Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The 3 Tanks of SWTOR

As we are getting closer to launch, I wanted to start honing in on the tank classes for Star Wars the Old Republic. Very little is known about the actual tanking mechanics to anyone not in the beta, and those people ain’t talking. The information in this post was compiled from two interviews with Lead System designer, Georg Zoeller,  one with Republic Trooper, and one on Red Rancor.
We know that there are 3 tank classes in the game with different names depending on whether they fight for Republic and Sith.
  • Trooper Vanguard / Bounty Hunter Power Tech
  • Jedi Consular Shadow / Sith Inquisitor Assassian
  • Jedi Knight Guardian / Sith Warrior Juggernaut
For simplicity, I’m going to use the Republic names since that will be the side of my ‘main’ in SWTOR, but everything I say about one AC is true too of the mirror, so if I talk about Guardians, I mean that same things apply to Juggernauts.
We know that the goal of the Devs is for each tank to be viable in the main tank role. This isn’t vanilla WoW where we had one true tank (Warrior) and two sort of tanks (Druids and Paladins).
Georg Zoeller said, "All tank specs in the game are designed to function as a main tank. There are no 'off tanks' by design in the game, that would involve players intentionally choosing such a role by speccing hybrid.By design, all tank capable ACs can spec to be fully capable main tanks. There are no 'off tanks' unless you intentionally spend your skill points into different trees.”
This is a great goal, but we will have to wait until the NDA is lifted to see how well that goal is being accomplished in end game Operations.
Shadow
Now the Shadow was assumed to be an avoidance tank, and in past MMOs, that tanking model has not faired well. But Georg gave Red Rancor a little ‘not so fast’.
He said, “Shadow and Assassin rely a bit more on avoidance in their tanking ability mix than other Advanced Classes. The actual contribution of avoidance to Jedi Shadow/Sith Assassin survivability is only about 5% higher than for other Advanced Classes. They also have some active defenses that can increase their survivability and mitigate incoming burst damage if needed.”
The active defenses makes me think of the model of the World of Warcraft Death Knight who have swung from wildly overpowered to struggling underpowered as they were tweaked and balanced from patch to patch. The Shadow does get more of his survivability from avoidance, but not a whole lot more, so perhaps he will not fall prey to the issues that have affected other evasion type tanks.
There seems to be already be a little of the ‘Shadow can’t tank’ feeling to the game because dedicated Shadow tanks launched MainTankasin. If the name looks familiar, it should, as it harkens back to the Maintankadin, which was the site dedicated to proving Paladins could be viable tanks in WoW. The fact that a group of Assassins would want to launch this site gives credence to having to fight for the notion that Shadows are viable.
Guardian
The assumption about the Guardian/Warrior was that they would be mitigation tanks, like the World of Warcraft Warrior. I have yet to find any source from a Dev that talks about the model for the Guardian/Juggernaut tank. This concerns me.
Vanguard
What we do know from the Republic Trooper article is that Troopers are definitely mitigation tanks. Zoeller, in the interview with Republic Trooper said, “their tanking ability is based more upon absorption and shielding and less about avoidance, making them the slightly more predictable tanks (Medics love that).”
I find this highly concerning for Guardians and Shadows. Being the most predictable tank is a huge advantage, and could very well signal that Troopers will be the default MT of SWTOR, and the Troopers advantages don’t stop there.
Again Zoeller to Republic Trooper, “Unlike the Guardian and the Shadow, the Vanguard is capable of building threat even from range, giving them the limited but marked ability of tanking at a distance.”
This is another concern, as most veteran MMO players know the innate advantage ranged has over melee.  Zoeller said, “Since this is a Star Wars game, and most enemies in Star Wars utilize ranged weapons such as blaster rifles, cannons or grenade launchers, the Vanguard’s ability to draw attention from range also emerged as a distinct advantage over melee bound classes like the Jedi Guardian, who have to close from range to create initial threat.”
But this had some drawbacks as well. It was tough to tell who was actually tanking. It also made it difficult for the Trooper to perform some of the mob positioning necessary for tanks to do. So they decided to nerf the troopers range.
Zoeller said, “we’ve solved this problem by moving the ‘sweet zone’ for tanking on the Vanguard into mid-range, allowing for strategic use of ranged attacks while keeping him in the thick of the action.”
What is interesting in all this discussion of ranged and melee is the discovery that SWTOR doesn’t have different rules for ranged and melee threat. In Warcraft, it is easier for melee characters to pull threat on a mob than ranged characters. Zoeller said, “there are no special calculations made in the threat calculation logic that would favor melee over ranged damage.”
I hope we get some new information on the mechanics of the Jedi Guardian soon so we can really round out our understanding of the three tanks. I am rooting for the Developers to accomplish their goal and have three viable relatively balanced tanks for end game Operations.
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