WOO II An Exploration in Design - July 2012 - By Stoneghost: Dalaran


WOO II - the druid conundrum, and the problem of breadth

The ability to change form, instantly going from one set of abilities to another, makes the Druid into the ultimate utility class. The question is whether or not that is valuable in practice.

My first character was a Druid. I was intrigued by the idea ... one character that could fulfill multiple roles ... and couldn't wait to try it out. But after a few weeks I found myself wrestling with a minor case of disappointment. The Druid WAS cool ... and it was fun to play ... but it never seemed to excel at anything I tried to do. I thought that maybe I wasn't fully understanding how the game was supposed to be played.

My second character was a Paladin. As a healer, I quickly jumped to the top of the charts. My pally was hard to kill in PvP and had solid group healing abilities for Dungeons.

My third character was a Mage. I tried frost, found it a bit boring, and switched to arcane. My dps went through the roof. I could pump out steady damage in the Dungeons and had enough quickness and toughness to survive in PvP. And everybody really appreciated the free food.

So, back to the Druid.

I really enjoy Druid play, and I've tried all the options: cat dps, tree healer, moonkin dps, bear tanking. The problem, I think, lies less in play than in design.

Compare the Moonkin to the Mage, for example, or to the Warlock. While the Moonkin has more armor, it lack mobility and effective crowd control. In any form the Mage can freeze, teleport and shield. Fire adds stuns, Arcane adds slow, and Frost adds more freeze. The Warlock has two varieties of fear, a life suck, and a pet.

In contrast on defense the Moonkin has an auto-rooting spell, a whirlpool stun and a shield. While this doesn't seem all that different, all of these are on fairly long timers, and unlike the Mage, the Moonkin has no way to jump away. The bottom line is that the added armor is not sufficiently effective.

Similarly, on offense the Moonkin has a limited variety of spells, and the powerful ones have to be used while standing still. This makes the Druid caster a good target in PvP play.

Druid healers, too, lack PvP capabilities. They have an effective set of heal-over-time spells, but lack the short cast time, high output spells that save lives on the Battlefield.

In melee the Rogue's vanish ability allows for risks, the Druid Cat, having no such escape route must win the fight or die.

Notice that these are all somewhat minor complaints. Druids ARE fun to play ... but each druid form is less likely to excel than would a specialized form of a different class. So ... it is not that the Druid lacks individual abilities, it's that these do not blend with one another as well as do the skills of other classes.

Perhaps the key aspect of Druidism, shape changing, is supposed to balance this lack. I think the notion is supposed to be that Druids have breadth. A Druid can adapt to any situation and thus can play across a wide range of venues, simply by shifting shape (and possessing multiple sets of gear). But I also think that this approach does not quite work. I may have made sense in the early days, before specification switching became available, but every character can now have two "forms", and there are few times in game play where the situation really requires instant switching.

In any case, there seem to be two questions:

Shape Shifting

I think that in the current game, shape shifting in and of itself has only cosmetic value.

In the Druid, a new shape does bring a new palatte of skills into play, but the cost of this is the loss of other skills, plus the hassle of doing the shift.

For example, you are in Moonkin form and need to heal yourself. As soon as you invoke the healing spell, you revert to caster form. This alters your skill set and brings up a new group of keys to press. Compare that to a Retribution Paladin where invoking a heal spell heals ... and nothing else changes. (In latter updates, Moonkins can use a few minor healing spells ... but this just makes shape shifting less important.)

Or, suppose you are in Healer form and suddenly face a melee attack. You can switch to Bear form, which gives you armor, but then you can't heal. Compare this with a Disciplinary Priest, who can throw up a shield and a Pain Supression, then an AOE fear, all the time continuing to heal.

Playing a druid requires the memory of more key presses than any other character (I think). And everytime you switch forms, you lose a bit of time. This would not be a problem if the Druid was more powerful than other characters, but unfortunately it is not. It's not impossible to play while switching forms - I've watched very good Druid bears run the flag in WSG, using cyclone and roots to fend off attackers as they made their way downfield ... but it's easier, and in the long run more effective, to do the same thing as a Death Knight or a Paladin.

The WOOII design opens up shape shifting to everyone. And it implements it in two ways:

Various cosmetic shapes are available. These let the player change the appearance of his or her character at will ... much as the Worgen shape shifting does in the current game. Since many players are actively looking for ways to distinguish their character from their friends', the availability of a multitude of cosmetic forms will be very attractive.

The active shapes increase the effectiveness of the character's existing abilities in the chosen areas. Under this approach, the players' button choices don't change, and the hassle of changing forms is balanced by the value of the increased abilities. After you switch shapes, you continue with the same ability set ... however, some of those abilities are enhanced. (This would be similar to the Shaman Ascendance ability in the current game... a form that upgrades existing powers but requires no new buttons.)

Breadth and utility

It is one thing to top the charts in dps and healing, and another to focus mostly on utility roles, for example:

While there is a mythos of specialized heroism that overlies the game, in truth most players are utility players, and many players are very good utility players. You might say that a fair number of players "specialize" in breadth.

The art of breadth is skill in play. To be a good utility player, you have to know which abilities to apply in which situations, and you have to be cognizant of where you are in the game at all times. The number one healer may be pouring health into the tank, but the raid healer is watching everyone's unit frames, doing an ongoing triage, and dealing out measured amounts of health while husbanding a shrinking mana supply. The druid bear guarding the flag in Gilneas will be taking on three attackers, taking care to let none of them cap the flag, all the while calling for help and desperately trying to stay alive.

The abilities needed by a good breadth player are not easily listed ... it depends quite a bit on the player's style as well as the kinds of situations the player seeks out. To that end, the WOOII design tries to provide players with the widest possible choice of abilities for their characters.

(The greatest risk in this is the confusion that will likely overtake some players when faced with that many choices. But this can be handled by putting the full-choice mechanism in as an option, behind a "template" approach that functions in a way similar to the current game. Thus players who want to pick abilities from a limited menu as they level can do so, while players who want to choose from the full tree can opt for that method. The goal should be to encourage as much breadth as possible while also providing a path for those who want to choose from a limited menu.)

What WOO II loses is the unique class style that the Druid represents ... the character that can take on every occupation within the game. The hope is that this loss will be more than counterbalanced by the breadth the design brings to any character whose player wants it.