DPS debate and Balance druids in WoW

Last week there was a discussion about the role of DPS characters (and players ) within holy trinity group gameplay. Murf had an epic post bemoaning the lack of role responsibility in more modern MMOs for the damage dealers, that is to say the group members who are not the other trinity roles of tanks or healers.

Bhagpuss had a follow-up post discussing Everquest’s more expansive role diversity. There’s a lot in his post but I agreed in particular with his point that combat in MMOs has become faster and in so doing has lost something. That’s certainly the case with World of Warcraft but also it’s a fundamental MMO design evolution that games like Guild Wars 2 have embraced.

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This brings me to the topic of Balance Druids, a k a Boomkins. For me, personally, Boomkin was the perfect spec for at least half of the years I played the game. Until the big skill revamp of late Wrath brought the Eclipse mechanic in, Balance was considered by many to be “a poor DPS spec”. Druids were expected to heal (tree) or maybe off-tank (bear) or use the other DPS form (cat). But I was lucky enough to play in a friendly, no-stress guild that didn’t care about min-maxing any variant playstyles out of the game. We had rogues, mages and hunters to bring the killer damage. I was there for other reasons, including

  • Crowd control (root, sleep, typhoon, hurricane, soothe)
  • Distraction (trees)
  • Strong party wide buff
  • The only combat res in the game (until Death Knights)
  • Strong emergency group heal (tranquility)
  • Mana regen for healer or other (innervate)
  • Racial stealth as a Night Elf (shadowmeld)
  • plus some damage via over-time effects and wrath or starfire

As a ranged caster with heavy(ish) armour and excellent survivability skills I was able to sit back from the fight and do whatever was needed to help the group succeed. For example:

  • Back in Burning Crusade heroics you would often have respawns before you’d finished clearing the dungeon. So shadowmeld allowed me to drop out of combat just before a wipe to then res all the other players before the boss reappeared without the long corpse run back to the dungeon and the fight past the respawns.
  • Tranquility could be a real life saver as a backup if the healer was stretched too thin – especially coupled with barksin to avoid interruption.

The advent and refinement of the eclipse mechanic made Balance competitive for damage but following the ‘rotation’ was so important to damage output that it felt, to me, like a straight-jacket on my gameplay. I was so busy micro-managing the darned eclipse state-switches that I no longer had the luxury of doing other things. That coupled with fights becoming ever more complex and faster paced and it just doesn’t feel like the same class anymore. Really I just wish WoW’s trinity hadn’t become so starkly focused on damage dealing over the years.

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P.S. I’m not saying Balance was the only class that could do more than deal damage, I remember rogues that could stun the most awkward to reach opponents and Frost mages that could freeze and kite unexpected adds to death with flair. But Balance did have a remarkable variety of abilities back then.

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