If you’ve ever read the blog, you might notice that one thing Mel and I agree on is Vengeance. It’s one of the topics that we’ve covered several times before. And it’s one that I’d like to touch on again. I know this may come across as beating a dead horse. In fact, that’s putting it mildly – it’s more like exhuming a horse that was beaten to death and taking a sledgehammer to the bones. But there are at least a few good reasons to do that. Err.. talking about Vengeance, I mean. Not exhuming and mutilating horse corpses.
Mists of Pandaria is already in an internal alpha based on the screenshots being used by community managers, so the public beta can’t be too many months away. Now is the time to start hammering on the points that matter – the things that we most want to see changed or fixed. So now is an appropriate time to dig up the issues we care most about and hammer those points home.
Vengeance is one of those mechanics that seems great in concept. In Ghostcrawler’s own words,
Vengeance was designed for a single purpose, which is to make sure tank threat scales as other players improve their gear. Imagine a raid of reasonably geared level-85 characters. In the absence of Vengeance, the tank might generate about 50% of the damage of a DPS character. With the tank’s threat modifiers this should be sufficient for her to generate enough threat to keep her targets stuck to her (unless something unusual is going on in the encounter). The problem is that in later tiers the mages and rogues in the raid accumulate gear that continues to increase their damage, while the tank chooses gear that increases her survivability.
On its own, it seems like a great idea to have our DPS scale with “tanky” stats. Converting stamina to bonus attack power is a perfectly logical way to accomplish that. We do need a mechanism to help us keep up. It’s not the concept of Vengeance that’s flawed, but the implementation. Lets look at the problems with the current version of Vengeance.
Damage Discrepancy in Raids
One of the biggest problems is due to the sheer size of the Vengeance AP contribution. A paladin in full heroic T13 gear will have around 36k attack power, with 19k of that coming from Vengeance. Now, Vengeance needs to grant a lot of AP to be able to have a significant effect on our DPS scaling. But this design ensures that our damage output while tanking is around twice as large as when we aren’t. And make no mistake, we’re not balanced around our damage while soloing quest mobs. They balance our damage under ideal conditions – having a boss smashing our face in – which means our damage in every other aspect of the game sucks. Whether it’s off-tanking, questing, doing dailies, or anything else.
To get a feel for how bad this is, let’s look at some numbers. Raid-buffed Retribution paladins perform roughly at the middle-of-the-pack, around 45k DPS. Protection puts out around 23k, barely half of what a Ret can dish out. And worse yet, these are the best numbers, which include paladins putting on “stunt” gear sets to parse. But even if we take them at face value, that means our DPS without Vengeance is around 12k, or about a quarter of what a DPS spec can do. Doing less than 10k DPS to a mob in solo play is, quite frankly, pathetic. A DPS spec blows through those same mobs at 30-40k DPS in equivalent gear. It’s pitiful, and it doesn’t make any sense. What compelling reason is there to keep tanks doing less than 25% of a pure class’s DPS in solo PvE content?
Interestingly enough, one of the reasons we looked forward to Vengeance was that we were promised we’d be able to do competitive damage, since it wouldn’t be always on (and thus, wouldn’t make us overpowered in PvP). But in fact, our current DPS is in-line with our output in Wrath and BC, before Vengeance existed. So the net effect of Vengeance for tanks has been that we get to keep our relatively poor DPS output in raids, but we lost the ability to do even half of that in the absence of a raid boss.
I don’t think you can make a credible argument that a tank doing 15-20k DPS while off-tanking, soloing mobs, or questing is unbalanced when a DPS spec can pull 2-3x that. They’ve already decided to turn off Vengeance in PvP, alleviating any concern about us doing more damage to other players than our survivability should permit. So why are we made to suffer with a Vengeance implementation that makes for a poor gaming experience outside of one specific situation?
One of the more frustrating parts of Vengeance is that it’s not there when we need it most: on the pull. One or two “lucky” dodges or parries (or a miss or two thanks to our total disregard for threat stats) can easily lead to a loss of aggro and a tasty melee-DPS snack for the boss. Now, apparently, that’s by design – quoting the developer blog again:
Vengeance is not supposed to solve the threat problem completely. A tank shouldn’t be able to just auto-attack and let Vengeance do the rest. Vengeance isn’t a replacement for the tank generating enough initial threat to get the targets to stick to her. She shouldn’t need to rely on Vengeance in the first six seconds of combat. It’s there to prevent the warlock from slowly creeping up on her threat in the middle of the fight.
Vengeance paired with a 500% threat modifier makes the “DPS creeping up on you” problem nonexistent, that’s for sure. So in that sense, mission accomplished.
Unfortunately, we have a dilemma here. In the absence of Vengeance (i.e. on the pull) we put out 25% of what a DPS spec does. So with a 500% modifier, we should be putting out 125% of their threat, right? Well, no, because that’s 125% of their average threat. That’s great on paper, but back here in the real world, DPS players are going to be pre-potting and popping their cooldowns on the pull, which means they’ll be doing their maximum spike DPS, which can be as much as twice their average DPS.
