Monday, March 2, 2009

[Druid] Balance ain't just for laser chickens

First off - I'm now one of ten horde characters on my realm with the title "Of the Nightfall". It's still a very easy fight for a Sarth tank, but having the FR set and good survivability after things go nuts made it easier. We did it with 2 1/2 healers (an elemental shaman started healing during the Vesperon phase) and all casters. And basically, the first time we killed Shadron with everyone alive it was a win. All credit goes to the other healers, tanks and DPS on the fight. I had the easy job, and I appreciate being carried. :)

Second - the change to improved mark of the wild does appear to give you and you only 2% more stats. So...only about an 8% nerf to health and a gain of 2% more agility. Yay?

I still think that druids aren't going to stop being tanks any time soon. Assuming that the changes on the PTR go live (10% stamina loss, 6k armor loss), the loss of stamina and the loss of armor are both survivable hits for tanking viability. That said, I also don't think that druids are going to be reasonably chosen for progression content where a single tank matters heavily unless there is some stupid gimmick that favors having 10-15k more health than another tanking class. With the current changes on the PTR, simply put, right now druids are outclassed by other tanking classes in every single category save one - health. And health is not as useful for progression as a lot of other factors, particularly when encounters are balanced around the lowest health values.

Of course, it's very early in the PTR and a lot can and will change by the time 3.1 is released, so relax a bit.

But this isn't about that. This is about how to fix druids in the long term. These are a couple of posts I made on the official tanking forums, and I figure that they should more likely be in a blog than there. Also, I wanted people's input on them; I may be missing a lot of ideas here too. Also note that as Greenkappa pointed out, none of these big changes can be done for all of WotLK. There's no way to radically revamp feral tanking right now. That'll have to wait for the next expansion. So this is more of a post-mortem along with some ideas on where things may have to go.

There's a few problems with bears that aren't easily solved. The first and probably the biggest is itemization. In BC bears had very specific sets of gear that were not easily replaced. This meant that if you didn't get lucky with one drop, you would be significantly disadvantaged. It also meant raids were not the primary source of gear upgrades; heroics were via badges. It meant that druid power levels could be balanced reasonably via itemization (since they only had one very flawed set) but that they had very bad feelings about said itemization. And even then, the power of gems, enchants, and using jewelry that was designed for other classes meant that druids scaled too well compared to other tanks. It also had the weird side effect of making PvP gear awesome because of specific requirements to uncrittability that didn't care about things like block or parry; it was too easy to use resilience over defense simply because a loss of defense wasn't expensive enough.

Then we get to WotLK, and we have a totally different problem. Itemization is easy because so much of the itemization 'needs' gets covered with talents. Innate dodge, uncrittability and no real stat requirements. This (as Guaritor has pointed out) leads to really weird scaling issues, where a druid can have a range of 20,000 HP difference between one and another, or 20% more avoidance than another. Furthermore, because there is no extra armor gained from gear, we have the weird situation where anything really can be used without penalty. Spellpower leather? It's got stamina and crit and as much armor as the next piece does. DPS jewelry? Sure, it's got agi and stam on it. This has another side effect of allowing druids to tank reasonably well while wearing nothing but DPS gear, a side effect that almost guarantees druids will be doing DPS instead of tanking on any encounter where tanks are interchangeable and not as required (especially if you need to tank only part of the time in a fight).

No other class has this kind of variability in gearing with the same tier of gear available to them.

Of the two situations, one was balanced via poor itemization, one was simply not balanced. Both stem from the same issue: bears scale too well around too few stats. In BC it was armor and avoidance stats. In WotLK it is stamina and to a lesser extent agility.

Simply tweaking things here and there isn't going to solve the issue that druids can get 20k differences in health; that number is only going to increase with the advent of epic gems and better gear. Requiring druids to have some level of some stat found on DPS gear might help some, but only for a bit; once it becomes trivial to meet that level via improving ilvl gear, you'll run into silly scaling again.

