Are target dummies obsolete?

I had a very laid-back weekend, game-wise. Friday night I ran our alt raid with my resto druid and managed to not embarrass myself too badly. I took Saturday off and did actual real world social things. Sunday I devoted a lot of hours to grinding away at leveling my void elf mage (still only level 68, it is a LOOONNNGGG grind). I also managed to squeeze in a half hour or so on my main, whaling away at target dummies.

The last activity got me to thinking — with all the gear and talent complexities of Legion, and the inevitable proliferation of computerized simulations, do most players still even use target dummies? Anecdotally, I have noticed that there are almost never any other players using them when I am, and I remember when it was almost always pretty crowded, before Legion. I suppose for one thing we now have them in more places than we used to. We are not stuck with going to a capital city if we want to use them, we have our garrisons and class halls. (Although I am continually annoyed that there are none in Dalaran. If we are on such an emergency war footing for Legion, and if Dalaran is the center of the resistance, you would think there would be accommodations for troop training. Sheesh.)

When I first started using target dummies (early Wrath, I think), I would usually go to Ironforge, plunk myself in front of one, and blaze away at it. I don’t think I even knew exactly what I was trying to measure or test. Eventually I got a damage meter addon, and then I used it to have a damage number I could tout in whispered exchanges with someone looking to fill a raid.

Sometime along about the middle of Wrath, an excellent raider took pity on me and showed me how to get a whole lot more out of target dummies. Standing in one spot was useful for a couple things, he told me, but just because the target dummy was stationary did not mean I had to be. So I learned to strafe and jump disengage and move while using them, I switched targets, I called my pet off and sicc’ed him back on, I simulated stuns on myself, I would pick some hapless player next to me and aim a mid-fight Misdirection at him (it didn’t do anything, of course, but it was good practice for me). I varied my regular rotation with some of the then-abundant utility shots and even traps we hunters had, sometimes vaguely simulating a particular boss fight where I knew, for example, that a tranq shot was needed for an add or that I needed to keep my healer protected by traps.

I even spent hours perfecting the hunter turn-around jump shot, where you run away from the target, then rapidly turn around to face it again, simultaneously executing a disengage and a concussive shot and then face away from the target before hitting the ground to keep running. I am woefully out of practice on it now, but I was damn good at it for a while, thanks to hours with the target dummies. (The ones in Ironforge were never any good for this, I had to use the ones in Stormwind. Later, in Mists, the ones in the Shrine were ideal, as you had that entire long and broad front platform to use. Even now, neither the garrison nor the hunter class hall begin to approach the Shrine in terms of running space.)

I thought it was a terrific quality of life move when in WoD Blizz gave us healing and tank versions of target dummies. There are still some problems with them, of course. It would be nice, for example, if you could create a group with the friendly dummies you need to heal. Also, there are times when the game doesn’t really consider you to be in combat when you are engaged with target dummies, along with times when you can’t easily get out of combat with them. I have not often used the tanking target dummy, so I can’t speak to how well it allows tanks to practice.

I always had high hopes for proving grounds to be the equivalent of target dummies on steroids. Sadly, they did not really work out that way. The mini-scenario structure of them limits you in terms of working on a specific thing, and you are stuck with the scenario playing itself out, even if, for example, you are just working on openers. Where Blizz went wrong with proving grounds, I think, is that they made them into achievement-based competitions rather than leave them as a vehicle for simple practice.

My ideal of proving grounds would be that they would be more player-configurable. For example, you could select from a list of different types of fights — trash, Patchwerk boss, boss with adds, boss with movement, etc. Kind of like the various sim scenarios you can pick. Also, I think it would be useful if players could bring in other players to the proving grounds. So for example if two tanks need to practice something, they could both go in. Or if someone was having a problem with damage numbers, that person could go in with a mentor and practice better techniques while getting immediate feedback and advice.

We basically have three different levels of practice activities in WoW now — target dummies, proving grounds, and LFR. (Maybe four if you count battlegrounds.) Each of them has their own pluses and minuses. I don’t mean to denigrate LFR — I actually think the latest tiers have restored a little more of the challenge to it. But I often use it just for practice on alts, rather than for gear or other reasons. This is especially true of my healer alts where, for example, people stubbornly standing in fire are a pretty good simulation of a heal-heavy boss fight. If I know I will be a designated tank healer in an alt raid (not often with my resto druid, but still…), I may step into LFR and take it on myself to heal the tanks, watching closely to see where the big damage points are.

