Feedback Part 2: Themes

In Part 1: Molten Earth I wrote about how Molten Earth works mechanically, and the flaws with how it was designed. In this post I’ll look at the idea behind why it was added, and how that can be effective while also making for good gameplay.

Needs More Earth

“Another reason is that we feel like we’ve failed on fulfilling one aspect of the Elemental fantasy: the elements. Fire (check). Air (check, lightning falls under this). Water (that’s more of Resto’s thing). And Earth. Where was the Earth? Ele shamans were feeling too much like the “Fire+Lightning Wizard”, and not enough of the “Master of the Elements”. That led us to including Earthquake, and adding Molten Earth.” – Celestalon

This quote on the Warlords of Draenor Beta Class forum (via Wowhead’s Blue Tracker as the Beta forums were removed) explains why Earthquake was kept, and why Molten Earth was created.

The first question to ask here is whether Elemental needs to use all the elements all the time. Looking at each element on a theme basis we have the following:

  • Air: agility, lightning, speed
  • Earth: strength, toughness
  • Fire: burning, heat
  • Water: cold, healing

It’s pretty obvious that Water doesn’t really lend itself much to the Elemental damage playstyle, although we do have a few healing spells so that’s somewhat covered. Similarly, Air & Fire are covered nicely by all the Fire & Lightning based spells.

Earth is a little harder to fit in. It’s possible to argue that Earth is already represented well enough in the rotation without needing extra stuff like Molten Earth, as you can’t really have Lightning without somewhere to ground it, so it’s really a combination of Air + Earth (and Lightning is all Nature damage too). The same thing can be said about Lava, being a combination of Earth + Fire, as Lava is really just molten rock. In fact, the only spell in the Elemental rotation that doesn’t have some connection to Earth is Flame Shock, as everything else is Lava, Lightning, or actually Earth related.

Design Around The Theme

If we want additional Earth related spells, we’d first need to consider a few problems, the first being the same issue that resulted in Earthquake getting a new animation: spell effect clutter. Usually earth based attacks happen via the ground, be they spike projection or wave type attacks (for the latter, think the Sundering ultimate for Thrall in Heroes of the Storm). Adding something like these in could increase ground effect clutter, making it hard for people to see bad stuff on the ground.

However, if we look for spell ideas from other sources, it’s possible that Earth could fill more of a utility role rather than being direct damage. Using the strength & toughness traits of the element could result in defensive abilities similar to Ice Block (but stone instead of ice, obviously). Other options would be looking at abilities that Thrall has, like the molten hand used during the Nagrand cinematic. Many people have commented previously about how various spells used by Thrall should make their way into the Shaman spell book, and it’s not a bad idea.

Theme vs Gameplay

One important thing to remember when talking about themes and spell ideas is to remember that they have to be usable, not overpowered, and most importantly: fun. This was why the 6.1 change for Enhanced Chain Lightning was so important. Interrupting multiple casts & multistrikes of Chain Lightning to spend the ~2.5 seconds to cast Earthquake felt off, as CL was fun whereas EQ wasn’t, especially if you had to micromanage the eCL charges. Now, with a fixed buff & instant cast mechanic, using Earthquake is more engaging to use as it’s an easier decision to make and doesn’t interrupt the flow of the multi-target rotation.

Making sure that abilities are both fun and also fit into the theme can be a hard task at times. There should be a time when if something is fun but doesn’t fit the theme completely, or where a themed ability isn’t fun, that the theme should be revisited. In that original quote from Celestalon, they envision that Elemental is a “Master of the Elements”, and thus why more Earth based abilities should be included. To me, Shaman are masters of the elements in general, so each specialization should have a more specific area. Restoration is primarily water based, while Enhancement seems to be more of the Air (speed) & Earth type, leaving Elemental to be Air (lightning) & Fire.

The design process should never be Theme leads to Design leads to Gameplay, but an iterative feedback loop where the gameplay results feed back into the overall theme design.

PS: General reminder again that I created a Patreon campaign last week. Getting some more people on that would be helpful & appreciated.

About binkenstein
I'm a geek, living in Christchurch, New Zealand.

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