Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Homogenize Me, Baby

Let me get this straight, it’s ok for your Milk to be homogenized, but not your games, correct? It’s ok to break up the fat globules of (milk) into fine particles so that they are uniformly small and evenly distributed, but it’s not ok to take the various spells of the various WoW classes and subspecs and break them down to the point that their power, all other factors being equal, are uniform and evenly distributed?

Or maybe you look at homogenization in different ways, not just the blending of the elements to form a uniform mixture, but of the more common definition among WoW fans of either making the class play styles indistinguishable or having hybrid specs perform at the same level of power and proficiency as the former “pure” classes (healer, dps, or tank). Maybe I’m getting the popular definition completely wrong, but I’d like to quote someone in the comment section of Tobold’s post on The Different faces of dual-spec. Fake Nils said:

“Also, I'm getting tired of this so called "homogenization". I want different classes with different spells and different everything. Not only one or two classes which vary only in the color of the spells.”

I’m sure that homogenization has a few different definitions, but the concept behind all is that there is a belief that Blizzard is trying to make it so that every DPS spec can do approximately the same damage, that every tank can generate about the same amount of threat, and every healing spec can put out respectable healing. Perhaps going deeper some may feel that the spells themselves are more uniform and less unique to a class. Certainly the Druid’s Wrath and the Shaman’s Lightening Bolt look similar, if not but a simple difference in color. But these spells have been around since the start and not the result of changes implemented to make one spell look and feel just like another of another class.

I will not, as of yet, make a judgment of the ‘Homogenization’, I’d like to know if I understand it first, then I’ll gladly state my opinion.

Equal in Power
One side of the homogenization argument is that classes, specifically hybrid classes, have been buffed to the point where they are capable of DPS output equal to or near equal to pure DPS classes of the original game, that of Rogues and Mages to name a couple. Many have said that Warriors, back in the nostalgic Vanilla days, were the only capable tanks (which I don’t doubt, I’m just stating what I’ve observed people say). Now, Paladin’s, Warriors, Druids and even knowledgeable and skilled DK’s can tank just about any fight. The mechanics and spells between the classes aren’t the same, but there are similarities between all.

Every tank, I assume, has some kind of taunt button. Is this homogenization? Giving all tanking specs the ability to taunt? Or is it a uniform spell across the tanking classes because that’s one thing that is inherent to tanking, the ability to taunt and force the mob to attack you instead of the squishies? As I’m not well versed in tanking I probably should not try and make my point using those specs.

Let’s take the most common argument, that now hybrid DPS classes/specs can achieve similar DPS output to pure DPS classes. Perfect, this is right up my alley. I’ll talk about the similarities of class spells after I make this point. I have seen over the past year people say that when hybrids were first made it was intentional that they didn’t have the same damage power as pure DPS classes, and for good reason. Because they didn’t specialize, but could do a lot of different things, they shouldn’t have the same DPS output. A Shaman’s role may have been to DPS some, to heal some, and yes, in Vanilla, even to tank a bit if needed.

A Druid was in a similar situation, being a hybrid class they could do a lot of things well, but not one thing extremely well. But at some point, and I don’t know when, but the devs decided that it would be better to make it possible to bring a DPSing Shaman or Druid and give them the ability to contribute at the same or similar level to pure DPS classes. That way Blizzard could further push their mission statement to the player base of “Bring the person, not the class.”

For many hybrids this was a good thing, a chance to contribute in a manner of their choosing, instead of being told what they would be doing or being told that they just weren’t good enough to fill any role. This type of homogenization has been furthered, in my opinion, by the crafting professions being able to craft group/raid buffs of a certain class (like Drums of the Forgotten Kings) so that the group could benefit from a Paladin without needing to bring one in.

Actually, this sort of action brings me to another, somewhat divergent thought. There may be a case for the homogenization of buffs that is far stronger than the homogenization of classes.

Anyway, we’re at a point now where a Druid Cat can DPS with similar proficiency as a Mage, or an Enhancement Shaman can pound faces as hard as a Rogue. Well, maybe they are not exactly as powerful, but certainly good enough that your group has sufficient DPS to down the raid boss, which leaves the rest to tanks and healers.

So is this a good thing? Like I said before, those that played hybrids or play them currently probably think it is. I’m sure some think it’s not, but I would wonder why. If a hybrid was still designed to not be great at healing, dps or tanking, why would you bring that person along with your raid? For their buff? You can replicate it with crafted items, so some extent, so that can’t be it. You would end up with a player base that only played pure DPS classes in order to get invited on the raid. The healers would all be Priests also. (Don’t get me wrong, I love Priests, I play one myself). But I’ve seen for myself the benefit of being able to run with different styles of healers; to have a Paladin keeping the tanks alive, the Druid HoTting everyone, the Shaman’s chain heal bouncing all over the place, the Disc Priest’s bubbles absorbing all that damage, and the Holy Priest’s powerful AoE heals.

