The trouble with DPS

27th March 2009 – 11.25 am

You could call the guild I play with in World of Warcraft on the US server small, if only because we need everyone to be on-line at once to try a five-man instance at full strength. They are all fabulous people and instance runs are a lot of fun amongst increasingly intimate friends. There is only one problem. We are lacking in a certain function, causing adversaries to appear more powerful than they are and leading to wipes in circumstances that should be within our capability.

We certainly don't lack for healing, having two excellent healers available. One player has a priest for guild runs and she has kept everyone alive with such expertise as to often make us forget that we're taking damage. Another character has a tree-form druid that heals in PuGs and Wintergrasp regularly. She was kind enough to tag along when I tanked The Old Kingdom, in which the group was progressing smoothly enough that I thought I'd avoid a potentially tricky pull by simply grabbing both groups at once. I asked if people thought we could handle it, knowing that I'd be able to keep my threat up easily, but it was only when my health plummeted that I realised the extra burden I'd put on the healer. But we all survived. Healing is not a problem in our guild.

Tanking is covered too. I have my protection warrior and frosty death knight, and I like to think I know what I'm doing. When we went to Violet Hold recently I grabbed my death knight to DPS after our second warrior agreed to take on tanking duties. Despite being specced in arms talents when he switched to defensive stance, equipped a shield and was given a couple of pointers he became pretty sticky, holding aggro on the bosses without any fuss and keeping everthing in order. Our guild is fine for tanks.

But when it comes to DPS it looks like we have a problem. I only grabbed my death knight for Violet Hold because we were having trouble taking down the first boss, wiping twice before I switched to a DPS rôle, after which we cleared the instance. Checking my damage meter shows that even though my death knight can output a steady 1,400 DPS at 76th level the other DPS characters are below 1,000 DPS, even at higher levels. It doesn't matter how good our tanking or healing is, without the damage to complete the holy trinity of MMORPGs the mobs will eventually win. It's not like the monsters will get bored and wander off after a while.

It strikes me as peculiar that we have no trouble in the two more responsible rôles of healer and tank but that the presumably easier and more diverse DPS rôle is lacking. However, it makes some sense on reflection. Poor healing is quite visible, as the tank tends to die fairly quickly in big fights, causing wipes and the almost-inevitable accusations. Poor tanking is also quite visible, with mobs running loose and causing mayhem amongst the healer and DPS characters. Healers and tanks have to learn quickly in groups in order to progress anywhere. DPS characters, on the other hand, have no outward signs of poor performance, at least as far as the standard game client is concerned.

The only consequence of low DPS is that mobs take longer to kill and with good tanking and healing all this means is that the difficulty of the encounter seems greater than expected. Poor DPS in solo play might get the character killed more often, but again this may well be attributed to the game being difficult and not poor performance. There is no other feedback to gauge performance so unless you participate in other groups with decent DPS, showing how quickly mobs can be defeated, it will just seem like the game is too difficult and not that your damage output isn't high enough. It is only with an add-on damage meter that DPS levels, both absolute and relative, can be reliably measured. And it is only when I started using Recount that it dawned on me that our guild lacks DPS. I had been curious how PuGs I join are able to breeze through instances where the guild falters, but now I think I know.

What is more interesting is that playing a DPS class seems to be difficult to master. Coming from playing a warlock, then a rogue and now a death knight I suppose I have had quite a bit of practice, and I readily admit that I know nothing about healing, so it could be as simple as players being more comfortable with one rôle over another. It's fabulous that we have both tanking and healing covered in the guild, particularly as those rôles can be more difficult to fill than DPS, but we definitely need to find the DPS character in us if we are to continue running instances successfully.

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