World of Trouble: Addressing Druid Tanking in WotLK

Posted by in Feral, Rant, WotLK

At the risk of raining doom and gloom before the clouds even start gathering, I’d like to vocalize some concern about the apparent “direction” Blizzard is trying to go with feral druids.

Unless you’re living under a rock, you’ve probably read the downpour of blue-posts about both the direction of tanking in general and, in particular, the role of bear tanks in Wrath of the Lich King. Although I’ve seen every flavor of tank (save the ever-changing Death Knight) function in an MT capacity at some point during my raiding career, Blizzard wants to take it a step further and allow all tanks to be “Main Tanks.” Tanking, apparently, isn’t “fun” or at least requires a lot more work than they meant it to (if the blue posts can be trusted), and clearly streamlining the entire process will make Azeroth a better place.

Almost as a point of pride, Blizzard has also announced that Cat Form melee DPS will now be a considerable beast to contend with—but we hybrids are going to have to make a choice between being a better cat or a better bear. We’re not quite at the point of having four talent trees, but if the extra abilities and talents Ghostcrawler has promised come into play, we’re really getting close.

At the risk of sounding like I know more about my class than Blizzard does, the developers seem to be forgetting that we furries do not have parry or blocking capabilities and have thus far glossed over the fact that WotLK currently sees us tanking and DPSing in rogue gear.  Maybe that’s not so bad for DPS, although I worry about items with “crit rating” rather than straight up AGI. Blue-poster Ghostcrawler has repeatedly stated that all the tanking stats we lose (you know, the bread & butter DEF, RES, STA, and heavy AC) will be made up for through additional talents and abilities—but as I look through the latest WotLK talent calculator, I’m at a loss. “Soon,” they promise. “Just not yet. Come on, guys, we’ve got until like, October at least.”

And we wait with bated breath. Before you scoff at my bias, consider the amount of time that a player like me has invested in both my class and the game: a substantial hobby and monetary investment precipitates a certain amount of expectation. Maybe I’m out-of-tune with the feral community, but I’m not sure I follow the desire to be either a main tank or a viable melee DPS class—the point of being a feral druid is that you have tanking and DPS functionality simultaneously. Am I wrong? I consider that my role, and I consider myself to have been very successful in both regards. I wouldn’t expect a kitten to do more DPS than a similarly geared rogue or fury warrior or any other pure DPS class, but we offer group (and supposedly in the future, raid-wide) buffs and the opportunity to slot an awesome off-tank and a moderate DPSer in one position. A two-for-one deal, so to speak.

Druids are the Kings and Queens of flexibility. I’d argue that being an excellent druid demands the knowledge and quick-thinking to excel: you’re at once a synonym for a warrior and a rogue, and I’m sure many feral druids have also, at one time or another, taken up healing as a means to an end. All classes have their idiosyncrasies, but druids have always been fickle beasts—and I’m not sure Blizzard has ever really known what to do with us. Watering down our “quirks” to solve a so-called tanking problem seems to be an inadvertent slap-in-the-face as to why we chose to play the class in the first place—or at least why I chose to play.

I’d like to take a look at a thread that the Ghostcrawler (a new voice in blue posting) started in order to outline Blizzard’s plans for tanking. I find him wildly out of touch with the WoW community I have been a part of and can’t help wondering if he’s ever raided past Kara, or, for that matter, played a tank.

1) Our goal in Lich King is for all 4 tanking classes to be viable.

2) We would like for tanking to be a little more fun. I’m going to leave this vague on purpose, but it is definitely a concern.

All four tanking classes are already viable, dear, and tanking is enormously fun. Any class or spec can become stressful (um, healing, hello?) in a competitive raiding environment, especially when you’re trying to aggressively hold aggro against balls-out DPS. The frustration lies within the fact that many people don’t bother understanding threat mechanics and that most tanks’ threat generating abilities don’t scale nearly as well as DPS can. Brutallus is a perfect example of an environment where DPS needs to push itself to the limit to kill him within the six minute enrage timer but end up being limited by the amount of threat their tanks can generate. The best tank in the world might not be able to hold aggro when competing against a group of careless, Shadow Bolt spamming Warlocks. This isn’t a tank issue; it’s a damage scaling issue.

