Friday, January 20, 2012
D&D 4E is a WoW clone? Really?
Okay. That's it. I have had enough. Time to sit down an write my rationality for why the people who think D&D 4E is a World of Warcraft clone are just plain wrong. In fact, of all the D&D Editions 4E is the one that plays the least like WoW. Not the most, the least, and I can back that up. Of course, those people will stop reading now because they have based years of opinion on something they haven't actually thought about clearly, and they don't want their opinion to be challenged by such awkward things as facts.
I will preface this by saying that I do play World of Warcraft. Not as much as I used to, but still a few hours a week in general. I have played all the roles in WoW and many of the classes. I enjoy the game, and know enough about it to be able to base my opinions on the gameplay of WoW, not just the descriptions. I will be using PvE play style for my comparisons, because that is the play style that most resembles D&Ds cooperative play style.
For most people WoW is a game of combat. You fight enemies to get better equipment to make the next combat easier, so you can get better gear, and so on. So when looking at comparisons between the two systems you look at how the character and combat mechanics of the two games compare. They are complicated mechanics, with lots of facets to look at.
Here is how I am going to do this. I am going to pull a concept from WoW or D&D and compare it to the other. See which ones are similar and which are different. I will also grab the common reasons given by people as to why they think 4E was a WoW clone and look at those.
At the beginning of each game you pick a class to play. That class dictates what style of character you want to play. With WoW once you have picked your character and spec your choices of abilities and play style are pretty much locked down for you. This is very similar to the concepts of all D&D editions, except for 4E. In 4E you get to pick your own abilities as you play the game, and they dictate your play style. You aren't limited to the choices that were mostly pre-destined by that initial class choice. 3(.5) had some ability to customize as you progressed but no where near as much as 4E did.
You customize your character in WoW with talent choices, the same as you do with feats in D&D. So in this regard both 3(.5) and 4E are on an even footing in the comparison. It's worth noting that this talent system is being almost completely removed in the next WoW expansion.
Once your class and spec decisions are made, in WoW you level fast and spend most of your time playing at the highest level, currently 85. Then you improve your character through getting better equipment. In D&D you level as you play, and improve your character through getting better equipment. In WoW if you strip your character naked they lose most of their power, the level of a character is mostly a limitation of what equipment you can wear. So WoW is an equipment chase. Of all the versions of D&D the one that is least like this is 4E. Yep, least. Why? Because in 4E most of the power rested within the character, not with the gear they were wearing. 4E was the first edition of D&D where stripping your character naked because they were captured, or ambushed while they weren't wearing their equipment wasn't crippling. You could still do most of your attacks, albeit less effectively, but not as flat out crippled as a high level character from any of the previous editions was without their armor or weapons. WoW is all about the gear, as was every edition of D&D until 4E.
So let's look at combat itself, starting with the Buff mechanic. Buffing is such a core part of WoW that when doing the harder content you are expected to have them. Which version of D&D had this concept? 3(.5)! 4E barely has them at all. In 3(.5) characters would be expected to learn the spells that gave buffs for a number of minutes so everyone could benefit from them. You would try to cast them at the start of every fight and try to get the most out of them before they wore off. Never in 4E have I had concerns that a fight was started without the buffs being cast. Buffing before a fight is a WoW concept that is almost exclusively in 3(.5).
Let's now look at healing. In WoW a healer is someone who's job is to keep the other players alive. That us what they do, and most of the time that is all they do. Of all of the editions of D&D the one that is least like this is 4E. Yep, least again. Prior to 4E you would have a healing class, often a Cleric, who would memorize spells solely for the purpose of healing their comrades, and they would spend their turn using those spells. In 3(.5) you could memorize other spells, generally buffs, but you would then often use their power to heal someone anyway. The healer healed, that was their job. In 4E healing isn't like this at all for several reasons. First of all everyone can heal themselves to a limited degree, but more importantly the classes that could provide healing benefits did it while they were using their divine power to actually do other things. They don't wait around for someone to get hurt and then heal them, they get into the battle and then use their healing skills to supplement those. When it comes to someone being responsible for keeping the group alive, 4E is least like WoW.
