Wednesday, February 16, 2011

An open suggestion to Blizzard: WoW needs pullers

There was something about the feel of EverQuest that's different from the feel in World of Warcraft. What was it? I'm beginning to think that it wasn't just playing a bard and having about 20 polygons per character. I think it was the fact that EverQuest actually had three consistent roles: healer, dps (damage-dealer), tank and puller.

Yep, monks and to a lesser extent, necromancers were excellent pullers in EQ. The role of a puller was to scout forward, identify the next mobs to pull to the group and get them to come back just far enough for the tank(s) to pick them up. Pulling was hard, and interestingly enough, it was often seen as a leadership role. It wasn't always strictly necessary, especially since gear and level balance wasn't nearly as razor-strict as it is in WoW, but now it makes me wonder: how could WoW be improved if pulling were a role?

First off, you'd have to identify who would pull. I'm thinking it should be one rogue spec, one hunter spec, enhancement shaman and either frost or unholy death knights. Why? Well, rogues and hunters have traditionally had no other options but to dps and vanish and feign death both seem like obvious hooks for a pulling capability. Shaman and death knights, through this change, would become on-par with paladins in being able to serve 3 out of 4 of the possible party roles, and no class would be able to to it all any longer (though druids would still be the only class to be able to serve as melee and ranged dps, tank and healer).

Now, what does pulling mean in WoW? I think it's probably a combination of an advanced set of marking tools; agro drop; threat transfer and ranged CC. For example, in the next expansion, trash packs in dungeons and raids could be twice as large as the average group could handle. However, using multi-target snares, CCs or saps the puller breaks the group in two, agroing half of the group on himself while the other half stays in place or moves more slowly. The tank picks up the near group and the puller drops agro (vanish, FD, etc.) At this point, the other half of the group resets and the first half gets burned down by the party.

So. why is this a role and not just an extra duty like CC? Well, the easy answer is: gear. Make these new abilities require gearing that's rich in non-dps stats, perhaps even a completely new rating-based stat that only pullers will want. This means your puller will do less dps (not a lot less, hopefully, but enough that you don't expect them to top the meters or even come in second). On the other hand, you need a puller for raids (perhaps 2 or 3 depending on raid size) and you need one for every dungeon group.

For the LFD (Looking For Dungeon) tool, this will mean that there are four ways to queue and the tank is no longer the obvious "leader," as it's the puller that sets the pace and decides what's up next. I think this will set the tank aside as the class that needs to know the bosses while the puller needs to know the dungeon and the trash.

The only remaining problem that I see is this: does the puller have a special role during the fights? Tanks are blowing cooldowns to stay alive. Healers are blowing cooldowns for mana and to save anyone at low health. dps are blowing cooldowns to squeeze out more damage. What do pullers blow cooldowns on? Perhaps the deal with distracting pathers? But that seems to take them too far out of the action. Maybe the puller can back up healers by debuffing mobs with long-cooldown abilities that briefly reduce damage?

These are all just ideas, but the core problem they try to address is this: there are three primary roles in WoW, and the balance of the community with respect to how many people want to fill each role is just not in line with the balance of how many are needed. the solution is simple supply and demand. You can try to create more supply of tanks and healers (so far, no luck) or you can try to reduce their relative demand by making pure dps scarcer. Something clearly has to be done.
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