3) In 5-player instances, most warriors, druids, paladins and death knights should be effective tanks. The healing specs may have a harder time than the dps specs. Arms wariors, Fury warriors, Ret paladins, Ferals and most DKs should do fine.

4) In 5-player heroics, the expectation is that the tank has a heavy investment in tanking talents and appropriate gear. Arms warriors might have trouble tanking a heroic unless they overgear the instance.

It rather goes without saying that to be a successful tank, you need to spec for it. Tell us something we don’t know. Here, however, he also suggests that various off-specs should also be able to tank in regular five-man instances, which has me wondering why the casual player would spec for tanking at all. We continually see the difficulty of the game being scaled back for players who don’t seem to want to invest any time or effort in learning mechanics, and now this. To be fair, any decently geared individual could already run through five-mans without a true tank, and oftentimes, without a true healer. I’ve healed a normal Arcatraz run feral specced without difficulty, Lycentia’s hunter has tanked Ramparts with just a pet, and we’ve gone through a myriad array of similar arrangements such as these with minimal effort—but we also knew what we were doing.

6) This is a shift in philosophy for us. Previously, we sometimes tried to steer Ferals as being better off tanks than main tanks. We also expected specific classes to appear in the raid. Our new assumption is that you might have any of the 4 tanking classes as a tank. We are trying to achieve as much parity as we can among the 4 tanks without making them too similar. If nearly all guilds want the same class as their MT, we’ve failed.

7) This is a big one: the game isn’t finished. We aren’t spending too much effort yet to make sure mitigation, threat and tools are similar across the 4 classes at level 80 in blue or purple gear. Likewise, your talent trees and core abilities aren’t finished. Tanking (and PvP) need to have a lot of other pieces of the game in place before we can really get the numbers right. It’s fine (useful even) to point out when you feel a particular ability, talent, class or build is too good or not good enough. But please don’t infer the work in progress as a reflection of our intent. If we end up changing our minds or if things don’t work out, it will be posted here.

Unless all tanking classes are “normalized”, so to speak, there will always be a “best” tank for a specific fight. Superior mitigation? Check out the druids. High spell damage? Bring out a Death Knight. Multiple mobs? Try a paladin. You get the picture. Druids have arguably main-tanked every fight in the game thus far (including Illidan, I might add, using an Intervene rotation), and we’re supposed “off-tanks”. Merging roles with other classes does make us more or less the same. Death Knights and Druids don’t have shields, and that’s a pretty fundamental difference from Paladins and Warriors. If the necessity for using a shield in a raid environment is lessened to compensate for Druids and Death Knights, then why use one altogether? Players roll a specific class to be able to fill a certain niche—don’t take that away.

Q u o t e:

“Why aren’t there tanking leather pieces?”

I’m not quite able to wrap my brain around this, especially since you’re trying to make us as good as any other tank. Why wouldn’t you give us access to the tools to do it?

We *will* give you the tools to do it. We just might not give you those tools the same way another class gets them. There are no two-handed tanking weapons, yet I suspect 50% or more of DKs will use two-handed weapons. Neither DKs nor druids have shields. Druids need defense less than other tanks because they can achieve crit immunity. We can do something similar for your damage reduction (bake it into bear form, or put it in a talent are two obvious choices). Now, when you get your leather though, we are assuming you gem and enchant it as a tank would.

This whole promise for talent changes and new abilities has become the blue poster stump speech: we hear an awful lot, but we don’t see any policy changes. I would much prefer to keep my role as offtank and off DPS and gain a few talents that strengthen it instead of trying to rewrite the tank books. Druids need less defense? Does he understand how crit immunity is attained? By taking 3/3 Survival of the Fittest, we only need 415 DEF to reach crit immunity, or a combination of RES and DEF, as I outlined in a previous post—but we still need it. There isn’t any magical talent or gem or ability that auto-grants us crit immunity, as Ghostcrawler seems to imply. It seems that we’ll be farming for PVP yet again to pick up the RES necessary to tank—or gemming for DEF, which seems to be Blizzard’s line of thinking. Forget STA and AGI, kids! OH WAIT, how could I forget? Is RES even functioning outside of BG’s anymore? That’s a serious problem.

