Warlock’s Long-Term Burden: The Story of Short-Term Band-Aid Fixes

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Alexander Brazie

Alexander is a game designer with 25+ years of experience in both AAA and indie studios, having worked on titles like World of Warcraft, League of Legends, and Ori and The Will of The Wisps. His insights and lessons from roles at Riot and Blizzard are shared through his post-mortems and game design course. You can follow him on Twitter @Xelnath or LinkedIn.

Game: World of Warcraft: Classic
Game Element: Warlock Class Overaul – Spells
Discipline: Class Design

Today you’ll see how band-aid solutions were applied to help the warlocks for the time being but ultimately plagued the class even further long-term.

Let’s take a look at the ways designers tried to fix the Warlock class problems outside of the class itself.

It was a cloudy day in Irvine as I snuck through the UCI campus to the dark little blue and grey building that Blizz158f80baa463f63d92184d67683e7130ard called home.

Bulletproof glass had been added to the front of the building after some upset players had showed up on day after a round of Diablo 2 bans.

Connie, the cheerful and hard-nosed receptionist, who would someday become a writer and designer on Wildstar, pleasantly buzzed me in after forgetting my badge at home for the third time this month.

Connie: “If you forget again, I am going to staple the next replacement badge onto your forehead!”

She was probably joking, but with Connie you could never take the risk.

A reminder, my blogs are distilled from the depths of my memory and often paraphrased for the sake of the reader. If there are inaccuracies, please let me know and they will be corrected.

Expanding Upon the Whole

Burning Crusade crunch was in full swing – it would be the longest – and most draining – crunch of my career.

Some of the artists had been already doing overtime for months before I started.

We were fortunate to be only doing 10 hours mandatory overtime per week, though many of us stayed late and on Saturdays.

Half in a show of dedication, half because we barely believed we deserved to be there.

Fortunately, as draining as this lifestyle was, it was fun.


I was assigned to develop monsters for dungeons and Karazhan before working with Mike on the outdoor world.

Yet as much as possible, I would sneak over and talk to Kevin about his class design work.

He took it with good humor; when I apologized for lurking so much, he replied: “It’s nice to chat with another designer who plays so much.

So long as you don’t sit here and whine about nerfs like Roman or Chad, you’re fine.”

His office mate, Eric, had just finished working with the UI artist on the changes for the talent tree.

The philosophy for this expansion was straightforward – add 10 more levels just the same way that they’d built the original game. In this case, that meant three new spells and ten more points of talents.

Me: “That seems to make sense.”

Eric: “It does, doesn’t it? But if you look ahead, you’ll see this just isn’t sustainable.”

Kevin: “Look at a healer’s spellbook. There are 11 ranks of Healing spells. Of which there are three varieties.

Your spell bars can’t handle just those; let alone the other utility spells. Adding new spells means things will just get more and more complicated.”


Eric: “Yeah, likewise, we are able to stretch the talent pane vertically to put in two more rows, but eventually, it will either have to scroll, or fundamentally change.”

Kevin: “But for now, it’s fine.”

Me: “What are you planning to add?”

Kevin: “Well, it depends on the class. What do you usually play?”

Me: “Warlock.”

Kevin: “Alright, pull up a chair and take a look.

Here’s what we’ve got planned.”

Base Spells

Me: “Fel Armor?”

Kevin: “Yeah. Watching how Warlocks played out in Molten Core and beyond, it was kinda obvious they were a huge drain on healers.”

Me: “Well, I mean, if you can do even more damage on someone else’s bill, that’s exactly what you’re inclined to do.

My guild assigned specific healers for each Warlock and then the Warlocks had to be careful to mind their health didn’t drop too much.”

Kevin: “Yeah. Now, Demon Armor is all about reducing the damage you take – but its basically useless in raids. If anything attacks you, you are dead.

However, Healers love to be up there on the healing meters…”

Me: “So by granting a healing boost to anyone who throws a spare heal over time or direct heal at a warlock, you reward their attentiveness.”

Eric: “Heheh, you could say meters are motivators.”

Me: “Why haven’t we put our own damage meters into the game?”

Eric: “Hrmm… well, I’ve thought about it. But they are so ugly. I’m not even sure if that information is something you really need down to the digit.”

Kevin: “Which conveniently leads to this spell.”

Me: “Soulshatter. Reduce all threat against you by 90%.”

Kevin: “I spoke to Geoff and he thought it might be a problem if you could remove yourself from the threat tables entirely – I’m not looking to make another vanish or feign death – but if you nuke a little too hard, you just die.

Other classes have options. Ice block, self shield, etc.

But raids depend too much on the Warlock Imp for them to run around with a blueberry incase they mess up.

So this should help.”

Me: “I get the feeling I’m going to be spending a lot of time farming shards before raids now.”

Eric: “Because of summoning the entire raid, you mean?”

