Saturday, November 01, 2008

So What Went Wrong?

Blizzard is never, ever going to tell us exactly why paladin development for WotLK unfolded as it did. Currently, Ghostcrawler is publicly blaming it on some bug with weapon switching. But I don't think that's the real story. There's too many other factors in play. So this is my speculation as to how Blizzard got into this position. Note that I have zero evidence that any of this is real, just what happened in Beta/Live, and my gut feeling as a somewhat experienced paladin.

For PvP, at the beginning of WotLK, I think Blizzard made the design decision that a Ret Paladin would be high burst, but very immobile. Essentially, it would be very hard for her to get inside melee range, and she would be pretty easily kited. However, if you let a Ret paladin catch up to you, she would be able to unload and burst you down.

The reason I think this is what happened is that none of the current Ret burst is surprising. It doesn't take a genius to see that Ret was going to try to run up to someone and hit all the buttons in a row. It's not like a Frost Mage's Shatter Combo, which revolves around getting off an instant Ice Lance while a Frostbolt is still in flight. That's an example of something which is tricky, and can be unexpected if you're not an expert with the class. There's no way that any person reasonably familiar with Retribution could fail to predict Hammer of Justice -> Judgement of Command -> Divine Storm -> Crusader Strike. It's not clever or something which takes mad skill, it's obvious.

Second, consider the initial Art of War talent on Beta. It gave CS a chance to double the damage of the next Judgement. The immediate combo with the old Judgement of Command, and the resulting *eight-fold* damage on a stun-crit comes to mind. As I commented in July, when I first got into the Beta:

Sometimes I really don't understand Blizzard. Back in March, they said they were worried about Paladin burst damage. Fast forward to the WotLK Beta, and we see the following two talents: [Righteous Vengeance, Art of War].

The existence of the original Art of War--and the crit damage increasing talents like Righteous Vengeance--says to me that either: no one at Blizzard plays a Retribution paladin (entirely possible); or paladins were deliberately being given higher burst in the initial WotLK design.

So in Beta, Blizzard toned down the worst excesses of burst, but left the design of "immobile + high burst" alone. Then they released it to Live, and immediately the vast majority of the populace made it clear that this was an unacceptable design decision. The outcry forced Blizzard to scrap the "immobile + high burst" concept, and just hotfix Retribution down to a nominal level.

So that's my theory for PvP. It is my explanation of why Blizzard is just going nuts with hotfixes. That's not a rational response to a few bugs or missing the damage target slightly. If that had been the case, Blizzard would have just shipped fixes in Patch 3.0.3. It's the reaction to realizing that the entire design concept was seriously flawed and needs to be scrapped.

For PvE, I think the original spreadsheet/model that Blizzard used to come up with initial damage numbers had a significant error. My guess is that the model didn't account for Seal procs from specials.

The reason I think this is the case is that Blizzard has consistently focused on Seal/Judgement damage when nerfing Ret's sustained damage. This is despite the fact that Seal/Judgement nerfs hurt the other specs, especially Holy, even harder. Blizzard went to a lot of trouble to make it easier for healers to solo, and I really don't understand why they targeted the paladin mechanic that is most important to the healing spec (and levelling characters). Last time around, Blizzard was willing to do things like play with cooldowns. If Ret's damage was too high, I would have expected Blizzard to target the Ret-specific abilities like Crusader Strike and Divine Storm. Decrease damage, or increase cooldowns. Change Ret damage increasing talents to do something else. But they didn't really touch CS/DS until the Live hotfixes.

On Beta, Blizzard kept adjusting Seal damage down, saying that Seal damage was too high. To me, that implies that the damage from Crusader Strike and Divine Storm was meeting their expectations, but Seal damage was consistently higher than they predicted. That implies that their model wasn't predicting Seal damage correctly, and the most obvious explanation is that it didn't account for the procs from specials. That's the major change from TBC (other than the change to AP + SP scaling, which is much easier to check and much more likely to have been the first data to be compared).

