But my main complaint is that we’ve ended up in a situation where, because we are using DPS gear, we have had our tanking ability balanced around the fact that only 40-60% of the stats on our gear actually contribute to it — the rest are just frill left over from it being designed as DPS gear.
[While I understand the situational usefulness of being able to gear a tank more towards damage/threat over mitigation, I’m mainly speaking in the context of progression bosses, where mitigation is your highest priority.]
As with most hybrid classes, druid tanking itemisation has always been a bit wonky. BC was the golden age of druid tanking as we were then able to fully exploit the Bear Form armour multiplier, which was designed to grant plate-equivalent levels of armour by multiplying the armour on your leather-covered arse by the factor of difference. But because it multiplied your total armour, [not just the leather slots which would have otherwise been plate on a plate tank] this meant that any armour bonuses you could find on non-leather items; rings, cloak, neck, etc; would grant druids a huge armour bonus which the item was not designed to give, throwing off itemisation balance and making these items virtually mandatory for druid tanks.
One great example of this was the Badge of Tenacity. Aside from the Agility on-use which was also fantastic, this BoE Heroic-level blue trinket was the only L70 trinket with armour on it, which meant that for druids it was on par with Epics three tiers above it in terms of damage mitigation.
This was all eventually patched out in 3.1, leaving behind our current and rather confusing tooltip, the gist of which is:
“Going into bear form will multiply the armour on your leather and cloth items ONLY. Also if any of your gear is itemised with bonus armour this multiplier only applies to the armour that that item would otherwise have had if it did not have any bonus armour itemisation.”
So now we have this armour mechanic which was wonky to begin with but now without the ability to take any advantage of this “alternate” class itemisation.
It had to be done, though. Balance is more important than flavour these days. Plus it’s no fun to be passing on the new tier of gear because some old BoE Blue is too good to ever replace.
But back to the DPS gear. Because we’re balanced at the class level to use gear which is inefficiently itemised for tanking, this system could still be exploited, just by itemising the gear efficiently. What happens if you introduce gear on which all the stats are useful? The Wrath equivalent of Badge of Tenacity in terms of efficient itemisation. I’d be really interested to calculate this; what would you get if you re-itemised a druid’s leather items — without changing the item level — based on what is actually useful to tanking?
Obviously the green stats [combat ratings; crit, haste etc] are the first to go. Itemising for fewer number of individual stats would allow for larger amounts of base stam and agi, and for the ideal one green stat per item you’d probably want a focus on Expertise, with maybe enough Hit to reach the cap but avoiding the huge amount that you always get on rogue gear.
The ability to itemise for only useful stats would make druid tanks ridiculously overpowered. And this is all before we even consider throwing in a pure tanking stat like Dodge Rating, which every plate tank has plentiful access to, but that does not exist on any leather gear for this very reason. Efficient tanking itemisation for druids would break the class in its current state.
Of course this is all hypothetical, again because this gear does not actually exist in-game. The mechanic is broken, but as long as there is no way to really exploit it, the devs are free to ignore the problem.
I heard at one point during the Cataclysm discussion one of the devs say that they had briefly considered the idea of removing tanking gear completely and [I have to assume] letting the plate tanks just use plate DPS gear. I also have to assume they decided against it once they realised what druid tanks have understood for this whole expansion; only caring about 40-60% of the stats on your gear is really boring for the player.
Also in that instance, we’re talking about making tanking gear that three different Plate classes share. One could make the argument that it’s not efficient to itemise gear specifically for just one spec of one class. In response to that I would have to ask whether a smart Holy Paladin would ever pass on a healing upgrade because it happened to be Mail.
The Holy Paladin is the one spec of the one class that already gets its very own gear, and they don’t even need it. Resto Shaman itemisation is identical to Holy Pally itemisation. I doubt the game would change at all if Plate Healing gear disappeared completely and Holy Pallys just used Mail. If people whined that they needed the mitigation, well, maybe we could just give Holy a top-tier talent that multiplies armour for them. What an innovative concept!
Of course, the issue of downgrading armour classes is going to be practically moot in Cataclysm — though it’s worth noting that it’s an entirely artificial “restriction.” It’s also worth noting that the actual armour stat difference between armour classes is being very deliberately flattened. I can’t help wondering if it was debated at some stage whether seperate armour classes should even remain in the game, coming back to the idea that balance is more important than flavour.
I can see them pulling strings both ways; making gear as attractive as possible to as many people as possible but avoiding it becoming generic to the point where half the raid is rolling on the same drop. In the end I do still trust Blizzard to make smart design decisions. For now.