There’s a post up on WoWInsider asking “how bad is raiding for melee?“. Take note of the assumption there… the question isn’t “is raiding worse for melee”, but rather “how much worse is life in melee range”. My answer? Harder than ranged, but easier than Cataclysm.
Lest we forget, Cataclysm’s raids – and even 5-mans – were the most hideous collection of anti-melee mechanics imaginable. Taking any melee at all to a tier 11 raid basically meant gimping your raid group. And it wasn’t just the mechanics – balance issues between melee and ranged were bad enough that in the end Blizzard simply dropped an extra 10% AP for melee only onto one of the standard raid buffs.
Now, anyone who relied on their weapon for most of their damage got a bit of the short stick in 5.2 and 5.3. That’s mostly looking better now, but it’s pretty clear that WoW’s design team has serious, long-running issues trying to balance melee DPS at all. Now that that’s out of the way…
What I really want to talk about is movement and positioning. I’m seeing a couple of responses to the tune of “I’m a mage, but…” or “as a healer…” that basically talk about how melee don’t move out of bad. To these people, I propose an experiment; put autoattack on a bar somewhere, get into a range where you’re autoattacking, and simply stay there. Don’t DPS unless your autoattacks are in range, and simply see if you can keep up any pretense of damage while staying alive. Oh yeah, and no standing in front of the boss, even if it doesn’t cleave; remember, for anyone who can be parried or dodged that’s a 15% damage penalty.
There’s a reason why ranged players stay the hell out of melee range. It’s bloody dangerous there. So it’s pretty insulting that range are speaking about how melee don’t have difficulties of their own, they’re just not trying hard enough. Hell, enhancement shaman’s major cooldown is based around temporarily turning them into a ranged spec. It’s pretty clear that there are advantages to being ranged.
There are a couple of points boiling over onto each other here. The first is that making characters run away from bad is an easy way to make people feel active. The next is that persistent ground effects are an easy way to ratchet up tension and introduce quick decision-making. Moving from the puddle into the fire isn’t a good choice, and situations like this lend themselves to strategic positioning – drop the fire here, so when the puddle lands I can go there. Lastly, landing patches of bad as projectiles will often give players the opportunity to pre-emptively move away. This is all good stuff so far; taking advantage of these conditions is simply good design.
The issues creep in with the extra constraints that melee have. Most obviously, they’re limited by range – while ranged players have a depth of 30-40 feet from the hitbox to park their bad in, melee need to be right up against that invisible circle. Some bosses have large hitboxes, which is great… but bosses designed around surviving specific floor mechanics seem to have a habit of living in tiny hitboxes. That’s not great for our face-smashing chums.
Complicating the above even further, melee don’t get to position themselves in front of the boss. That space is reserved for the tank, usually because of some sort of cone effect that either applies a debuff or simply does a ton of damage straight off the bat. Even if this weren’t the case, melee still get to deal with dodge and parry mechanics, which are a serious disadvantage at best and a nightmare at worst. This means that only the rear half of the boss’ hitbox is actually home territory for us. So a simple puddle that’s just a 5×5 foot blotch somewhere out in a ranged player’s 30-40 foot zone can easily mean a significant reduction of a melee player’s available space… and this gets worse with multiple melee.
The traditional answer that ranged come up with at this point is that tanks should simply move the boss. Well, leaving aside that some bosses can’t be moved at all, tanks are melee players as well. They’re dealing with the exact same positioning issues that we have, barring the requirement to attack from behind, but they at least get the option to move into open space that’s convenient to them. Non-tanks, being less important, get to suck it up and chase around the bad that the tank was getting away from in the first place while the ranged players mostly stand still and keep going full steam ahead.
The above is even discounting tank swaps and other mechanics that cause the boss to spin round and target other players… Iron Qon was particularly bad for this, but many bosses will turn and suddenly start parrying the melee while they apply whatever manner of bad they prefer to some arbitrary player. These little turnabouts can be atrocious when the boss decides to turn as the player hits a keystone attack – Colossus Smash, say, or a Templar’s Verdict.
