Uniqueness of Abilities & Mechanics

This started off as the first two sections of a much larger post, but I think the subject is better served with a stand alone article.

Let’s start off by talking about “uniqueness”. Usually in WoW Class design/discussions this is a rough indication of how unique a certain thing is across other specs & classes. The idea is that as an ability becomes more prevalent among a role type the less unique it is, and then class or spec identity suffers as a result. I can agree with the first half of this, but find that linking this to diminishing class/spec identity is ignoring a few key points.

Abilities

A classic example of this would be the movement abilities that melee DPS specs have, eg: Charge for Warriors. Frost Death Knights, by comparison, feel very slow as it’s a 3 second 70% movement speed buff on a 45 second cooldown vs Charge covering 25 yards on a 20 second cooldown. As the base runspeed is 7 yards per second we can calculate that a Frost DK can cover ~36 yards in those 3 seconds, but gain only 15 yards over what they would normally cover for a net 0.33 yards per cooldown second (ie: gain of the ability divided by its cooldown). Charge covers up to 25 yards in roughly 1 second, and can give at most 1.25 yards per cooldown second.

Getting out of the mathematical detail for a minute, Charge also has a different feeling to Wraith Walk: it feels powerful. This is because it’s a clear press button -> move really fast effect, giving the player definite feedback. The Druid ability Dash gives a similar 70% movement speed, but has a 15 second duration (five times longer) with a 3 minute cooldown (only four times longer) which multiplies with the passive 15% bonus run speed that Feral Druids get for a 95.5% speed increase. It’s not that strong when converted into yards per cooldown second (0.55) but as it has a much larger impact in a short window.

So what does this have to do with uniqueness? Movement abilities for melee DPS specs (and tanks) are one of those much debated areas. Much of the argument against having these abilities for all specs is that with all melee specs having these abilities makes them less unique, and thusly diminishes the individual specs.

My viewpoint on this subject is that there is a direct relationship between the importance of an ability for a role & how prevalent it should be across all specs performing said role. At one end of this we have interrupt abilities, magic debuff removals for healers, or active mitigation abilities for tanks. At the other end we can have oddball and/or really unique abilities like spell reflect, grounding totem (the pre-Legion version) and so forth.So linking back to the movement abilities, these tend to be at the more important end of the scale but also have a non-quantifiable “feeling” of power because let’s face it, going fast makes you feel more powerful. If that feeling is missing, then it’s more of a negative lack-of-power issue for the players without it rather than a “my movement ability isn’t unique” feeling for those with them. Uniqueness can be expanded upon without making vastly mechanic different abilities, as the design and artwork for each can give the feeling of uniqueness. Shadowstep is different to Heroic Leap, which is different to Harpoon or Fel Rush.

Mechanics

There’s another variable in the importance vs prevalence question: how visible the ability or mechanic is. Depending on how far you break things down, most abilities and mechanics can be similar to those from other classes, but if something has no visual impact then the requirement for uniqueness can be lower.
An example of this is any of the power resources: rage, runic power, maelstrom, astral power, etc. You could even go as far to include holy power, chi and combo points in this too. All of these are resources generated by hitting abilities, which is in turn spent on other abilities, but as this is an incredibly fundamental function that many specs are built around it’s okay to have a fair bit of overlap in function while making the visuals completely different.

Since there’s less visual impact from some of these mechanics they could be applied a to other classes to assist with gameplay & balance issues. Pandemic was a passive ability for Affliction Warlocks back in MoP, where dot refreshes would extend out to 150% of the dot duration, and was applied as a 130% maximum to dots, hots and even some buff effects in WoD. The result of sharing this was that haste breakpoints for dots & hots effectively disappeared, which made gearing a lot easier to manage.

There are some other situations where sharing mechanics has not been applied, but probably should for the sake of balance. The biggest one of these is the way Chaos Bolt damage is increased by your crit chance, as it has an auto crit mechanic. There’s a similar auto crit mechanic for Lava Burst for Elemental Shaman, but this has had a few workarounds applied to help with gear scaling. The first was in mid WoD where Lava Burst had a third “multi-strike” (multistrike would give 2 X% chances per cast to generate a low damage copy, similar to Overload) based on your crit chance. This was removed in Legion when Overload was returned as the Elemental mastery effect & multi-strike was removed, but during the beta the L100 talent Ascendance (no longer a base cooldown for Shaman) gained a damage bonus based on crit % while it was active.

Elemental does have other bonuses related to critical strikes, including the higher crit damage bonus of Elemental Fury and the Elemental Focus damage proc on critical hits, but these are more additional changes to balance the initial problem of Lava Burst not scaling with critical strike chance, and aside from the very specific situation where you want to recast Flame Shock with a charge of EF up both can effectively be ignored by players (and even then it’s only a minimal gain).

TL;DR

The summary is that uniqueness can be the result of different animation/artwork as well as different mechanics, and uniqueness for uniqueness sake can have detrimental effects on how players view their class/spec.

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

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