Patch 4.0.6 Demo changes

4.0.6

I’ve been meaning to do a bunch of edits to both the Demo and pre-raid gear guides, but once the trickles of patch 4.0.6 info started I’ve been holding off. My intention now is to playtest demo for a while after the patch and then do a major edit of the guide. As for whether I continue with Demo, I’ll have to wait and see – while I think the changes will actually make the spec stronger overall, I’ve got big concerns about how the complexity and challenge has been stripped away. I just don’t yet know whether I’m going to find it fun in its new (or “old made easier”) form.

The big change for play mechanics is the removal of Improved Soul Fire. It’s getting shifted out of our reach, meaning we’ll talent to max out tier1 of destro, and Emberstorm from tier2. Maintaining the ISF buff and working round the collisions with trying to refresh Immolate with Hand of Gul’dan has been our key mechanic so far this tier. It’s needed a degree of foresight, judgement and dexterity to pull it off well, and put a real challenge right at the heart of the spec. I’ve found myself having to focus so hard on this that when the mechanic dissappears during Bloodlust it feels like 30 seconds of holiday, letting me mindlessly bash out some EZ-mode dps until Bloodlust fades and the need for ISF kicks in again.

I can’t say I’m thrilled with the prospect of nothing but the EZ-mode. I’ve been enjoying having a mechanic that I’ve found testing. With this change the hardest thing for Demo will be squeezing in the HoG refresh for Immolate into that tight timer… well, actually no: there’s a change being made to the Inferno talent to extend Immolate’s duration by 6 seconds. So what challenge could be found in that has also been taken away.

What does this leave? The skill and judgement involved in refreshing DoTs optimally went away with the new Cata “no-clip” mechanics. The 15 second window for refreshing BoD couldn’t provide a challenge if you tried to do it with your nose, while blindfolded. Similarly the implementation of command queueing has made timing all casts a wide open goal, with no more keyspamming or other techniques needed. The toughest part of the Demo rotation is now refreshing Corruption in a 2 second or so window. How do I motivate myself to spend hours trying to get better at that exactly?

Other changes are pretty warranted. The Felstorm 20% nerf will be made back up by the very welcome 33% buff to Mastery and the reductions to Immolation Aura and Hellfire (via the removal of the range extension previously given by the Inferno talent) still leave us ahead of the pack as far as AoE goes. The Mastery buff will go a long way towards replacing the missing ISF haste in dps terms, but more importantly improves our long-term scaling, which had been looking decidedly lacklustre.

In terms of balance, the outcome of this patch will align the three warlock specs even more tightly for single target fights, with Demo no longer trailing behind. It will also stop us getting quite so far ahead in the multi target fights, though we will still be one of the best specs in the game for those. Those are the welcome changes in terms of balance.

On the other hand, there’s the other kind of balance that Blizzard talked so much about in the run up to Cataclysm’s release, and that’s the balance between success and failure, and between skill and facerolling. Meta spec Demo has always been one of the most demanding specs, rewarding skillful play and punishing failure much more extremely than most other specs. This patch will change all of that though. In effect it takes both Demo and Affliction back to (more-or-less) the same basic rotations as used though WotLK but having brought in command queueing and the dot clip mechanic removed the parts of that playstyle that relied most on individual judgement or technique as the previously tight timing windows are now so much easier and more forgiving to hit.

There are three parts to getting top dps: ability, gear and luck. The nature of the game brings the last two to the table – it’s a gear chase with RNG – while the player brings the first. By significantly lowering the hurdles that serve to differentiate player ability, that curve is getting squashed flatter than it’s ever been for Meta/Demo. It will be much harder to fail, but impossible to excel, while the roles for gear and luck will have increased weight. Easy to play specs show little variation in their numbers beyond how gear and RNG determine the difference, and while many players will happily spam a single button if it gets them the results in terms of numbers that’s not been true of Demo players in the last couple of years. Historically Destro has had that honour.

Obviously with millions of players there has to be room for multiple playstyles, some appealing to the “one button’s enough, all I care about is dps” crowd while some appeal to folks who want more of a challenge to keep their interest levels up. Ironically the most challenging warlock spec post patch looks to be the one most associated with the easy dps crowd – destro is perhaps more challenging to play than it’s ever been – while demo is taking the opposite journey. Is this a deliberate attempt to shake up players who have settled into their specs for too long?

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