Now that I’ve had a chance to unpack my thoughts about what I played at Blizzcon and what I saw, I’d like to discuss class changes, since the implications are interesting.
To start off, let’s talk tanks. They are in an interesting spot at this point in the game, with Legion making them move in two relatively new directions – every tank has some form of semi-reliable self-sustain, and tanks are now expected to make up a proportionally higher amount of a group’s overall damage.
These two changes are in a sharp contrast to the checkered history of WoW tanking. No longer does a tank need to worry about or prepare much to mitigate damage or manage threat. Threat only really matters tank to tank – if you are too good at it and your co-tank isn’t, you might have a tug-of-war tank swap until you’re both established, but seldom will anyone be even minimally capable of peeling a mob off of you, even if it is one that has barely been touched by you.
Mitigation is still semi-important, don’t get me wrong. It is, however, unlike any other time since this model started in Mists of Pandaria, something that does not matter as much. At current gear and damage levels, you can in a lot of cases survive and fully recover from not properly mitigating incoming damage. There are outliers (Kil’Jaeden Felclaws, for example!) but largely, most tanks can get smashed in the face and reconstruct that and move on.
The other gameplay shift has been in the amount of external healing that tanks require, or in Legion’s case, don’t really require. Tanks have become passive, maintenance healing targets – they’ll get splashes of AoE, bits of Beacon transfers, rolling Rejuvenations, but largely, a well-played tank will keep themselves alive longer than a healer possibly can. Every tank (arguably except protection warriors) can heal themselves up after nearly any non-fatal hit, and depending on the spec, some can even recover from fatal damage! The end result of all of this change is that a well-played tank can mitigate massive amounts of damage, healing up any remaining damage taken, and doing that while also dealing pretty respectable (and larger than before) DPS.
Battle for Azeroth, even in the Blizzcon demo, already shows a few attempts to shift this model a bit.
Firstly, all of the tanks’ active mitigation, which currently works by reducing physical damage by a flat percentage, instead in 8.0 work by increasing armor by a high amount. This is important for 2 reasons. Firstly, it means that more than ever, our mitigation will scale from gear, and secondly, our mitigation will eventually hit a diminishing return. The value of armor drops sharply at 75% damage reduction, so between Mastery increasing the value of mitigation for some tanks (like Demon Hunters) and the increased scaling of armor from higher level gear, the end result means we will hit the cap on our damage reduction sooner in gear. We can’t continue, for example as a Demon Hunter, to stack Mastery to improve our physical damage mitigation to an ever-larger point. At a lower point in gear, we’ll cap out of the relative value of mitigation, and at that point our gearing can shift to other priorities.
Secondly, magical damage reduction is now a different beast altogether. The seeds of this were planted with Druids losing Mark of Ursol in 7.2.5, but for many more tanks, magical mitigation is going away. Demon Hunters, for example, are losing Empower Wards. Paladin Shield of the Righteous is now losing its magical damage reduction. Monks can still Stagger magic, but at a reduced margin. Death Knights still get Anti-Magic Shell, but the reduction in damage is substantially lower, down to 8%. Warriors still have some magical mitigation via Ignore Pain, which is still damage-source agnostic, and Spell Reflect. This serves a few interesting ideals. It ensures that a few tanks have Magical damage as a niche, allowing those tanks to deflect more damage than their contemporaries. Further, the reduction across-the-board in overall damage decreases available means a Battle for Azeroth tank will, in nearly all situations, take more damage than the same tank with 7.0 abilities and tuning. This will become more important on the next point!
Thirdly, tank self-sustain has been modified for most tanks. The niche of “self-healing” tank doesn’t really exist to the same margin in Legion since pretty much every tank has innate self-sustain or can talent some. In some cases, you can talent more self-sustain on top of your baseline spec. Battle for Azeroth seems aimed, anecdotally at least, at reducing all tank self-sustain except for a few cases. Warriors remain relatively stalwart, thus needing less self-sustain and having less. Druids no longer have damage taken modifiers to Frenzied Rejuvenation, but it now just always heals for 25% of base health. Death Strike for Death Knights still seems to benefit from damage taken, making it perhaps the only ability retaining a Resolve-like component. Paladin Light of the Protector now heals a fixed base amount, scaling to increase up to 200% based on missing health value. This allows it to scale somewhat like today, but caps it much lower in terms of potential healing, shifting the usage model to require more frequent casting, opposed to smaller numbers of casts done to maximize the amount healed.
