Friday, February 27, 2009

Crowd Control is an Overpowered Form of Off-Tanking

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.


DeftyJames said...

I have not played a mage in end game content because I am still leveling up my alt. But I find the CC is less than useful in in old world content, especially on PvE. It does have some instance utility but I think it is overstated; its utility really depends on the make-up of the group in terms of level, skill, and class.

The real problem with CC in my humble opinion is that if you make it strong enough for PvE use you OP for instances. If you make it reasonable in instances it becomes pointless in PvE. But then I think this PvE vs Raid is a constant theme in the way that WoW fiddles with class mechanics. It's extremely difficult to find a good balance.

Spinks said...

Interesting. I hadn't really thought of CC as a form of tanking,

One type of ability that was deliberately left out of WoW was AE CC. And this is why crowd control in WoW isn't all that overpowered -- an offtank can occupy several mobs (assuming that they are designed to be 'tanked'). It's just that not many encounters require a MT to grab 3 mobs while the OT grabs 3 more. If you have that many mobs, Bliz usually makes some harder to tank (ie. casters, archers, or something anti melee),

But in wrath, all tanks got good AE tanking ability and there really aren't that many anti-melee trash pulls in heroics, and that's the other reason CC got devalued. Why sheep 1 mob when your tank could just grab them all anyway? So its not just smaller pulls, its pulls that are tankable. (I could easily tank any number of mobs on my warrior if they were all melee and didnt hit too hard.)

Green Armadillo said...

@DJ: I don't use Polymorph very often solo either. Even when I'm soloing old instances, I can usually count on my elemental to let me root and blizzard most of the mobs down.

@Spinks: That's a good point - not playing a tank, I think in terms of sheer numbers (one of which may become my CC responsibility) as opposed to tankability. We both end up in the same place - those Shadow Labs pulls I mentioned include casters as well as melee - we just get there from different perspectives. That said, I'm having a hard time thinking of any situation in Wrath where you're going to pull six mobs at once during a 5-man. Sometimes you'll get that many when they're non-elite AOE bait, but I'm having a very hard time thinking of anything that involves more than four elites.

Pangoria Fallstar said...

First of all thanks for the link. I started giggling like a little Tauren lass (I'm male though O_O ...).

The best solution I can think of is to make a third tier of difficulty for instances, something above heroic, where maybe even entirely new mobs/encounters/bosses were included. This could allow for better gear, and make the set up more like BC instances (which were the most fun a player could have while CCing).

Spinks said...

Pulling 6 mobs in wrath usually means the tank is bored or you pulled a patrol as well as a regular group. So it does happen but usually either by mistake or because the group/ tank decides they can handle it. Which is different from being forced to do it, definitely.

I have also tanked SLabs many times with no/ limited CC. It was chaotic, stressful, and not all that fun unless the group was pretty good. I think having repeatable reliable cc available on one class did strange things to the design. How much CC could Blizzard assume you had?

One unfortunate thing now about CC is that you've viewed as being a weak tank if you use it. ie. be a man,just tank them all, etc