First off, I’m gonna insert the obligatory “you need all 3 roles of tank, healers and dps to work together to clear an instance”. This is undeniably true, although in certain kooky cases you can use a pet to tank or get by with no heals. But since I have 3 level 80’s of each type, I’d like to put down my thoughts on what it’s like to play each type of character in WoW today, especially since a lot of people like to complain that their particular role is the hardest.
My dps character is my ret pally. Frankly, dps is the easiest class to play in order to meet the minimum requirements, i.e. doing enough damage to kill the boss in a timely manner. A dps class only needs to pay attention to 2 things: themselves (cds, timers) and the environment (bad stuff on the ground). There is ultimately no excuse for any dps class to not see any avoidable damage. In TBC, dps was a bit more difficult to play due to many dps classes also being expected to do crowd control. I remember in Shadow Labs or Magister’s Terrace, my warlock would be expected to seduce one target, banish a demon, fear another, and dps the primary target. In WotLK, you just /cast Rain of Fire, taking a page from the “they are cc’d if they are dead” book. DPS characters also form the largest pool in any group/raid, and their contribution is towards a common target. This means there is less individual responsibility and their mistakes can be covered by others and are often unnoticeable.
However, in WotLK the focus has also shifted squarely onto dps in that they have been made more accountable. Because it’s so easy to just dps, the really bad dps players no longer have any excuse. Many fights also require a certain amount of dps (admittedly, its really easy to reach this level) rather than being able to plug away indefinitely.
Being REALLY GOOD dps can be also be much harder than being a good tank or healer. Several dps classes have very complicated rotations due to the multitude of new skills, some of which have quite interesting mechanisms. This can technically be more difficult to play than a tank/healer which tends to have more simplified mechanisms. Unfortunately, there is simply no requirement for dps to be at the top of their game now. You can get by and do better than average dps as long as you have half a brain and don’t do things just because “I like it that way”.
Healers have to pay more attention than dps in that they have to pay attention to : themselves (cds, mana bar), the health of all their targets, and the environment. Healers also need to know how to prioritise (I’m quite bad at this, all health bars look the same to me). Tanks come first, followed by healers (themselves), followed by those dime-a-dozen dps. Decisions by healers also have a more meaningful impact. When a dps has to choose between finishing their cast and moving out of void zone, its quite a simple decision (hint: the answer is move because no one cares about you finishing your fireball). For a healer, if the choice is between healing the main tank at 20% and moving out of void zone… its not so easy.
Healers also work as a team, and can cover for each other even though it is usually better to arrange targets beforehand. In that sense, healers have it harder the smaller the group because their “team” gets smaller and smaller. However, despite what I’ve always read about healers getting the blame for wipes, I’ve never actually encountered this. There are always many other factors involved that I can use as excuses 🙂 e.g. dps didn’t move out of aoe in time, tank undergeared etc etc.
In WotLK, since almost every class has aoe heals and mana is not really an issue, the technical aspect of healing has become much easier. There is no downranking, so healers basically have very few buttons they need to push. On my resto shaman, I basically keep up earth shield, spam lesser healing wave everywhere and riptide periodically. If there’s aoe damage, I spam my good old chain healzorz in a whack-a-mole fashion. Unless I’m standing in bad stuff, I don’t have to really know or care about what the fight is about and what the boss does (unless its Loatheb). Of course there is a difference between a good healer and a bad healer, but in raids it can be made up by the rest of the healing team. The major stumbling block in healing isn’t the raw throughput, its the global cooldowns. Having one healer who may be incompetent but can be told to “just keep person x and y up” is of huge benefit to other healers since they can concentrate on using their time to save other people.
I don’t know if our guild is an aberration, but in WotLK there has been a sudden wave of people who all want to play tanks. Tanking in this expansion has been made much more appealing due to the fact that all the tank classes do much more damage now, to the point that they can regularly outdps poorly-played dps characters.
However, while many people may want to tank… the harsh reality is that many people can’t. Playing a tank well requires the player to possess in-depth knowledge about game mechanics and encounters that goes beyond what is readily available in the game. For example, a dps class can easily figure out what is their main damage increasing stat (e.g. spellpower, strength). If they are not at the hit cap, so be it their dps will suffer, but its not the end of the world. A tank that is not at the defence cap, however… is not going to have a pleasant experience. Tanks need to know about threat and aggro tables. They need to know about line-of-sight pulls.
So not only do tanks have to look at their own cooldowns, and the environment (bad stuff), they also have to lookout for the environment of the raid and understand the strategy well. The middle of the fight is not a good time for the raid leader to tell the tank “move it to the left! no, your other left!”.
A classic example can be seen in Vault of Archavon. Archavon will occasionally bounce like a gummi bear to a random raid member and start farting in place. A really bad tank will run forward and start tanking him in the cloud, oblivious to the damage. An average tank will run forward, tank him, move back a few steps so that they personally are out of the cloud, but leave Archavon (and all melee dps) standing in the cloud. A good tank will see move Archavon such that his rear arc is clear for melee dps to stand in.
This is compounded by the fact that a tank’s job is essentially a solo job. No one can “help” you tank a boss. An off-tank can help pick up the boss, but by then it’s already painfully obvious that something went wrong i.e. you’re dead. But on the bright side, playing a tank means that you can make a very significant contribution to the success of a group.
So which is more fun?
It’s no surprise why there seem to be very few tanks, followed by healers, followed by the plethora of dps. It’s also because every single class has a dps spec, whereas a priest is never going to be a tank and a mage is never going to be a healer.
I personally find all 3 roles very fun. I love tanking but sometimes it can be stressful. Dps is easy and relaxing, but sometimes its too easy and I can’t do anything about tank-fail. I personally love healing on my shaman as well, but somehow a lot of people can’t get past Big Number Syndrome and the fact that the numbers are green instead of yellow takes away from their enjoyment.
However, I will always recommend that players should try out each role. I really think it improves your understanding of how WoW works and makes you better at whichever role you end up playing the most.