Today we continue our class Q&A series with Greg "Ghostcrawler" Street and the development team, in which we’re taking a look at each class and answering some of the top questions brought forward by their communities. Next up, we take a look at the most asked questions from the death knight class and find out more about the design philosophy behind the first Hero class, the expectations for the class, and what may lie in store for it in the future.
Death Knight Q&A with the Voice of the Class Design Team, Ghostcrawler
Community Team: We’d like to start things off by asking a question that players often ask in regard to the very purpose of each class. Death knights are the newest class in the game, the first Hero class, and the only class to be added since the original launch.
Q: Where do death knights fit into the larger scope of things currently and where do you see them going from this point forward?
Ghostcrawler: Death knights are the only current Hero class, which means they are supposed to be the best class in the game.
No, no, I mean that death knights are an anti-magic tank, which means you bring them out for fights like Hydross and curb them for Patchwerk.
I jest again, but my point is that we introduced a new class to a game that didn’t really have a niche that needed to be filled. The closest to a gap that existed was that we wanted to have more tanks available, especially for pick-up groups. But adding the dual-spec feature as well as improving some of the limitations of the existing classes has helped to fill that hole as well. Yet we did want to introduce a new class. World of Warcraft has been going on for several years now, and we thought it was time to shake things up a bit. We succeeded. Perhaps too well.
Players are obviously enjoying death knights for tanking, dps, or PvP and we’d like to think there is more going on there than just power. Some players really enjoy the rune and runic power mechanic, and I think it’s fair to say that the class requires a good amount of skill to play really well. Between Death Runes and all the various cooldowns, there are a lot of opportunities to play less optimally and push the wrong button. We’ve asked ourselves several times if the death knight is overly complicated -- perhaps you could accomplish 90% of the design with a 3 rune system instead of a 6 rune system -- but we aren’t changing it to that large a degree soon.
In terms of 3.2, we want to chill out the death knight AE damage and defensive cooldowns a little. It’s fine for a melee class to have strong area-effect, but they shouldn’t be so much better than warriors, rogues, and Enhancement shamans. One culprit here is Unholy Blight, which we are considering changing to be more single-target in nature. We are also likely to split Desecration into two abilities: a PvP-oriented snare and a PvE-oriented self damage buff. We are considering shifting some of the damage from Scourge Strike and Frost Strike into Blood Strike, which still hits for fairly paltry amounts for Frost and Unholy. We’ll talk about some additional changes below.
Q: What is it that makes them unique compared to all other classes?
Ghostcrawler: Their resource system is very unique. It is impossible for death knights to ever run out of resources. Any kind of benefit that makes rune-based abilities cheaper or finish their cooldowns faster are generally useless to a death knight. In fact, the whole rotation risked being very regular and even boring until we came up with a strong role for the Death Runes.
The death knight can do excellent melee damage, but also better ranged damage than most melee classes, and all three specs deal a large amount of non-physical damage.
Death knights also have a lot of abilities with medium-length cooldowns. This means they can be used multiple times per fight, but aren’t always there exactly when needed. A lot of the skill involved in playing a death knight, whether for PvP, tanking, or doing raid dps, involves using these at the right time.
Death knights also hybridize into a lot of different directions. What I mean is that they have surprisingly high area damage for a predominantly melee class. They have a pet. They have interrupts, (reverse) gap-closers, and strong snares. They are very well-rounded, which has been the cause of many of the balance problems we’ve had with them in PvP.
Death knights don’t have a dedicated tanking tree. Blood, Frost or Unholy death knight tanks are all viable, and each one can be slightly more useful depending on the boss encounter.
And then there is the obvious: they start at high level, showered in blue gear and even a mount. They have some of the best quests in the entire game in their start zone, and their identity is stitched heavily into the story of Northrend and the Lich King specifically.
Community Team: One question in particular that relates to one of the earliest designs of the Death Knight class and has been burning on the minds and tongues of every death knight for quite awhile now.
Q: How do we feel about the current viability of dual-wielding? Are there plans to improve it or have it fit a specific role for the class?
