore says:

Lore
[...] As I mentioned above, removing abilities you don't often use doesn't accomplish much. We often talk about this issue in terms of action bar space, but it's really keybind space that's the problem. One could make an argument that, say, Unending Breath could stand to be cut, but that's not something that's going to free up a keybind for the vast majority of Warlocks.

I definitely won't have Far Sight keybound. I will, however, have Bind Elemental keybound. When I need it, I need it. So that one is using up a keybind space on my action bar, as well as being very rarely used. Bind Elemental, it's not looking great for you right now.

Set-and-Forget

A while back, in response to a complaint about Hunters' Volley, a Blizzard employee said that it was a "set and forget" ability, and that wasn't interesting. The same could be said for the shaman Healing Stream Totem. Unlike its Healing Tide sister, Healing Stream is one of those you drop pretty much on cooldown, occasionally you might use Call of the Elements to reset that cooldown, but other than that the gameplay for HST is to use it as often as possible. Once you've got that down, there might be some Call of Elements variation for key high damage moments, but that's the gameplay.

This isn't particularly interesting. It's just a smart-heal that you use on cooldown, rather like a priest's Lightspring when it's unglyphed. So does this mean it's for the chop? Many shaman would be really sad to get rid of Healing Stream Totem, because while it's pretty uninteresting, people see it as core to the spec. It's been in the game, in some guise or other, since Vanilla. Healing Rain? Notwithstanding the recent Conductivity change, that's pretty set-and-forget, and Chain Heal is a smart-heal, so that's less interesting, I suppose? But I wouldn't want to see any of these abilities go. They're key to the shaman healing toolkit, and things like Healing Stream add flavor -- shaman have totems, after all. That's kind of our thing.

CC and instants

OK so we're really getting down to it now. One of the things talked about in the recent PvP summit was the problem of CC. CC is way out of hand right now in PvP, and there are plans in the works to trim this down, as well as to fix button bloat. Can you see where this is going? Also from a PvP perspective, instant casts are annoying. The only way to respond to them is via CC, and we've already touched on that, and via blanket silences, which are also annoying. However, from a PvE perspective, instant casts are both fun and useful. This is where it gets really tricky.

Looking at my shaman toolkit, I definitely feel like we could stand to lose some CC. The problem in PvP right now is that damage is relatively high, as is healing, so CC is required to deal with both. It's been an arms race up to this point, and so, just like in the Cold War, a disarmament treaty is really the only solution. Damage needs to be calmed down, as does healing, as does CC.

So what would I give up in the CC amnesty? Capacitor totem, for sure. This hard-to-use ability is new for Mists, which makes it a prime candidate for removal in my book, and is an AoE stun, which is the worst kind of CC in my opinion. The only good thing about it is that it's really pretty tricky to use. I'd also be happy to lose my Frost Shock root, and my Earthgrab root, both of those are fine as slows, but that doesn't free up any bar space because they just modify existing abilities. This is trickier than I thought. I'm keeping Hex, but for the rest, I'd be more than happy to go back to Cataclysm CC. Would you?

Spec-Specific

This is something that I think could work. There are definitely abilities that all specs could stand to lose. Capacitor totem is one, Blinding Light is another fine example, and there are no doubt more. But what about making more abilities spec-specific?

I was thinking about one ability in particular, as resto, namely Earth Shock. It's a key ability for Elemental, thanks to Fulmination, but I have no real use for it as Resto. Sure, I'll occasionally use Earth Shock in the arena against big physical damage-dealers, but in PvE the Weakened Blows debuff is around enough that a healing shaman shouldn't have to apply it. Its Enhancement-specific sister, Stormstrike, already went spec-specific, so maybe more abilities could follow suit?

One thing's for sure, this is hard. I've narrowed it down to the removal of a massive three buttons out of the 50 I have on my screen. How well can you do?

Filed under: Warlords of Draenor

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