So we have a problem, because the one point in the fight where we actually need the extra threat, we don’t have it. And it’s a mechanic we have no control over, because it’s limited by the whim of the RNG. Dodge a few attacks on the pull? Unless you have a tricks and misdirect, good luck!
Note that this developer blog was written when they still cared about threat:
Threat needs to be an important part of the game — I’ll try to explain why we think so in a future blog. However, it isn’t our design intent for threat generation to get much harder in the third tier of content relative to the first
Or, as explained in a later blog post, threat needs to matter. We’ve since been told that threat isn’t an interesting mechanic, and it’s been essentially removed from the game. Steady-state, middle-of-the-fight threat is a complete non-issue anymore, Vengeance or not. But it still matters on the pull, in the one situation we have no control over. If threat isn’t an interesting enough mechanic to matter later into the fight, why must we still struggle with it on the pull?
Or an even better question: Since threat isn’t an interesting mechanic, Vengeance is purely a DPS bonus for getting smashed in the face. Why must that account for 50% of our DPS? Why couldn’t a larger potion of it be baked into our raw damage output? There’s no mathematical reason it can’t, I can assure you of that.
Frustrating Tank Swaps
Perhaps the most annoying “feature” of Vengeance is how frustrating it makes tank swaps. You know exactly what I mean: your co-tank starts the encounter, builds up his Vengeance and a boatload of threat, and then the encounter mandates that you taunt off of him. Except you don’t have any Vengeance, so right after taunting you’re putting out half the DPS he is. You can play some tricks, like holding a SotR and popping wings on the taunt, or timing your taunt against the boss’s swing timer to ensure you take an attack during the fixate duration. But that only does so much, and more often than not if your co-tank doesn’t stop attacking, they’re just going to pull aggro back off of you. Thank the Light for having two taunts right? Oh wait, that’s gone in Mists too!
It’s not until later in the fight, when the two of you have amassed enough threat that the 10% aggro pull threshold isn’t achievable in a 5-10 second window, that this problem goes away. And it’s something that no amount of skill can correct for; if you get unlucky and dodge a few attacks after your taunt, it doesn’t matter how much gear you have, you’re going to cede aggro. The only solution is to arrange for your co-tank to stop attacking after you taunt, which isn’t very fun for either of you.
Reverse Scaling Confusion
One thing that Mel and I both dislike is mechanics that reward you for doing illogical things, or worse yet penalize you for doing otherwise logical things. Vengeance has this problem on a fundamental level because it’s triggered by taking damage, an event that we as tanks go out of our way to avoid. We gear, gem, enchant, use cooldowns, and optimize our play around surviving, which usually means “take less damage.” But by optimizing our character for succeeding in an encounter, we’re rewarded with lower stacks of Vengeance and less DPS. It doesn’t make much sense. As a player, I want to be more badass as I gear up, not less.
This problem still exists in current content, though the updates in 4.3 went a long way toward alleviating it. For the most part, you can treat Vengeance as “always on” for Dragon Soul bosses (when you’re actively tanking). But it’s exacerbated in older content we outgear. Try going back and doing any of the entry-level raids in T11 and you’ll notice that you won’t maintain full stacks of Vengeance – often you’ll hover around 30-50%. Again, as I gear up, I want to feel more badass, not less, and doubly so when I’m trying to go back and blast through content that’s no longer very relevant. Does a DPS spec generate 50% less DPS as soon as they set foot into an instance they out-gear? Of course not. So why should we?
Vengeance was supposed to make us naturally scale so that we’d be able to keep up with DPS. We’ve already decided that threat is irrelevant, but we can say that it should ensure our DPS scales the same way a DPS spec does. And in fact, if you take a look at our DPS over the course of the expansion, you might conclude that it’s been working pretty well. That plot seems to show us consistently parsing at ~50% of a DPS spec. Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple.
Vengeance isn’t actually scaling fast enough to account for that change. In normal-mode T11 gear, Vengeance gave us around 14k attack power, which added to our innate attack power from gear gave us around 27k total AP. In heroic T13, it’s only 19k out of a total of 36k AP. Our total AP has gone up by around 33%, but DPS has more than doubled – we do 23k now compared to 10k in T11, similarly 45k+ for DPS specs compared to ~20k in T11. Our DPS scales linearly with AP, but not well enough for 33% AP to double our DPS. So how do we explain the data in the plot?
The answer is that we’ve been propped up by other mechanics changes over the course of the expansion. In 4.1, holy power generation was added to Grand Crusader, Avenger’s Shield lost the ability to be blocked, and Judgement became a trigger for Sacred Duty. Those two changes gave us a pretty significant DPS boost, roughly between 1k-2k DPS. In 4.2, we were given two extremely strong set bonuses to play with, as both the ret and prot T12 two-piece bonuses were large DPS increases. In fact, they’re so large – around 1k DPS each – that most of the players parsing in Dragon soul are still wearing either 2xT12 ret or 2xT12 prot (as of the time of this writing, the top 25H Ultraxion parse is from the time when SoT was bugged; every other parse in the top 5 contains either Righteous Flames or Flames of the Faithful or both). So patch 4.2 gave us another 1-2k DPS independently of Vengeance. And in 4.3, we saw a significant buff to Judgement of Truth combined with mechanics changes that improved the uptime of Vengeance (another hint that the ramping mechanism was faulty) and improved scaling of the T12 ret/prot bonuses All told that’s another 1k-2k DPS added to our baseline.
