Sunday, April 26, 2009

Harnessing Dual Spec DPS Potential

Back before dual specs went live, I speculated on their impact. I figured that they would make a big difference for classes than can spec into tanking and healing, but didn't think the effects would be as dramatic on DPS classes. Now that I've had a chance to play around with dual specs on my mage, I've been impressed with the added options and diversity the specs add to the class.

Major Options
Mages have a number of options available to them. The more common ones:

- Fire PVE: There are two main variations on fire specs (either one uses 53ish points in Fire) depending on which main nuke you prefer. The Fireball version takes 18 points in Arcane (to get Torment the Weak), offering the most raw damage potential at the expense of mana efficiency (and the need to take more hit rating gear, as you cannot get any hit from talents).

The Frostfire version, which I'm using as my raiding spec in one of my two slots, takes points in Frost to beef up Frostfire bolt, offering substantially more mana efficiency at the cost of some raw damage potential. I pulled down 3.4K DPS on Archavon (no flask) this afternoon, which is a huge step up from my old Frost-based Frostfire spec (low 2Kish DPS). Raid buffed with the right procs, I've seen my Frostfire Bolts crit for nearly 12K.

- Arcane PVE: Uses the new Arcane Blast combo point-like mechanic (stack 1-3 Arcane Blasts followed by either a Arcane Barrage or a Missile Barrage), combined with frost for Icy Veins. (There's also a variant that gets the improved scorch buff if your raid needs it.) My understanding is that it's less sustained damage than the Fireball spam build, but with better burst damage via cooldowns, better ability to burn excess mana for damage, and sometimes better damage for fights that require movement due to Arcane Barrage. You are somewhat dependent on being able to safely channel all 8 seconds of evocation to avoid going OOM.

- Arcane PVP: A more traditional version of this build focuses on picking up survival talents like improved blink, instant cast invisibility, and lots of instant cast burst damage. I'm using an Arcane Barrage/Impact build that takes my favorites from the survival talents (invisibility, counterspell, magic absorption) with as many of the damage talents as I could afford and the revised impact. Serious PVP'ers don't use Molten Armor (in part because PVP gear doesn't typically have much spirit on it), but the armor combined with lots of instant cast spell options is enough to make my fire blasts a nigh guaranteed stun. I'd probably get slaughtered in the arenas, but it's fine for Wintergrasp, and the arcane combo mechanic is much more fun than Frostfire for farming and daily quests. Also, I love having the Glyph of Evocation (adds major HP regen) in a build with a 2 minute Evocation cooldown, it basically eliminates all downtime while farming.

- Frost PVE: The good news is that you get to provide Replenishment and the raid spell crit buff with your primary nuke. The bad news is that you're doing much less damage than the other options. The other bad news is that you need to avoid taking all of the ranks of your replenishment talent because having a 100% proc rate refreshes the replenishment effect too frequently, causing your entire group to get less mana regeneration than they should (even if there is a less ineffective version of replenishment in the raid).

- Frost PVP: Here you get even better survival than Arcane offers, thanks to ice barrier and more frequent ice blocks. The water elemental shatter combo lets you pull off decent burst damage, and Deep Freeze (Frost's effectively PVP only 51 point talent, since most meaningful PVE mobs are immune to stuns) can mess with someone's day.

- Niche options: Fire PVP is sadly a mess, and the crab says he doesn't know how to fix it without stepping on the other two trees' toes (much like Frost PVE remains an issue). Frost-based Frostfire builds aren't really good for much of anything, though one could imagine a Focus Magic/Master of Elements/Water Elemental tri-spec build that really taps the maximum potential of Blizzard AOE spam. Some people have brainstormed hybrid Arcane/Frost builds to try and squeeze all the survival talents out of both builds for Arenas (at the cost of damage potential).

Freedom to Experiment
Greenwiz carried some form of Frost spec for the better part of three years. It wasn't the best option, just the most versatile in terms of covering solo, PVP, and raid content (albeit poorly) in a single build. Now that I have a second option, it's okay that my Frostfire build does tons of damage in group setting and is not very fun to play in other settings. It's okay that I've optimized my off-spec arcane build for non-raid content, as I'm no longer leaving nearly a third of my DPS potential on the table come raid time.

I do think that some things have been lost in this switch. I used to describe Green as a Frost mage, and now he's either Fire (with a minor in frost) or Arcane (with a minor in fire) depending on what I'm doing. In some ways, the system even favors using the two specs for two completely separate roles; there's no way that I'm going to fail to notice that I'm in the wrong spec for the situation (in the way that, for example, I fail to notice that I'm wearing PVP or farming gear instead of spell hit). Removing the cost of specializing allows diversity, but it also removes some of the consequences of bad (or at least highly situational) decisions when you can have a cookie cutter spec available at the push of a button.

Still, I have to say that I view the feature as a much bigger success than I expected. There really are differences in playstyle between the various specs, and being able to swap back and forth has made the character feel more versatile and powerful without actually increasing his power level at any given moment. This particular persistent virtual world is still first and foremost a game, and I'm willing to put up with some cost in terms of virtual world identity in exchange for a more interesting gameplay experience.


Daniel said...

"This particular persistent virtual world is still first and foremost a game, and I'm willing to put up with some cost in terms of virtual world identity in exchange for a more interesting gameplay experience."

You and I just have a different cost-benefit calculation on this issue, which is fine.

However, one issue that I didn't really anticipate happening was the amount of time it really takes to learn a new spec. I'm been in two PUGs now where it was quite obvious that the person who was playing had no clue how to play their spec. In one case the tank was very open and honest about it and left after we wiped on the first boss, twice. While I think that people who are quite committed to the game will spend the time to learn another spec, I wonder if the casual player will. But I've already begun to wonder now whether what I see in LFG is honest or not. In this way I suppose it was like the DK tank problem. Every DK thought they could tank because the class was OP. Now that it's not so OP, many of them are learning they don't have a clue how to tank, and it's not pretty.

Perhaps this will sort itself out in time. But I can't help but wonder that while it may solve the "healer" problem, in reality it will produce a lower quality of playing experience all around.

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