The creation of the blog post took a rather strange path. Inspired by Cynwise’s series on Warlocks, I wanted to investigate how Death Knights were doing in the days since Wrath launched. I did not feel the need to write a doom and gloom article, because DKs have a strong representation amongst the player base, even if their representation among HM raid teams and 2200+ ranked PvP teams have dropped off slightly. In other words, I knew Death Knights weren’t broken, but I wanted to write a ‘State of the DK’ post (and I still will). When I dug through the data though, another idea struck me. That melee DPS have an inherent disadvantage to their ranged cousins, and I think it’s something that can – and should – be fixed.
If you are not familiar with melee DPS, I will briefly describe how our attacks are split up. Melee DPS have two sources of damage, white attacks and yellow attacks. Yellow attacks are often referred to as ‘special attacks’ in that they involve some sort of strength or magic enhanced attack versus the simple swing of a weapon. That swing of a weapon is called a white attack, or auto-attack. When a melee DPS player engages a boss, their white attacks are constantly on, adding in strength-modified weapon damage that can trigger a critical strike. During this time a melee player can also use their special attacks for enhanced damage, special debuffs, etc. Sounds like a pretty good deal right? Free weapon damage while using specials to bump the overall numbers. Well, it’s pretty patently un-awesome because it means that melee DPS is a slave to its weapon.
Here is a World of Log parse for myself (Unholy DK) and a Shadow Priest from my guild. Notice the percentage of the damage that comes from ‘Melee’ for the Death Knight.
Melee damage is third on the list of damaging attacks (14% of DPS) by a 2:1 margin over the fourth highest ability. And while each melee class might see that number differently, it is a significant hinderance in the search for balance among melee DPS classes. Leodar uses the LFR version of Gurthalak in that parse (which means my stat weights change from a non-Gurthalak Unholy DK’s and that I will generally out-DPS similar players of similar skill. Yes, because of one piece of gear), so my DPS is respectable. The Shadow Priest has no weapon handicap because auto-wanding is not part of her DPS (and you can be sure that if it was, she would be very unhappy). A caster/range DPS is not limited by weapon speed or weapon damage – only by the stats on that item. That’s the way it should be for melee DPS as well, but it isn’t.
Here is a chart showing the average DPS of each spec in Heroic Dragon Soul among the top 100 parses. When Rogues are added to the data melee is in a very respectable place, with 5 of our specs placing in the top half of average DPS, and 5 specs placing in the bottom half. It stinks when your spec ends up in the bottom half, but that’s the way it goes sometimes. The problem is that in this tier Rogues are the only class with access to the legendary weapons. So removing Rogues from the DPS list reveals different results (I also removed Frost Mages for the next point, since their DPS is so much lower than all other specs. I feel for you guys, and so does my level 84 aspiring Frost Mage). Among 18 raiding specs and without Rogues, melee DPS only places 2 specs (Arms and Ret) in the top half, and 5 specs in the bottom half. Yes, there is balance in the middle, but the difference between an Arms warrior (52.7k) and an Enhancement Shaman (44.5k) is astronomical.
Let’s look at recent ranked parses from other specs with percent of damage and ability damage rank:
Frost (13.3%, 4th)
Feral (17.9%, 2nd)
Retribution (9.6%, 5th)
Enhancement (15%, 1st) I’d just like to take a moment for a WTF. First?! Seriously? And with only 15% of all damage done. No wonder Enhancement is struggling to keep up.
Arms (7.5%, 7th) Hmm. Our best non-rogue performing melee DPS spec has the lowest percentage and rank for melee damage as contributed to overall damage.
Three Rogue Specs (18.4%-28.2%, 1st-2nd) I really strongly considered keeping Rogues off this list due to the Legendary Effect that many of the top parses are bound to have. Instead, I decided to keep it as an indication of the difference that your weapon can make.
The above data is pretty damning in my mind. There is a direct correlation is the amount of DPS and the percentage of overall damage is done by melee attacks. If you place the specs in order of least percentage of overall damage to most, it will mirror the average DPS rank in heroic 10 man content as linked earlier in Raidbots. The one exception being flip-flop of spots between Enhancement and Feral, who are already right next to each other on the list.
During Blizzcon 2011 it was originally revealed that Monks did not have an auto-attack, meaning they would not be doing white damage. I was really, really excited to hear this, and I had hoped it would usher in a new way of looking at melee damage, but alas, auto-attack was added back into the Monk arsenal and the beat went on.
I think, in the long run, that white damage really needs to be eliminated as a major source of melee damage output. It makes us far too dependent on the quality of the weapon we can obtain, and ultimately limits good players from contributing as much damage as they could. We are already limited in movement fights where we must run within melee range of adds and by fight mechanics like Ultraxion where we can’t position ourselves behind the boss, so being limited by the quality of your weapon and your luck in getting it to drop (and winning it) is just too much. Specs that rely on weapon damage will not be able to compete due to this simple mechanic.
I don’t assert that I have it all figured out. We could implement a swing timer that mimics a cast bar to limit burst damage, and maybe add a non-special white attack for leveling purposes. We could even name it “Attack.” But even though I don’t have all the answers, I still believe I’ve found a problem, and I think it’s time to come up with ways to fix it.