Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Beginners Bane: Part I: Abilities

Warcraft has a long history of being a good game.  It has been around for a long time in terms of gaming and as such has a very expansive world which can be overwhelming for the new players.  This will be a series about the problems with warcraft from the perspective of the new player.

Part I: Abilities

There are just too many of them...

No where in the game is it more apparent that there are too many choices in abilities for the new player than in the entry level of heroic dungeons. 

This is the reason we see damage dealers doing bad damage, because they have dozens of abilities to choose from and often make the wrong choices which abilities are the best for doing their job of killing the big baddie in the most efficient manner.

This is, in part, the reason we see so many bad healers in dungeons that are not choosing the right heals for the right moments.  They either panic and use the expensive heals and run out of mana or they try to conserve and cast smaller heals when bigger ones are needed.  Or in some cases they just do not grasp the concept that there are different heals for different situations and ever healing class has at least one for each task.

This is why tanks often learn how to tank without learning how to use cooldowns effectively.  While they are out leveling on their own they are in the same situation as the damage dealer when dealing with so many damage dealing abilities that they never even realize they have defensive cooldowns.  Even more so, they underestimate the need for them because a 20% reduction of damage for 6 seconds just does not seem all that attractive when compared to an ability that has 125% weapons damage even if a tanks first priority, outside of insulting the mobs mother, is to do what they can to stay alive.

Easy to play, hard to master...

This really covers the entire warcraft game.  In truth it is easy to play and hard to master but that term is usually reserved for hunters in player vs player and there is a reason for that.  The hunter toolbox is huge.  There are so many things they can do so while they might be an extremely easy class to play they are amazingly hard to master because of the copious amount of abilities they have.

There is no better example of how different the game is depending on how you handle the abilities you have and having so many of them actually makes the game much harder for those that do not understand them all.

I've trained at least a dozen hunters how to better play their class this expansion alone and it is quite interesting to see how little they knew even if they where doing fantastic beforehand. 

First boss in the last HoT I said, you can use master call to get out of that.  What?  I have said that what feels like 100 times and never once, yes, not once, has anyone ever said, I knew that.  That many different hunters and not one of them knew what masters call did.  A few even said, I am not BM I don't have it.

These are people that seemed like good players.  Their damage numbers were up there, they attacked the right targets, they managed aggro, the avoided the avoidable, they seemed like excellent hunters but they never even knew something as simple as masters call existed.

Easy to play, hard to master, meet the perfect example.

Masters call, master call on someone else, kill command while in deterrence, disengaging forward, scatter trap, concussive kiting, scare beast, aspect dancing, and the list goes on and on.

There are so many abilities that hunters, and all classes for that matter, have that people just over look because they don't fit the textbook of damage dealing abilities for damage dealers, tanking abilities for tanks and healing abilities for healers.

There is so much going on and so many things to do when all those things are going on if only the people are willing to learn them all and practice them all.

What is in your rotation...

Most like to say that the role of the damage dealer is the easiest roll in the game and depending on how you look at it that might very well be true but that is an argument for another day.  Today's argument is how easy is it really?

If being a damage dealer is so easy how come there are so many so bad at it?  I often like to use that as a response to people that say it is easy because if it were really as easy as people say it was than everyone would be good at it, don't you think?

The reason for this is that myriad of abilities people have.  They can read the tooltips and try to make the correct choice on which abilities seem the best and while that might be enough to get them by that doesn't mean they will do well. 

A hunter just doing steady shot to get focus and than arcane only to dump it before switching back to steady might be able to do well enough to pass through nearly unnoticed in much of the game because it will at least give them some mildly reasonable damage.  In the end however, that won't make the cut.

If they where to read the tooltips they might see aimed shot is a much better shot and use that instead of arcane shots as their focus dump and because of its amazingly long cast time and the fact they will be forced to move often if they use it, it will force them to break the cast and their DPS will drop.  So while in theory using aimed might sound good, it isn't always so good and surely not in heavy moving conditions or without some sort of haste buff, but how would a new player know any of that?  The tool tip doesn't explain anything of that sort.

Someone that goes a little deeper might read into it a little more.  They might consider cobra instead of steady thinking they do the same thing and the visual for cobra just looks cooler, and they would be wrong if they are marksmen.  They would see serpent sting and think it isn't worth it on long fights when it is.  Or vice versa, they would think serpent sting would be great for something that dies quick, when it would not.  So many abilities, so many chances to make errors.

The more abilities there are the more chances they have to make an error in judgement.  And that is not even entering procs and buffs or debuffs into the equation.

I have to do what... when...

The use of the cooldown and handling of a proc are often the hallmarks of the good player.  A good tank knows when he needs to use his shield wall or he is going to die whereas the new or bad tank will use it at the first sign of trouble and not fully understand that the boss is about to land a big hit in 30 seconds and they no longer have that cooldown.

A good healer might know to use pain suppression on a tank at the right moment whereas an inexperienced one might not even know they have that ability or even if they did notice it they might have read it and said, why would I want to reduce the tanks threat, this is stupid, and never even put it on their bar.

How you handle hot streak or aimed shot could play a difference.  How you fire your explosive shots could be the difference between doing good damage and huge damage.

Not only are there so many abilities for the new player to try and understand there are so many interactions between those abilities and game play for them to understand.

I just don't get it...

