As everyone who plays World of Warcraft can tell you, characters have gotten more abilities over time.  When Mists of Pandaria launched we saw some slight reduction in abilities however nothing dramatic. Now, according to comments from Blizzard recently, the devs are looking at condensing the number of abilities each class has so as to reduce ability bloat.

This has been hinted at in the past when Ghostcrawler talked about class changes and how dramatic changes or consolidations of abilities only really happens with expansions.  It has also been discussed again recently in the forums with Bashiok jumping into a thread about ability bloat.

With another expansion to WoW growing ever closer, it is time to start thinking about ability bloat and character ability trimming.  Are you for it or against it and is it good or bad for the game?

What is Ability Bloat?

Very simply ability bloat refers to the fact that most classes have far more abilities available to them now than way back when WoW first launched. 

The reasoning for this is pretty obvious, since back then the level cap was 60 and you gained abilities every few levels to help make it feel as though you were progressing.  That trend of gaining new abilities every few levels has continued through the expansions, so that now that the level cap is 90, each class has many more abilities than before.

To be fair, that has been some reduction or consolidation of abilities over time.  However, the over all number of abilities has continued to climb.

Why have more abilities?

The reason for the expanding number of abilities revolves around two main things: player advancement and class balance.

Players want to feel as if they are getting better as they level.  This means that they need newer and more powerful abilities as they level.  This is standard game design for any game whether it is paper based role-playing or an MMO like WoW.  This isn’t really an issue most of the time since the top level is set when a game is designed and is a set point.  With WoW it has become an issue since the top level keeps advancing.

The second reason abilities are added over time is to help balance classes.  When it is found that one class or another is significantly weaker in an area than another class is, they have been granted an ability to help compensate.  This mainly stems from PVP combat being mixed with PVE abilities, but also has to do with a belief that all classes need to be equal. 

Class Equality = Ability Bloat?

The need to be equal within a very small percentage is a strange WoW phenomenon that I have never really understood, but it has really pushed ability bloat.

Think about it, in most games or lore traditionally a Mage or Wizard would do huge damage to anyone foolish enough to stay at range.  However, if someone could sneak up close to them they are generally dispatched very easily as they are frail old men. 

In WoW though, it somehow became unacceptable for a Mage to deal even 10% more damage than any other class, never mind the 3-5x that general fantasy writing would have them deal.  It also became unacceptable for mages to be able to be killed quickly once cornered.

Due to the desire for all classes to be able to do almost identical damage, survive equally in most situations, and all have some form of CC, healing, and escape, the list of abilities per class has grown considerably.

Doesn’t More Abilities make classes more interesting?

The answer here is really tricky.  Yes in theory more options makes for more interest.  However in reality, the reverse applies as well.  There are only so many different abilities, or types of abilities, and the more abilities each class is able to do, the more overlap there is between classes.  The overlap created makes each class decidedly less unique and therefore less interesting, at least in my opinion.

Do More Abilities Means More To Do?

Again in theory this is true, however in actual fact it rarely plays out that way.  Even if we may have 30-50 abilities per class, how many of those do we actually use in a given encounter?  How many do we use more than once or twice in that encounter?

Most classes have a rotation made up of 2-6 abilities that they will use in a priority rotation throughout all encounters.  They also have a few coolowns they use once or twice per encounter.  Lastly there are a few situation abilities that should be used in encounters.

Each class has numerous other abilities that could be used for some benefit however they are generally not as the benefit is either too small or too complicated to weave into a rotation.

This all means that in general most players use less than half of their abilities with any given regularity.  In many cases if they do choose to use other abilities they are hurting their healing or DPS performance and will be looked down on by other raid members.

Blizzard Comments on Ability Bloat

Here are just a few comments from Blizzard staff about ability bloat on the Blizzard forums.