Me: “Well, yeah. I got a core felcloth bag in my guild so that I could use the extra two slots to summon more people to BWL.”

Kevin: “You’ll like this then. Ritual of Souls: Creates a portal that allows any raid remember to summon another raid member if at least two other party members are nearby.”

Me: “Whoa. That’s a pretty big deal.”

Kevin: “When a class is bringing huge utility to the group, you want to make it easier for them to do the right thing.

Repeatedly clearing monsters inside a dungeon just to harvest shards isn’t exactly helpful.”

Eric: “Jon and I are doing a few additional things too this expansion.”

Me: “Like what?”

Eric: “Jon’s working on profession items and adding a new type of bags. Specifically, for ore, herbs and well… Warlock soul shards.”

Me: “That seems a little unnecessary.”

6iyybqqEric: “Is it? I guess I forgot to mention… they’re huge. 20 slots at the first rank and even more later on.”

Me: “I’m still not entirely sure, but then again, I have been getting most of the Onyxia 18 slot bags due to the summoning responsibilities in my guild.”

Eric:  “I think you’ll come around. It auto-sorts the items into the right bag – so you won’t have shards cluttering up your other bags.”

Me: *OCD tendancies twitching* “… yes, you might have me there.”


Kevin: “We’re making a few other changes too. We’re adding some spells for specific specs.”

Me: “You mean like new talents?”

Kevin: “Well, that too. But in this case, I’m adding a new specifically for destruction.

They are all about fire spells and fire damage, yet have to spam Shadowbolt.

It’s a small change, but I think it will be a good one.

It will be clearer what kind of Warlock you’re facing when they are nuking you from a distance?”

incinerate_actionMe: “Which is important because it tells you… what, exactly?”

Kevin: “Well, Destruction Warlocks are kind of the glass cannon of the Warlock class right now. They are fragile and bursty, while Demonology locks are tougher.

However, bursty moves don’t have much of a cast-time, so you can’t see from a distance what you’re fighting.

I want each spec to have more of a visible signature move.”

Kevin: “Demonology will have the little axe swinging pet I showed you last time.

Destruction will have  this really cool fire nuke Roman put together.”

Me: “Oh yeah, the programmers are even working on a way for it to trace the ground Dan showed it to me yesterday.”

Kevin: “Affliction was feeling a little left out. Since their dots usually just get dispelled in PvP, I’m adding a spell that silences the healer if it gets dispelled.”

Me: “Yikes.”

Kevin: “Eh, it will be okay.” *grin*


The original Warlock class had issues, but the class team was burned out, so supporting teams, like the crafting team, stepped in and tried to help fix the problems.

While their efforts provided temporary relief and alleviated some of the challenges, they inadvertently concealed the underlying core problem that persisted within the class.

  • The majority of the spells in burning crusade were meant to address major pain points related to the responsibilities of being or supporting a warlock.
  • Professions were used to support the burden of the Soul Shard system.
  • Unique and visibly distinctive spells were added to the class to make specializations more obvious and fit the talents better

This serves as a crucial lesson that, in the pursuit of effective solutions, it is imperative to peel away the layers of noise and distractions to reveal the true source of the issue at hand.

By doing so, you can focus on meaningful and sustainable improvements that solve the root cause issues.

Sometimes band-aiding temporarily is necessary due to time constraints, but ideally, don’t leave breadcrumbs that might come back to haunt you.

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5 Responses

  1. It’s an interesting observation, that the inevitable consequence of progression – higher and higher levels – is button bloat, so to speak. But the challenge is this – how exactly do you reward a player for gaining levels? This is the eternal contract between the DM and the player, is that getting another level provides tangible rewards. And up to a point, WoW did well with that.

    It’s amusing that even at BC, the teams were thinking that the number of new abilities – 3 whole new ones! – was considered excessive and, well, somewhat dire.

    So I’m curious if the concept of expanding the spell ranks concept wasn’t considered in place of new spells – i.e. with a new level, you gain a rank in some spell. I mean, it’s moot now that spell ranks are no longer part of the game, but I’m curious if that was considered to replace the eternal conveyor belt of must have new stuff.

    It seems an elegant solution considering the state of the game technology at the time. I’m curious if anyone championed that as a solution to eternal button bloat, the arguments for, against and so forth.

    I realize somewhat off topic for the Warlock class, but I have a feeling that the underlying fundamentals are the same no matter the class.

    1. Spell Ranks were a limitation of the technology at the time. They weren’t a great concept and created a lot of useless baggage – except when they weren’t useless; then they had to be nerfed. (Reduced spell power coefficients, etc)

  2. Did you like Incinerate? I would still love to get shadow destro (SM/Ruin) back… This fire stuff never felt warlock-y enough for me, even for destro.

    And the core felcloth bag was a soul pouch. 🙂

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