Secret Design of WoW PvE: Solo Difficulty vs Group Difficulty

The series: [Introduction, and a call for comments, Solo Difficulty vs Group Difficulty, PvE vs PvP, Variety vs Specialization, Solo Performer vs Group Utility, Your role in a PvE raid]

Your ability to solo partially determines the experience you'll have in groups. If you have an easy time in the leveling game, you are going to have a more difficult experience in the endgame/group game. The following list goes from easy-to-solo to hard-to-solo.

  • Hunters are the easiest class to level while playing the solo leveling game, no matter what spec. Pet plus ranged damage is just simple.
  • Warlocks are second. Again, a pet class. (I might be wrong on this. Someday I have to fill in my knowledge gap regarding warlocks)
  • Rogues and mages are third. Lots of damage is easy grinding.
  • Then shamans and druids, because of the damage/healing hybrid nature.
  • Until finally you get down to classes that are harder to solo, like paladins, priests, and warriors.

Now, I'm not saying that paladins are hard to solo. All of WoW solo content is easy with every class. It's just that leveling a pally is harder than leveling a hunter or a warlock. Of course, it's possible to build a "hard to solo" class like a pally in such a way that when matched against a poorly-played warlock that the pally would come out ahead. Player skill counts for a lot, and that's true of all the comparisons to come. But given two equal players, there's no way to correctly spec and play a priest so that they'll solo as fast or as easily as a correctly spec'ed and played mage.

So why does this matter? Well, classes that are easier to level have that balance come out somewhere. Somewhere inside their decision tree, and this is just an example, Blizzard said "hunters will not have an easy time in raids because they level so easily".

Now, individual hunters can be great in raids, just as great and useful as other classes. But your typical fully-leveled hunter never had to build a good skill set that a player needs to be a good raider. Four parts pet attack button, four parts Autoshot, one part Mend Pet. Sprinkle Arcane Shot and Multishot to taste. Let simmer for /played. Voila, max level!

Blizzard decided that hunters would have to work harder (shot rotations based on hidden cast times, non-obvious math, and spreadsheet-only derivations regarding weapon choices and haste) to do comparable performance as other classes in their role (damage). If it were easy for a hunter to be competitive in raids, nobody would ever play anything but hunter! They would rule both inside and outside groups.

Now, the solo game doesn't just come to a screeching halt when you hit L70. There are dailies, reputation grinds, crafting that requires plenty of hard-to-find materials… in fact, much of this is very helpful to generate the resources to give you an edge in performance while participating in the end game. However, the playstyle of all this content is exactly like the solo/levelling game. So for the purposes of this discussion, it's the same.

When farming motes for primals, everyone groans when the hunter arrives. Nobody has it easier. You don't find many RMT-farming priests, warriors, or paladins.

On the flip side, the frustration that pallies, priests, and warriors feel while leveling and playing the solo game is more than made up for in their group play. Tanking and healing shines in groups, and this is the big payout.

More Words!

3 thoughts on “Secret Design of WoW PvE: Solo Difficulty vs Group Difficulty”

  1. I'm arguably biased, but I'd say that warlocks are as easy (if not more) to solo as a hunter.

    You can heal yourself, while using the same spell to kill the mob. You can heal your pet. If you're low on mana, you can use your pet to get more mana (spec dependent), otherwise, you can suck your own life away to get mana, then take life from the mob with the mana you just gained. If things get too tough you can fear-kite a mob to death (except undead. And certain immune to fear mobs. Blizzard obviously hates warlocks.). Your pet can become an invulnerable shield. You can make your own health potions that are on a different timer than other health potions. You can resurrect yourself.

    <3 Warlock.

  2. There are various quibbles to be had over the class rankings. For example, I'm leveling a Fury warrior now and, through level 45 anyway, it seems to burn through mobs as quickly as the "pure" dps classes I've played. I'd also note that you're describing leveling speed; one might argue that the Paladin is "easy" to level due to the uncomplicated playstyle (push seal, turn on auto-attach, watch TV) and extreme ability to survive mishaps/solo tough quests.

    That said, I strongly disagree that Blizzard intentionally made classes bad at groups in order to balance their solo-ability. They've invested far too much time in each class for it to make sense for them to deliberately sabotage one or more of them in (raid) groups in order to punish them for being easy to level.

    In my view, the specialization issue you discuss in part 4 is actually what accounts for what you're observing here. When soloing, you need to be able to both deal and receive/avoid/heal damage, cause there's no one else to do it for you. Sure enough, your top four classes have good DPS AND some means of survival (hunters/locks let their pets tank, while mages/rogues burst things down from range/stealth before they take much damage). In a group, players only need to do one or the other, so it's fine that your tanks and healers aren't putting out damage but a problem that your hunter's pet can't meaningfully tank anything. Still, that's a quirk of raid design, rather than the devs being out to get certain classes.

  3. @GA:

    Yes, I'm discussing leveling speed as ease. I have a previous endgame paladin, I know that it's easy, but it's very slow. Luckily I chose pally first and didn't start with, say, a mage.

    I didn't say that Blizzard made some classes bad at groups or are out to get some classes. I said that some classes are harder to be good at grouping. All classes, when played well, can find a role in the endgame. Some classes have a harder time building the skills to get that role than others.

    And we're in agreement that this is just one piece and not the whole balance pie.

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