Ghostcrawler: This is a controversial topic because we realize some players just aren’t interested in dual-wielding (or seeing any death knights even do it), while others love the faster strikes that come with it. Our design has always been that dual-wielding should be an option, but that also means that it can’t take over, as it often does for classes in which we provide the option.
Part of our goal with the death knight was not to have a tanking or PvP tree, and we feel we’ve been pretty successful with that. However, adding dual-wield to that matrix just gives us an impossible task, because then you need to have the Blood dual-wield tank spec and the Frost two-hander PvP spec and so on.
What we are going to do with dual-wield in 3.2 is just provide the Frost tree with the talents necessary to prop-up dual wielding, including a new talent that lets Frost Strike, Death Strike, Obliterate etc. hit with both weapons. This will likely mean that Blood and Unholy dual-wield specs just won’t work anymore. It also carries the risk that all Frost death knights feel like they have to go dual-wield. This latter part isn’t necessarily a goal, but could be the outcome. We think in this case our only option is to remove some player choice in order to provide a real choice in other areas.
Community Team: The Blood tree has been quite popular lately, but the players have been actively discussing the 51-point talent, Dancing Rune Weapon, lately. Even with the glyph for it, Dancing Rune Weapon only lasts through about one rotation of abilities while the Unholy 51-point talent, Summon Gargoyle, lasts much longer.
Q: Do we have plans for any changes or improvements to Dancing Rune Weapon?
Ghostcrawler: We tried to make Dancing Rune Weapon and Gargoyle unique, but I think it has ended up causing more problems than anything. I think it’s likely you’ll just see both abilities as flat runic power costs that summon a creature for a flat period of time. This will let us balance the numbers appropriately.
Community Team: Due to their effectiveness while tanking, death knights saw a rapid popularity growth as tanks which caused the reduction of the armor bonus of Frost Presence in patch 3.1.3. Some players are afraid this will push them out of being an option as a main tank as they felt they were when originally implemented.
Q: What are our current thoughts on the status of death knight tanks and do we have plans for further changes?
Ghostcrawler: Almost all of the top raiding guilds considered the death knight to be overpowered as a tank and the only real option for many of the Ulduar hard modes. While the community isn’t always right about everything, they are right a lot, and in this case we think the evidence is overwhelming. We wanted to make the cooldowns the unique part of death knight tanking, and we haven’t given up on that design, but it has also turned out that having lots of powerful cooldowns is just an extremely potent way to tank. Many of the Naxx and Ulduar bosses were dangerous from predictable blasts of damage on cooldowns longer than the death knight ones. Plus the cooldowns could be used to survive just a bit longer. When the other tanks could survive two hits, the death knight could survive three. It’s entirely possible you’ll see Icebound Fortitude on a two-minute timer in the 3.2 patch. I want to reiterate though that our vision hasn’t changed -- we still want death knights to be able to tank every encounter. Rather than posting in the forums that you are now doomed and will have to reroll, help us get the death knights in a place where they are an attractive option but not the clear best option on most fights.
Community Team: There have been some complaints among the death knight community about stats on armor pieces, especially set pieces, not benefiting the talent spec that they want to play as much as another talent spec.
Q: Are we satisfied with stats such as Armor Penetration, Haste, and Hit having very different values depending on which talent spec a death knight is using?
Ghostcrawler: No. We don’t want to create multiple types of death knight armor, other than tanking and damage dealing. We already support like 19 different types of tier pieces because for example all of the mail users want slightly different stats. It is a problem that, say, Blood wants armor penetration and Unholy does not. But our answer to that problem is going to be to make all specs regard the stats more similarly, not to provide lots of different armor choices. It’s already hard enough to get a boss to drop what you want.
Community Team: With the recent implementation of the dual-spec feature, players have greatly enjoyed the flexibility of having two specs to switch between depending on what they are currently playing. But this feature has also lead to number of extra requests from players to make things easier for them when transitioning.
Q: Would it be possible to save runeforge enchants to primary and secondary talent specializations or add rune forges to more convenience places than Acherus?
Ghostcrawler: Considering the huge benefits that the runeforge enchants already offer the death knight, it’s hard to argue that they need to be even more convenient. A paladin who swaps from a Retribution build to a Protection build can’t even use the same weapon, let alone have an enchant change out as well. We don’t save gems and enchants as part of the dual-spec feature. The expectation generally is that you have multiple sets of gear.