But back to target dummies. I still use them quite a bit, even on my main hunter. I use them to practice new rotations (for example if I switch from a BM zoo build to a dire frenzy build, or if I equip a legendary or trinket that changes my rotation), or to field-test a couple of competing simulation results. I also use them to test out addons from time to time, especially new Weakauras I want to use. Sometimes I just need to retrain muscle memory I have gotten lax on.

What about you, do you still use target dummies? Do you want to see Blizz improve them, or should they be just a holdover from earlier days of the game?

Confessions of a ranged DPS

For the past few days, I have been trying to gear up my level 100 combat rogue a bit. It’s been an enlightening experience, I must admit. Before I go on, let me point out that:

  • This is my first and so far only max-level melee character.
  • He is my only existing male alt.
  • I only decided to roll a rogue out of spite, because I have vowed to not play SV hunter in Legion, having said that if I wanted to play melee I would have rolled a rogue. So I kind of felt I had to…
  • I boosted him to 100 once I got to level 60.

So, basically, this is a class that I have absolutely zero idea how to play, and that for the most part has never interested me. But I found I was intrigued by the play style while I was doing his basic leveling, and so with some time on my hands lately, I decided to try and get to know it better. I visited icyveins to get some pointers on talents, glyphs, rotations, secondary stats, etc. and then headed off to put in some quality time with the target dummies.

My plan was to gear him up as best I could with Baleful and crafted gear before venturing into instances or LFR. This turned out to be more of a challenge than I had anticipated. It took me two days to wade through the pros and cons of dual wielded weapons, specifically how to deal with the varying opinions on main hand versus off hand weapon speeds. In the end, though I doubt it will make any real difference at my level of play, I went with having 3 crafted weapons — two slow ones and one fast one — and making a Blade Flurry macro that switches to MH fast/OH slow when I engage BF. Otherwise I opt for slow weapons in both hands. I really have no clue if this is useful or not, and I note that Ask Mr Robot always wants to insist I equip the fastest weapons in both hands, but I am ignoring him.

(Of note, the fiery visual effects of Mark of Warsong on my dagger/axe/hammer are undeniably cool!)

The rest of initial gearing was uneventful. I used up my stash of Baleful leather gear and got maybe 3 optimal stat combos, the rest are sub-optimal but still a vast improvement over my boosted green 640 set. I had enough apexis crystals to put all my Baleful gear up to 695, but haven’t upgraded them any further as I don’t have much valor yet. My weapons take up 2 of my crafted slots, and I am still debating about the best use of the third. My helm is my only remaining green, so I may go with that. There is also the conquest PvP route for some useful gear — I already used that trick on my second ring, and may go that way for a helm, not sure yet.

My next challenge was to finish silver proving grounds so I could start on my legendary ring. This, too, proved more complicated than I had anticipated. I have said before that PG have dismally failed as a concept that had a lot of potential, and I have pooh-poohed them as a useful gate to heroics. But I am not so sure after my recent experience there.

Recall that for silver, you have to defeat 8 waves of mobs in timed sequences. I had spent enough time with target dummies that I had no real problems with the first 6 waves, but the last two stymied me for quite a while. (Hours, not minutes, but beyond that I am too embarrassed to say…) I have to admit that the process I went through to finally finish really did help me to become more proficient with my rogue, especially with movement mechanics. So I suppose for someone clueless as to how to play their class and spec (like I was), PG do have some marginal utility. But the key word is “marginal” — there are more efficient and less frustrating ways to teach class basics — and I see that Blizz, realizing this, just announced there will be no PG in Legion. Yay.

So, armed with my huge 689 ilevel and PG-induced overconfidence in my proficiency, I ventured into Sky Reach normal to complete the initial part of my ring. My gear level carried me through easily.

Putting off the round of three required heroics for the next ring step (I detest 5-man pugs), I decided to jump into HFC LFR. The experience was not bad — at least I did not get kicked for disgraceful DPS, and no one even made any snide remarks — but it certainly gave me a completely different view of every boss and trash mob.

Really different.

The thing that was especially enlightening is how much less of the fight I could see and/or keep track of as melee. I am used to ranged after all, and especially with mobile hunters you can see pretty much everything that is going on in a fight. What I mostly saw as melee was butts. Butts and distracting seizure-inducing visuals cluttering up my whole screen. I found that I needed to keep my camera at a fairly close distance in order to see my rogue and determine if the boss or my targeted mob had turned and was now behind me instead of the other way around. I could not tell if I was doing any damage at all if I couldn’t see myself, but in order to do so I had to zoom in so far that I almost couldn’t see anything else.

