Monday, November 3, 2008

Wings, Bubbles, and Forbearance

Using terms like "wings" and "bubbles" to describe class abilities doesn't conjure an image of an armored knight wielding a heavy mace. I hate paladin terminology. But I digress.

I wrote a rapid response to the Avenging Wrath hotfix on Sunday. I feel the need to further rant about this, with nods to Tim and Rohan.

As Tim the insane equine noted in his recent Forbearance rant, Forbearance is a red-hot flashing neon light that screams "gank me" to opposing players in the arena and battlegrounds. A paladin with Forbearance is a paladin who just burned a 5 minute cooldown and now cannot break an assist train, or just used an ability that could be spell-stolen, purged, or dispelled. Forbearance remains even if the ability that caused it is terminated early. Now, Forbearance is not the only debuff of this nature - mages have the Hypothermia debuff that lasts for 30 seconds (45 seconds? Whatever, it's shorter than even pre-3.0 Forbearance) which precludes them from using Ice Block again after initial usage. The Hypothermia debuff applies only to Ice Block, and only affects mages invested in frost (since Cold Snap right after Ice Block is the only way to make Ice Block available during Hypothermia). Forbearance, on the other hand, precludes paladins from using signature cooldowns - Divine Shield, Divine Protection, Hand of Protection, Avenging Wrath - and forces them to be spaced out 2 minutes apart.

Paladins have a variety of tools at their disposal, but those four abilities are non-specialized abilities that all paladins plan their encounters around. Divine Shield, when combined with the new protection talent that diverts damage to the paladin while under Divine Shield, now disallows usage of Avenging Wrath for 2 whole minutes. Which means, if something comes up one minute after a paladin bubbles in a heroic measure to save the party, wings are not available to up healing in crunch time. That's like telling a discipline priest "Here, you can use Penance, but for 2 minutes after that, you can't Power Infusion yourself. Hope nothing smacks your tank very hard!"

That's just for holy in PvE. For retribution in PvE, it means that retribution's damage will need to suffer greatly if there is any situation in which a Divine Shield would be useful. With Sanctified Wrath, the cooldown on wings drops to 2 minutes. Forbearance is a 2 minute duration debuff. Doing some simple math (hmm... carry the 11, multiply by the denominator... square the derivative...) that means if a retribution plans to use Avenging Wrath each time it's up, he will never be able to use Divine Shield, since Forbearance will not drop until wings are cooled down. And if the ret paladin does bubble, he can't use wings for a good long while. I don't know how the dev team is testing retribution DPS, but I'm willing to bet that each time damage is modeled, it's with Avenging Wrath used on cooldown, every cooldown. Forbearance tacked back onto Avenging Wrath and lengthened to 2 minutes has eliminated Divine Shield as a tool for retribution paladins in most PvE encounters. Not to pick on frost mages, but I don't see them having to decide between Icy Veins or Ice Block, or for mages in general, Arcane Power/Presence of Mind/Combustion vs Ice Block. Or, hell, rogues don't have to decide between Adrenaline Rush or Evasion/Cloak of Shadows. The point I'm trying to make here is that other classes can stack their cooldowns, or use them one right after another, and their cooldowns are performing the very similar function (mage Ice Block = Divine Shield, mage Arcane Power = Avenging Wrath).

And what of PvP? Well, pre-3.0, a ret paladin could only activate his wings if he was absolutely, positively assured a kill within their duration, however long they went without being purged. The wings and resulting Forbearance was a gigantic "kill me!" sign to opponents. It signaled to everyone in sight range that this paladin can't protect himself for the next minute - everyone turn and burn 'em! With that, wings were used very, very sparingly, and Divine Shield was reserved for only crucial moments, since the 5 minute cooldown and resulting Forbearance debuff meant it needed to be handled with care. The removal of Forbearance from Avenging Wrath was celebrated and hailed as an excellent and overdue move. The re-addition and lengthening of the debuff injects an even worse bubble/wings trade-off than before. Basically, wings can be used in a 1-minute window, 2-3 minutes after Divine Shield was activated, otherwise it can only be used, again, if a kill is assured or there is stellar CC applied to the opposition. Divine Shield is the only way to avoid damage for a paladin currently, other classes have tools at their disposal to mitigate or avoid damage, even if they have healing abilities.

Rohan dabbled in this topic from an overarching standpoint over the weekend as well, and you can find his thoughts here. The entire affair calls into question the desired end-state of paladins. Everything that's given to paladins for retribution facilitates burst - seals proccing from specials, on-command damage increase, multiple talents that do nothing but increase raw damage output (either via increased haste, crit, or just flat increase), and abilities with long-ish cooldowns and big damage attached. The retribution paladin is geared to burst something down - there's no other function for it. Yet, the feedback is consistently given that they're "too bursty." To lessen the burst, there would need to be a fundamental overhaul of the retribution system.