This is all speculation. I don't know if any of this is real. But the paladin class is not a very complicated class. There's no feedback loop like warriors and Rage. There's no complex mechanics like Combo-Point generation. In fact, if you look at the other classes, Blizzard was mostly in the right neighbourhood most of the time, barring crazy bugs. They've been much more surgical with the other classes than paladins. To me, that says that the spreadsheet/models were pretty accurate. The biggest change I can remember is the warriors losing Heroic Leap because it was too buggy, and the top end of Fury being shuffled around. And that's in a completely different league than getting the damage numbers wrong.

Paladins are very straightforward and unsurprising, and I really would have expected Blizzard to nail the paladin numbers from the very start, both in PvP and PvE. That they didn't, in my opinion, points to deeper underlying causes than mere weapon-switching bugs on the Beta server.

Edit: Additional proof for the PvP side of things. Ghostcrawler is now posting on the forums that Blizzard is considering giving Retribution some form of utility like a snare or interrupt. This is a 180-degree change from Blizzard's previous stance on Retribution, and further indication that their design for Ret is now completely different than in Beta.

10 comments:

nathan said...

not to mention everyone said ret was OP on beta. It's not like people thought ret was well tuned before going live.

Anonymous said...

totally irrelevant changes happen, instead of fixing the core issue they make class wide nerfs without any thought at all

divine shield just needed changed from swing speed to damage, there is no reason why such a defensive talent should have such an old mechanic of damage reduction output tied to it

Anonymous said...

i mean how many core changes has happened since 0.5? 5 or 6 pure mechanic changes, talent additions, etc

RJ said...

I think you may be on to something, Rohan, but I still think that they mainly let things get to this point because they had to deal with the bugs first, before they had to admit that the assumptions they made were faulty to begin with.


And to be honest, I would not say that it's easy to nail Retribution damage. The fact that Ret is based almost entirely on burst damage means that you have to make a lot of assumptions in order to model expected damage.

gt said...

The Forbearance hot fix floored me when I logged in today. Seriously?

As a Healadin they might as well make AW not apply to healing anymore because you really won't see me use it now. I love it when the Ret changes have fallout on the other two specs because it isn't enough for Ret to be hated by other classes but other Paladins as well.

Dyermaker said...

All these changes at the 11th hour of beta. Core concept changes. For the THIRD time.

Dues Ex Machina.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Well...anyway...Seals procing off specials is fine. If they didn't, there wouldn't be much point in having the seals at all for ret imo. /endcarebarepostsorohandoesntdeleteit

Keith said...

I was thinking along these lines also, I believe that blizzard's original concept of retadins proved to be extremely overpowered when combined with DS+AW. I do not think that the nerf bat needed to hit so hard or at all in some cases(seals mostly).

I have a hunch that blizzard is going to try to make ret into something I dont want it to be now... mainly, a hybrid dps/healer. ATM I end up filling a "healer" roll in raids and instances(although I still DPS at the same time and only spot heal and use divine storm/JoL) and in arena my burst is so low compared to my partner that it is better for the team if I just sit back and heal after I do my initial burst instead of keeping the "squeeze" on the focus target(especially with arcane mages that can blow down anyone in 3-4seconds).

Anonymous said...

ret paladins are OP and if you know at all how to play them you would agree. i have a full s3 s4 warrior and i watch my damagemeter i fought a ret pally who knew how to use a ret pally unlike most ppl complaining about the nerfs he had 8k health i did 22k damage hmmmm he was not dead infact he had gone down to just a tad under half health!!!! he was also not even in full merci gear so i out geared him yet he woopd my ass strange and yes i do know how to play my class very good.. so nevermind getting into the beta and complainging about this and that if you knew how to play your ret pally you too would agree that they are OP!!!!!!!!! its not everyone elses fault you guys dont know how to use them so stop your whining. and they dont need a nerf IMO they need to change the ret pally tree is what they need to do and add longer CD's to their abilities and im not saying this cuz i have a warrior and can't beat a ret pally im saying this becuase when i cant beat a ret pally when i do damage thats more then 3 times his health and he isnt even almost dead that kind of stuff is a tad ridiculous!!!!!!