Maybe this will change as I get more melee experience, but I did not like the effect. I have always had a lot of respect for melee fighters, and now I have even more. I still think ranged damage dealers have the easiest time of anyone both in groups and solo, which is why I am puzzled as to why more damage dealers don’t select ranged.

The other big thing I noticed as melee is that if the tank is not especially competent and cannot keep the boss away from fire, melee has almost no place to go. Tanks may survive standing in bad, but melee — especially leather melee — not so much. The choice is run out of melee range in order to survive or keep hitting and hope you can find a safe couple of pixels and that the healers have good aoe heals for the melee group. (Which reminds me, I may experiment with sorting my Healbot groups into ranged and melee on my healers, might help me respond better to boss mechanics.)

Anyway, I will probably keep at my rogue, even though combat spec will morph into outlaw spec, greatly changed, in Legion. (I seem to have a gift for picking specs Blizz hates and feels compelled to drastically change every few months…) Though I don’t think I will ever be a great fan of melee as a play style, I am definitely benefitting from getting a different perspective. This can only make me a better ranged damage dealer, I think.

Healing as a hobby and LFR as a practice dummy

Last night, for the first time in a couple of months, I ran Highmaul LFR. I did it partly because I was getting garrison fever and partly for practice on my mistweaver. I only had time for the first two wings, but I have to say, it was not a terrible experience.

Apologies to anyone who runs LFR as their main gearing/raiding mechanism, but I use it to practice up on my alts these days. I didn’t have to do that so much in Mists, but in WoD there is not much else to do on alts that will let you really get into your rotations and cooldowns — killing mobs in the wild is not the same. So, yeah, I use LFR as a giant set of target dummies these days.

However, I take the time beforehand to make sure I am at least passably competent before I step foot in LFR. That means I have set up my keybinds, know my basic single target and AoE rotations, understand my interrupts and cooldowns, and have looked up the fights to see if there are any specific things I need to know about them for the alt I am taking in. Then I usually spend a few minutes with a real target dummy just to solidify things. I also do my best to have some appropriate gems, enchants, flasks, and food — with a semi-geared alt, it may be the cheap stuff, but I still do it. I know it is just LFR, but I feel that it is just basic courtesy to be as prepared as I can be.

So last night I took my MW in to the first two wings of Highmaul. I didn’t do too badly, was consistently one of the top two healers. Of course, I am pretty well geared for HM, so I should have done much better, but still I was happy with my performance.

I have kind of a love-hate relationship with healing. While I am actually doing it, I am very tense and stressed, and I take it personally if someone dies even if they were being stupid. But after the fight is over, I feel an incredible sense of satisfaction, which is what keeps drawing me back to it.

When I DPS, I feel like all I have to do is kill whatever the tank tells me to. And try to stay out of bad stuff, but if I make a mistake, there is the healer to bail me out. Of course, there is more to it than that, especially for a hunter who gets all the special jobs in the raid, but I find the DPS role to be straightforward. Maybe that is because it is, and then again maybe it is because I have done it for years as my main thing in the game.

But healing I find to be more subtle and complex. There is the basic job of keeping people alive while staying out of crap yourself. But there is also a sort of decision dance you have to do constantly. You have to prioritize your healing targets, know the fight well enough to anticipate big healing moments and prepare for them, and be always aware of exactly where everyone else is so you can maximize your raid heals. Oh, and manage your mana, somewhat less of a problem for a MW than for some other classes, but still. Not to mention the extra responsibility. If I screw up as a DPS it usually just means the fight takes a bit longer because there is less damage being dealt, but if I screw up as a healer more often than not it means the raid wipes. At the very least, if I screw up and die as a healer it means the raid will spend a combat rez on me, which is not as good a feeling as you might think it would be.

I guess since I am not really a “professional” (main) healer, but more of a hobbyist, LFR holds more interest for me as a healer than it does as a DPS. For one thing, of course, the queues are MUCH shorter, so it is easier to jump in when you have a few spare minutes. But LFR really is intense practice, kind of like I envisioned the Proving Grounds would be but of course are not. Thanks to the WoD changes in raid difficulty levels, LFRs are fairly quick now, which I think of as a plus. And if the group is a non-toxic one — not always a safe bet in LFR — it can even be fun.

So all in all, I think I have found a good use for LFR in this expansion: practice dummy/proving grounds on steroids for my alts!


