Tuesday, April 12, 2016

WoW Analysis: Is Kill Command Loot Denial a Bug?

Update: Kill Command no longer denies loot, at least based on some testing in Legion beta.

Kill Command was a Hunter ability initially introduced in the Burning Crusade that all specializations could learn. At the time, it was only usable when the Hunter critically hit and caused the pet to instantly damage the target for a modest amount when used. However, it was also off the global cooldown, making it easy to macro and resulting in one-button Beast Mastery Hunter gameplay. In Wrath of the Lich King, Kill Command was changed to a moderate cooldown pet buffing skill along with a suite of other changes that added gameplay depth and hotkey usage complexity to the Hunter class.

Finally, Cataclysm rolled around and addressed a glaring problem with the Beast Mastery spec after nearly an expansion of being constantly nerfed into near-uselessness: a lack of direct offensive Hunter-pet interaction. While Wrath of the Lich King did a lot to improve Hunter pets (such as by adding a pet talent tree), the vision for Beast Mastery perhaps wasn't as developed then as a couple years later. However, the Cataclysm iteration of Kill Command that exists at present introduced a new problem. Since it was Beast Mastery's signature move and did a massive amount of burst damage, people began to complain of a bug where mobs that were essentially one-shotted by Kill Command gave them no loot. However, this topic is apparently controversial and players are generally either arguing it's a bug or intended behavior. While I've frequently made my position on this particular issue clear multiple times in other places including this article, in this article I will present some points from both sides of the argument (and try not to be too biased in the process) then explain my position on the matter.

"It's Intended Behavior" Arguments
Kill Command is a form of pet damage and mechanically the game doesn't count pet damage towards awarding loot. This is a point Blizzard has acknowledged in a sticky on their bug report forum.
The rationale behind this is that Blizzard didn't want players AFK farming, such as by setting down a totem or letting a pet run wild by either previously setting it to aggressive mode or sitting down AFK while mobs aggroed you, which would then aggro your pet. Considering Blizzard specifically used the Fire Nova totem as an example, that means they probably were including player interactions, hence why Kill Command remains unfixed.
Kill Command is unreliable and generally not used as an opener while an ability like Arcane Shot is.
As someone who really wanted to make the Beast Mastery specialization work in terms of enjoyment from Wrath of the Lich King onwards, I can attest to the truth of how annoyingly unreliable Kill Command is even today. Even though it was sort of "fixed" to work from 25 yards away, a Hunter will typically be at max range when pulling enemies, meaning they almost certainly have to use a shot first. While I wish they combined it with the Blink Strikes passive or something to increase its reliance and practicality as an opener, until then it is more practical to open with Arcane Shot or another ranged ability that will guarantee enemy tags.

"It's a bug" Arguments
Kill Command is mechanically unlike traditional the "AFK pet damage" that the pet damage change was intended to address.
This is the core part of the argument asserting that Kill Command is a bug. While Blizzard's Fire Nova Totem example may somewhat debunk the idea that player interactions should be the exception, Kill Command's important as a signature ability in the Beast Mastery specialization which is still lacking in offensive Hunter-pet interactions (while they give Survival Flanking Strike...). Combined with its high burst damage and instantaneous damage, it is a likely candidate for causing the annoyance of loot denial, especially with the stat squish taken into account. The problem seems to have gotten so bad with direct damage pet damaging abilities in general that must be manually used that threads like this have popped up asking to revert the "pet damage awards no loot" change entirely.
There will be situations where the one-shot Kill Command can happen.
While a Hunter opening on an enemy is typically how most encounters begin, a Hunter may end up using Kill Command and inadvertently one-shot something before using an ability that actually does player damage such as in the following situations:
  • The pet targets another enemy that isn't the same as the Hunter's target and deals Kill Command damage to that target instead of the Hunter's target (yes, this actually happens if you don't macro it).
  • The Hunter underestimates the amount of Kill Command can do and opens with it on a target switch while chain pulling (or just in general).
  • The Hunter pulled multiple mobs but didn't tag everything with Multi-Shot due to its short "cleave" range and then does the above.
Final Statements: My Thoughts

Personally I think the Kill Command loot denial issue is a bug that should be fixed. Specifically, I think it's a bug caused by negligence in terms of understanding an older implementation of the game's code or, to put it another way, this issue is a simple example of an unexpected interaction (but probably not spaghetti code, though I suppose there are logical similarities?). The method of causing pet damage at the time in what was probably Vanilla WoW (can't find out when exactly Blizzard did this, I just know it was before I started playing) was simple and there wasn't much in the way of player interaction with the pet aside from healing it and feeding it. Kill Command's initial interaction also didn't cause problems since it didn't do a lot of damage and required critical strikes to activate to begin with, meaning player interaction-related damage was needed. Only in Cataclysm onwards did players begin to see the impact of what old code could have on an ability that is clearly as much of a player interaction as something like Arcane Shot.

This is why a lot of arguments related to defending the Kill Command bug's existence seem dismissive to me. Telling people to use an alternative method to get around a gameplay frustration as it is probably isn't going to garner a lot of positive feedback and isn't going to solve the problem for everyone. As for defending the polarized coding that's likely a single boolean check to see if an enemy was killed only by pet damage, it's essentially an argument to defend ancient code that hasn't been updated to account for consistent interactions in terms of gameplay.

My view on the Kill Command issue is consistent with my thoughts on Lone Wolf, a passive effect that can easily be interpreted as an excellent example of negligence as well. This is because while it provides excellent benefits, it also has what can be considered unintended consequences, such as the inability to use Master's Call and two talents becoming completely unusable. Contrasted with Grimoire of Sacrifice's compatibility with other talents and it allowing the usage of one of the pet's abilities, the negligence becomes more apparent. Besides, I doubt a Lone Wolf Hunter with Master's Call is going to save the class from their abysmal (arena) PvP representation (from arenamate).

The point I'm trying to make here is that Blizzard isn't perfect (which is fine) and that maybe they should reconsider their supposed stance on pet damage-related issues. Otherwise I have to ask this:  Is all this frustration and potential lost subscribers worth clinging to an archaic design philosophy that has a diminished role in terms of what it was intended to accomplish? Personally, I think the answer is no and until the Kill Command issue and issues similar to it are fixed I fear for the days when Beast Mastery Hunter will have more Kill Command-like Hunter-makes-pet-deal-damage interactions.

To sum up this entire article: Kill Command should not deny loot in the manner it does because even if it's not a bug per se, it causes unnecessary frustration. It's as easy as having Kill Command deal 1 instant, zero-travel time player damage.

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