Yesterday, I posted on the difficulty of balancing DPS and utility. I got an interesting comment on the post from Pangoria, who raises the point that WoW DPS characters contribute other things to groups, such as crowd control or off-healing/tanking.
Lots of people seem to miss crowd control lately - Tobold asked whether anyone had seen any sheep lately earlier this week. In practical terms, crowd control is a highly powerful but situational form of tanking. You can't always use it, but, when you can, the mob deals no damage or debuffs that need to be healed, and the CC'er is free to spend 95% of their time doing whatever it was they'd be doing if there was one less mob in the pull.
While I completely ignored tanking and healing in my last post for complexity's sake, the same arguments apply when you consider the real world (in which every class can somehow contribute to tanking or healing). Let's say you have:
- A mage, who contributes good DPS and polymorph
- An elemental shaman, who contributes okay DPS, which improves to slightly better than good when you consider his buffs, and can off-heal.
(Yes, I know that shammies can also hex and Earth Elemental in emergencies, but, by design, neither is as permanent as sheep/shackle/banish/etc. I will also point out that an ele shammy saved the one Heroic Halls of Lightning run I ever plan to do by healing the group through almost the entire Loken fight after the main healer died. Balance is complicated like that.)
Now say that 5-man content is designed with pulls that include 5-6 mobs, as it was in the TBC era. In that environment, the mage becomes overpowered because he contributes only slightly less damage, while his non-damage contribution is much more significant. And, sure enough, this is exactly what we saw in the TBC era - there was no reason to take DPS who didn't have the best CC. Not being able to lock down at least a few of the mobs in those six mob pulls in the Shadow Labyrinth isn't a flavor/style question or a question of doing it more easily, it's a question of success or failure.
Effectively, Blizzard couldn't come up with a good way to balance that question in the 5-man environment, where slots are so limited, so they punted by balancing the content in such a way where it does not require crowd control (smaller pulls). DPS checks don't work because the CC classes also bring DPS. Healing checks are a very dicey road to pursue because it's hard enough to find one healer for a 5-man group, much less two. You could start designing zones around encounters that need to be off-tanked rather than crowd controlled, but that just swings the pendulum in the other direction (suddenly CC'ers are LESS valuable). The easiest road to take was to diminish the role of CC in dungeons and rebalance everyone's damage output accordingly, so that's the road Blizzard took.
In short, I wouldn't be expecting to see a wide variety of sheep, turtles, penguins, pigs, rabbits, etc in 5-man content anytime soon. You can assume a certain amount of crowd control in 25-man groups (which would be an ironic role reversal, since it used to be that raids were where CC STOPPED working in the old days), but it's hard enough to deal with a required tanking slot and a required healing slot in 5-mans.