Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Shadow and Assassin Q&A Responses

Shadow / Assassin Q&A Round 1 Responses

We had a longer than expected wait for these answers as the developers began discussing Update 2.5 - during which class balance issues will be addressed. Read the full Shadow Q&A response thread.

TL;DR Tank

The developers generally agree with KeyboardNinja's math. To make Darkness tanking less spikey, we'll be trading off passive self heals in favor of mitigation. We'll see an extra 15% base armor increase while in Dark Charge. Swelling Shadows increases armor by 40%. Harnessed Darkness will now grant 4% damage reduction for 18 seconds (assuming a fully successful cast of Force Lightning.)

I wish there could have been a way to keep the identity of Darkness and self healing while balancing our survivability, but this is the most surefire way to make Assassins tank Nightmare modes as effectively as other classes.

TL;DR DPS

They don't have enough arena PvP data to make major balance changes yet. Deception burst control and rotation is acceptable. It's sustained damage they want to improve.

We'll get a small damage increase to essentially every melee ability. This will benefit Deception more than Madness. It's a flat out buff, which is awesome.

As a first step towards Madness PvP viability, we'll get DoT removal protection from healer cleanses (but not Shroud, Dodge, Barrier, etc.) I don't see this being enough to do the trick since survivability isn't addressed, but at least we'll do some more damage after we die than we do now!

Read on for the full response.



Hey Shadows,

Thank you very much for your patience and waiting for these answers. The Combat team has answered your questions below.

Quote:
Shadow/Assassin tanks appear to be balanced around the following design philosophy: least healing required over time but the most healing required in short intervals. Shadows/assassins require on average 5% less external healing than vanguards/powertechs in Nightmare-level content (based on mean mitigation accounting for self-heal at an average pre-mitigation DtPS of 5200). Unfortunately, the numbers also show that the spike damage tradeoff is grossly out of proportion: shadows/assassins are between 20% and 50% more likely to die on fights than vanguards/powertechs (based on simulations, combat logs and "death risk" probabilistic modeling).

You have stated in the past that shadow/assassin tanks are meant to be "skill" tanks. However, the spike damage data indicates that shadow/assassin player skill gets eclipsed by RNG, making shadows/assassins rely on lucky shield and defense procs. The 5% fail chance of Resilience/Force Shroud only makes things worse, since we currently only have one guaranteed defensive CD.

As a result, shadow/assassin tanks are regarded as almost unhealable in 16 man content, and in disfavor among many 8 man raiding groups. The community supports your tank design principles, but opines that shadow/assassin tanks are in need of a design reevaluation based on their current performance in actual raids. We are in agreement that the short-term versus long-term healing tradeoff is valid; however, the short-term healing currently required definitively outweighs any increased efficiency. Could you elaborate on the mathematical models used to relatively balance the tanks with respect to efficiency and spike damage? Are there any planned future improvements to mitigation or cooldowns that will rebalance our performance?
We agree that Shadow/Assassin tanks require less healing from outside sources over the entire course of an encounter and that they also take the most spike damage from certain high-damage attacks. We have verified both of these points mathematically and in practice, and we will be making changes to Shadow/Assassin tanks. These changes are currently slated to come in the 2.5 update and are, of course, subject to change. But we will walk you through the changes as they currently stand and explain the reasoning behind the changes.

Shadow
General

  • Combat Technique no longer heals the Shadow, but now increases armor rating by 130% (up from 115%) and deals additional threat when it damages an enemy target.

Kinetic Combat
  • 3 stacks of Harnessed Shadows no longer cause the Shadow to be healed when Telekinetic Throw deals damage. Instead, it grants Shadow Protection, which increases damage reduction by 1%. Shadow Protection stacks up to 4 times and lasts 18 seconds.
  • What was formerly Rapid Recovery has been renamed Elusiveness and has been redesigned: It now increases the armor rating Combat Technique grants by an additional 20/40%.
  • What was formerly Elusiveness has been renamed Rapid Recovery (this was just a name change - the skill's effects remain the same).

Assassin
General
  • Dark Charge no longer heals the Assassin, but now increases armor rating by 130% (up from 115%) and deals additional threat when it damages an enemy target.

Darkness
  • 3 stacks of Harnessed Darkness no longer cause the Assassin to be healed when Force Lightning deals damage. Instead, it grants Dark Protection, which increases damage reduction by 1%. Dark Protection stacks up to 4 times and lasts 18 seconds.
  • Swelling Shadows has been redesigned: It now increases the armor rating Dark Charge grants by an additional 20/40%.

