Tank Swap Mechanics: Enjoyable or Stale?

90 Orc Death Knight
9115
Warning: This is a VERY long post.

First things first, a little bit of background is in order. I am currently a tank for a 10 man raiding guild and was a DPS for a fairly hardcore 25 man guild back in Wrath. I did some off tanking in WotLK for alt raids, heroics, etc. I stopped playing WoW about halfway through ICC and came back during MoP with the ToES raid content and have been a tank all through Mists. The release of new content in Siege of Orgrimmar got me thinking about the life of a tank during this expansion and how different it is compared to prior expansions. The main point I would like to bring up for discussion is the emergence of forced tank swapping mechanics as a pervasive and nearly core element to MoP raid encounters.

I will focus on Wrath and Mists content as I did not participate in Vanilla, BC, nor Cata. Additionally, as I understand it, the differences in the game are perhaps too wide to really make a comparison reaching back farther than Wrath content. I will summarize each instance and provide some numbers for easier comparison. Specifically, I am looking at forced tank switching based on debuffs.

Naxxramas:
--15 boss encounters with 1 (Gluth) requiring a tank swap.

Naxxramas was a really well designed instance and perhaps this is partly due in part to its Vanilla origins. The options people had in terms of wing progression and the variety of mechanics made for a lot of fun. Thinking back on this content I have fond memories of fights like Thaddius, Four Horsemen, Sapphiron, Kel'thuzad, the list goes on. Granted, a lot of the fights were very difficult but that doesnt mean they werent well designed or fun.

One point of criticism is that most of the fights required following the traditional main tank on boss with an off-tank on adds format. Some of the fights only needed one tank, thus requiring either rotating personnel or forcing the tank(s) to build two sets of gear, probably at the detriment to a DPS member of the group.

Ulduar:
--14 boss encounters with 6 (Flame Lev, Razorscale, Kologarn, Thorim, Hodir, Algalon) requiring a tank swap.

Ulduar is by far my personal favorite raid instance; this is when I came into my own as a core raider with a serious heroic guild and I acknowledge that this experience colors my perspective to a certain degree. That said, we see a significant increase in the use of force tank swap mechanics, perhaps this was an internal design team decision to get more tanks involved. On fights without swapping mechanics the off-tanks were generally following the same add management duty as prior content. I dont personally remember my guild's off-tank(s) ever complaining about their job, but I imagine it could have been somewhat boring to always be stuck on add duty.

Trial of the Crusader:
--5 boss encounter with no tank swap mechanics (almost).

Many regard ToC to be a complete failure. I had no real problem with it and thought it made sense in a larger story context. I also really enjoyed the challenge posed by Anub'arak. This raid only has one instance of tank swapping and it is on one of the three beasts that comprise the first encounter. Gormok applied a bleed dot to the tank and required a swap until your raid was geared enough to just power through it.

Ice Crown Citadel:
--12 bosses with 5 (Deathwhisper, Saufang, Festergut, Putricide, Arthas) requiring a tank swap.

ICC was another excellent raid and I am sad that I had to stop playing before I could finish it while it was current content. Again, we see more use of tank swapping mechanics but they are not strictly forced by debuffs. For example, Festergut just put out so much damage based on his mechanics that tank swapping with cooldown rotation was sometimes necessary (depending on healer and tank setups). I cannot remember if some of these swapping mechanics became trivial with gear.

Wrath had 46 encounters with 12 including a forced tank swap mechanic. This come out to 26% of bosses utilizing this design method.

Moving on to Mists of Pandaria we see a dramatic change in the number of bosses using these mechanics. I am interested to see if the Cata raids bridge the gap between WotLK and MoP and may look into those encounters, but I wanted to start with the two expansions I was familiar with. If someone would like to contribute based on their experiences in Cata, that would be helpful.

Mogushan Vaults:
--6 bosses with 3 (Stone Guard, Geng, Gara'jal) requiring a tank swap.

MSV was split half and half for swapping mechanics. I did enjoy the different nature of the Stone Guard's swap mechanic. Rather than simply having a debuff applied to the tanks you had to manage a boss resource mechanic and ensure they were in the right place at the right time; I thought it was fun. Feng kicks in with the stacking debuff and Gara'jal forces a swap with the spirit world stuff (similar to Algalon).

...Part 2 follows below...
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90 Orc Death Knight
9115
Heart of Fear:
--6 bosses with 3 (Ta'yak, Un'sok, Shek'zeer) requiring a tank swap.

HoF continues with another half and half and also brings back a single tank encounter. Amber Shaper Un'sok had a somewhat interesting tank swap mechanic with the amber construct (similar to the abomination on Prof Putricide). Ya'yak and Shek'zeer used a debuff to force swapping.

Terrace of Endless Spring:
--4 bosses with 3 (all but Protectors) requiring a tank swap.