There are two remaining tanks that fill the niche of self-healing – Demon Hunter and Death Knight. Based on my gameplay experience with my DK co-tank in the Alliance dungeon demo, it does seem their self-sustain is no longer quite as beastly as it is at present, requiring, again, similarly to Paladins, more usage of Death Strike for both healing and damage reduction. Demon Hunters, however, get some good news.
Our niche is self-healing to a high degree – each Soul Fragment now heals for 20% of health, meaning a full 5-stack will net you a full heal. Further, this does not count the healing given by Soul Cleave, which is still proportionally similar and still modified by Pain spent, and the talent Feast of Souls still enables an additional HoT on Soul Cleave usage. Our mitigation has shifted towards less-frequent Soul Cleaving, attempting to maximize Pain expenditure (as we do still do today) but also to ensure we don’t clip Feast of Souls, if you decide to take it. However, Soul Fragments are now a larger piece of our total healing done picture, and managing them will become more essential. Further, we retain Painbringer as a passive rather than an Artifact Trait, meaning that we can use Fragment management as means to obtain additional damage reduction. With the absence of Soul Carver, we’ll need to look to greater use of Shear while also managing the use of talents like Fracture and our other optional fragment generators.
With that, I do think that a few outcomes can be clearly seen for tanks.
-Our damage output is still increased over the pre-Legion model, but down a bit from Legion as our emphasis shifts to thoughtful self-sustain and mitigation.
-Our self-sustain is lower overall, save for exceptions like Demon Hunters.
-Demon Hunters will, it appears, be the de-facto self-healing tank in Battle for Azeroth, with more and better tools for self-healing than any other tank.
-Mitigation is more important than the Legion model, but no longer scales equally well at higher gear levels, meaning a shift in itemization priority may occur for classes where Mastery buffs mitigation, like Demon Hunters.
-We may begin to value other means of mitigation acquisition, like Critical Strike with conversion to Parry, although Mastery’s value on Attack Power may still be hugely important depending on the meta-game.
-Magical damage will have more niche tanks, like DK, Monk, and Warrior, while Physical damage will also similarly niche into tanks like DH and Druid.
Of course, all of this is pending an alpha/beta test. This, I know, then begs the question – why evaluate these changes now, from cobbled-together reports of a convention demo?
Well, the changes are pretty consistently thought out. These are not slap-dash changes, nor inconsistently applied. Every tank has had changes of this sort, and everything seems to be balanced around these new ideas. The changes seem to be designed to push tanks into small niches, but not in a way that should drastically reduce the ability of a given tank to slot in (pending encounter design quirks, of course). In theory, if a Nighthold situation emerges, Monks, Death Knights, and Warriors would become relatively stronger, while the remaining tanks would have a bit less effectiveness. Even still, though – the changes only make the Magic-reducing tanks marginally more effective, helping to hopefully prevent an issue like Druids in Nighthold.
Further, as I’ve said before, I do think that Blizzard is much further along on this expansion than they are letting on. The stat and item squish, balancing changes, changed abilities, and the like all suggest that not only have balancing changes been made, but they have been iterated on. For a similar expansion like WoD, the Blizzcon demo had an early version of the item squish that was further improved upon, and class changes hadn’t really been made to the same degree. These changes suggest thought has gone in, and for an expansion like Battle for Azeroth, it seems that not much will be changing on the ability front except for some tweaks and improvements.
Overall, I am really quite interested to see how this shakes out in alpha and beta. The design work seems to have gone into trying to engineer tanks to be a little less independent, a change that I think will have some positive interactions with the way that the other roles, particularly healers, play in raids. This should also help some with the problem of tank specs in PvP – without such massive self-sustain and damage reduction, a tank will be less advantaged when in World PvP. Instanced PvP remains to be seen, particularly as honor talents haven’t really been looked at, assuming that those continue on into 8.0 (which does seem somewhat likely).
Much remains to be seen, but at least right now, I am fairly optimistic about how these changes will shake out!