So what are the problems that druids actually need to solve?
Bears need to be uncrittable.
Bears need to have a way to use leather melee DPS gear as tanking gear or have their own set of gear that is balanced for them. If they use melee DPS gear, it means more options but more balancing headaches. If they use tanking leather, it means fewer options, harder gearing choices and potentially wasted gear drops.
Bears need a way to innately balance tanking jewelry that is balanced around plate wearers.
Bears need a way to innately balance gems and enchants that are balanced around plate wearers.
Bears need to make up the stamina loss on leather DPS compared to plate wearers.
Bears need to make up the armor loss on leather DPS gear compared to plate wearers.
Bears need a mechanic to balance a lack of a shield.
Bears need to scale with this gear in such a way that they cannot stack one stat over all others.
Bear talent specs need to distinguish themselves from cat talent specs in such a way that one says 'I'm a bear' - which is difficult since feral talents are all in the same tree.

These are hard problems to solve. No other class in the game remotely has these kinds of issues with balance. The closest analogy is the holy paladin, who has their own loot table and shares jewelry that is close enough to itemization that they want that it doesn't matter. And honestly, at this point that might be cleaner. If you assume that druids are going to use tanking jewelry, gems and enchants AND they can get their own gear sets, you can balance most of that easily as well as make requirements on that gear such that they can't drop it easily. For example, the Polar set wouldn't have been an issue in TBC because it had no extra armor whatsoever.

Making agility count even more doesn't fix all the issues. It fixes the polar set - perhaps - but druids already get tons and tons of agility all over the place. In my polar set I still have about 500 agility. If we made it analogous to defense rating for plate wearers, that's only 189 agility to go. That's not that hard at all. And it causes another problem; reliance on raid buffs. Horn of winter would provide 150 of that agility, for instance - does that make much sense?

If you did do this, you'd have to make tanking leather. Otherwise, it doesn't do enough to make DPS leather valuable for druids, and then we get into the same situation as before where bears go for PvP gear and random crap things like the Polar set just because they can.

The core problem I believe is still that druids can choose to use things like the Polar set and that they have too high a scaling factor with stamina. The recent HotW nerf does nothing to fix either of these things especially.

I still think that tanking leather is likely the way to go here. Remove the uncrittable benefit from SotF and bring back tanking leather all over the place with defense on it. Make defense a desirable stat by converting parry to miss and dodge, and make defense the best avoidance stat for bears over agility so that they actually want the defense on the gear they get. Make 4 sets of tier gear, allow a lot of craftable gear and some kind of turnin tokens for rogue gear to turn it into feral tanking gear. Have cats and rogues itemized the same and have bears need armor and defense on their leather to remain competitive. Balance their stamina multipliers around the idea that bears will be going for tanking jewelry and values. Make SD more valuable and make strength a more desirable stat for bears. Give lots of early craftable gear choices and quest drops.

I don't like this idea so much because it does eat up more item slots on tables and may result in wasted gear, but that's probably the easiest way to balance the spec.

Barring that... I don't know. If you don't do it that way, you need to make dps gear so valuable for bears and so needed for bears that they won't think of taking anything else. Possibly taking the crit chance and turning it into anti-crit? (and not agility - just crit rating). But that feels kludgy. Making AP be armor or stamina, haste into dodge...all of these things have been mentioned, but unless druids are forced to use dps leather over things like the polar set they simply won't be balanceable.

And all of this can't be done any time soon. The best suggestion I've seen so far involves having diminishing returns on health gains from stamina, giving druids more cooldown options to bring them in line with recent warrior buffs and baseline DKs, and nerfing their current health and armor to what they are on the PTR. That's probably reasonable, though I'd recommend keeping the current multiplier on HotW but having DR on health. That should solve the problem significantly without hurting more balanced bears. Barring that, possibly just nerfing the Polar set would help tremendously. Or making it so that only stamina on gear is multiplied so heavily by various buffs and stats and dire bear form, similar to how armor works now.