That has to be the most honest statement any new player will ever say and I can understand their pain.  If you do not look outside of the game there is no way to ever figure out what is best for you.  If you do not look outside of the game there is no way to get better. 

You can read the tooltips until your eyes bleed but they usually fall into one of three categories. 
1) Vague, they do not actually tell what the ability does.
2) Misleading, they seem to say something different than what they actually do. 
3) Useless, because lets face it, use this to heal yourself or an ally that has been injured is not actually helpful, we know that is what a healing spell is used for.

There is nothing wrong with a new player being completely lost.  The game offers absolutely no assistance in game to teach people how to use the massive amount of abilities they give people.  I would hazard a guess that a fair deal of the players in the game would be a lot better if only the game itself offered some type of way to teach people what their abilities do.

There are just too many...

Without a doubt there are way too many abilities and that is the number one beginners bane.  The more there is to do, the more there is you can do, the more there is you have to do, the harder it is to be the new player because there is so much playing catch up you need to do with absolutely no help from the game itself.

With each new expansion that comes out the new player just starts falling further and further behind because that means more abilities are added to their already full plate. 

With all those main abilities, secondary abilities, utility abilities, cooldown abilities and assorted other abilities to use it is understandable how a new player could feel overwhelmed by it.  And lets not even mention the need to learn not only what those abilities do but to learn when to use them.

I feel bad for the new players because if they just want to play the game and never look outside of the game in an effort to understand it all, they will always be what people refer to as bad players.

Sure, they might be okay, they can play their solo thing just fine, but they will never be good enough for group play and any adventure though the random dungeon system will show you that a large amount of the player base fits perfectly into that description, not ready for group play.

Easy to play and hard to master.  With so many abilities for all the classes, to a new player, that phrase fits all.


  1. While I do agree with you, it's an interesting thought that fixing issues like this keep leading people to complain that the game is being "dumbed down."

    1. I agree and for long time players it is being dumbed down, for lack of a better term, but for everyone new it is just letting them start where we did.

      Lets say we started when there were 20 basic abilities and there are 30 now. New players have 50% more work to do learning the game. If they lowered it to 20 it might seem like dumbing it down to us but it would mean making it the same for them as it was for us.

      I think the game needs some dumbing down even if I might be against it personally from where I stand. I like to look at the bigger picture and this game is really imposing on a new player, as the future articles will show, it is not just the abilities, it is everything.

    2. Some Classes/specs in particular could use less of an overflowing 'salad bar' of slightly-different abilities.

      I don't mind having a lot of abilities as long as they're actually noticeably different from eachother (eg. Arms; note that I'm used to playing Prot), but designs like they have come up with for Protadins (a dozen and one CD abilities that all reduce damage and damage output to a certain degree) are not interesting, they're annoying.

      Given the proiliferation of macro's and add-ons amongst the 'top content' would suggest that I'm not alone in that.

      Seemingly random but actually applicable:
      I miss the ergonomically wonderful joystick, and hate it the hobby basically removed it because someone decided that more buttons = more fun (needless to say, I have zero interest in 'combo-attacks', and e.g. Gateway to Apshai and Gauntlet did just fine with their 'limited' buttons).

  2. Completely agreed on that one.

    And anyone who wants to have a vague idea of how overwhelmed a newbie feels, try creating a new character in a class you've never played before, and force yourself to play it without looking at ANY information outside the game or asking guildies for help.

  3. Well said - even if WoW is far from being the only game with this problem. (I found it especially bad when trying Rift.) I am generally positive about WoW but this is probably the thing I dislike the most. While I have to say Blizzard noticed and the descriptions seem to have improved in MoP beta, the number of abilities didn't decrease much.

    And apparently there's few developers who see this as a problem - even Tera claiming action combat has about 30 abilities per class. In Ragnarok Online, I used a single battle mode setup (27 keys) for PvM, MVPs and PvP/WoE and that included gear switching. (I probably wouldn't be able to do so if I was a high wizard though.) Well, at least GW2 decided to limit the number of hotkeys to 10.

  4. I started playing WoW about two years ago and clearly remember finding the game overwhelming, all the abilities and everything.

    I rolled a hunter, chose BM, and never used Kill Command because, well, actually, I think all I did was spam arcane shot and then wait for my mana to come back :). Oh, while backpedalling. I was excited when I learned I could walk backwards because then it took longer for mobs to get to me to chew my face off.

    I didn't learn to use Misdirect or Master's call or Intimidation or even Distracting Shot or Tranq shot until about a year into the game...mostly because there was just so much stuff and never took the time to learn what those spells did. Or, I would try the spell once without reading the tooltip and if it did no damage, I'd ignore it forever! Hahaha.

    I do now use all my abilities, but it took forever to get a handle on them. That said, I probably learn more slowly than average for these kinds of things, and I loved WoW when I first discovered it and still love it now. How would it work to "dumb down" the game and give fewer abilities? I'd be curious to see how that would play out. I'm rather attached to all the abilities I have now, since I've finally learned how to use them at least somewhat competently. Although I am running out of space on my keyboard for keybinds...

    And also, I kind of like that there were so many abilities to learn...it felt rewarding when I finally figured something out and I was certainly never bored...

    - Aq

    PS Just dicovered this blog. Thanks Grumpy Elf, me likey!

    1. Edit: Actually, I lie. I'm not attached to all of my abilities. They can get rid of the fire trap.