With ToES we see all but one encounter force tank swapping, two via debuffs (Tsulong and Lei Shi). The Sha fight is a forced swap but at least it is done via transporting to a different part of the encounter (akin to Algalon and Gara'jal). I didnt mind the swap on Sha so much because it at least put the tank in a different role rather than just wait and watching debuffs.

Throne of Thunder:
--12 bosses with 10 (all but Tortos and Dark Animus) requiring a tank swap.

Throne of Thunder was a giant tank swap fest! The Tortos encounter is the only one in which no tank swapping is required. Dark Animus doesnt force a swap, per se, but depending on how the Massive Anima Golems are managed a swap may be necessary based on their stacking debuff. Although, once geared this was a fairly trivial aspect of the fight. Every single other fight had a stacking debuff applied to the tank. Tanking in ToT essentially came down to knowing which number of stacks for which boss required switching. It was monotonous, boring, tedious, etc, etc.

Siege of Orgrimmar:
--14 bosses with (all but Fallen Protectors and Spoils of Pandaria) 12 requiring a tank swap.

I had hoped that Siege of Orgrimmar, being the final instance of the expansion, would have some really interesting stuff in it. So far, my guild is only up to Galakras and I have seen the first eight bosses on flex, but I can already see a lot more monotony. All but two of the encounters force a tank swap with debuffs on the tanks. Sure, there are a couple interesting things going on like the Spoils (looks to be reminiscent of Gothik in Naxx) or the towers on Galakras. Don't get me wrong, several of the fights in SoO are really well done. I have greatly enjoyed Fallen Protectors, Norushen, and Nazgrim so far and look forward to seeing the rest of the instance. However, as a tank, I want to do something other than watch for stacking debuffs!

Mists has 42 encounters with 31 including a forced tank swap mechanic. This come out to 73% of bosses utilizing this design method.

Conclusions
WotLK and MoP have a similar number of raid boss encounters for the duration of the expansion but they have 26% and 73%, respectively, that utilize forced tank swapping mechanics. The over use of this design formula is becoming monotonous and boring. From a player's perspective it feels like a crutch and a lack of design creativity. Perhaps because no one is causing a ruckus about the (mis)use of mechanics so design teams feel they can spend their effort focusing on other issues. This is a justifiable and understandable position. There are only so many resources and a priority list for action items has to be made. However, having a discussion and brainstorming ideas for ways to move away from using and abusing a single method for designing an encounter can only help as one expansion winds down and another one pops up on the horizon. NOW is the time to start talking about it if the tanking community wants to see an appreciable change for the next expansion.

That said, this is not any easy problem to get around. Blizzard clearly wants two tanks to be involved in every encounter. How can this be done without overusing mechanics to the point of making them stale and pervasive? I strongly encourage people to bring in encounters from other MMOs that are done well or to point to specific encounters/mechanics within WoWs own history that deserve to be revisited, cannibalized, etc.

There are a number of encounters that were well done that required tanks do more than just watch debuffs: Four Horsemen, Mimiron, Yogg, or Anub'arak. There have also been fights with the forced swapping that are still fun: Thorim, Hodir, Algalon, Putricide, Sha of Fear, Durumu, Lei Shen. I think the issue with fights that force a swap that end up being boring are ones that dont have something else for the tank to do while not on the boss: Gluth, Jin'rokh, Ji'kun, Megaera, Sha of Pride, etc.

...Part 3 (the final part) follows below...
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90 Orc Death Knight
9115
Suggestions
More Ranged Tanks - these are rare, and probably should be, but can be a lot of fun. Tanking Mimiron's head as a warlock was an awesome challenge and refreshing. Unfortunately, this doesn't really solve the problem at hand, it just adds another tank.

Multiple Boss Encounters - There were a few of these in MoP (Stone guard, Protectors in ToES and SoO) and there were a couple in Wrath (Four Horsemen and Iron Council). I honestly wouldnt mind seeing more of these types of fights. Having numerous boss mobs allows interesting combinations of interaction between them and gives tanks something to deal with other than watching a stacking debuff. Another good example of this type of fight is Jarg and Sorno from Karraga's Palace (SWTOR); say what you will about TOR as an MMO, I have fond memories of that fight.

Meaningful Adds for Off-Tank/Group - I wouldnt mind more of the "old school" encounters were there is a main tank with the boss and an off-tank handling adds. However, these adds should be a significant challenge to deal with so the off-tank isnt just twiddling his thumbs while holding aggro. I am thinking of fights like Anub'arak or Kel'thzad. Another interesting encounter utilizing adds was Soulrender Zilas from Hammerknell (RIFT)

Split Group Encounters - These act like two mini encounters in one. I understand that this can lead to a lot of confusion, especially in the new age of LFR friendly encounters, but they can also be a lot of fun. Thorim in Ulduar was a great encounter, Galakras uses this (but then goes back to debuff swapping), and Inwar Darktide from Hammerknell (RIFT) was a pretty good fight that utilized this mechanic.

