Of Heroes and Villains Part 3


In Part 1 we took a look at hero classes and made some speculation as to the next expansion. In Part 2 we took a look at how the Death Knight hero class was introduced into the game. In part 3 here I’d like to talk a little bit about the hardest part of the hero class, balance.

When designing classes for any game, balance is always an issue. Even years after classes have been established sometimes things need to be tweaked. The goal is to make sure no one class is so powerful that it becomes the only one anyone plays. Essentially trying to keep the class from becoming a “Mary Sue” of the game. We’ve seen this over the years with balancing and re-balancing of all the classes, as well as in burning crusade giving the faction specific classes to both factions (Shaman and Paladins playing for both teams). When you add a hero class to a game it’s really hard not to make it into the favored child. At the same time a hero class should add a new mechanic or do something in such a way that people stop and go “oh, that’s just cool” . With Death Knights this was the addition of Runes and Runic Power.

When Wrath of the Lich King beta went out, I could not get my grubby hands on a key fast enough, I was dying to try out the new Death Knight class. I rolled my toon and found myself climbing the levels. Each build of the beta Death Knights got what some of us refer to as “Flavor of the Month” builds. In these builds one tree was emphasized over the others to test that tree out. The idea is if you make the first two sub-par, everyone will play the third. This is an old technique in beta testing to gather data. For example, in one of the Wrath builds Scourge Strike was hitting for close to 6k damage at level 65. This happened several times and each time players dutifully left their feedback and devs took it all in.

When wrath went live, Death Knights were good. Scary good. They had superior mitigation, better cooldowns and better DPS it was hard not to love them. As a healer I loved healing them, it took a lot less effort then the other three tanking classes. But therein lay the problem. When listening to all the feedback and launching it’s first hero class, Blizzard arguably made them too good. Look at all the patch notes from Wrath’s launch to now. Death Knights have been revised several times in an effort to bring them closer to the other classes, including recently where the cooldown on Icebound Fortitude is being increased to match other tanks.

It’s hard to find that sweet-spot. You want the class to feel epic and new and shinny, but you don’t want people to stop using the ones you’ve already made. It’s a very fine line to walk and it’s very difficult to do it right. With Death Knights even after they’ve been normalized I still love playing them. I love the way the Runes and Runic power system works. It’s incredibly intricate and allows for a free flowing rotation that let’s you be reactive rather then just spam a key sequence or a one button macro. It’s fun so I’ll always like to play it.

If Blizzard introduces another hero class, they are going to have to be careful to make sure it’s properly balanced. Let’s say they introduce a new healing class, it would have to be balanced so that it did not over power the other four healing classes. At the same time the mechanics of it would have to be something innovative or new to keep it fresh and exciting. Same goes for another ranged physics DPS class. If one was added it would have to be balanced as to not overshadow hunters, and at the same time provide a new way to deal that damage that is fun. (for the record I really like the idea of another ranged physical DPS class!)

It’s a tough to add new classes without overlapping or overshadowing the ones you’ve created before, but I have faith Blizzard will be able to do it again and will do it better then they did Death Knights. Death Knights just had the bad luck of being first out the gate =D

So what do you think? Do you think they can balance another class in? What would you like to see as a new mechanic?

That’s it for today, Until next time,


Image courtesy of Marvel.com

8 thoughts on “Of Heroes and Villains Part 3”

  1. The issue I have with hero classes is there name. What exactly makes them more heroic than any other class? Shouldn’t they be more powerful just by definition of their name?

    I think Blizzard made a mistake adding “hero” classes, they should’ve just add another class and have no distinction between the two.

    But yes, class balance is tough. Very tough and every new class always has a tough time being the right fit. Look at Everquest. The Beastlord was way overpowered yet the Berserker was incredibly underpowered. It’s funny too because how powerful or weak a new class is when it launches can really effect how people view it for the longterm.
    .-= We Fly Spitfires – MMORPG Blog´s last blog ..World of Warcraft Movie To Be Directed By Sam Raimi =-.

  2. I wonder about them adding in new hero classes in terms of balance, too. The healer one, as you say, overshadowing other healers is a huge challenge. All of the WoW healing classes already seem to have every major niche I can think of filled (jack of all trades Priests, AoE Shaman, HoT Druids, and Throughput Heal Nuker Paladins), so developing a healing class and/or a resource system that doesn’t feel like we’re playing the same class over again is going to be a real challenge, whereas developing new styles of tanking and DPS can be done more easily through rotations and cooldowns even though DKs are still smacking things with big sticks like Ret Paladins.
    .-= Beej´s last blog ..Television as a Storytelling Medium =-.

  3. I think you can see with their continued problems balancing the existing classes we have that adding another class will simply deepen the problem. It is a matter of balancing the specs with in the class and then balancing the class against others classes in terms of pvp and pve capabilities.

