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Flavour and Consistency in Tanking 4: Bears

July 5, 2010

Mana sponges, huge pools of hit points, dodgy bears, knocked-off warrior clones. All of these are unfair (except possibly being dodgy!) and at the same time have a kernel of truth. A bear was my first proper tank (after my determined attempt at shaman tanking failed) and I loved it dearly. However, it has always suffered from its origins and the messing about with armour and stamina that they did in Wrath largely killed my enjoyment of playing one. However, this is not to say they are weak. They have some huge strengths, it is just that frankly, I find their mechanics boring.

Flavour wise, it is hard to argue with the idea that a snarling, roaring bear trying to rip your face off is threatening. Druids are another class with a lot of lore behind them which helps but for me it is the concept of shapeshifting that is great. Personally I rather wish it was taken even further: perhaps by having their tanking and damage cooldowns being additional shapes they can only take briefly due to the strain on their souls and magic. Instead of the current animation of Survival Instincts (practically nothing), wouldn’t it be great if you turned into a rhino for a few seconds if you are in bear form and a wolf if in cat form. Or instead of Berserk, you became a three headed Hydra in bear form (makes three mangles make sense) and a giant snake if in cat form.

In general, the spells and talents of bears are well themed and the names contribute to a general view of the class. My main gripe is that they often are simply stolen warrior abilities. Though this has become less of an issue as time goes by.

The trouble with the current animations for abilities is that, as with warriors, they are physical attacks. Any animation to something like mangle needs to be subtle or it looks ridiculous. Actually I find this still happens. Why is there a red claw mark around me when I rip your face off? The red claws should be on my target at the very least. I find these animations break immersion and I don’t like it. I’d much prefer no animation to most and some very obvious ones (such as suggested above) for those where real magic is being used as opposed to skill.

There is also the normal complaint about the lack of gear being displayed. Personally I couldn’t care less now they have given us prettier forms. When I am a bear, I want to be a bear and when I am a cat I don’t want nasty jangling jewellery to give away my stealthed position.

1) single target survivability: 7/10
– This has always been the strength of a bear who used to have huge hit point tools and high armour that could ignore most mechanics (Sarth+3 was their high point). Although hit points are still the highest, bear survivability feels weak to me compared to the other tanks classes I know well.

– However this has also been nerfed a lot recently and I’m not sure how justifiably. Stamina went down, armour went down and Bears have neither block nor parry and Chill of the Throne nerfs their only avoidance skill by 20% (even if most bears probably had over 50% dodge by that point).

– Savage Defense is strong against single target attacks; it can be up versus nearly all of them.
– Cooldowns are not great compared to other tanks. Frenzied Regeneration is best used in combination with Survival Instincts which means they really only have that combination, Barkskin (which is useful but weak) and trinkets. Bear strength is that a well geared one seldom needs a cooldown, their weakness is that when they do they frequently don’t have one. Bears are the only tank where I routinely rely on trinkets as a panic button.

2) aoe survivability: 5/10
– I remember walking into Naxx after they created Savage Defense and made Swipe a true aoe. I died to aoe packs in the Spider wing that I had never even thought of as a threat before. It was terrifying, painful and I barely played my druid after that.

– Savage Defense is useless against aoe packs; if I swipe a pack of fifty whelps I can pretty much guarantee I will have a shield up against one of the fifty attacks that are incoming. That’s so useful, not!

3) single target threat: 9/10
– I recently started using my bear again. In Naxx25 armour and weapons, she has been wandering into the Dungeon Finder and tanking for Kingslayers and all sorts of aggro bunnies. Never has she had a problem with single target threat. If an emergency, Berserk and mangle spam is brilliant but even without this the rotation of faerie fire + mangle + lacerate (with maul macroed to all of these) has been sufficient to out threat even hunters, warriors and warlocks.

– The rotation described above seems best used on two to three targets. Otherwise you get free GCDs where you either lacerate too often or fill in with swipe. But it is great fun keeping all the relevant bleeds and debuffs on three targets, eminently do-able and possibly the highest threat on this many targets that is possible. I find I can get about 90% of the threat I would do to 1 target on up to 3 almost indefinitely so long as I don’t get rage-starved.

– Rage starvation is as much of an issue for bears as for warriors. I pray that normalisation will fix this.

4) aoe threat: 9/10
– Swipe spam has only two problems. 1) It’s not persistent and 2) it’s boring. Nonetheless I swear it is the best aoe threat gen tool in the game. Spammable, moveable, 360 degrees, frankly it’s a joke and I swear should be nerfed. I’d make it a cone again personally. Just taking out the targeting requirement would have been enough.

– It is boring though which is why I take a point off. In terms of sheer power it probably deserves to be 10/10.
– Mind you, surviving all the mobs that hate you using it on them is tricky!
– Also, see rage starvation above.

5) utility: 8/10
– Bear utility is a little odd. Of course, all druids have very strong utility (one of the best buffs in the game, thorns, innervate and rebirth) but none of these can actually be used safely in combat. Skilled use of innervate and rebirth while tanking is probably the mark of the greatest bear tanks but it is a definite risk. The adrenaline rush I got when rebirthing and innervating a healer in when Kel’Thuzad 25 was casting a frost bolt at me is testament to this.

– Actually in bear form, we have (improved) Leader of the Pack which is great and faerie fire which is good.
– Bears are, of course, pretty much the best off-tanks due to the ability to go cat when necessary. Only a death knight really comes close to this ability.

Overall, bears are in an odd place in my scoring system. They have some very strong areas as can be see by their average score. However their weakest areas are in the places that I think are most important, ie survivability. I hazard a guess that this is why we keep hearing how rare they are. Having great threat is all well and good

Bear average score is 7.6

In some ways, a higher score than I expected but it makes sense to me. It is not that bears are bad tanks, they just have some distinct flaws; swipe spamming, lack of good cooldowns in comparison to other tanks and savage defense as opposed to block. Coupled with the fact that their utility can be provided by other specs (including the very strong and interesting cat spec for those who are feral at heart) and the weaknesses may win out over the very real strengths that exist. Still for chain heroic tanking with no effort whatsoever, I recommend a bear.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. July 5, 2010 12:09

    I have heard it said that for most of Wrath, bears have quietly and consistently been second best tank for everything (Sarth+3D aside). This kind of makes sense to me. They can be quite boring, and don’t have anything like the number of tools I feel a tank ‘should’ have, but at the same time they seem generally very… solid. Good single target threat, decent damage for a tank, mindlessly wonderful AoE (no snap threat apart from the ever-dubious Challenging Shout Roar, of course, but given enough lead-in very little can detach a pack you’ve been swiping), and there’s even some choice when it comes to gemming. Except for very endgame hard modes of course, where MOAR STAMINAR continues to be the very boring rallying cry.

    I’m very much looking forward to Cata with my little burr, as the proposed changes may finally add enough spice to the tanking to make it solidly fun as well as solid.

    Oh, and many thanks. I’m enjoying these little vignettes of the tanking classes, and looking forward to the rest!

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