Core gameplay has slowly been added more and more to different classes over time. This describes, essentially, homogenization of the classes. In terms of healers, this became introduced by having a few core spells: your quick but expensive medium heal, your cheaper but more efficient large heal, and your more inefficient short, fast heal, plus usually some sort of raid or group-wide heal. As an ex-healer myself, I will admit that I think this style works pretty okay for most healers. They need to be able to adapt to different situations in terms of 5-man dungeons, raids, arenas, and battlegrounds, plus probably other content that doesn’t immediately come to mind. After all, how crappy would it be if a particular healing spec couldn’t top off the tank or had no means in which to heal the group after a large area-of-effect (AOE)? Historically — it felt pretty crappy. Further, their spec identity became iterated over the years with this design in mind.
Thus, it wound up working for them. However, for tanks and DPS, this type of “core” gameplay only works to an extremely limited amount, or else the classes begin to feel “the same.” I would argue that even for healers, it can make spec identity feel pretty bland, but I will try to not speak for them. Instead, this will focus on “core” gameplay for tanks and DPS, and why players don’t enjoy it.
First, let’s look at where core gameplay honestly does not act detrimental to the game. This comes with various utility spells. In Mists of Pandaria in particular, Windwalker suffered the most because they didn’t have a parity of utility spells to other DPS. Translation: they didn’t have a raid CD, whether to mitigate raid damage or to increase the raid’s damage output. As a result, if they didn’t deal competitive damage (and generally, they weren’t especially competitive compared to other specs), they were pretty much bench bait. In addition, a melee or a tank that doesn’t have some type of stun or interrupt would also have a pretty tough time finding a group.
Thus, some parity or “core” in terms of group contribution should be expected of all classes to at least a small extent. I’d be pretty loathe to bring even the highest-parsing DPS to a Mythic+ if they don’t have an interrupt of some kind. Yes, having some form of cleave or AOE should also be considered core as well, but obviously some classes or specs will have better tools for different situations.
However, in terms of gameplay, similarities ought to end here. Core gameplay in terms of a DPS and tank create that specialization’s identity. I think mentioning AOE and cleave digs out a can of worms that can be used to illustrate this situation. We’ll pick two classes that I’ve raided on in the past: Feral Druid and Windwalker Monk. Feral Druids have some AOE spells, but are particularly weak in general for AOE, but they excel at damage on primary targets. Windwalkers have the reverse in that they excel at cleave and many AOE situations, but lag behind in single-target.
This discussion enters into niche design, so we’ll need to carefully steer away from numbers tuning in these situations. I think most people will whole-heartedly agree that while Feral Druids and Windwalker Monks are both energy-based leather DPS, they play very differently. Yes, there are a few core mechanics at work here: they both have energy-spenders that build their secondary resource that they then expend. That’s not a bad thing, and can be considered pretty universal in terms of Legion‘s design. However, even in terms of their niche design, they don’t have parity in terms of their survival cooldowns or even their cooldowns as a whole.
Tank core design could be described as: we have 1 large CD that can be called our “shield wall”, a taunt, and some sort of AOE for quick pickup.
Did you notice that I didn’t mention Active Mitigation? After all, every tank has this, so it’d make sense to list it as something “core.” However, the tank’s active mitigation also forms the core of its specialization’s identity and playstyle. For Brewmasters, this comes in building uptime on Shuffle (now Ironskin Brew) so that they can Purify. While Ironskin Brew has been flagged for Active Mitigation checks, that’s not our active mitigation — rather, the interaction with Purifying Brew can be considered our active mitigation. Both spells act as our main source of mitigation. For a Bear, this active mitigation works differently. Rage becomes dumped into stacks of the short-term Ironfur buff. While both are off-GCD, they pretty clearly work very differently from one another in that the brews themselves work as Brewmaster’s primary mitigation resource, whereas Bears build rage with the rest of their rotation.
In 7.2.5, all tank Active Mitigations were given a hard cap of 3 uses. For many tank classes, this creates no ill effect. In fact, it might even be considered a good thing. However, for Brewmasters, this affects the entire style of their gameplay. Rather than their historical “banking” of Shuffle or Ironskin Brew so that they can purify, they’re instead forced to play very similarly to bears in that it becomes more of a maintenance buff rather than a slow build of mitigation. After all, would Guardian Druids (well, Bears) play “better” if they instead banked an uptime on Ironfur rather than gaining stacks? As I do not seriously play Bear, I cannot answer that question. Further, it would not even be a fair question – Ironfur actually prevents (physical) damage whereas Ironskin Brew simply delays it — the only real damage prevention comes through Purifying Brew.
“If I wanted to play a Bear — I’d play a Bear.”
Nevertheless, this article isn’t about complaining about Ironskin Brew’s new cap (that deserves its own post, and I honestly don’t have the time here to discuss its adverse effect on the spec). Rather, it instead highlights the issue of why trying to create “core” play with Active Mitigation only works in terms of having boss mechanics do an Active Mitigation check. Having these spells work the same in terms of all having the same cap or even the same CD and duration creates a very bland design. Yes, anyone should be able to pick up a tank class and “get” to know it relatively quickly. But does this mean that someone who mains a Feral Druid should then pick up Windwalker and immediately understand how to play it perfectly? Does this mean that someone who primarily plays Mage should be able to change to Warlock and compete with the best logs? Active Mitigation acts as a tank’s core rotation, just as keeping certain spells on short cooldowns works differently for DPS classes.
Finally, allow me to state that tanks do generally have different rotations, and agree that’s a good thing. However, that doesn’t mean that Active Mitigation should be functionally the same at its core any more than melee DPS CDs are functionally the same. After all, most or all DPS have large CDs. But would they be happy if every DPS CD simply gave the DPS 10% more damage every 2 minutes? No — and they shouldn’t be, any more than tanks should be happy about Active Mitigation moving toward a model with similarity in its mechanics.