It is frustrating though, in that a lot of these issues were brought up by myself and others during the beta but nothing really was done.


Felkan said...

I can see now that by not having a "must have" stat like +def or +armor has given us almost limitless possibilities for gear and other stats (+sta/+dodge/+agi). All other tanks are tied to +def so their gear selection is far more narrow. With so much flexibility, we've become a bit too OP.

Marino said...

First of all gratz on the Sarth 3d 10 man kill. We did it yesterday too. First night of trying and after me tanking it for a while we found a way to do it, but then our MT for Sarth 25 3d was available (I have no FR and he is a DK) and we took him. We are the 2nd horde guild, 4th guild overall to do it. Could have done it earlier I think. Just requires some practice once you have the gear.

On the changes, you might be right, but I don't think there should be specific druid gear. I like having to battle rogues for their gear. I am the druid with the highest amount of agility unbuffed on the server (last time I checked, 1065) and I like it.

Basically blizzard wants us to be the same as any other tank but then with rogue gear. Making haste and crit more valuable in bear form resulting in a shield (SD) is a pure example for it.

By us wearing dps gear I think they thought they would nerf our health. Apparently it didn't. So they are now doing it this way.

But I have to admit Blizzard does not know what they are doing and have lost all sense of direction.

As I have stated in other places before I am willing to accept we might have too much health. But Nightcrawler has really dropped in status. His answer to the health nerf (I am in europe and can't post on US forum, so I can't respond to him directly) is really a moron from his comment on this: [url][/url]

...becoming less of mana sponge...

So you want us to require less healing, less focus on stamina. Ok, then give us extra dodge or something. No we only remove stamina??? Like HUH?

Yes indeed this will make healing on druids a lot easier. Druids will be dead earlier! You can't heal a dead druid! ^^

1st: We still require the exact amount of healing wearing the same gear.
2nd: Removing stamina makes things that have stamina on them more valuable. I fear it means reequiping my Essence of Gossamer and replacing Valor Medal of the First War. That only means more healing. (Oh and also armor gets more value, so we won't equip our agility dodge rings, but rather one that has armor on it, and I was just about to get Favor of the Dragon Queen for tanking even more because of the SD shield, over my Boundless Ambition which has armor). I think I have to rethink this with a 6k armor nerf.
3rd: compare 2 exact same druids only 1 has 200k health, the other has 40k health. The one with 40k health will require a lot more healing on the same boss. You can not easy heal because death is imminent. There will be way more overhealing.

So removing stamina might be needed, but then don't say it is because you don't want us to be mana sponges. blizzARD is acting like a retARD. Maybe a better name because they have lost their brains.

So Kalon, just shrug, screem, cry, let it all out. Blizzard has lost it brains and does not know what it is doing. Hopefully a place like this will give them inspiration and put em on the right path.

Sorry for the long post, maybe I should get my own druid blog ;)

Peter said...

Grats on the kill!

Can u give us a link to your posts on the forums?

Nice ideas for the futre, but I wish you would contextualize your posts with the fact that these changes are in test. And they're only just in test. They're so fresh in test, they havent even bothered with savage defense yet. Warriors have a 1min CD on shield wall that "isnt supposed to be that low". And so on. That's what a test environment is. So if your big pronouncements on the state of tanks are based on these conditions, they dont have any validity to my mind.

Kalon said...

Felkan - thanks for coming by. And yeah, I really do believe that this is the core problem that needs to be solved. It was a bit of an issue in BC, but between armor being removed as something to stack and uncrittability being removed, gear balancing is just out the window.

Marino, thanks for writing. And congrats on your Sarth10 kill. Honestly, I'm not that upset about the stamina nerf. Partially because I don't think it'll go live (it doesn't do enough to fix the unbalanced worst case) and partially because it's really not that big a concern. It means I'll lose a couple points of avoidance. My guild isn't so progression-oriented that we'll bench me all the time, I don't think, and there will likely be fights that a druid has some advantage. Or not. We'll see.