In short, Vengeance hasn’t done its job well enough. Without the jolt of DPS from other sources that we’ve been given each patch, we’d have fallen behind by 3k-6k DPS over the course of the expansion. We’d now be doing 17k-20k to a DPS’s 45k+, or around 40% what they put out. Without the buff to the threat modifier, we would be dangerously close to losing aggro if it were solely up to Vengeance to sustain us. This isn’t a critical flaw, because it’s easy to correct, but it does mean that Blizzard under-shot the scaling on Vengeance during tuning.
I hesitate to talk about this, because it’s been explicitly stated that Vengeance is not supposed to be a balance mechanism for PvP:
Vengeance also isn’t supposed to make you scared to attack a tank in PvP. Tanks have enough benefits in PvP, such as being hard to kill and control, especially in Cataclysm when Rated Battlegrounds provide them with a role where they can defend flags or towers. Players generally don’t hit hard enough to trigger the full effect of Vengeance, unless they are all ganging up on one tank, at which point someone in the group should have the ability to dispel it (Vengeance is treated as an Enrage effect for dispel purposes).
But I have trouble believing that, because the argument doesn’t make sense to me. If the ramping-on-damage-taken mechanic wasn’t for PvP reasons, then I’m not sure why it even exists. It has never served any useful purpose in raiding. I could see that concern if Vengeance gave tanks comparable damage to a pure class, because then you might see raids bringing tanks instead of pure classes (same dps, but more survivable). But it doesn’t and hasn’t, even in T11 when it was at its peak. As long as Blizzard tweaks the numbers such that tanks do 75% or less DPS than a pure spec, the ramping mechanic is completely unnecessary, because no raid is going to bring more tanks to an encounter than absolutely necessary.
The only logical reason for the ramping is to keep us from having the one-two punch of great survivability and strong DPS in a PvP scenario. Balancing the solo PvE game around having survivability is ludicrous. At low levels, everyone’s DPS is so high that people blow through the leveling experience regardless of spec. At high levels (80-85), tank DPS is so pathetic that the survivability benefit isn’t worth the loss. Everyone I know switches to their Ret off-spec if they plan on doing an hour of solo grinding (AoE grinding may be a notable exception here).
The smoking gun is the change that eliminated Vengeance stacking based on PvP damage. It fully decouples Vengeance from the PvP game. If part of the intent of Vengeance wasn’t to limit our PvP DPS before, it certainly is now, because Vengeance now specifically gives us DPS in PvE but not in PvP. I’d argue that it was doing this all along, whether the developers realized it or not.
The only other option is that despite having all the knobs to tweak to keep our DPS output at 50% of those pure classes all expansion, they truly believed that raid leaders would bring extra tanks to an encounter instead of pure DPS specs. And I just can’t fathom that, because I’ve never met a raid leader who would. An encounter is an optimization problem, and raid leaders stress out about the <1k DPS boost you get from flasks and feasts. Why would they voluntarily take a 20k DPS loss? On progression encounters, you rarely have that sort of breathing room.
Vengeance – Your attacks deal 50% more damage to NPCs. This value increases as you gain more Stamina.
That’s it. That’s all there is to it. It’s a simple solution that fixes every single one of the problems with Vengeance without creating any new ones. No more pathetic DPS while soloing or off-tanking. No more taking your pants off on farm content to make sure the boss hits you hard enough to hold aggro. No more giant threat differentials or aggro losses immediately after a taunt. No more concerns about excessive tank DPS in PvP. And it fulfills the stated purpose of Vengeance: our DPS will still scale with a “tanky” stat. You get the same net effect in a more elegant, more intuitive, and just plain better form.
Yes, it introduces an artificial difference between PvE and PvP. But the recent hotfix does that anyway, and the current form of Vengeance isn’t much less artificial than what I’ve proposed. As they learned with Colossus Smash, sometimes the best solution is to recognize that PvE and PvP are different beasts, and adjust accordingly.
You may notice that I’ve left the exact formula vague here. The current version is essentially y=mx, with y being AP and x being stamina. But anyone whose had a high-school algebra class can tell you that the equation of an arbitrary line is y=mx+b. Right now, “b” is implicitly defined by our DPS at the beginning of the expansion, which limits the ability to tune things properly. But it would be ideal to have more flexibility – maybe we get more accurate scaling by granting 50% damage as a baseline and only increasing it for stamina over a certain threshold, like 1% for every 100 stamina in excess of 4000 (mathematically: damage=50%+1%*(Stamina-4000)/100). A system with an explicit way to tweak b without needing to adjust baseline DPS gives you that flexibility.
In the end, I’d rather see the Vengeance mechanic work well, not just in the environment where it matters most (raids), but in every aspect of game play. And it will never do that effectively as long as it’s based on taking damage.