To conclude this point, if you see homogenization as the equaling of power among the classes and sub specs, then homogenization is a very good thing to bring to the game. It truly allows you to bring the player, not the class. I used to work in the Mortgage industry (btw, don’t get mad at me, I was the accountant telling the business owners that their radical practices would bankrupt the company, which they did). In that industry Loan Officers are king. Management will put up with the arrogance ill tempered ones that originate a lot of loans and make the company a lot of money. But there is a price to such a management style. The workplace environment is always edgy, people get offended easily, which leads to turnover which leads to increased costs for re-hiring and training.

Would you like it if, in order for your guild to kill the Lich King, you had to bring the most ill-tempered and annoying guildies with you because they played pure DPS classes, while the hybrids increased their social skills in trade chat? In the teams we make we want performance, yes, but at what cost? Is winning the only virtue or are their other virtues in life and the games we play?

This kind of homogenization has been a good thing. It’s allowed us to ally ourselves with like-minded people, people who we aren’t yelling at and /ragegquitting every other day. It’s allowed more casual players to find a niche in the game, to play a class/spec because they enjoy it, not because they must in order to experience end-game content.

He Has My Spell
Let’s look at another aspect of homogenization, similarities of spells among classes. Try to look at this objectively, please. The devs decided that there would be certain types of magic used in the game they built. Arcane, Fire, Holy, Frost, Shadow, Nature, Physical – if I missed one I’m sorry. Now, I listed 7 types of damage, or magic, which would mean that in order to have pure distinctions you could only have 7 classes (maybe 8 with Hunters) but each class would only be able to perform spells with one type of magic. This would make it so that there is absolutely no crossover, all spells would be unique and nobody could cry “homogenization”!!!!

Yeah, and it’d be boring as heck! Want to be a Mage? Frost is your magic. Imagine leveling or raiding with only Frost magic spells. Want to dual-spec? There are three Mage talent trees (Liquid Frost, Solid Frost, Gaseous Frost). No other class would be allowed to have any frost spells because ‘that’s what Mages do.’ Sounds pretty stupid, doesn’t it.

Both Warlocks and Shadow Priests use Shadow spells to do damage. Now the spells are different, but I must admit that Corruption and Shadow Word: Pain are basically the same thing – a shadow spell placed on target that does damage over time. Great, so now I’m saying that playing a Warlock is the same as playing a Shadow Priest? No, and you’d be stupid to think that, but evidently people do. I’ve played every single DPS spec in the game, and each one is a unique experience. Even within my favorite class, Shaman, there’s a huge difference in feel between Elemental and Enhancement even though both use Lightening Bolt as a major part of their rotations.

I think where people get confused is in the buffs that classes provide, not the spells they cast. I honestly don’t believe there is homogenization of spells between classes, I think that they all have unique feels and play styles. Even though a ranged spell caster is a ranged spell caster, they all do different things. True, some are closer in similarities than others (Destruction as Warlock’s Fire Mage tree) but I think those are exceptions, not the rule. To play one ranged DPS isn’t “to play them all”.

How many classes/specs provide a Spell Crit % buff? Off the top of my head I can think of two, Balance Druid and Elemental Shaman give 5% crit with their auras. Blood DK and Enhancement Shaman and (MM, I think) Hunter give 10% Attack Power bonus with their auras. Frost DK and Windfury totem do the same thing, as well as Horn of Winter and Strength of Earth (untalented version only) both give out same strength/agility buffs. There are others that provide similar buffs, and it’s here that Blizzard might have gone too far.

I can only assume, however, that they did it with the goal of “bring the player, not the class” purpose in mind. Bring a Blood DK or Enhance Shammy, doesn’t matter a whole lot, right? Well it does, Shamans are awesome at everything and the best buffers in the game (biased opinion, please ignore). It’s the only reason I can think of as to why they have given the same buffs to different classes. I’ve seen it in the talent trees as well. How many talent trees give 100% to critical strike damage? A lot, take a look yourself. It seems that there are similar talents in every tree in the game, just with different names.

So if this is your definition of homogenization, then I’d tend to agree that the fault lies in the buffs and talents given to each class/spec. There are too many talents that do the same thing but with different names. But I still hold to the belief that the play style, the feel and the spells each class uses are still very different enough that you can’t argue homogenization.

So this is probably the longest post I’ve ever written. If you’re still reading you get a gold star and your name and website on my Friday Frivolity post. Good for you and thank you.

Overall the supposed ‘homogenization’ I think has yielded more benefits than not. I play every class still and enjoy each for what they are and the many variations they provide. I wish talents weren’t so obvious and the devs could be significantly more creative with them to create a truly diverse world of players. That’s where they can make the greatest impact to curb the belief that homogenization is worse than it really is.

So Homogenize me, baby! Just be careful, too much milk will give me kidney stones.


Tesh said...

Nice article. All 20,000 words or so of it. ;)

"Gaseous Frost" alone is worth reading through.

A further thought: homogenization also allows for skill to shine through, if one cares about that sort of thing. When everyone is working from a similar base, proficiency comes from player skill, not weird class balance artifacts.

Gronthe said...

I was going for 21K+ words, I'll have to work on that for next time.

Skill should definately be able to shine through. It'd be a shame for a highly skilled player to be on a "tugboat" class instead of the "battleship or carrier" class.

It's nice to be able to roll any class and just about any spec and know that you can significantly contribute.