Blizzcon 08: WoW Class Panel

WoW Class Discussion Panel

It began with almost a literal bang – the impressive sound system in the main Blizzard hall suddenly blasting “Call to Arms” from the first game’s soundtrack. The panelists were Tom Chilton, the lead game designer, and Greg Street, the Lead Game Systems designer – better known as the enigmatic Ghostcrawler on the Wrath of the Lich King Beta Forums (sadly dispelling rumors that Ghostcrawler was actually an attractive woman.)

To begin with, he asked three questions, all of which received roars of varying volume – “Who thinks their class is overpowered?” “Who thinks there are overpowered classes?” “Who thinks their class is the worst in the game?”

In response, he admitted, “You just learned more about class design than from anything I could say here.”

He started talking about the new class, the Death Knight.

Death Knight

They wanted another tank class for 5-man groups, but didn’t want to end up with the Paladin/Warrior “Tank/DPS/PvP” Talent Trees. For the Death Knight to tank, they needed a way to generate threat, so they came up with Presences that did different things.

Death Knights start at a higher level than other classes, and have an awesome questing zone – quests we’ve never seen before. Even if you don’t intend to level one to 80, said Street, do the beginning – some of the best hours in WoW, bar none.

Blizzard wanted the Death Knight to play differently, to not use mana, energy or rage. Runes are ultimately an infinite source of energy, but you have three different cooldowns to keep track of. Tried to tie it in to the Rune Weapon, which has been part of DK lore in Warcraft for forever.

Tried many UI iterations for Runes and Runic Power before they finally settled.

Original idea was that you would be able to completely customize your runes – put in six Frost runes for instance. But basically it sucked. Let you ignore too many of the cool abilities that the DKs had. Thought it would be cool to let the DKs try all the abilities.

To provide some of that customization, Death Knights have talents that allow them to convert Runes into multi-purpose Death Runes.

Runic Power was implemented to make DK combat less like a Metronome. Wanted to make a big deal out of Diseases. Originally was way more complicated than it was. Now they’re like Combo Points – you want to put Diseases on a target and then use a finishing move.

Death Knights have a bit of a learning curve, but not so complicated that casual gamers will be thrown off. All three trees can all fill any different role – players can tank as a Blood/Frost/Unholy DK instead of being limited to one spec.

With all classes, they’re trying to do that, trying to make talents about more “this your playstyle,” and less “this is your PvP tree, this is your PvE tree.”


Overhauled Pet system, which was clunky for a class that “tends to attract lots of new players.” (Lots of laughs at that)

Streamlined the whole ‘ability learning’ thing, Hunters no longer need to tame a temporary pet to learn an upgrade. In raiding, there was a very complicated Shot rotation, they tried to clean it up and make it more about player choice instead of exact timing.

Common complaint for Hunters is that they get chewed up by melee. The new version of Disengage is what they’re trying to do to let Hunters get out of melee. Finally, the new Freezing Shot. In 5-man runs, Hunter Crowd Control is very complicated… “Let’s just let the Mage sheep instead.” Freezing Shot is a way to deploy a trap quickly.

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Took away the utility from the Shadow Priest as far as their “mana battery” function was concerned – but now they can actually do DPS.

Street reminded con-goers that there were actually two other talent trees for the Priest! Wanted to make Discipline a viable raid healer in a way that’s different than Holy, revolving around single-target heals and damage prevention like shields and Pain Suppression.

Thought Priests could use a new defining DPS ability, which resulted in Mind Sear – a spell that does damage to a target and everything around it in a minor AoE. While doing a run of the “new” Naxxramas raid instance, the tanks died, people asked “Who’s healing?” The Priests responded, “Uh, we’re all Mind Searing.”

No more Priest Racials! Didn’t want it to feel “Oh, you NEED to have a Dwarf Priest,” or “Oh, don’t be that race, they suck.”


Frostfire Bolt – Rather than always only having the Fire, Frost, and Arcane guys, the intent behind Frostfire Bolt was to maybe help form the Elementalist build that people have been wanting. When they first announced the Mage changes for WotLK, they were lacking a cool ability at the bottom of the tree… hence Mirror Image.

Now, they have 3 raid-viable DPS builds … maybe 4 if they can get Elementalist builds to where they would like them to be.


“Druids, we feel could use a lot of work.” Lots of boo-ing.

“They’re a bit overrepresented in arenas, for example.”

Moonkin had intentionally lower DPS, but brought lots of things to raiding … like running out of mana so they couldn’t do anything. Their DPS has been buffed to where it’s competitive; the improvements made to Entangling Roots allow them to properly CC in instances.

Resto druids… (more boo-ing) Everyone knows they have a niche for HoT (Heal-Over-Time) healing, but that was all they could do. So the developers gave them other abilities like Nourish, which is like Flash Heal, used to top off a Rogue near death (if you want to keep them alive). While not as “core” as Chain Heal or Circle of Healing, Wild Growth is the AoE heal for moments where the whole group is taking lots of damage.

Also, they finally gave Druids an out of combat resurrection.

