Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Hybrid Gap - PUGs and Raiders

If we are going to talk about the hybrid gap, we need to define our terms. In my eyes, there are two vastly different worlds in endgame WoW: The PUG world and The Raider World.

The raider world consists of organized guilds that have a team of raiders who plays with each other regularly and bring a balanced composition to every raid. All the raid buffs are accounted for, classes are represented fairly equally and a good balance of melee and ranged is achieved. Raiders are scrutinized to a higher level on how they spec, gem, enchant, gear, glyph, and a million other nits that get picked; this occurs when they apply to a guild and constantly by officers and other raiders.

The PUG world is a raid assembled ad-hoc depending on who is available in trade chat and who’s friend knows a tank or healer. There are competent people here and there are people who are seeing things for the first time. It’s a wiiiiiide rainbow of people from those who can play the game well and those who might as well be wearing their pants on their heads. Generally there is an 80/20 rule where 80% of the people carry the other 20% and generally the 20% soaks up the loot. PUGs are not doing progression content, and people are generally doing PUGs in order to gear up for applying to raiding guilds or to gear up and play alts. Generally when I think of the PUG world I am talking about the Looking For Dungeon system, because those groups are the purest random gathering of players where the biggest crapshoot of players can be found.

The hybrid tax is present in both situations, but where the rubber meets the road is in the raider world. Raiders understand more about their class than the average PUG, and can get the most out of their character in terms of damage throughput. In the raider world pure DPS has the edge and can typically put out 5% or so more damage than a hybrid DPS class. Things that can sometimes fluxuate are encounter mechanics, class nerfs/buffs, latency, and player skill, but in general if all other things are held equal, a pure DPS will come out on top.

However in a raiding environment, this gap becomes very small and almost unmeasurable due to random events that happen in any given raid encounter (movement being the most common); because of these random events the hybrid gap disappears for the raider. This is not a bad thing, because in a raiding environment, every player has a very specific role to fill and a pure DPS is just as valuable as a hybrid DPS. A hybrid cannot fill two roles at the same time, because the average hybrid does not have the gear or comparable skill set as his DPS, not to mention the overlapping of raid buffs that would need to be retooled on a fight by fight basis. Trust me, it’s a nightmare when we have to have a DPS caster heal for Sindragosa and fill in the missing raid buffs left behind.

The hybrid tax in the raider world is not all that interesting because it disappears due to the random nature of encounters. Until we get another Patchwerk or Brutalus type encounter, DPS throughput is secondary to survivability and how the player uses the other abilities they possess (CC, dispells). Where I find the hybrid tax the most interesting is in the PUG world.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Hybrid Tax - GONE

This post is a continuation of the previous, and second in a series exploring "The Hybrid Tax" and how it shapes the game.

The heralded design philosophy of Wrath of the Lich king was “Bring the Player, not the Class.” This phrase might as well be stamped all over every square inch of the expansion, because I swear I have heard this more than 100 times from the developers over the last two years. This philosophy meant that while each talent spec had its own unique flavor and abilities, its throughput and performance would be roughly on par with other classes performing the same role. In addition to normalizing the classes, the developers took the raid buffs that were before isolated to one class, and gave them to two or more classes so that raid compositions could be more flexible.

The caveat is that the pure DPS classes would be tuned to push out more damage than any hybrid DPS class, simply because a pure DPS class doesn’t have the option of fulfill any other role in a PVE environment. While this gap between pure and hybrid still exists, it is vastly smaller than what it was in previous versions of the game. While this is good in theory, things kind of hit the fan when this gets put into practice.

Tanking and healing classes were normalized as well, but more in the sense that Bears, Tankadins and DKs were given versions of the tools that warriors had a monopoly on previously i.e. damage reduction cooldowns (Shield Wall) and temporary health boost (Last Stand). Healers also were given tools so that they could do their jobs more effectively. Each healing class could tank or raid heal to an extent where previously they were SOL.

Hybrid classes have ultimate flexibility in a PVE environment. If a hybrid class wants to change rolls in PVE, then it is a simple 50g and a visit to the trainer. When WOLK first came out, Dual Specialization did not exist. There was a barrier in place if you wanted to change rolls from DPS to Tank to Healing, albeit a small one. It was a pain in the butt to go to town, unlearn everything, re-talent, setup my action bars, and shift my mindset. On average it took about 10 minutes out of my playing time if I wanted to completely change roles. If a pure DPS class wanted to change roles, then there was a much larger time investment involved leveling up a brand new class, not to mention appropriate gearing so that they could compete in current content, and learning the class mechanics.

The class trainer was probably the most popular kid in town before patch 3.1 hit. If someone was playing at endgame, they were most likely carrying two sets of gear and fulfilling two roles, be it PVP and PVE, or carrying an offspec for PVE. Personally, I was respeccing 4-5 times a night during farming Sunwell due to paladins being overpowered at various roles for each boss.

