A recent developer blog has mentioned that threat is being, for all intents and purposes, removed from the game. In return, so that tanks have something to do, at some point in the future all tanks will be moving to an Active Mitigation Model, along the lines of Blood DKs with Death Strike. I’ve long been of the opinion that Cataclysm completely destroyed the threat game, but I don’t personally believe that the solution was to burn the whole thing down. In fact, a few relatively minor tweaks could have made it an interesting part of the game again. On the other hand, I’m a huge fan of the Active Mitigation Model idea – I’ve been very vocal in supporting moves in that direction, like Holy Shield, and tools that work in that way, like Word of Glory. In addition, any change to Vengeance can’t help but be an improvement. Rather than sing the praises of the good news, though, I’m forced to write about the bad.
I’m going to make the argument that Active Mitigation Model is not mutually exclusive with threat being meaningful – and in fact that it works better if threat IS meaningful. This most basic assumption by the devs is flat out wrong, and everything else follows from it. I’m also going to make the argument that threat is something that keeps tanks engaged in encounters, it’s something to make them feel like their button presses matter. I’m further going to make the argument that threat in general is good for the game, and that it’s an important co-operative element that keeps DPS and Tanks feeling dependant on each other, almost like they’re part of the same team. The last thing I’m going to do is talk about ways to solve the problems that the removal of threat introduced, given that it’s clearly not coming back.
Active Mitigation and Threat: Interesting Decisions.
Consider an Active Mitigation Model where a tank can use a resource either for threat (DPS) or survival. It’s important to remember that GCDs and Time are all resources here – so even if an ability has threat and survivability components (Death Strike), your choice in using it one way or another is meaningful. When threat doesn’t matter, there’s exactly one correct way to play: for survival. It isn’t an interesting choice to CHOOSE survivability over threat – neither in the moment, nor strategically when gearing.
On the other hand, imagine a situation where threat DOES matter. You can choose to gear for increased threat and allow yourself the option of playing more defensively. You can choose to gear for pure survival, and play more aggressively, hoping to cover the threat gap with better play. On a GCD by GCD basis there are interesting decisions to make based on the state of your healthbar, the state of Grid, and the state of Omen. Processing information and making decisions is generally considered to be good gameplay.
The best part is: you would have the option of being wrong. You would be able to make tactical errors, and see the results. Choose survival when you should have chosen threat and a DPS dies. Choose the other way and you die. There is clear and direct feedback in such a system – something that has often been lacking in the tanking role.
Tying hit and expertise into survival may or may not work out – in practice we’re going to math out the survival value of hit and expertise, make a determination about the RNG tolerance we have in our playstyle, and take our chances. We’ll debate for a little while, because we always do, but it’s going to feel like we’re just going through the motions. It makes survival gearing a 6-way stat game, instead of just 4. I don’t find it interesting or compelling – I think it’s going to shift the first 30 second RNG threat frustration into “I had my shieldwall parried” frustration. And that’s where the debate will end up: How much RNG can we tolerate? Perhaps I’m wrong, but I don’t actually see 6-way survival choices as being interesting – there’s just too much stat proliferation for tanks in that situation.
Threat is Engaging
Threat is a mechanic with which tanks can directly measure their performance. It hasn’t been very important in Cataclysm, and it wasn’t very important in Wrath, but it was something. It has been possible, although increasingly difficult for the last three years, to be bad enough at running a threat rotation to threat-cap your raid. That may not be a lot of fun, either for the tank or DPS, but it’s an incentive to keep pushing buttons, and to push them better. It’s an incentive to learn when it’s safe to use utility, and when it isn’t.
Without threat as that engaging mechanic, good tanks will run good rotations essentially out of pride. Tank DPS isn’t generally a significant portion of enrage timers. Choosing to lose or gain a thousand DPS won’t make any difference to your raid. It wouldn’t let you bring an extra healer if you boosted your DPS by 50%. And that’s why everyone chooses survival right now: without threat as an engaging mechanic, and without tank DPS being important, the only option remaining is survival.