Q u o t e:

It seems that every time you refer to druid tanking all you say is “big healthpool”. Do you realize that in live, well geared warriors and paladins already come fairly close to our pools? Currently druids rely on health, capped (or near) armor, and very high dodge. Your comments lead me to believe that you are looking at us in a very one-dimensional way. I assure you that no healer wants to deal with a tank that is just a pile of hitpoints with no real mitigation/avoidance to speak of.

I totally get this. Druids won’t be popular tanks if everyone knows them as the OOM tank. When I say “big health pool” I’m not talking about 30% more than a warrior, and I’m not even sure that’s the route we’ll go. But since the “big health” idea generates a lot of discussion, I’ll walk you through our thought process.

Druids are going to have a harder time hitting the armor cap in Lich King largely because there is no leather tanking gear, and virtually no bonus armor at all (except on a few pieces like rings and necks). Now we can’t just make druids do without armor, or they won’t compete with other tanks. We can’t just bake the armor into Dire Bear Form though, or we risk making resto druids even better in PvP. So when I have mentioned big health pools, that is partially because we’re trying to solve the problem where druids need armor but can’t get it. Big health is a way to do with less armor, but it’s not a total fix for the situation, it definitely has drawbacks, and it doesn’t mean 30% more health and 30% less armor. If I had to guess, all of the tanks will end up having pretty similar endgame stats, minus obvious things like block.

Keep in mind how good a well-geared druid tank would be in live if we hadn’t added Sunwell Radiance. It is surprisingly easy to make bears too good or not good enough. We have to tread carefully.

But we haven’t changed the design of wanting bears to be able to MT. And that doesn’t mean technically they can MT but all the healers complain and as soon as the warrior logs on, you eagerly swap him back in. MT means MT.

Here, Ghostcrawler addresses the classic problem of confusing PVE with PVP and not really knowing what he’s talking about in terms of druids in general. We’re going to nerf your PVE tanking abilities because we’re afraid that Restoration druids are going to be so leet! They already are, congratulations. If readers will recall, our T6 feral armor was actually nerfed because of PVP concerns (STA reduction). If PVE versus PVP concerns are this big of a deal, why not make gear that can only be worn in an arena environment, and vice versa? It’d certainly eliminate the Glaive wearing Rogues issue. I read his response and hear: we’ve made a huge mistake in changing this and have no idea how we’re effectively fixing this.

For the record, my druid and Lycentia’s warrior have incredibly similar health pools—I just have more armor and more avoidance. He, of course, has the ability to Block and Parry (and Dodge, naturally) and also has (as a Human) high expertise and a considerable amount of +hit. Hmm. Sounds like a decent trade-off to me already. Even without Sunwell Radiance, I would argue that warriors might still be the superior tanks, especially since they have more stats built into their gear and don’t have to worry about losing crit immunity by screwing around with their gems. Avoidance is a fabulous stat (sweet, no one can hit me!), but if you’re not getting hit, you’re not generating rage, which of course means you aren’t generating as much threat. It’s unreliable. One wrong roll of the RNG and you can be destroyed. Not being in the beta I can only speculate, but I recommend that feral druids with T6 armor keep their paws on it; we may need to continue using it until Blizzard takes its head out of its collective ass.

I could dissect the entire thread (having also played a warrior and a paladin), but it’s not necessary to illustrate the obvious concerns. Druids are flexible OTs, MTs, and reliable DPSers, and reslotting their role fundamentally changes the class and, I’d argue, eliminates what made us so desirable. We already have considerable difficulty gaining the stats we need at high levels (as illustrated in previous articles), and stripping us of our basics (like AC) is ludicrous.

Admittedly, I wouldn’t be as worried (though still frustrated) about the prospective changes if WotLK still seemed as distant as Northrend. Unfortunately, yes, you heard me correctly, unfortunately, WotLK seems to be approaching much quicker than we realized. If we look at the old timeline for BC’s release, we saw content approximately one month after the cinematic release. Are they accelerating their timeline to put out (unpolished) content to compete with WAR? Well, we’ve seen the frosty cinematic, and now we’ve received news of a pre-WotLK content patch. While this not only bones raiders, it also assumes that Blizzard has “come up” with something to “fix” the tanking situation—and if Ghostcrawler is truly the mouthpiece of the developers, we’re in a World of Trouble.