Peter - thanks for writing, both here and on prior posts. I had thought I had linked the post in the official forums but I left it out - it should be there now. On the test vs. live thing: the thing is, they're still issues regardless of what the PTR does. Having stupid scaling with stam (or the potential to do so) isn't just a problem on the PTR. Having the ability to vary health by 15k depending on actual tanking gear is a problem regardless. These are issues that have been around since TBC days, and they're still around.

The fact is, druids did need to he reined in on their armor and their health in some way. Even if this wasn't an advantage for many fights or even more than one, it was such a significant advantage to that fight that it was potentially very unbalancing. Furthermore, it means you can't design fights that stress a tank in those ways; a druid either trivializes it or it becomes impossible for other tanks to reasonably do.

I just don't think that they thought through the actual stamina change they made.

Kalon said...

Ah, peter, I see where you're probably commenting - at the beginning of the post. And yeah, you're right. That's probably much more dependent on where we actually end up on the PTR. I'll revise the post. Thanks!

Marino said...


I am not THAT worried about the stamina. After the shock of nerf after nerf I think it might be ok but what really makes me angry is that thy don't explain it as: 'We think druids have too much stamina as it is'. That could be acceptable, but the 'mana sponge' thing really irritates me as you can plainly see it will require more healing.

Monkeytree said...

I'm confused about exactly what the problems with druid tanks are. You say
The core problem I believe is still that druids can choose to use things like the Polar set and that they have too high a scaling factor with stamina
but why is that a problem? I honestly don't understand why a bear having high stamina is a problem. I thought this was supposed to be a characteristic feature of the druid class.

I honestly think that the itemization is dandy right now, and better than it has ever been. Tanking leather is kaput, and we get to use the cat/dps stats to tank with (savage defense is a considerable part of this). It makes the game more fun to be able to switch from bear to cat and do well - this versatility/hybridness is a core characteristic of the druid class.

@Felkan, I don't think this makes us OP at all. Kalon's post actually posits that bears are weaker tanks than the other classes. I'd say we're mildly weaker but never to the point that it's bothered me or stopped me being a good tank.

I really think that feral druids are better "designed" and in a better shape than ever before (and more fun to play). No problem, move on. What am I missing here?

(awesome post by the way; it got me thinking. I hope I haven't come across as too direct, here - I'm a big fan)

Torosso said...

Gratz on the OS10 +3D kill.

My guild is going to be trying that encounter this week.

Onto the problem at hand.

Druid tank itemisation is a bit of a joke atm. The frustrating thing is that it was predicted by the tanking druids in the beta.

I really think that we need to complete the transition from tanking gear to dps gear. We are only 2/3 of the way there.

It also seems a similar situation to the original armor discussion on the beta forums, when GC finally worked out that gearing a druid for tanking was all about getting the maximum armor possible. So when they first nerfed armor it just made it that much more valuable.

This HotW change seems like it will end up the same. It forces druid to reconsider stam as the best way to scale for progression content. Once blizz see this they will have to nerf stam scaling again and again.

Its deja vu all over again.

Phil Jackson said...

As long as Caster Plate is in the game, I'm all for druid tanking leather. I find it ridiculous for blizzard to say that they don't want to waste a loot spot for one spec but not the other. I've said it before and I'll say it again, I'm all for a tanking tier set and a dps set.

I just feel that Blizzard is constantly just buying time with druid tanks. Make enough quick fixes to get up through the next tier but never fixing the problem at hand. I think we'll see a continuation like this all of wrath. It's a similar situation to Warrior PvP. There were a lot of small problems that just kept building on top of each other and sooner or later there will be a point of critical mass (not a bear joke) and something will have to be done. I guess the question is, are we there yet?

Bullroar said...