As you can see, we have removed a large portion of the Shadow/Assassin tank’s ability to self-heal and replaced it with damage mitigation – this is on purpose. We did this because a self-healing tank diminishes the role of actual healing classes in group situations. Ideally, all three different tanking specializations would require the same amount of healing, assuming they are equipped with appropriate items of the same level. Now, we may not be all the way there yet, but that is the goal – and we will continue to take steps which move the game closer toward this goal.

As a rule, tanks should take less damage than non-tanks, and while that was true for the Shadow/Assassin tank, it was not true to the extent that it should have been. If it were true to the extent that it should have been, then Shadow/Assassin tanks would not have taken an unreasonable amount of spike damage. A large portion of a Shadow/Assassin tank’s survivability came from their ability to self-heal. This actually made them considerably better than other tanks when spike damage was not present, and considerably worse when it was. If we had simply increased their ability to mitigate spike damage without reducing their overall survivability, they would have been light-years ahead of the other two tanks in the game, so in the end, their self-healing needed to go.

Quote:
In competitive PvP, the damage from both shadow/assassin DPS trees is very easily countered. The burst from infiltration/deception, while significant, is generally confined to the opener. A team only has to play defensively for a few seconds, after which the shadow/assassin becomes a negligible threat and an easy kill. Balance/Madness lacks any burst window whatsoever, and their setup time is so long that by the time they ramp up, they're already dead.

 Our fear is that neither spec is competitive in arenas. What improvements can we expect for shadow/assassin PvP DPS of both trees? What have your metrics shown regarding shadows/assassins of all specs in arenas on the PTS?
We are very excited about all of the data we will be collecting when Season 1 begins. Unfortunately, the sample size which we were able to gather data from on the PTS was too small to give an accurate picture of the Warzone Arena landscape from a purely data results point of view. For example, the few Mercenary healers that braved the arenas came away with a higher win percentage than any other class & role combo, followed closely by Sith Assassin damage dealers. We will be keeping a close eye on this data when our sample size can give us a more accurate picture, and we intend to make measured changes to ensure that every class is able to compete.

Our current plans for the 2.5 update include some improvements for Infiltration/Deception and Balance/Madness Shadows/Assassins. Double Strike/Thrash, Shadow Strike/Maul, Whirling Blow/Lacerate, and Clairvoyant Strike/Voltaic Slash will all see slight damage increases (as always, this glimpse of information is subject to change before being released). Effectively, this will increase damage across the board for Shadows/Assassins, especially Infiltration/Deception.

For Balance/Madness, we also plan to try out a new form of damage over time protection. Through an addition to Psychic Absorption/Devour in the Balance/Madness skill tree, their damage over time abilities will become “uncleansable” – which means that abilities like Triage/Toxin Scan and Field Aid/Cure will no longer be able to remove Balance/Madness damage over time effects. However, certain abilities with long cooldowns like Dodge/Evasion and Resilience/Force Shroud and abilities that grant immunity like Force Barrier will still be able to purge these improved damage over time effects.

This is a new system where some abilities cleanse, others purge, and still others grant immunity. We are trying it on Balance/Madness first (Sages/Sorcerers will also gain this benefit) because it is probably the most damage over time dependent specialization in the game. If it is successful, we might eventually expand it to other specializations that rely heavily on damage over time abilities.

Quote:
Infiltration/Deception supplies neither on-demand burst nor reliable sustained damage. Outside of its 90 second cooldowns, the spec has almost no control over its burst windows. (the Low Slash -> Shadow Strike/Maul combo is far too expensive to use in rotation, even when burst is required) Moreover, due to random procs and a general dependence on critical hits, it suffers from a strong reliance on RNG rather than player skill. These factors make infiltration/deception unreliable and undesired in top-tier PvE content.

The community feels that infiltration/deception needs either more burst control or more reliable sustain. What sort of quality-of-life changes or rotation adjustments might we see to rectify either of these issues?
We feel that, with Potent Shadows/Electric Ambush, Infiltration/Deception already has pretty good control over its burst. So we would prefer to give Infiltration/Deception more reliable sustain, rather than even more control over its burst. The damage increases for Shadow Strike/Maul and Clairvoyant Strike/Voltaic Slash mentioned in the answer to the previous question are already a step in this direction.

For the most part, the Low Slash -> Shadow Strike/Maul combo is not meant to be used rotationally in PvE – especially when a companion or another player is tanking for the Shadow/Assassin. We may consider increasing the chance to trigger Infiltration Tactics/Duplicity, but it might come at the cost of increasing the rate limit a bit. After the damage increases arrive in 2.5, we will keep our eye on Shadow/Assassin damage dealers to see if they need additional help to make them desirable group members for top-tier PvE content. If so, we will continue to improve them until they become viable contributors.