Individual Challenges - The introduction of proving grounds can be extrapolated to a raid setting and other MMOs have done something similar (see Infernal Council from Eternity Vault in SWTOR). Have one NPC for each person in the raid and have that NPC's abilities unique to the role of the person that is supposed to face them. The specific fight I mention here was a lot of fun because it was something of a metric in a game without addons. It also led to some pretty hilarious competition and rivalry between guild members.

I know none of these suggestions are earth shattering or new. I am simply pointing to things that have been done in the past, maybe not all that much, that could be incorporated more in order to break the monotony of forced tank swapping. Most other MMOs have failed completely, but there have been some interesting ideas, diamonds in the rough if you will, that have come out of those efforts and they are worth noting. As I mentioned at the outset, the goal here is to shed light on something that has become an issue and start a discussion about it.

Thank you for bearing with me, I know it is a very long post and a lot to read through.
Edited by Camarath on 9/27/2013 1:10 PM PDT
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90 Night Elf Druid
17755
--15 boss encounters with 1 (Gluth) requiring a tank swap.
--14 boss encounters with 6 (Flame Lev, Razorscale, Kologarn, Thorim, Hodir, Algalon) requiring a tank swap.
--5 boss encounter with no tank swap mechanics (almost).
--12 bosses with 5 (Deathwhisper, Saufang, Festergut, Putricide, Arthas) requiring a tank swap.


I'm not sure why you think this kind of thing is a good thing however.

On more fights than not, you basically had a tank whose role was to stand around for half the fight pretending to dps in an era where tank dps was pitiful anyway.

Also:
--6 bosses with 3 (Stone Guard, Geng, Gara'jal) requiring a tank swap.


Elegon????

ICC was another excellent raid and I am sad that I had to stop playing before I could finish it while it was current content. Again, we see more use of tank swapping mechanics but they are not strictly forced by debuffs. For example, Festergut just put out so much damage based on his mechanics that tank swapping with cooldown rotation was sometimes necessary (depending on healer and tank setups). I cannot remember if some of these swapping mechanics became trivial with gear.


Festergut had Gastric Bloat and things like Saurfang's Mark of Blood were absolutely strictly forced, Sindragosa had Mystic Buffet while the rest of the fight had a tank twiddling thumbs, Blood Queen had Bejeweled, and you're lauding this raid instance as "excellent"?

Lich King was a great fight from a tank pov, and even that had a tank stand around for 1/2 the fight pretending to DPS. Your memory is pretty rose-coloured.
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90 Tauren Paladin
ONE
12550
It beats having to go Ret. Comparing to Wrath is meaningless, as is Cata as the paradigm shifted heavily in MoP to force every fight to utilize two tanks, and avoid using 3 on 25 if possible.
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90 Tauren Paladin
ONE
12550
Didn't even mention the Cleave on Marrowgar now that I think back to it.
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90 Tauren Druid
11650
Honestly, and I know how this is going to sound, but... I think the reason we are seeing so many encounters designed with tank swaps in Mists is that fights are being designed with Raid Finder in mind. They need to be made easier for the LFR crowd, and they need both tanks to have a job to do. Tank swaps are the way to do that. Most everyone can instantly understand a tank swap mechanic.

We can't expect to find a skilled warlock, or even a warlock period, to tank in the raid, so we can't use ranged tanking.

I do like the multiple boss encounters, but sometimes I feel like they add a little too much complexity to them (eg, the simultaneous death requirement in Protectors) and sometimes they just add a tank swap anyway (eg Dark Shamans).

Meaningful adds are fun, and I have no problems being an adds boss. I like having to pay attention and pick things up on the fly. But again, oftentimes, in adds-heavy fights, they go ahead and add a tank swap in anyway. Why? Why why why. It's not needed.

I do agree that tank swapping is being overused and feels like a crutch to add some difficulty and variety in the fights. I also think it's being used to try to prevent one overgeared ego-tank from just coming in and saying "Other tank go DPS, I got this," which I admit I've been told anyway from time to time.

Funny enough, some encounters in that have tank swaps in normal and Flex have had them removed for LFR, like Sha of Pride. I got into a LFR group on him and was totally confused that the mechanic wasn't there.
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14 Night Elf Druid
0
Counting Megaera as a tank swap fight is pretty disingenuous, especially considering it can be and WAS widely 1 tanked (especially on heroic).
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90 Night Elf Druid
12040
I was going to reply, then I realized you were either a) Cherry picking, or b) Completely ignoring heroics.

