World of Warcraft Class Design and Balance Live Chat – Mages

This afternoon, the class developers as well as some of the community devs hopped onto Warcraft’s newly-utilized chat platform CoverItLive to do a Q&A panel regarding current as well as future class design and balance. As expected, some of the same questions and concerns were hashed out again (what the hell was up with warlocks and their goddamn pets), but interestingly enough, not as many softball questions. Mages got a healthy amount of discussion and some of my own fears about the state of our talents in Mists of Pandaria were touched on. Ghostcrawler was in full force and made some really good comments regarding our class’ design/balance. Here is a blow-by-blow of all the mage related questions that were asked:

None of these have been edited for spelling or accuracy.

Kurojushi: Is the Frost Mage ever going to be competitive in PVE? (I know it is within about 10% but it’s still the lowest DPS spec in the game at the moment)?    

Ghostcrawler: Part of why we are changing talents in 5.0 is to let every spec have a shot at getting good utility. This means we can abandon the current (and tired) model where some specs (Frost, Subtlety especially) have to trade off dps because they have good control / survivability / escape. The biggest difference between Frost, Fire and Arcane in 5.0 will be which spells (including procs and other mechanics) you use to do damage.

Lylandra:  Hey there, since the arcane mage playstyle is a bit “simplicistic” nowadays (one button spam in burn phase and two button use in conserve phae) can we hope to see other, more engaging ways of spell interaction? Would it, for example, be possible to get a resource system out of arcane blast stacks or can we get more spells into our rotation?

Celestalon: Arcane Mages’ rotation (or lack-there-of, depending upon your point of view) is something we have plans for in 5.0. We still want mana management to be a major part of their gameplay, but we want to mix up their rotation a bit beyond that. Additionally, their rotation being entirely immobile is debilitating for them at times. We’re currently planning to include Arcane Barrage in their PvE rotation, so that they at least have an instant GCD that allows them to move small distances without losing DPS. Arcane Missiles while moving is something that we’ve considered several times, but currently aren’t planning to use (that may change though).

Zalayera: Sometimes it seems you try to fix ‘underpowered’ class specs by increasing numbers, rather than trying to solve the underlying issue (like RNG in fire spec: you just increased numbers rather than making the dps more stable)

Ghostcrawler: RNG is what you are signing up for when you play Fire. We don’t view that as a crippling problem that needs to be fixed. Now there is such a thing as too much RNG, but we don’t think Fire is in that spot. Sometimes you’ll get a lot of Hot Streak procs etc. and sometimes you’ll get less. Our design intent is that if that bothers you, play Frost or Arcane instead. (Obviously the DPS needs to be similar overall for that to feel like a real option.)

L: In the old talent trees, a lot of the talents gave players spec-specific gameplay mechanics that are core to its gameplay, such as the Mage’s Hot Streak talent. Others, such as Infected Wounds for Druids, also provided important benefits/mechanics, but might not be necessary to take depending on raid composition (i.e. if another player brought the debuff). With the new talent system, how are these mechanics going to be incorporated into the classes? It would seem overwhelming to players to roll all of the core spec mechanics into the “Level 10 Pick Your Spec” decision, and are talents like Infected Wounds going to be made choices of some sort, or are they also just going to be rolled into the spec?

Ghostcrawler: In most cases, if it’s a fun mechanic, we give it to your spec. All Fire mages get Hot Streak at a certain level. Feral druids (but not Guardian druids – the new bear spec) learn Infected Wounds. As with every expansion, we are taking a close look at buffs and debuffs, simplifying the matrix a bit, and making sure you don’t feel like you are locked into a certain debuff.

HunterSalty: If there’s no hybrid tax, what’s the point of playing a pure DPS class? Raid/pug leaders will always prefer players that can fill multiple roles. When hybrids like Boomkin and Shadow Priests are out DPSing the four pure classes across most parses, I think something’s wrong.

Ghostcrawler: We want to make sure there are pure DPS classes in raids. That doesn’t mean that hybrids just have to be support classes as they were back in the BC days. But it does mean that you should neglect mages, locks, rogues and hunters at your peril. There may very well be more hybrids, because they just have a chance at more roles, so you can’t just look at popularity of classes, but we will take steps to make sure the pures don’t vanish.

Poncho: Since in MoP you guys plan on getting rid of relics for pallies, shamans, druids, and stat sticks for hunters are you planning on boosting stats in other areas to compensate? Or are the range slots for the other classes being removed as well?

Celestalon: The ranged slot is being removed for everyone in 5.0. Relics are gone. Ranged Weapons will be usable in the main hand by appropriate classes. Wands will become a type of main hand weapon. This effectively is a slight nerf to the stats of everyone equally, so doesn’t cause class balance concerns.

At this point, Ghostcrawler posted a hilarious poll:

What class would you like to see nerfed?
Mages

 ( 61% )

Mages

 ( 39% )
Mages

Avantha: You mentioned at Blizzcon that all mages will be getting Living Bomb. How will this along with talented Scorch be balanced so that it is not too powerful for fire and too underpowered for other specs? Because certain spells like Arcane Blast and Frostbolt will be only available to their respective spec, does this mean the specialization bonuses such as “your fire spells do X% increased damage” are being removed and the extra damage worked into the spell itself, so that cross spec spells such as Living Bomb do the same amount of damage no matter which spec you are in?

Ghostcrawler: Mages don’t really need their +fire, +frost or +arcane specializations in 5.0 because only Fire mages will have Fireball. So Fire mages won’t do more damage with LB or Scorch. They will still feel like Fire mages though because of Fireball, Ignite, Combustion and Hot Streak.

Guest: Why did you pick Blast Wave, Dragon’s Breath, and Slow as the level 90 mage talents? Most every other class has gotten new skills at 90. Why put spells we mages get a lower levels at 90?

Xelnath: You know, that’s an excellent point – we’ve heard from several people that Mages could use a few more new talents. We’ll take a look.

Hoffs: I love ring of frost AND Cone of Cold, why will i have to choose ?

Ghostcrawler: We think choosing between two powerful things is a lot more fun and interesting than choosing between a no-brainer and pile of poo. In this case specifically, we thought that mages and Frost in general have too many CC abilities and we didn’t want to keep adding more and more with every expansion. But if you have to choose which CC you want, then it gives us the design space to keep adding potentially interesting alternatives.

Overall, it felt like mages are going in a good direction, heading into MOP. We aren’t going to overshadowed by hybrids, our spells will remain spec-based and flavourful. My biggest concern was easily about the level 90 talents – the ones we saw at Blizzcon were not what I expected compared to other classes. We need something with punch and maybe a little lore behind it. There are many powerful mages in Azeroth and borrowing a little from their enormous power would feel in-line with others. Perhaps we might even see frost mages finally DPSing in PVE!

*runs and hides!*

My question to all of you is this – did you see your questions being answered in general? What are you still concerned about for Mists of Pandaria and beyond?