Thursday, February 26, 2015

World of Warcraft: A Primer on Enemy Mechanics

In games, there are often strategies to play optimally, mostly to get through a rough patch. Many games, such as RPGs and shooters, use enemies, particularly bosses to represent these hardships that a player must deal with to progress. World of Warcraft's enemies follow this formula and for each boss in the game, there are many resources that guide a player through the encounter. These encounters themselves also have a specified formula in the form of common mechanics that the developers use in some form. These mechanics are typically familiar in nature but can take many forms, not to mention that their interactions with other mechanics, including new ones innovated over time, ensure that short of intentional design, no two encounters are completely alike, thus allowing for continuous progression.

Enemy Mechanics

In this guide, I will go over the many common types of enemy mechanics one may have to deal with in World of Warcraft. This guide is made in the hopes that it'll improve one's (intuitive) understanding of enemy mechanics, particularly boss fights, making it a helpful tool for both less and more experienced players. However, like with previous guides, the tone of this one will be geared towards beginners. It is worth mentioning some enemy abilities may fall under multiple categories or subcategories. These categories are also arbitrarily made by myself and the categorization by others may differ. With that said, here is the list of enemy mechanics:

Basic Mechanics

This section covers the most basic effects that one deals with when fighting an enemy. These can present by themselves but at the endgame they will likely be an additive mechanic to an enemy ability.
  • Melee swing/(Physical) Ranged attack
    • This is one of the first mechanics a player will run into when playing the game. Enemies hit you with a physical attack and deal constant damage. While it may not seem like much, the damage adds up and in a group setting is something the tank and healer should keep an eye on.
  • Magic damage/healing
    • This is another mechanic a player will run into very early on when playing the game. It is worth noting that enemy magic spells (both damaging and healing) will generally not critically strike unless they are tied to a melee or ranged physical attack or is otherwise stated to.

This isn't a mechanic per se, but an important point of note since a large number of enemy mechanics, particularly those of bosses, will be announced in some way. For instance, the boss may yell before an ability is used or the game will flash a message across the center of the screen. However, in-game mechanics may also be used to telegraph, as shown under several sections. The methods for each mechanical type of telegraphing is slightly different, making them important to know for understanding enemy mechanics intuitively.

Threat Management (or Taunt Swap)

While threat (or aggro), which is an internal value that determines who an enemy will attack at any given point in time, isn't as difficult to manage as in the past thanks to tanks receiving enormous coefficients that make it next to impossible for other players to generate more than them, there are mechanics that tanks have to deal with where threat control, such as through taunting, become relevant:
  • Tank Debuff
    • Tank debuffs are an effect that is generally threatening to the point that a second tank has to taunt to ensure the first tank's debuff drops off. Such debuffs often have a stacking mechanic, with a specific number of stacks serving as the threshold for when the other tank taunts, thus swapping the enemy's primary target to them.
  • Enemy buff reset
    • While enemy buffs can take many forms, one specific type serves as something of a replacement to tank debuffs because switching targets resets the effect entirely. Imperator Mar'gok is a recent boss that uses such a mechanic. This mechanic is far less common than its tank debuff equivalent.
  • Threat reset/Threat drop