In some cases both.
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90 Tauren Paladin
ONE
12550
I don't even know why its a discussion, they do it because they want fights to feature two tanks as close to 100% of the time as they can get it, at least while the fights are current.

And like it or not, some of them are fun - such as Primordius's, especially on Heroic where after the first swaps the tanks get to have fun destroying things the entire fight.
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90 Pandaren Warrior
6135
It is a little old, but in can be done in creative ways. I actually enjoy the Sha of Pride swap mechanic... there's a lot more urgency than stack counting.

Saying "they're all tank swap fights" is painting some very different mechanics with the same brush.
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90 Orc Death Knight
9115
I will totally agree that having one off-tank meaninglessly stand around with adds or pretending to DPS isnt fun and we shouldnt go back to that. I also agree that some tank swap mechanics are fun, although I do not find Primordius to be one of them (different strokes...).

I think Snuzzle's point is valid and I also do not have a problem with Blizzard wanting to make sure both tanks have something to do during every encounter. However, I DO feel that the debuff mechanic is overused, otherwise I wouldnt have made this post. I disagree with Slyverius that to call them tank swap fights is painting different mechanics with the same brush. There may be a touch of flavor here or there but it really boils down to the same thing: Tank A cant tank the boss any more because X-debuff which causes Y-effect is reaching a point of killing Tank A, so Tank B needs to taunt.

Perhaps comparing different expansions is not valid, I think this point has some merit and I have my own concerncs regarding this approach. I still feel that forced tank swapping is just too pervasive and a bit more creativity would be refreshing.

@Arielle: You are correct that I am ignoring heroic content. I did not want to discuss something I have no knowledge about as the only heroic fight I have experience with is Jin'rokh. Although I am not sure why you think I am cherry picking, that was not my intent at all.
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90 Pandaren Monk
18865
tbh I don't mind.

Imo, it's not tank swapping that makes a fight boring.

For example, Heroic Lei Shen had tank swaps, but it's still one of the most hectic fights I ever tanked.

As long as there are other things to pay atention in the fight, it's all fine by me.
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90 Pandaren Monk
10965
I don't mind either so long as there is more to do than just "taunt at X stacks" and DPS until it's your turn.

There has been enough personal tank responsibility that I have been pretty happy with this expansion though T15 had the issue of pally's negating tons of tank mechanics though we still 2 tanked everything.

I'm not sure what other way they would force swaps outside of a mechanic that literally removes/separates one of the tanks (Sha).
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90 Dwarf Death Knight
17665
taunt at 3 boring? no!
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90 Draenei Monk
6430
Split Group Encounters - These act like two mini encounters in one. I understand that this can lead to a lot of confusion, especially in the new age of LFR friendly encounters, but they can also be a lot of fun. Thorim in Ulduar was a great encounter, Galakras uses this (but then goes back to debuff swapping), and Inwar Darktide from Hammerknell (RIFT) was a pretty good fight that utilized this mechanic.


That would be sweet. Kinda Gears of War, maybe have the ability to use something on one side to help the other or make it sort of a race. Or maybe just "this door requires two buttons, lets split up and find them then meet back in five".
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14 Night Elf Druid
0
That would be sweet. Kinda Gears of War, maybe have the ability to use something on one side to help the other or make it sort of a race. Or maybe just "this door requires two buttons, lets split up and find them then meet back in five".
sooo you pretty much described Spoils
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90 Draenei Monk
6430
09/27/2013 04:36 PMPosted by Kangarooster
That would be sweet. Kinda Gears of War, maybe have the ability to use something on one side to help the other or make it sort of a race. Or maybe just "this door requires two buttons, lets split up and find them then meet back in five".
sooo you pretty much described Spoils


Wicked.
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1 Undead Rogue
0
Give tanks the ability to switch to dps spec/gear mid encounter... That'd be awesome
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90 Night Elf Druid
13020
I came from Everquest, and some of the various tank mechanics they used there:

Lots of Adds
Flurry (Hitting one tank 4-6 times single round)
Rampage (Hitting multiple people on a combat round (think Patchwerk's Hateful Strike)
Banishment (Tank gets thrown to another area)
Split Raids (raid breaks into 2, 3, 4 groups to complete objectives in a timed area).

WoW did some 'new' things

Council Fights
Debuffs

And, while this is several years old - their Omens of War expansion had a series of Trials, which was interesting.

Boss mob which changes form / abilities faster and faster as health drops

'Simion Says' trial where everyone has to complete actions in 'X' timeframe or die (and dying increases the rate of actions for everyone else)

Fight an enemy raid (think Champions in ToC)

Survive 'X' time-frame against a single encounter. You win by still being alive.

In the above sometimes more than one person tanked a single mob, sometimes there were multiple mobs, and sometimes no one tanked. I do agree however that the taunt on 'x' stacks / debuff effect is kinda getting a tad bit old.
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