Community Team: Anticipation is considered a more attractive talent than Frigid Dreadplate because dodge can trigger Rune Strike. Players feel this is a little confusing because Frigid Dreadplate is way more down in the talent tree.
Q: Are there plans to change or improve the Frigid Deadplate talent?
Ghostcrawler: We don’t necessarily consider the deepest talents in a tree to be the best ones. Generally when we push talents deep, it’s because they are of limited interest to other specs or else so powerful that we want to keep them away from other specs. Frigid Dreadplate is a great tanking talent since it adds avoidance. I can’t imagine a death knight tank actually skipping out on Anticipation, so it doesn’t bother us that the Anticipation talent is considered better. That said, we think avoidance is likely too high on all tanking classes, so we aren’t likely to buff Frigid Dreadplate.
Community Team: Death Knights think that only a few players choose Will of the Necropolis because of the proc condition, internal cooldown, and so forth.
Q: Is there any plan to improve Will of the Necropolis?
Ghostcrawler: There was a brief window where this talent was totally overpowered because it just added so much opportunity for a death knight getting beat on to survive. It’s possible we over-nerfed it, but you have to be careful with talents like this. As soon as it slides from “only a few choose to take it” to “most choose to take it” then there’s another talent that is being skipped over.
Community Team: This brings us into some PvP-focused topics. One particular spell that was brought up a lot is Mind Freeze and the ‘delays’ in it taking effect on the target which often causes the interrupt to appear on a combat log but not actually stop the spell.
Q: Is this a bug or something in particular we are investigating?
Ghostcrawler: It is an ongoing research item. We have never been able to duplicate the situation that the players describe, that sometimes it has a delay that other interrupts do not. It is set up similarly to other abilities. However in a game as complex as World of Warcraft, we have learned not to dismiss the possible weird situations that a particular ability can get into. You have to take the combat log with a slight grain of salt -- this is a client-server game, and sometimes the two can disagree on when an event occurred. The server thinks the spell went off, while the client thinks you got the interrupt off in time. The server usually wins.
Community Team: A good number of non-death knight players are concerned regarding the healing capability of death knights, especially in the PvP setting, where they can often survive for extended periods of time with no healer and still do lots of damage.
Q: Do we have plans to change any of the death knight’s self-healing abilities?
Ghostcrawler: The healing is one of the core mechanics of the class, and one of the things that helps them feel distinct from warriors. It’s the reason there is a Blood tree and Blood Runes. We have no immediate plans to change anything here. If death knights continue to be good at PvP even after some of the defensive nerfs, we’d likely look at say Chains of Ice, the interrupts or the amount of non-physical damage they can do.
Community Team: To finish off this Q&A, let’s blast through the last set of questions:
Q: Would you consider adding a Mortal Strike-like ability to death knights in the future?
Ghostcrawler: There are two answers to this question. The first is do we think the death knight needs any additional tool for PvP? The answer to that is definitely not. Death knights have been really well represented, if not overpowered, in PvP. The second part of the question is more philosophical though, which is whether or not Mortal Strike is mandatory in PvP. You can currently argue it isn’t because there are teams that feature Retribution paladins or Unholy death knights (or both) that do just fine. However, it is an issue that rises up every few months or so: whether every damage class needs some option of bringing the “mortal” debuff, or at what point we just make it a passive aura upon stepping into PvP.
Q: Will Chains of Ice ever be subject to diminishing returns?
Ghostcrawler: If we need it. It’s not in the plan. Snares don’t currently have diminishing returns, and Chains is limited based on the availability of Frost Runes. It is a possible concern that between Chains of Ice, Death Grip, and the ghoul stun that a death knight can lock someone down for a long time.
Q: Will ghouls ever get their voices back?
Ghostcrawler: We have a long-term plan to add the ghoul voices back. We pulled them because they were using the vendor voices, which sounded weird when your ghoul would ask you to buy or trade. We just need to get some audio made without the vendor text. It’s in the plan, but not super high priority.