Friday, April 9, 2010

Death Knight Cataclysm Changes

Why are we seeing so many PvP-only abilities in these class previews? None of them so far moreso than the Death Knights:
New Death Knight Abilities

Outbreak (level 81): Outbreak infects the target with both Frost Fever and Blood Plague at no rune cost. This ability allows death knights to apply diseases quickly when they are switching targets or when their diseases have been dispelled.

Necrotic Strike (level 83): Necrotic Strike is a new attack that deals weapon damage and applies a debuff that absorbs an amount of healing based on the damage done. For context, imagine that the death knight can choose between doing 8,000 damage outright with a certain ability, or dealing 6,000 damage and absorbing 4,000 points in incoming heals with Necrotic Strike -- the burst is smaller, but a larger overall amount of healing would be required to bring the target back to full health.

This ability is meant to bring back some of the old flavor from when death knights could dispel heal-over-time (HoT) effects. It also gives the class a bit more PvP utility without simply replicating a Mortal Strike-style effect.

Dark Simulacrum (level 85): The death knight strikes a target, applying a debuff that allows the death knight to copy the opponent's next spell cast and unleash it. Unlike Spell Reflection, Dark Simulacrum does not cancel the incoming spell. In general, if you can't reflect an ability, you won't be able to copy it either.
Dark Simulacrum will work on nothing in raids. It's purely a PvP ability. Don't DKs already have enough defensive cooldowns in PvP? And ranged attacks? Do they really need a weakened version of Spell Reflect (OK, well it's actually balanced since DKs don't have to switch to a shield).

The same with Necrotic Strike. There will be maybe 1-2 bosses with self-heals over the entire expansion where NS might be worth casting. But really, it's purely for PvP. Sigh.

That leaves Outbreak. Great for both PvP and raids. I love it. Reading it first made me excited about the preview, but I was quickly disappointed as I read the other abilities. Switching targets will no longer be nearly as painful, and Outbreak is especially a boon for tanking, giving us a way to react to situations where we don't have runes available in an emergency. It will also make raiding rotations more interesting, because on single target fights you will likely be replacing IT/PS with Outbreak every 5th cycle. It will definitely raise the skill cap for the class.

The skill cap will also go up from the biggest change to the class: the new rune system.

Right now, DKs must spam their abilities the exact moment a rune comes off cooldown. Every second the rune is off cooldown and unused, that resource is going to waste. This leaves so little room in DK rotations that I often find myself wasting RP because I can't afford to take the time to Death Coil.

In Cataclysm, each of the 3 flavors of rune (blood, frost, and unholy) will recharge one at a time. So, for instance, if you use both blood runes, one of them will refill, then the other will refill (right now they both refill at the same time). The benefit to the change is that the first blood rune isn't going to waste if you don't use it immediately. It doesn't start being wasteful until both of them refill.

This will slow down DK rotations a bit, and all abilities will be adjusted to hit harder to compensate. I'm happy because this fits more with my idea of a DK . . . it always seemed wrong that my specials sometimes did less damage than my white swings.

With the rotation slowing down, and the wiggle-room before runes go to waste increasing massively, the devs get some space to add other abilities to the rotation, make runic power more valuable, and offer rune regen (through haste) and RP regen as useful bonuses. DKs as a class will be much more flexible. The change is great.

If it still doesn't make sense (I found it wicked confusing at first), GC gives a good example to clarify:

"I'll try another comparison. Imagine that all rogue abilities cost 100 energy. They have to wait until they get 100 energy, and then immediately use an attack so that they aren't wasting future energy. That's how DKs play now, except they have 6 runes to watch. Now imagine the same rogue except all his abilities cost 50 energy. If he hits an attack when he has 60 energy, then 50 is consumed but he has 10 energy still left and a head start on the next attack. That's the way we want DKs to play.

If that still doesn't make sense, then focus on what the experience will be, which is that you'll have more breathing room in your rotation and won't have to hit a button every single GCD. If you don't use a strike the second it's available, that's more okay because the extra tank will store extra rune resources rather than just wasting it. You'll still be hitting a lot of buttons though."

As for the talent trees and masteries: they are strong, but uninspiring. I mean, disease damage? I am thankful that Frost will be viable for both 2-handers and Dual-Wield, because I enjoy both playstyles greatly, but haven't been able to try frost lately because I love my Shadow's Edge too much.


Much like the Warrior preview, the DK preview offered a number of "under-the-hood" mechanics changes, but little in the way of "flash" or excitement. Even though the changes are unequivocally good - and point to some great design minds working at Blizzard - I can't help but be disappointed.

Though, it's only fair, as DKs are the newest class, and already had the most pizazz. But with DK numbers declining already as the freshness wears off, I wonder if mechanic changes will be enough to hold people. I anticipate a lot of players will be drawn back to their DKs because the old inflexibility of the rune system turned them off. We'll wait and see as the other previews are released.

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