Blizzard took a look at the Feral tree. The Ferals have always been the hybrid tree – you can tank but not as well as a Warrior, you can DPS but not as well as a Rogue. So now they specialize it a bit. If you really want to tank, you can grab the Bear abilities, but you forego some of the cat-form ones, and vice versa.


Totem Consolidation. Totems are a cool and unique mechanic, but it’s never quite been where we wanted it to be. Did a lot of work to make totems more functional, to help them survive a little better for instance. Blizzard wanted to fill some holes in the Shaman repetoire with stuff like Lava Burst for Elemental, Riptide for Restoration. They also finally have a legitimate CC ability with Hex.


Rogues never had a decent AoE ability – now they can throw knives. The developers felt like Sap was situationally really good, but it depended on the dungeon. They wanted to make it more useful no matter where you were, so made it affect a wider range of enemies.

Two iconic things for the Rogue class are daggers and poisons, but nobody was using them. With the changes to Windfury and debuffs, hopefully they’ll be used more.


Had been THE main tank for a long time in the game. Trying to give players more options for tanks, the developers felt there was a risk that without crushing blows, Protection Warriors would get less and less popular. They looked at the Prot talent tree, and found that Warriors had so many mitigation talents that by the time they had all of them they had no points left to pick up anything “fun”. Tried to consolidate talents to give them more points to get cooler, new abilities.

That isn’t just for Warriors, but something they want to do with all the classes. They don’t want players to say, “By the time I have what I need to have, I can’t get anything else.”

Tried to give Arms things to use in Battle Stance instead of just staying in Berserker. Overpower and Rend, two important abilities – at least when you first get them – are pretty good again. Bladestorm and Sudden Death are fun abilities – Sudden Death, admitted Street, is maybe a little too fun at the moment. They backed off the penalty on Titan’s Grip a bit – they definitely want Fury Warriors out there Dual-Wielding two-handers.


Warlocks have a lot of pets, many they were never using. They want to make it so that you actually have reasons to use them all.

Affliction’s rotation was crazy, you were going nuts to keep everything up. Destruction, on the other hand, was spamming Shadowbolt. While they’re concerned that Affliction might still be too crazy, Destro is much better now. One of the new abilities, Demonic Circle, lets them teleport around the battlefield during a fight.

They gave them Metamorphosis because really, every Warlock wants to be Illidan.


Biggest cheers (and boos) yet.

Street said that he was really happy with how the overhaul for the Seal/Judgment systems went – they feel great now. The Protection Paladin was always a great Off-Tank, but never a great Main Tank. They want to make them care more about tank gear and put down the Mage sword.

Holy needed heals for movement and groups. They don’t want to make them a HoT class, but they do need to give them options while moving.

Retribution needed more DPS without running OOM. Honestly, Street admitted that they were fine when they were in the group with all the buffs, but they were rarely put in that group in the first place.

Group Flexibility:

There are only 25 slots in a raid, but now with the DK, there are 30 class/specs combinations. They want all the classes and builds to be viable, but now there’s no room. The question, said Street, is now: what can we do to make sure players have more flexibility with WHO they bring?

Before, in a raid, Buffs felt out of control. It was complex, it was inconsistent, there were stacking problems – Curse of Shadows benefited Warlocks, so you would get more benefit from bringing another Warlock instead of a Mage. Lots of different specs now are going to bring something like Curse of Elements, and with the prevalence of raid-wide buffs, even if the Mage and Warlock are in different groups they’ll get the benefit.

Bloodlust was a “great spell idea,” but got out of control and scaled too well. The developers also didn’t want to run into situations where raiders would say, “Well, Jimmy can’t come, so we don’t have Windfury … let’s cancel the raid.” They don’t want one buff to be a make-or-break deal.

Most buffs now benefit whole raid, and there are multiple ways to get same effect (that don’t stack). The philosophy they’re trying to bring is that you want raiders to bring the player, not the class. They wanted to make sure not only did everyone bring something that could buff, but that everyone COULD do DPS – where player skill matters more in the damage you do, instead of class design.

A word that Street mentioned was used a lot in the class design team was “Burden.” They were concerned that so many of the consumables in the game were a burden – they like like potions, and they like drums, but they don’t want people to have to farm 200 of them to raid. They don’t want the game to be about consumables, but about “Do you know what you’re doing?” Gear and skill should win out over buffs and potions.

If you want to raid, just bring good players.

There’s more shared gear. The change to Spell Power lets them consolidate, they no longer need a Healer ring AND a DPS ring. It also lets healers do DPS once in a while. People do PUG 5mans, daily quests, and they don’t want to have to go respec.

With four viable main tank classes, they need to overlap their niches. They don’t want raids saying “let’s set the DK out for this fight, bring in the Paladin for the next one, etc.” They want raids to have two MT classes, and then go do what they want to do.

Tank threat is much higher than it used to be. Encounters are now about “Can you keep people alive, can you move around the room?” and less about playing the threat game. Threat is important, but it shouldn’t be “Oh, some DPS pulled, we wiped.”

They are working on a system where you can Dual-Spec. They want you to be literally able to swap specs in the middle of raid, and not have to run back into town: they want it to be easy and not complicated. You won’t be able to switch specs in the middle of an Arena fight, but if you like to tank on weekends and PvP on weekdays, that’ll help you out.

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