Displacement is the act of moving your own character in response to some threat, whether it's to avoid an attack aimed at an area or change an enemy's position in response to a mechanic. This type of mechanic has many subcategories, some of which are so commonly used by enemies they could be said to be core encounter design mechanics. While some subcategories may be more role-specific, all roles will typically have to deal with this type of mechanic.
  • Danger zone
Stay out of the fire!
    • This common mechanic is often referred to as "the fire" or "void zone." These areas are created by enemies and cause some negative effect to the character, ranging from periodic damage to debuff application to death. They can also serve as indicators for oncoming attacks to that specific area. They should generally be avoided by all players and can either be spawned randomly or under characters. While some danger zones are stationary, others move around. It is worth mentioning that graphical settings such as for Particle Density may affect one's ability to see visual danger zones, such as ones on the ground. Some danger zones may be in the form of objects placed on the world (such as a mine or a bomb).
  • Stack zone
    • The stack zone is the opposite of a danger zone. It is a zone created as part of an encounter that provides a beneficial effect to players, such as healing or a damage buff. It can also be a danger zone that a player must deliberately stand in to suffer a negative effect in exchange for some benefit (such as personal damage to avoid raid-wide damage). There are also harmful mechanics that split its damage over players in an area, requiring them to stack up, among other possibilities that require grouping up.
  • Spread out
    • This mechanic serves as the opposite of stacking up by forcing a player to stay away from other group members to avoid causing more harm or otherwise cause the group to position in a staggered formation to deal with effects such as attacks that hit a player and anyone nearby.
  • Enemy proximity effect/enemy positioning
This is a classic example of why bosses should usually be faced away from the raid.
    • An enemy proximity effect relates to a broad array of mechanics related to where and how an enemy is positioned in conjunction with other factors, such as the environment or players. In terms of an example of mechanics that directly affect players, dragon enemies are notorious for frontal breath attacks and posterior tail swipe attacks that one wouldn't want hitting the group (these are also danger zones originating from the enemy). Indirect mechanics may include an enemy gaining (or losing) a beneficial or negative effect when in a specific area.
    • It is worth mentioning that positioning an enemy can done for strategic purposes that do not relate to mechanics described above. Also, while this mechanic seems like the job of tanks, in some cases the entire group assumes responsibility.
  • Fixate/Kiting
The eyes over the blood elf's head indicates he's being fixated on. This means the boss will fire attacks at him.
    • Fixating is a mechanic when an enemy decides to ignore threat and go after a target for a time. While a tank taunting the enemy can cancel the mechanic entirely (putting it under the previous category of threat management), sometimes the fixated player will have to avoid the enemy's attacks for the duration of the effect, usually by maintaining distance from them, which is known as kiting. Fixating may also telegraph which player an enemy will focus fire on for a given time, showing who healers should be paying attention to, among other things depending on the mechanic. Fixate effects will almost always target a player at range.
  • Line of sight
    • Some enemy abilities can be avoided by leaving their line of sight. These are usually dangerous area of effect attacks that deal immense damage and heavily telegraphed. Sometimes, an enemy will create an object that can be used to block line of sight. When trying to block line of sight, try to use ranged attacks on the enemy until you get an error that says they're not in your line of sight.
  • Look away/character facing
    • This is an uncommon mechanic where the player has to face themselves in a specific direction, usually away from the enemy, to avoid an attack or a more negative effect. There may be future mechanics that require other iterations of character facing (as far as I know there aren't other iterations yet).
Group damage

This is a simplistic type of mechanic that many players in the group suffering damage, which is usually something healers will have to pay attention to. These take the form of avoidable and unavoidable damage. Unavoidable damage is a very common mechanic where the group suffers damage that the healers must heal through (with the help of other players if needed when possible). This is usually periodic damage dealt to the entire group but can include abilities that randomly target one or more group members (usually non-tanks). Avoidable damage, often in conjunction with other mechanical categories, is the responsibility of group members that suffer them though it's worth keeping in mind players aren't perfect, so healers should be ready for this damage source as well.


Some enemies, like players, may apply a debuff to members of the group that have a variety of different effects. A good number of these effects are known to stack.
  • Damage over time
    • This effect deals damage periodically until it expires and usually requires a healer's attention.
  • Telegraphing
    • This type of debuff can be used to track an effect such as the aforementioned fixate or otherwise alert that something is about to happen. For instance a debuff may have an effect upon expiration (such as a huge burst of damage in an area). Due to the nature of this mechanic, it is often used in conjunction with other mechanical subcategories.
  • Crowd control/impediments
    • This effect ranges broadly from long duration stuns so that a scripted sequence can play to mind controlling a player to a snare that makes it harder to exit a danger zone. Some impediments can provide benefits much like a risk-reward mechanic. 
  • Dispellable
    • This is an additive subcategory used with one of the others. Debuffs can have a dispel class of either Magic, Disease, Poison, or Curse. While Magic debuffs are by far the most common, others come up from time to time. Healers generally have to remove these effects but keep in mind sometimes dispelling a debuff isn't the correct action.
Enemy Buffs/Debuffs