What about play style in combat? Well, WoW is actually more like playing D&D without miniatures than it is playing on a battle map. In WoW creatures don't get in each others way. You can't stop an enemy from moving somewhere by standing on front of them, which is very much a 1st and 2nd Ed D&D concept. 3(.5) sometimes had it too, but as most people say, 4E is heavily driven by position and movement. The main movement in WoW is "don't stand I the fire".
In WoW each player is generally doing their own thing, and success results from each player doing it right and everyone surviving to the end of the fight while doing their job. Healing is the exeption, but I have already covered that. Again, the edition of D&D that is least like that is 4E. In 4E every class has the ability to provide benefit not just to themselves, but to their allies. I am not talking about buffs here, but about short one shot cooperative abilities. In 4E a characters abilities are designed around working as a team, and every action you take can effect everyone else to a greater or lesser degree. 3(.5) had this too, but not as clearly. 1st and 2nd had it to a very limited degree. WoW doesn't have that concept at all. In WoW you don't get two dps classes working together to better effect, in D&D you do, especially in 3(.5) and 4E.
So where is this 4E is a WoW clone come from? That's simple. The character roles listed in the PHB. WoW has four roles; Tank, Healer, Melee DPS and Ranged DPS. I know most people consider melee and ranged dps to be one role, but they play differently. 4E has four roles; Defender, Leader, Striker and Controller.
You know how important roles are in D&D? Not very. It is a classification to help you chose what sort of play style you might prefer. There are no rules specific to your role, and there are no role sourcebooks that give specific rules based on your role. Even though I play D&D a lot, I had to look up the roles to confirm I had them correct. Once you chose your class, they are almost meaningless.
Leaders are similar to healers, except as I have already covered, they do a lot more than heal. They use their abilities to battle enemies, inspire their allies and also to provide some healing.
Striker and Controllers are similar to the WoW DPS classes. A striker does best focusing on one target, a controller does better against multiple targets. In WoW the DPS classes are balanced to be as close as possible in both situations, so there is no direct correlation there. Crowd Control as it exists in WoW is rare in D&D, though I do remember it in previous editions, in 4E it has not come up at all.
So that leaves Protectors and Tanks, and I get the feeling it is here that 90% of the opinion of 4E being a WoW clone comes from. In WoW a tanks job is to keep the enemies hitting him because a hit on a non-tank is likely to be fatal. Tanks wear gear designed specifically to reduce damage taken, and many of their abilities are based on being able to do enough damage to creatures to get their attention.
Protectors in D&D don't generally gear for protection, though they might wear a shield rather than swing a bigger weapon. They don't force every enemy to attack them, but they do encourage creatures to do so my Marking them, which generally provides a slight penalty if the enemy makes an attack that doesn't include the character that marked. It's worth noting that some non-Protectors have marking capabilities. Marking is the closest thing in D&D to the WoW Taunt mechanic, which is a key ability of Tanks.
So Marking becomes the thing that causes all this hatred of 4E. And yet as a mechanic in play it's a positive contribution to the game. In all previous editions of D&D it has been a strong temptation to just kill the healer to stop the healing or the Wizard because he isn't wearing much armor. Why doesn't this happen? Because the DM contrives a reason for the enemies not to because it wouldn't be fun for the player who gets picked on every time. This contrivance may make some sort of sense, but it happens to keep the game entertaining. With Marking 4E just put a simple mechanic in place to make that contrivance easier. If you make an attack that doesn't include me, it is less likely to hit. Compare that to WoWs mechanic of having so much threat that the mob will only ever attack you. They are similar, but not similar enough that it turns a whole complicated fantasy gaming system into a clone of WoW.
In fact if you look at PvP in WoW, the kill the healer or the person in cloth armor concept is there with a vengeance. Taunting doesn't work in PvP so in that regard WoW is more like the D&D editions that don't have marking.
All of this is the reason whenever someone makes a comment about how WotC turned D&D into a WoW clone and that made it bad, I tune out. They either don't play WoW or they don't play 4E. It's a silly argument used by people who are looking for an excuse to hate for 4E because it was presented differently to previous editions. It has very little basis in fact.