    The fact they have a problem doing this with classes that have existed since the beginning of the game is a bad sign imo. I love the idea of a heroic healer (like say dnd’s 4th ed bard) but I’m not so sure I have faith in their ability to pull it off without overshadowing existing heal classes.
    .-= Lenelie´s last blog ..Life in the Geek Lane =-.

  4. I don’t mean to sound cynical, but I don’t think the fact that Death Knights were overpowered at launch and nerfed later was an oversight by Blizzard. Who cares if DKs are awesome while leveling if you can even the playing field later when everyone is at the level cap? In fact, that seems to be exactly how Blizzard had it planned when they started every Death Knight with a full set of nice rare-quality gear when many non-DKs at the same level would still be wearing a lot of greens and lower-level blues (ever tried to find a group for Maraudon?).

    Part of me suspects that Blizzard made DKs extra powerful at release to a) match players’ expectations and b) compensate for the short, steep learning curve. When you’ve only got 1 quest to learn how to use that new ability or talent before you get another, it is hard to master and I suspect Blizzard hedged against that.

    Both of those reasons are related I think: if players roll a DK expecting it to be “epic” but fail to understand the mechanics (because of how quickly they are introduced) and play poorly, then DKs would get a bad reputation that would be hard to shake. So a “hero” class almost has to, by definition, be overpowered at launch and nerfed down to equality with other classes only after players have gotten the hang of the class mechanics.

    If Blizzard made a mistake, I’d claim that it was underestimating how quickly people would master the class and reach its full, overpowered, potential. But if they were to introduce another class in the future, hero or not, I’d assert that they are almost required to make it overpowered at launch so it didn’t quickly become the laughing stock of the player-base. Making a “hero class” that starts at a high level just exacerbates the problem because a) it is easier to measure them against other classes at the level cap and b) Blizzard has to compensate for the steep learning curve to keep the class feeling powerful despite its players.

  5. @beej

    actually shamans are no longer kings of AoE… more the king of the “smart burst”

    With fast hitting spammable heals that splash smartly onto other units that need it the most we are good at responding to emergencies one to three targets at a time. When the whole raid is taking damage though we will rarely beat out wild growth+rejuvenation or the holy priest’s selection of spells. On Hodir this means I keep the people closest to death from dying, but it’s our druid that actually tops everyone up.

  6. I tend to agree with Ends. Not so much that they deliberately overpowered but they were definitely balanced on the positive side initially to encourage people to play and level them.

    The real mistake that they made, in my view, was that it looks as if several encounters were designed around validating DK tanking. Personally my experience of DKs at heroics level was that they were the *worst* tanks to heal, however by the time we got to Vezax our first kill was tanked by an off tanking spec DK (when none of our main tanks – pallies – could get it done).

    At the moment DK tanking (despite being nerfed every patch since Wrath was released) is still far and away the strongest choice for hard modes. In a world requiring cooldowns to survive, he with the most cooldowns wins.
    .-= Silk´s last blog ..3.2 – Numberz =-.

  7. Perhaps ranged DPS that didn’t rely on mana? That would set it apart from ‘Locks, Mages, Shadow Priests and Hunters. 2 of those classes already have pets, so I would doubt they would try and use that as the new hero class ‘gimmick’. With all the data-mining and Worgen/Goblin playable races speculation going on, perhaps Blizz will just release new races, not another class? It is less than a year since DKs appeared, and FOTM or not, they are filling up Dalaran and here to stay.

    It does seem like Blizz has been constantly nerfing/tweaking them since they arrived, and that in the right hands they are capable tanks. Yet I wish that Blizz had forced us to reach level cap before rolling a DK. It might have made people not so hasty to ditch their ‘main’ for an ‘OP alt’. Hopefully the 3.2 changes will level the playing field in terms of tanking (except for Bears…).
    .-= rusquel´s last blog ..Warlock leveling guide =-.

  8. (please don’t eat me or anything, i realize the topic is about how the balance relating to the hero classes, I just wouldn’t know where to put this)

    I’m just a guest but a had an idea (An extremely nerdy idea as it be) A class that’s skill use was based of using symbols in a specific order to unlock skills to be used.

    Say a person could press symbol number 1, trigger a global cooldown, and then use what skills that symbol would unlock, then symbol number 2, trigger a global cooldown, then use the skills available to that symbol.

    Then say symbol 1, trigger global cooldown, then symbol 2, trigger global cooldown, then trigger available skills.

    the longer the symbol chains, the more powerful the technique unleashed would be, granting a unique new way to unleash skills that would be more engaging that clicking a button and watching a spell cast bar go by

    It would be a new system that would require foresight, not neccesarily be a great reactive class, so tanking would certaintly not be a very good role to fit the system. Neither would healing I’d imagine, but for A ranged/Spell DPS (like we need another one lol) it sounds like it could be really interesting to me.

    If you don’t think I’m a complete dork with a bad idea, I’d really like to hear any other ideas on a new, or interesting idea for a new way of playing a possible new class. (I’ve left a few posts here, since i havnt needed a password or anything, i figured it was ok, but if it isnt, please tell me and I’ll shush)


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