Even further reducing the available space, tanks and sometimes the melee will be constrained by healer availability. Standing way out on the far side of a boss because that’s the only spot you can find that isn’t occupied by some flavour of instant death doesn’t help anyone when the next AoE pulse kills you because you’re out of range of the healers on the ranged side. This is especially problematic with large bosses.
Now, melee don’t have a choice between moving and doing less damage versus standing still and dying. No, the melee choice is often a dichotomy of move and do no damage at all or stand and die. Our decision-making process has to take this into account. All of these constraints mean that melee move differently than ranged. It’s easy to see… just go and run Stone Guard with Jasper up. A ranged player chained to a melee will inevitably end up bitching and whining that they’re being killed because the melee are moving wrong… meanwhile the ranged player’s first instinct is to run to clear ground away from the boss, where the melee’s choice is to strafe around and find a relatively safe spot next to a boss. It’s not the melee’s fault that they’re not heading for the obvious safe ground – we just don’t have that option if we want to be effective at all.
Next, we can talk about projectiles. A lot of mechanics nowadays mark a patch of ground before they land, and a descending bolt of doom will appear that moves toward this patch. Bolt lands, boom, dead. Unfortunately, when these bolts target melee we simply don’t have as much time to move as ranged do. Witness the Embodied Gloom’s mechanics in SoO, or for an even better example, the rogue bosses of Battlefield: Barrens and their poison patches. Those poison bolts were ridiculously punishing to melee thanks to their large size and, while ranged could dodge them, they landed instantly in our range.
There are any number of other effects that tend to disproportionately affect melee – whirlwinds, mobs that need to be kited, etc – but in raids, it’s mostly availability of safe space that kills us.
Note that when I mentioned available space earlier I didn’t mention the room under the boss. This is partly because large bosses tend to have damage mechanics or at least a simple knockback for anyone sharing their groundspace, and partly because standing under a large model is a good way to completely ruin any chance of escaping from voidzones. Much more difficult to run from something you can’t even see, after all. This gets worse with the visual clutter that many classes apply to obscure the battlefield as an incidental part of their roles. In between bobbing and weaving through Stampede pets, other melee, AoEs, Healing Rain/Efflorescence/HW:Sanc/whatever else, it can be easy to lose track of which group of pixels is your character. It might be fine if we didn’t have to play zoomed way the hell out, but some bosses – Immerseus, I’m looking at you – have killer effects that can’t even be seen until zoomed out to the point where the character’s basically indistinguishable from their minimap dot.
So that’s the explanation of why melee die a lot and seem to be moving very differently from how ranged expect. So, what are the solutions? They’ve all been suggested before – fewer close-range AoE pulse effects, less focus on ground effects in melee range, subtler spell effects, targeting ranged by preference, etc. The biggest issue with retargeting mechanics out at range seems to be that healers would be affected as well, and healers are upward of the priority pile. Also, if melee aren’t getting targetted, ranged players tend to get very sarcastic.
What about making melee players tougher? Some melee do wear plate, which is a fair chunk of mitigation – but that only applies to physical damage, in a world where most raid damage is elemental. Worse, though, a lot of melee wear leather or mail. Rogues probably get the best of the deal, with Feint giving a significant reduction one AoE. But in raids, casters are often much better protected than even plate-wearers, with their passive mitigations and armouring spells that reduce magical damage. There’s something a bit off with that. Even pets are given a base AoE damage reduction on the understanding that micromanaging movement is difficult, and at some point anything in melee is going to end up in bad..
As far as positioning is concerned, Blizzard has been making quiet noises to the effect that expertise and hit aren’t very interesting as stats. I’d at least like to see expertise or its replacement giving us the ability to hit the boss from the sides or front without losing such an obscene amount of damage as we do at present. Giving us more places to go can only be better. We’ve been in the same place for two expansions now.