Thursday, February 07, 2013

The Neverending Story

Once upon a time, there were pretty broad differences in dps between the highest and lowest dps classes. Bringing the wrong class could have a real impact on your ability to win a fight. Over the years I think we've gone a very long way toward fixing that, and the gap between the different classes and specs has narrowed considerably. Instead of 50 and even 100% differences in output, now we're usually talking about 5 and 10% differences. At these ranges, skill, timing, and knowledge play a more central role than ever before in determining how much practical damage a class is capable of, and even the classes that aren't topping the charts are contributing essential and meaningful amounts of damage.

Blizzard's success, like it or not, has become a Holy Grail for game designers.

Whenever I see people discussing the merits of Warcraft (even though there will always be those who consider praise on that scale inappropriate) I find myself thinking that luck has a great deal to do with it. However, when I read comments like the one above, it makes me realise that actually, Blizzard really do deserve more props and snacks than they're ever really given, especially in the Gaming community. People may resent success, or (as we discussed yesterday) prefer criticism to praise, but the fact remains that, more often than not, things work not simply through luck, but as a result of a great deal of thought and effort.

How much damage I do has been an issue since this Expansion began, and as another week begins with me having no weapon upgrade I find myself reading the above response and grasping a fundamental truth that had previously escaped me. At NO POINT in the above is gear even mentioned as a factor in meaningful contribution, and although it is something I might continue to obsess about, I'm beginning to grasp that it's only a small part in Blizzard's bigger picture. Yes, there's been a lot of 'fixing' over the years, much of which has annoyed the purists as it seems, at least from certain perspectives, to be narrowing the choices available. We have less decisions to make, fewer specs to choose from, but what's being done is only reflecting what happened with the old ways. Back in the days when you had Talent Trees, a bunch of people would tell everyone else what was the best spec and, if you wanted to do the best DPS, you followed them.

When I write it down like that, I grasp why DPS wasn't much fun 'back then' either.

The key to success would, like it or not, depend on whether you as an in individual could cope with the spec. Forget the output for a moment: unless you were one of those really lucky people who could switch between different means of play with no discernible change to gameplay or ability, you'd have a problem. I can remember a lot of trauma as we progressed through TBC and Wrath content, trying as politely as possible to suggest people might want to switch their talents to give us a greater chance of killing difficult bosses. Ultimately, with the shift to the new six point trees, Blizzard took a lot of the harder decisions away, with a very sound intent. Make everything (as much as possible) a standard output, so that regardless of what you chose to play, any class can bring something to the table. That's no mean feat, and if you're a Warlock or a Monk you're not part of the programme currently, so that's where the nerfs will come next time around. In the main however, the theory has worked.

The gear issue then becomes problematic not on an individual basis, but on a group one. Assuming everyone is rocking similar ilevels, the TOTAL dps output should be sufficient to defeat the content you're working on and, guess what, it does, because you then start factoring in the elements of skill and co-ordination into the equation. It doesn't matter how much dps you do, if you're dead you're a liability because all that gear contributes nothing. Part of my thinking, and it is old-fashioned I realise, is to assume that any one item I wear matters as much as everything I do, and although that is correct to a point, it is no longer the entire equation. Once I stopped worrying about my weapon and started working on other bits of gear, I discovered I could (in a week) update FOUR items that significantly boosted my dps output. It is dangerous to think that there is ever a quick fix to anything in any environment, not until you've considered all the possible options available.

I realise, that without parses and data all this rumination is a little simplistic, but the fact remains that the way DPS contributes to any situation has changed for the better. It is now easy to see who is geared and how that effects output: I don't think that's ever going to be a bad thing, but the key to grasping why that happens isn't simply to look at their spec any more and copy it. The way DPS 'works' has far less to do with the choices an individual makes any more, and a lot more to where and how they play their game. There are far fewer ways to do things 'wrong' too, which some people might argue accommodates the lazy, but I'd argue that this game has always been unforgiving to those who turn up but don't give a certain level of commitment. You can tell who they are regardless of what they wear or what spec they use. The changes we see now are to allow those people who make an effort but sometimes flounder a chance to have a better experience, and to encourage those with real skill and flair to contribute even further to the experience by experimenting playing different classes and specs to contribute as a player, and not simply a toon.

The key to all of this however is Blizzard grasping that they have to keep changing the rules, which in any other circumstance could be tantamount to disaster. Here, it is the constant shaping and remoulding of what is, in essence... well, he can explain it better than I can:

Yes, I said it: DPS is like time-travel: constantly in flux, full of potential and possibility, a neverending story of tweaks and amendments that may frustrate the purists but shows that the people making the game have a far greater grasp and understanding of the potential consequences of change than most of us give them credit for. Yes, they get it wrong, but who doesn't. The key here is that they understand that nothing is ever set in stone, and however frustrating that may become for us playing, it does mean that damage is in a far better place than it has been for some time.

If you are one of those people who yearns for the great days when you could do tons of damage pressing just one button, I'd say you pretty much missed the point. If you want easy mode, other games are available. This one makes you think, and I'd take substance over style any day.


MuttleyXIII said...

I have to say I'd never thought of the old talent trees as a problem until I used the new one. It matters far more WHAT you do with the skill/abilities your class has than WHICH skill/abilities you actually have now. They matter for flavour but I know if I pick one talent over another I'm not generally crippling myself and more tuning things to my personal playstyle.

Great post. :D

Sarolian said...

The Doctor.. He explains things in a way that even I become a rocket scientist!

DPS can shift from fight to fight. Always have been for me at least. The only time I worry is when there is a required average DPS to a fight. And a lack of DPS often mean a lack of gear in my experience. And not using Inquisition ^^

Bob Flintston said...

I am curious what would happen if Raids were set and your gear was Normalised, like the Challenge Modes. The technology is already there, and then the debate about equipment is nullified. The Raids are set to a certain level of difficulty and so the only way to progress is to get better or Blizzard implements Buffs like Icecrown/Dragon Soul.

My guess is that the game would fall apart, because for most people the acquiring of gear is the main pursuit for the majority players. Without gear as a reward the reason to logon diminishes over time, and Pets and Mounts are a poor substitute for Gear and E-preen.

The biggest single DPS boost is having the best weapon, and this time we all have the possibility of owning a Legendary. What percentage achieve this is still open to debate, but if 90% of the player base have a legendary weapon, then the kudos for having one is pretty much zero.

The other issue over DPS is that of rotations and priorities, and some classes have a much more streamlined list. Should an Elemental Shaman do more damage for pressing 5 different buttons than a BM Hunter with 13 buttons to sequence.

Blizzard needs to compare apples with apples, but without making the classes too homogenised.

TheGrumpyElf said...

Gear is the single most important part of DPS (as long as you stay alive) and that alone is a good reason to obsessive over it. As you mentioned that upgrading a few pieces made such a difference you realize that.

As such, I respectfully disagree that damage dealing is in a great place. In terms of balance between classes and specs I agree, it is better than it has ever been but only in that sense is it good now. In terms of what it takes to do well it is in the worst position it has ever been because such a huge emphasis on gear is involved.

Get the weapon upgrade, I too have not gotten it yet as luck eludes me, but when you/me do you will notice that one little piece will turn into a 5K-8K increase. One seemingly tiny upgrade should never make that much of a difference.

It is way to much for one tiny piece of gear even if it is the most important piece. And that is why I say DPS is in the worst position it has ever been. One button or 12 buttons is not the issue. What you wear making that much of a difference is.