We can have specific purpose leather gear without wasting drops. Just use a token that you can trade for the piece of gear you want. Just like the Tier gear. An obvious and simple solution if you ask me.

Osis said...

Hey Kalon, long time listener, first time caller.

The thing that has me really scratching my head about all this mess that Blizz has created with ferals is how they made it clear when WotLK was releasing that they wanted to individualize cats and bears and make it harder to be hybrid, and yet they have done just the opposite. I've always been one to say wait and see, the devs know what they are doing, but in this case it seems clear to me by the contrast of what they've said and what they've implemented that they have absolutely no clue.

Now personally I like the true hybridization that has been created, as I think it gives ferals more value, but I've been wondering for a bit if/when Blizz was going to realize what they've done, and if they will try to reverse it.

Olvar said...

First of all, gratz to Kalon and Marino on their Sarth3D achievements.

Secondly, I don't see the real HP adavantage of the bear, unless you use Polar gear and/or gem for Stamina.
In Naxx25 on Sunday I compared my health with those of the other tanks as we were wating for Patchwerk. Sure, I still don't have a decent helmet, but I have 4 T7 pieces and my other gear isn't too bad either (luckily Origin of Nightmares dropped for me that evening). I'm also not sure if the others were in HP gear while I was in avoidance gear, but I definately had about 2K less HP than the paladin.
Sure, with two def warriors and a prot pala present I definately don't get a chance to tank, but if Blizzard keep their "nerf the druid" game up, I'll NEVER get to tank in a raid. Obviously I seem to be good enough for heroics, but in raids I mainly get to DPS.
I've been the second best tank in the guild at the end of BC, but now I'm someone who has to tag along in raids to get the gear. It's a really bad joke, and from the current Blizzard progress it seems to be getting worse and worse.

Last but not least, I don't really understand why the druid has to be nerfed all the time. After this nerf DKs will have about the same amount of AC, equal HP, more avoidance, more spell damage reduction, and definately more cooldowns!

Armour used to be our strength, then health. When they take both away, what's actually left?

Anonymous said...

Olvar I am with you. when blizzard take both away what we have left is dodge and what is bear dodge compared vs parry, block and dodge? What will be our distinguish as class now? What will be our + now that a progression raid will want us for MT. It will be like: (ok there is not war, pld or dk for tank o well lets grab the druid) The question is: It will that druid bubble really worth it comparing all the + the other tanking class have like fighting multiple mobs, magic resistances, block, parry, short cooldowns, etc. Every tank class should have their pros and cons. If every tanking class wants to be equal or same the other tanking classes then make just 1 tank class for the game. But dont take away what make a class unique.

Anonymous said...

Also we getting nerf with lifebloom. Maybe dont affect us for raid but it will affect us for pvp and solo playing.

Osis said...

So I'm the furthest thing from a theorycrafter that you'll ever find, so sorry if this is a long dead suggestion, but would this whole bear gearing issue be fixed if dire bears were just allowed to wear plate? I mean, if it's just an issue of lore, just put an Ancient in Moonglade that can "naturize" the plate, adjust a couple of talents to bring HP and the like in line with the other classes and call it good. Or is there a lot more to the issue that I just don't understand?

Kalon said...

Monkeytree, thanks for coming by.
I honestly don't understand why a bear having high stamina is a problem. I thought this was supposed to be a characteristic feature of the druid class.
It's a problem because it makes it very difficult to balance encounters when you have a tank that can have 20,000 HP more than another tank, roughly (it's closer to 16k, but it's still an absurd number). That's simply too strong and too degenerate a case to let alive.

I do agree that normal itemization appears to be fine, if not a bit boring. But it's the degenerate case that is problematic.

Torosso, I agree. Sigh. It is deja vu all over again. The problem is still scaling too well with too few of stats.

Phil Jackson and Bullroar - I agree, there are plenty of ways to make tanking leather exist without it being problematic to loot rolls or drops. It's really not that hard. It's a bit clunky though, and it is harder when doing things like quest rewards or badge items or things like that, but it's reallyl not that bad overall.