Much like how enemies can afflict debuffs on enemies, they can also provide themselves with buffs (and debuffs).
  • Dispellable/Spellstealable
    • This type of buff can either be of the Magic or Enrage dispel types. They are generally effects of enhancement or heal over time that are ideal to remove as soon as possible since they will likely make an enemy far more dangerous. Some effects are ideal to spellsteal and at some points, it was mandatory to use.
  • Enhancement
    • This buff typically increases the power of the enemy somehow, usually in the form of a damage boost or a damage reduction.
  • Healing over time
    • Healing over time, or HoT, restore an enemy's health over time. These effects are usually very powerful if they can be dispelled.
  • Telegraphing
  • Enemy impediment
    • Sometimes an enemy will receive a negative effect, often in the form of a debuff. While this can fall under the telegraphing mechanic above, they are generally more in the realm of a statistical impairment, such as increased damage taken.
Cast/Channeled abilities

Sometimes an enemy may cast an ability. These abilities have a wide range of effects (such as a damaging spell or a heal) but can generally only be dealt with in a couple of ways. Thus, while knowing about the nature of the what the cast ability does is important, knowing how to handle the act of casting itself is even more so.
  • Requires interrupts
An example of an ability that can be interrupted. Remember to enable cast bars in the interface options under Combat!
    • Cast abilities can sometimes be interrupted. If an ability cannot be interrupted, it will by default have a shield around the ability icon on the left and the entire cast bar will have a thick outline. These abilities are usually important to interrupt and may even require coordination within a group to ensure the ability is always interrupt since it will be cast more often than interrupting ability can be.
  • Telegraphing
An example of an ability that cannot be interrupted. This one indicates a phase transition for a boss.
    • Abilities that cannot be interrupted, much like buffs and debuffs that inform about a mechanic, are generally intended to provide information regarding an oncoming mechanic to prepare players. These cast times are usually rather long as a result.
Damage Races

This category, as the name implies, is largely handled by damage dealers and while they may seem simple, they are probably the most important aspects of an encounter.
  • Hard enrage
    • Also known as berserk or enrage timer, this mechanic puts a death clock on an encounter before the enemy (boss) decides to destroy you in some horrible way. While some encounters have longer enrage timers that are simply there to prevent a prolonged fight, others are very tight in order to provide damage dealers with a gear and skill check which, if not beaten, results in the group dying.
  • Soft enrage/grabbers
A bone spike impales a player, gradually dealing damage until they die unless they are freed by killing the spike.
    • Soft enrages are mechanics that can be lethal over time but not to the point it'll instantly destroy the group. For instance, an enemy may gradually get more powerful over time until the group cannot handle it. 
    • Soft enrages can take the form of adds that will kill and/or cripple a player if not dealt with. A number of these adds take away all movement by grabbing them or holding them in place, hence the term "grabbers."
  • Adds
    • While tanks usually have to get threat on adds and possibly position them in some way, it's usually the responsibility of damage dealers to handle them as soon as possible to prevent them from harming the group in some way (though this doesn't apply to all adds, which may be subject to other subcategories).

This is the category for all other mechanics that in some way do not fit into the above. Unique encounter mechanics, which usually define the encounter's overall design and aren't necessarily intuitive are typically called "gimmicks" and usually have this at least as an additive classification. For instance, Lord Rhyolith doesn't move around like a traditional boss does for the first phase, but instead moves based on which of his two legs is damaged the most, making it a mix of a damage race and enemy positioning, but the design is so unique with the encounter itself being based on the mechanic that it is also considered a miscellaneous gimmick. This is because dealing damage to make something move in a specific direction like Rhyolith does isn't necessarily intuitive to normal enemy design.

Closing Statements

This concludes my guide on enemy mechanics in World of Warcraft.  Feel free to comment below if I missed something or to provide feedback.

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