Stances and presences

16th March 2009 – 3.46 pm

A few times now I have been tanking in an instance and had trouble keeping an accompanying death knight pulling aggro from me. In each case the death knight has been in frost presence, greatly increasing their threat generation, rather than my own threat generation being lacking. Apart from one of the death knights thinking he was doing me a favour by stealing aggro the other times were all simple oversights, the player either not knowing any better or forgetting they are in frost presence. It's easy to see how this oversight can be made.

There are other classes that offer the character different rôles depending on an overriding ability, notably the druid and warrior. The druid's stances are fairly easy to discern, as you are not likely to tank as a cat, DPS as a tree or heal as a bear. And whilst the warrior's stances are less visual they are almost as obvious, at least to the player. Each stance offers abilities and spells that are unavailable when in a different stance and even if abilities can be used in any stance they need to be added to the primary action bar for each stance. It is not just a case of unavailable spells being temporarily removed, when switching from one stance to another an entirely new action bar is presented to the player.

There is a clear and obvious separation of abilities and rôles when switching between stances in other classes, but not so with the death knight. Switching from the DPS blood presence to the tanking frost presence or the PvP unholy presence has little effect visually or on the user interface. An animation appears above the character's head and an icon is highlighted to show the change has taken effect, but that is all. There are no spells that become suddenly unavailable, no new action bar, and no change in appearance. Indeed, the only indication I had that my companion death knights were perhaps in frost presence was my threat meter, a third-party add-on, showing them to be matching my own threat levels.

I would consider it to be good design that it isn't as easy to tell which presence you are in compared to other classes. There are drawbacks, of course, in that you pull aggro from a tank, or tank in the wrong presence, both of which I am guilty of occasionally, and making the changes in presence transparent can ironically obscure their differences, particularly to inexperienced players, but overall the opportunity given to perform different functions almost seamlessly is a boon. You don't need to worry about buying expensive abilities from trainers for a stance you never use, nor do you need to configure three or more distinct action bars and remember where all the different abilities for each stance are, because each ability as well as the action bar is common across all presences.

The death knight is not simplified because of the ease of presence switching. The experienced death knight perceives the changing utility of each spell for each presence, normally because of the rôle being fulfilled, and adapts spell rotations to maximise damage, threat or disruption. The transparent switching of presences offers an easy and quick opportunity to experience new aspects of the game without needing to dedicate significant amounts of time becoming familiar with otherwise-unused spells, whilst still allowing for sufficient depth to be revealed to the more inquisitive player. Death knights just need to keep in mind their immediate rôle so that they are in the suitable presence.

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