Osis - I've made that suggestion tongue in cheek as well, but yeah, we're getting to that point. Make an extraordinarily deep talent in the feral tree that allows druids to wear plate armor. That would probably totally screw over tier drops, but at least the itemization would be otherwise perfect. But in terms of coding? Huge, huge headache.

Shamad said...

I really don't see the issue with the insane stamina scaling, beyond the ignorance of other classes atleast.

We've got the worst avoidance, and we're hit the hardest by DR on that. Our magical mitigation is the worst of any tank. And we've lost our armour advantage, so our physical damage mitigation is worse than other classes when it comes to small and fast hits, and not a whole lot better when it comes to slow big hits.

We take the most damage, simple as that. Stamina in itself doesn't scale our TTL out of proportion with the others, infact having more stamina balances out our TTL.

So why not, as I've suggested before, allow us to go nuts and scale with stamina? It's not on DR, it works for physical and magical damage, it's a unique and all-around solution. What's not to love?

The problem is we already take more healing than other classes, and the reason we can't focus on stamina like this is that we'd just be impossible to heal. So we need a component that scales healing received based on some other stat. This would also keep us from stacking completely pure stamina, since we'd have to balance HP with healing received bonuses. Scale this off AP(more % healing) and crit(high chance of receiving crit heals). Voilá! Rogue gear, no wishy-washy joke-block, fixed for physical and magic damage, a distinct kind of tanking and we can gem/enchant for stamina and scale off of that.

I don't see what's so unreasonable with this suggestion :/

Oiysters said...

I just hope they refrain from releasing Ulduar with feral tanking only partially fixed. Even assuming they are able to SD working, if the current changes on the PTR go live we'll be stuck being the preferred tank for Patchwerk-style fights and forced to go kitty for everything else. At that point I'll probably just build a BiS cat set and resign myself to the perma-OT role.

Barring any technical issues, I don't see it as an overwhelming task to redesign druid scaling mechanics similarly to what you have suggested. The design goals for leather DPS armor and melee DPS weapons, trinkets and jewelry are already set, just start there and back into what bear scaling needs to be. I realize that's a simplistic description of the actual work that needs to be done, but it's doable if they have the FTE's available to get it done, and certainly preferable (to me at least) to feral tanks being marginalized for the duration of T8.

If they can't do that I wish they'd just slap DR on health and reverse the SotF nerf until they are able to do it. That would appease the epeen crowd (I swear tank hit points = concern about penis size in this game, where's Smilin' Bob when you need him?) and keep us viable as progression tanks while they work out the statistics.

Shamad said...

Oyisters; DK's have better avoidance, armor and cooldown in 3.1. Druids are the best tank in no situation bar a high-HP one, and I can't really think of any such where cooldowns wouldn't be a better solution.

My guilds already preparing to bench all bears and use DK's when we need more than the baseline amount of tanks.

Anonymous said...

"It is frustrating though, in that a lot of these issues were brought up by myself and others during the beta but nothing really was done."

Blizzard game quality. I mean why do we have rediclious high base dodge now? Why don't we have better scaling of agility? Why is there no parry? Why is feral PVP still gimped shit, there was and is massive need for buffs here (mana drain, mortal strike, survivability, selfhealing capability, shapeshifting immunity and speed). All of those things would have allowed to nerf stamina to an EQUAL level of that off warrior tanks in PVE, not more HP, just equal. Equalling HP but differentiating on armor/avoidance/abilities would have been a better path to chose than this bullcrap of pseudo design blizzard does for game mechanics.

Phil Jackson said...

"Why is feral PVP still gimped shit, there was and is massive need for buffs here (mana drain, mortal strike, survivability, selfhealing capability, shapeshifting immunity and speed)"

Feral PvP is far from Gimped shit, there are other classes that have poorer representation in high end play.