Changing the seal & judgement system to its current state was necessary, but did not address this issue. The problem can be encapsulated by looking at Seal of Casino (whoops, sorry - Seal of Command). Long considered "the" ret seal, this talented ability either does a good deal of unmitigated holy damage when an auto-attack connects, or does nothing at all. That's the state of the retribution paladin in general: big damage, or totally ineffectual. The talents point to that, the abilities point to that, and the cooldown alignment points to that. Messing with Forbearance, bubble, and wings does not cut to the core of the issue - seals proccing from specials, the very nature of Seal of Command, and the ability of a ret paladin to unload big damage from Crusader Strike, Judgement, and Divine Storm (with auto-attacks & Command procs thrown in), all within about 5 seconds. That's less than the duration of Hammer of Justice, which is likely one of the issues that needs addressing. But then again, how many Mutilates/finishers can an assassination rogue fit into a 5-point Improved Kidney Shot? Food for thought.

My final thought to sum this all up: Forbearance has always been, in my opinion a poorly implemented solution to the problem of paladins chaining immunity abilities (Divine Shield - Blessing of Protection), as I felt 1 minute was too long. When Avenging Wrath was introduced in Burning Crusade, I thought that having it activate Forbearance was very limiting for retribution paladins, as it forced the paladin to make a very dangerous and deadly choice that no one else besides warriors (with Death Wish/Berserker stance) needs to make - go for the kill right now and open yourself up to certain death, or play it close to the vest and keep the defensive options available. The current length of Forbearance (2 minutes, up from 1) coupled with the applicability of Avenging Wrath to all paladin specs and the preclusion of immunity abilities for a veritable eternity during and after the use of either immunity or wings, makes this hotfix a fundamental change in how paladins use their cooldowns. I agree, stacking wings and bubble was unfair to everyone except priests (who could dispel bubble and then fear us away). However, Forbearance is not the answer.

I think Forbearance, if kept in the game at all, needs to be shorter than even it was in the pre-3.0 world if Avenging Wrath is to keep the debuff attachment. No class with an immunity/defensive spell needs to lock themselves out of using damage cooldown(s) (or vice versa) for such a long time after usage. I honestly wish I could sit in on a dev team discussion about paladin mechanics, because this major retooling (I originally wrote "tinkering," but this is far more than that) after Blizzard stating that they were happy with the current state for paladins a few weeks ago signals that either a) the internal testing of retribution in both PvE and PvP is falling short of the necessary rigor, or b) there are opposing factions within the dev team at Blizzard as to how to interpret the test data, and the "paladins are way overpowered" faction won out this round.

I know I said last week that I'm not going to bash down Blizzard's door with pitchforks and lit torches at the head of an angry mob, but this hotfix to Forbearance made me twitch with an urge to commit arson. I'm still restrained for now, but... well, let's say that I won't be terribly happy with the dev team or the balance team if Forbearance keeps it's current state indefinitely.


Keith said...

That is a well thought out and articulate post on the situation. I wish there was a more intimate way we could voice our feelings on the issue with the Dev team. This neutering of Ret is getting really old.

Anonymous said...

Hmm, not gonna be popular for saying this but paladins are a hybrid class. That means that they should be able to adequately fill any of the 3 in game roles, tank/heal/dps.

What it does not mean is that they should perform better in those roles that classes that are specced purely for those roles. For example why should a ret pally be able to put out the same dps as a rogue/mage when those classes are designed purely around doing big damage and cannot heal themselves or tank.

Paladins bring DPS to a raid yes, but they also bring buffs that help increase raid damage as a whole, which is what makes them useful in end game raiding.

I run a warrior tank main and am levelling a ret pally alt which I started back in 2.4.

At 58 (after 3.0) I went to ungoro and smacked one of the level 60 elites around on my own, self buffed, and finished the fight with 80%hp and full mana. At 60 I went and did some testing on the target dummies in org and was able to put out around 450dps for 3 SoC buff durations (6 mins) wearing hellfire greens (and obviously without wings). To quantify this I had guildies in a ZA PuG the other night where 2 of the PuG DPS, one a mage, were doing under 500 DPS(they got to Malacrass). What exactly about that is balanced?

Last night after 3.0.3 I went back to the dummies and was only able to hold DPS rotation for 3 minutes. Damage output was only down slightly.

Most of the QQ'ing ive heard on my server has been about PvP. Bear in mind that with bubble and heal, pallys have to be killed twice anyway, 3 times if LoH is up. Not to mention that now wound poison doesnt stack they can cleanse that in a oner (I also play a rogue).

Im starting to ramble now so I'll finish up by saying, nobody likes it when their class gets nerfed. But come on if you wanted to top damage meters you should have rolled mage or lock