Proving Grounds revisited

Yesterday I decided to try and gear up my destro warlock and discovered, when I went to queue up for the 3 instances needed for round two of the legendary, that I had not yet completed the proving grounds requirement. So I took a deep breath and entered the PG instance.

I have only done the WoD version on my two hunters and on my MW monk, all of them when they were at relatively low ilevels. The instance starts at 615 and scales up the difficulty if your gear is above that level. I think my three characters were all around ilvl 600 when they did it, but the instance does not scale down the difficulty to account for anything below 615.

The DPS PG is ridiculously easy for a hunter — even an undergeared one, and especially a survival hunter — and I had zero problems getting silver on both of mine, first try, plenty of time left over.  (And no, I have no interest whatsoever in getting gold or god forbid endless.) My MW was a little more challenging, it took me about 6 or 7 tries to get the silver. It’s been awhile, but I seem to remember that I got much better results when I pitched in with some damage to help out the pitiful DPS NPCs.

My lock is somewhere around 652 ilevel, and honestly getting silver was not a walk in the park. I got bronze immediately, but it took me a few tries to get the silver. I attribute most of this difficulty to my lack of recent practice with my lock. Once I switched around a few talents to get more AoE power and had regained some proficiency with using my cooldowns, I was fine.

The experience made me think a little about the whole PG concept. I recall that I was pretty excited about it when it was announced for 5.4, thinking it would be a great way — finally — for tanks and healers to practice without subjecting a group to the painful realities of their learning curve. In fact, Blizz promoted it this way, saying it would be a tutorial  experience, a hands-on way to improve your skills. Unfortunately, I envisioned a somewhat grander and more useful tool than what we got, but still it was a good game addition.

In the hype leading up to WoD, Blizz said that the PG would be improved by providing much more in the way of tutorials, and also that it would be a requirement for heroics. I think this was yet another example of Blizz over-promising, as what I see is that the “more tutorials” consists of that NPC “teaching” you to not stand in bad shit and to interrupt casters. Big whoop.

I don’t feel I can comment on the heals PG, as I have only done it a couple times. But I’ve done the DPS one now something like 10 times on various alts, up to silver. It has one or two extremely limited uses, which I will discuss below, but in general it stinks as a DPS tutorial or even as a DPS gate for heroics. In my opinion, it is basically just an AoE race. The single target guys are easy to deal with, and the required “movement” consists of getting behind the shield dudes and kiting that Big Ball o’ Wax so that it hits a mob.

Where the challenge comes is when you have to apply AoE on those disgusting little rabbit creatures as you are killing the single targets. You cannot engage the rabbits one by one or you will run out of time. This is simple for a hunter and a lock, not so simple for some other classes. Classes/specs that lack a robust cleave or AoE will have a significantly harder time completing silver in my opinion. Not sure I will even attempt it on my arcane mage, but that is one example that comes to mind.

The only use I can see for the current PG is that it forces you to practice with your class/spec buttons. That’s it. So if you have not used your character for awhile, it serves as a quick refresher. Or if for example you leveled your hybrid as DPS but really want to play it at level as a healer or tank, the PG  can help you practice a couple of rotations as a practical exercise that is different from using a target dummy. Will it teach you how to tank or heal? Not even close.

There is no good reason to require PG silver for heroics. Beyond a pre-school kind of “training” it is meaningless as a predictor for competence. I am not saying Blizz should get rid of the requirement, just that it is useless as one. It’s like requiring players to visit Goldshire before they can queue for heroics — possibly interesting, more likely annoying, but completely unrelated to performance in an instance.

I still believe there is a lot of potential for the idea of Proving Grounds. For example, offering a better variety of scenarios would be interesting. You might choose, for example, among scenarios including little to no movement, high movement, single target or lots of adds, tank switching, raid-wide damage versus heavy tank damage for healers to contend with, etc. You could also work on certain mechanics in a PG. For example, the conveyor belt mechanic has been used a lot since 5.4, so having that in a PG  might be useful as an option.

Another nice innovation would be the option to take one or two people into the PG with you. This would be useful in lots of circumstances. For example, someone just learning a new role or class might ask the guild expert on that to give them pointers while in the PG. One or two raid team members might want to work on some specific coordination techniques. Lots of possibilities.

Proving Grounds in their current state are close to useless, in my opinion. But that doesn’t mean Blizz should abandon them. It would be nice to see them expanded and improved in the next expansion.