Dual specialization was a boon to almost everyone who played the game when it was first introduced, but it began chipping away the benefit to being a pure DPS class. Everyone who had 1000g can now have fast access to two different sets of talents and glyphs. If a raid leader had a choice between bringing a hybrid DPS with a helpful offspec and a pure DPS to a raid all other things being equal, the hybrid DPS might present itself as a better option given that there is more flexibility in the roles that a hybrid can fill.

The question then becomes, is that marginal DPS between pure and hybrid DPS enough to tip the scales towards the hybrid DPS for that raid spot given that the Hybrid can perform more than one role in a raid? The short answer, maybe. The hybrid DPS could be a good replacement for a pure DPS in my eyes if one of the following are true:

1) The hybrid is completely competent in both of their specs and gear.

2) The pure DPS in question is on the margin either because of survivability or performance.

The long answer will come in the next post. The answer depends on how you play the game.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Hybrid Tax: Why it matters.

Wrath of the Lich King did something (of many) very different than it did in the two previous versions of World of Warcraft. WOLK allowed hybrid DPS classes compete with the pure DPS classes directly in terms of how much damage they can push out. This was unheard of in Vanilla and Burning Crusade. I think the WoW community loved this change, myself included, but going into Cataclysm, I feel that it may be time to bring our friend “The Hybrid Tax” back in some form. The next few posts are going to be an exploration of the Hybrid Tax, how it shaped this expansion, and how it will affect the World of Warcraft going forward into Cataclysm.

History of the Tax

Every class in the World of Warcraft has the ability to deal damage to creatures, and by extension gain experience and complete quests via the killing of these creatures, but some classes are more effective than others. The gap in the damage throughput between pure DPS classes (Rogue, Mage, Warlock, Hunter) and hybrid classes (Priest, Druid, Shaman, Paladin, Warrior, Death Knight) is affectionately known as “The Hybrid Tax.” The hybrid tax is Blizzard’s sneaky way of hinting to you that while your character has the ability to deal damage to level up and quest, it could be more effective and useful by filling a different role while interacting with other people at max level in the world (of warcraft).

In Vanilla WoW, hybrid classes (Paladin/Shaman, Druids, Priests and to an extent Warriors) were expected to fill different roles if they wanted to raid and do dungeons. All the hybrid classes were expected to do something completely different compared to what those classes were learning to do from leveling 1-60. This came as quite a shock, given that they spent a significant chunk of time learning how to effectively kill monsters and quest.

The vanilla raiding game was vastly different from what it is today; Hybrids were expected to heal or tank, resistance gear was common depending on which instance you were raiding, and if you were a shadow priest, retribution or protection paladin, DPS druid, or DPS shaman: you were at the bottom of the list in terms of people that were able to be invited to the raid. Not only was your DPS incredibly low, but you had very little ability to sustain your mana, and therefore not able to DPS as long as fights would last; don’t even think about respeccing constantly either since 50g per respec is a scary chunk of gold at the time.

The Burning Crusade opened the door to hybrid DPS as a viable raiding spec. Shadow priests took front and center as the most popular and most important hybrid DPS support class in raids; while shadow priests DPS was not very close to what pure DPS classes could deal, they provided a very important resource back to healers and caster DPS: mana. The shadow priest returned mana to their party based on a percentage of their damage done.

The other hybrid DPS classes had a place as well in the new raiding machine, again not in terms of DPS throughput but by the buffs they brought to the raid to enhance the total overall DPS output of the rest of the raid:

* Feral Druid: DPS/Tank that could shift roles in combat and group wide critical strike buff (Leader of the Pack)
* Balance Druid: Melee hit boss debuff and group wide spell critical strike buff (Improved Faerie Fire and Moonkin Aura)
* Enhance Shaman: Melee group buffs (Windfury/Agility totem twisting and Bloodlust)
* Elemental Shaman: Caster group buffs (Totem of Wrath, Wrath of Air, and Bloodlust)
* Retribution Paladin: Group wide damage buff, boss debuffs: critical strike bonus, health/mana return (Sanctity Aura, Judgement's of Crusader, Light, and Wisdom)
* Protection Paladin: AoE tank that could hold threat on many targets simultaneously, Blessing of Sactuary

As an extension of the hybrid tax, feral druids and protection paladins, while viable tanks, were not the go to tank for Burning Crusade. Many of the encounters in the expansion were tuned for warrior tanks, and warriors alone possessed tools in their arsenals to counter specific encounter mechanics that would have left a paladin or druid out of luck (i.e. Reliquary of Souls’ Deaden, and Illidan’s Shear)