Friday, May 25, 2012

How do Death Knights "Taste"?

I recently read through a series of posts regarding the current state of Warlocks in Cataclysm (written by Cynwise, read the huge, well thought out series of articles here). Cynwise talks a good bit about the "flavor" of his favored class, and what it means to be a Warlock. It got me thinking about the corresponding "flavor" of Death Knights.

Now, I'm going to explain a little bit further here before we get to the core of this post. A classes (or spec's) "flavor" is the detail of the gameplay that sets one spec/class apart from others. Just like in real life, usually a particular "flavor" consists of many layered sub-flavors that add up to a recognizable result.

For example: let's look at coffee (a passion of mine). Coffee can range from acidic with few smokey/burnt flavors to all burnt flavors with no acid- depending upon the roasting process. In addition to that, tiny details like when the meat is removed from the coffee bean, the drying process, the soil the beans are grown in, the subspecies of bean, and the weather that particular year will also have an effect.

My favorite coffee has a dark, smokey, heavy roast with mild to medium acid, distinct cherry notes, and a mild chocolate overtone. This is considered a "complex flavor".

However, a more complex flavor doesn't mean an improvement necessarily. For instance, if I took my coffee and brewed it one day and then mixed it with oregano- the resulting flavor would be more complex, but I think that additional flavor would probably ruin my cup. There are both good/complementary flavors and there are unpleasant/contrasting flavors.

Now, Death Knights are a melee class, and we probably share the most similarity with Warriors. Unholy and Arms have many corollaries (let me stretch this a bit- both have a very important damaging debuff, a damaging attack to refresh that debuff, a main attack that places an additional debuff on the target, both use a 2H weapon, etc). Frost and Fury to a lesser extent could be compared, and obviously we have Blood and Prot again paralleling each other.

It is the culmination of a unique resource system, melee mixed with spellcasting, minion usage, debuffs, and other small details that compose Death Knight's "flavor" and set us apart from all the other similarly unique classes/specs, including Warriors. Not one of these details would be enough to separate a Death Knight, but together they form a very interesting cocktail.

With each patch every class's flavors are subject to some change, but the overarching "theme" of each class should be relatively stable. While this is indeed true of Death Knights, I have observed a concerning fact in the Mists of Pandaria Beta; Death Knights are getting several additional layers of new flavors that seemingly don't contribute to the original flavor. Instead, these new flavors mix poorly with many existing flavors and completely mask others.

Specifically, it is the addition of complexity, and the retraction/nerf of several key abilities that currently leaves a sour taste in my mouth. The complexity comes with little reward. One of the key problems is that Death Knights no longer have the key "Runic Empowerment/Runic Corruption/Blood Tap as a baseline ability. In fact, you can only pick up one of these abilities at level 75- so what is a leveling Death Knight to do until then? That will be a VERY jarring change when they do take one of these three abilities at level 75, your entire gameplay will change. Yes, you distinctly become more effective as a class- but we'll have such slow moving damage rotations up until that point that hitting level 75 will be like entering into a completely new game.

Another jarring change to the class's flavor (which I touched on briefly in "State of the Unliving Union") is that we'll have to be paying even more attention than we already do to our resources. While at first this doesn't seem like a big deal, the default user interface locates the runes far away from your ability bar, and also far away from your character in general. This means paying this extra attention to our runes will force our situational awareness to go down. Even using addons to modify the default user interface is not a solution to this problem- it will simply alleviate it. Our attention will still be where it shouldn't have to be, when it shouldn't have to be.

Now, again, I want to stress that this is a Beta, and nothing is certain- but the fact that Blizzard is so unconcerned with making sweeping changes to the core flavors of the class is not heartening.

The thing is- if a food doesn't taste good, people won't eat it. Similarly, if a class is so complex it becomes less fun, people won't play it.
The question is- will the additional flavors added when Mists is released contribute to the class's overarching theme, or ruin the existing flavors?

On Beta, so far, it's not a positive change- but there's always the next patch!


Thanks for reading!


Navimie said...

The title of this post is eye catching :) Reading it and trying to understand my nemesis is another matter :)

Kalc said...

Thanks for your comment, Navimie!

I will not deny it- I was giggling manically when I named this post. It was a shameless marketing ploy :D

However, I must say that I'm not nearly so pleased with the content of "How do Death Knights taste?" as I am with the rest of the blog. This post unfortunately reflects my own confusion and conflicting emotions regarding the precarious position Death Knights are in between Cataclysm and Mists.

If you want a better understanding of the class, I'd happily recommend you check out my blood/frost/unholy guides, and my "The State of the Unliving Union" post. They are far better reads, and frankly have better content :)

healingmains said...

so...they don't taste like zombies then? :-) Good read!

Kalc said...


Correction- magical zombies! Though heaven help you if you tried to bite one!

dreadblade said...

Excellent post Kalc. Very enjoyable read. I think its an interesting point that the resource system changes at level 75. I don't expect the jarring results though - in fact, because those resource talents universally improve the frequency with which you can use abilities I expect that it will be an improvement that propels leveling DKs forward.

In fact, the point you make about the default rune system is a much bigger deal. If you are going to use a two resource system, you better have a good way for the new players to track it, and the default UI is horrific.

Kalc said...

I completely agree that it will be a huge gameplay improvement when leveling DKs take their LvL 75 ability, but the thing is that each of these abilities requires the Death Knight to relearn how to use their resources.

If I were to drop a 500HP engine into my mom's minivan, she'd have to relearn how to drive the vehicle, despite the fact that it's a better engine than what she had before.

To me it seems like core systems of a class (like resource usage) shouldn't change so haphazardly during leveling. No other class I'm aware of has that happen in the talent tree.

dreadblade said...

I think you've really hit on something about Death Knights though between this article and your comment to Navimie.

The uniqueness of the DK resource system cannot be overstated. Both of resources 'fill' as time goes on as we use abilities, and using specific abilities spends those resources.

Compared to another double resource class like Paladins, who generate Holy Power with their mana. You could make the analogy of runes:mana and RP:HP, and you it would be as accurate as possible, but it still wouldn't be completely correct. I play both, and I can say with authority that it is nothing alike.

Runes, and not Runic Power, are the real culprit here. Because there are 4 types of runes, you could argue that we are really managing 5 different resources: Unholy Runes, Frost Runes, Blood Runes, Death Runes, and Runic Power.