Reducing ability bloat is something that's been talked about fairly recently in interviews and tweeters, it's also something we've attempted to address as recently as this expansion. It's a balance, of course, between having depth of complexity through abilities without making the complexity just a ton of different buttons to push. There's also perception issues of taking away abilities, even if they're never used, as undermining the viability or versatility of a class. Classes are largely defined by their abilities, so taking things away can be a touchy subject. It's something that we will need to give another go at addressing, because classes getting new abilities as level caps raise is essentially a given. In any case we tend to save these kinds of big sweeping changes for expansions.

I have never understood this sense that we NEED to keep everything we once got.  It’s almost like virtual hoarding, do we really want out characters to be like those disgusting houses you see on TV shows about horders?  It is ok to let go, just keep core abilities the same and lose the superfluous crap.

Posted by Kryptonicz - STOP DUMBING DOWN THE GAME.

Having tons of different buttons to push doesn't make you smart or good at the game. Having fewer buttons doesn't make you dumb or worse at the game. A literal comparison of # of abilities to # of abilities is not a valid comparison for depth of play or complexity that a skillful player can use.

If you have 30 buttons and your rotation is to push each button in order from 1->30, is that a smart game? Can you as a skillful and smart player press those buttons from 1->30 better than a worse player? Now what about if you have 5 buttons that require situational awareness, combo off each other, and a skilled player can achieve let's say a ~10% DPS gain over someone else using those same 5 buttons just by making smart decisions of when to press them.

What's your opinion now on what number of abilities means to making combat complex, smart, or skillful? Do fewer skills actually mean a "dumber" game? Does more of something just seem better? Is context of mechanics/gameplay/skill trumped by counting how many of something there is?

I have to agree here too.  Most players use very few of the abilities available to them.  When you do use more than that, it is very rare, and sometimes even detrimental to your key role in a raid. As long as abilities are well thought out, having more or less doesn't affect the game.

Messiah’s Opinion - Should Abilities Consolidate Further?

Knowing the above, and reading through the comments from Bashiok about players getting upset when something is taken away, even if never used, should Blizzard consolidate abilities further?

I am biased on this topic as I have seen over time that additional abilities does not help separate good or bad players by very much.  This wasn’t always the case, as a great player could use different abilities and gain an advantage, and the skill to do so could make a huge difference.  However, over time with abilities being added, classes being so fine tuned, and players all searching the net for the “best” rotations, that has disappeared to a large degree.  The difference between the best player and a normal player’s DPS (in the same gear) is now down to less than 10% in most cases, where it used to be able to be over double fairly regularly.

Knowing that additional abilities does not generally help a skilled player over a normal player, or even really provide any more real options (as you will normally not use them), and that more options makes all the classes more alike, I am all for ability consolidation or cleanup.

I would welcome a massive cleanup with the release of the next expansion.  In fact I would push for one far more dramatic that is likely to ever happen.  Wouldn’t it be awesome if classes had more uniqueness by removing abilities that are not really part of the lore for that class?

Imagine Warriors that did more damage but couldn’t heal, Mages that did more damage but couldn’t always escape or survive damage, Healers that have set roles instead of all doing AOE.  In short mainly getting rid of a lot of cross-over abilities.  Healers should heal, DPS should DPS and Tanks should tank.  A DPS player should not consistently be able to heal themselves, a Healer shouldn’t be able to cause damage, and a tank should require DPS to kill things and a Healer to keep them alive.

If abilities were cleaned up to that point, I would be hugely impressed.  However, it is unlikely to ever head that way as players seem to need their 50 buttons to be able to say “I can do that”.  The fact that they never do, nor should they be able to, doesn’t seem to matter.

What are your thoughts?

The Messiah has had his say, what about you?  What are your thoughts on ability bloat and possible ability consolidation?  Have your say in the comment section below.

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Last Updated: Mar 29, 2016

About The Author

Byron 1
Byron has been playing and writing about World of Warcraft for the past ten years. He also plays pretty much ever other Blizzard game, currently focusing on Heroes of the Storm and Hearthstone, while still finding time to jump into Diablo III with his son.