My point in this section, as obvious as it is, is that we need a reason to be pushing the buttons we’re given to push. Threat was ostensibly that reason, but it’s been becoming a thinner and thinner excuse for years. I’ve already been prioritizing having WoG available for emergencies over hitting ShoR, and that trend is likely to continue with a threat-less active mitigation model. Standing around choosing not to do anything because you have no incentive to do something, and a strong incentive not to is not engaging gameplay. Choosing to stand around despite an incentive to do something is an interesting decision, and that is engaging.
Threat is a Co-operative Element
Threat is an element of gameplay that keeps tanks and DPS playing the same encounter. It gives them a reason to care about each others performance. If your tank sets a low threat ceiling, DPS is threat-capped. They need to adjust, with the tools at their disposal, there’s something to optimize around. The raid in general can find ways to increase tank threat to increase that threat ceiling – it engages everyone in the tanks performance, in the same way that enrage timers engage everyone in DPS performance.
Imagine an active mitigation model where threat matters: The tank is continually making a decision between helping healers and helping DPS. As a fight ebbs and flows, there are meaningful choices to make – you can make a meaningful impact on encounter success and failure. It might just be me, but I personally consider it a Good Thing when players in a raid have the opportunity to make meaningful impacts. Good healing can cover for bad tanking and bad DPS, because you can bring less healers and more DPS, or just brute force tanks through failures. Good DPS can cover for bad healing – with threat, good DPS can cover for bad tanks, too. When threat matters, good tanks can cover for bad DPS and bad healing – when threat doesn’t matter, you won’t notice good tanks.
Co-operative elements are generally good for the game. That’s the reason we play a multiplayer game in general. Removing co-operative elements can generally be considered to be a Bad Thing.
Solutions – I Have Some!
All is not lost. There are solutions. Idea the first: Quintuple the damage on all active abilities for tanks. That roughly triples peak tank DPS. It’s not as good as threat, but it does get tanks involved in the life of DPS. Tanks can make meaningful contributions to enrage timers and DPS checks. Good tanks can make up for bad DPS, and good DPS can make up for bad tanks. Making tanks into strong DPS brings back the co-operative element, when in concert with Vengeance (only when tanking) and Active Mitigation (meaningful choices).
Believe it or not, I’m not being facetious. Involving tanks in the DPS role solves the problem that removing threat creates. It doesn’t solve it as well as making threat matter would – because threat is a direct element, and dps checks are abstract.
If we don’t like the idea of monster-DPSing tanks, we can flip it around: make DPS contribute to tank survival in more direct ways. Sure, it doesn’t give a lot for the tank to do but stand there, but lets find a way to create that co-operative element. Good tanks mitigate well enough for DPS to all out pew-pew. Bad tanks fail at their mitigation requiring DPS intervention at the cost of some DPS. I don’t know exactly how to make that work, although the ret paladin is a decent starting place, but it’s a co-operative element that gets DPS and Tanks involved in each other’s lives, and there are very few of those links remaining. DPS will have a direct interest in their tanks performing well. Tanks will have an incentive to perform well – not just because they’re at risk of dying, but because they’re at risk of letting down the side.
We’re being presented with a change packaged up as a mutually exclusive choice. Threat doesn’t currently work, so we’re going to try Active Mitigation, and we clearly can’t do both at the same time. But I don’t buy it – I just don’t see what apparently should be entirely obvious: Why not? I’ve actually TRIED to see the link there, but I don’t. Instead, I come down on the opposite side: Active Mitigation clearly works better if threat is a meaningful gameplay element.
I believe the removal of threat creates a problem in the game. I think that problem has a number of potential solutions, none quite so good as just making threat matter again – but I’m willing to bet that that’s off the table. In 4.3 PTR there’s a major redesign of the whole tanking paradigm coming. That’s our opportunity to get out there in force and find out what works and what doesn’t, and get the devs the feedback they need to make everything work. While I don’t believe that the systems as presented will work well, there’s the chance to give the feedback that will cause the changes that will make it work. Slim chance it may be, but lets seize on it.