10 Aug 2011

Playing DPS: From Good to Great

It’s been a while since I wrote about actually playing MMOs, rather than just hypothesising about trends, changes and so on. It’s about time I talked about my favourite pastime.

You might think that as long as you’re top of the damage charts that you can rest easy. You’re pouring out the pain in your preferred manner and bosses are falling over with ease. Job done, surely?

Alas, no.

The thing that separates good DPS from great DPS is being able to dish out damage while doing a multitude of other things as well. It’s not just about mashing your primary nuke button until your finger goes through the keyboard, through the desk and starts playing staccato on your kneecap. Read on and I’ll explain.

Know Your Buttons

I’m going to lay odds that you probably use maybe 5 buttons during the average raid. Three of those will be part of your primary rotation while others will be set-up or take-down things like mage tables, buffs and portals.

How many times do you use the other buttons? Do you know they’re even there? Do you remember what they even do? How about remembering the bonuses you have tied to those seldom used buttons? How many times have you gone “Oh crap!” and tried to reach for an ability, only to struggle to find it? We’ve all been there, died and eaten the floor.

The next time you go out in dungeons or raids, push yourself into looking for situations when you can use your other buttons. Become more than a damage machine – throw a bit of versatility in the mix.

If someone says “I didn’t know your class could do *that*”, you know you’re getting somewhere.

Top of One, Bottom of Other

We want to be top of the damage meters. As DPS there’s only one place that matters and that’s first. Well, that would be true if you never ever took damage.

When was the last time you looked at the healing you received? Are you doing everything you can to make sure that the healers are spending their resources on the tanks instead of you? Or are you acting like a mana sponge, soaking up healing because you either stand in the bad or never use your shields?

Fights are two-sided things. Your job is to deal more damage than you take – by far. Any healing you get should be a bit of a bonus, like getting one of those invulnerability stars in Super Mario Bros. Challenge yourself. See if you can be the top of the damage meter and have the lowest healing received. Your healers will love you for it.

Get Situational Awareness

If you think that dealing damage is only about you and the target then you’re only prepared for the 0.000001% of fights that involve you, the boss and a gaping void of nothingness all around you. For absolutely everything else you need to tear your eyeballs away from those big yellow numbers and focus on what’s going on around you.

Picture the scene – the tank pulls a pack of mobs and the pull’s a bit flakey. A couple of stragglers start running towards your healer, who’s going all “shields up” looking after himself. You could just start nuking away at the main target and let the tank deal with the mess. Or you could leap in with a snare, save the healer and give the tank a few seconds to win back her cooldowns.

One is easy, one requires you to notice what’s going on. One makes you look the hero, which is what we all want. The DPS that saved the day. It also goes back to Knowing your Buttons – by knowing what you ‘can’ do, you get more chances to be awesome.

Over To You

I don’t claim to know every tip for being great DPS, but these are some of the core ones that crop up time and again regardless of which MMO I’m in or which DPS class I’m playing. It’s these kind of portable skills that will outlast your current game and make getting into the new one that much easier.

It also means that you become more of an asset to those you’re playing or raiding with. You move out of being just “generic DPS” and into something more.

If you’ve picked up your own DPS tips over the years then It’d be great for you to share them in the comments. Likewise if you’ve got any legendary tales of how you saved the day then I’d love to hear them!

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6 Responses to Playing DPS: From Good to Great

  1. Poneria says:

    There’s a thing my band teacher once said: any band can play well at fortissimo (very loudly), but it’s a mark of a good band to play well at piano/pianissimo (softly/very softly). Extend it to DPS. I’ll take a patient DPS any day over a high-DPS who has no regard for his/her threat meter regardless of the situation.

    Having been a raid tank, and having been a 5man tank who’s outgeared by a few tiers by pugs, and having been a healer healing outgeared tanks (or dps who think they can just light it up and keep pouring it on)…a good DPS also knows when *NOT* to press her buttons.

    So many DPS now in the LFD (even guildmates, which makes me a little sick) will just unload on the poor tank, maybe because they’re used to raid-geared tanks, but then, of course, it’s always the fault of the undergeared tank who hasn’t even hit the mob yet. If your tank is having trouble opening or maintaining threat (especially with opening threat, since most tank gearing guides don’t gear for hit since interrupts are guaranteed now), LAY OFF A BIT. I’ve DPS’d trash with just Corruption rolling (nothing else, I swear), and guess what, stuff still dies in a reasonable amount of time with nobody dying (or, hell, even in DANGER of dying).

    And if you do get aggro, I know the first instinct is to run away, but that doesn’t help the tank to get it off you. Neither does continuing to hit the mob, unless you are CERTAIN you can either off-tank it until it dies or kill it before it reaches you. Because doing more damage to the mob means you’re adding more threat.

    I had another thought but I have lost it now. 😐 Oh well.

    • Gazimoff says:

      The problem of frontloading DPS is a bit of a nightmare for a lot of tanks, even those who are heavily raidgeared. A well geared arcane mage can ramp up to 30K DPS in the space of ten seconds, heavily overshooting the tank on threat generation.

      It also used to be that gun-ho DPS would pay for their sloppiness through repair bills, but now that guilds generally tend to pay for repairs that no longer applies. Would you say it’s reasonable to expect guilds to discipline members who run up huge repair bills?

    • mcc says:

      The instinct if you pull aggro should be to run to the tank: 1) tanks have enough problem keeping track of MOBs and one running away after a fleeing can even be impossible for the tank to even see, 2) tanks (and the melee DPS near tanks) tend to toss around AOEs which can help get aggro off you and on to someone who doesn’t wear a bathrobe into battle, 3) outside melee range it is often more difficult to take over aggro than inside. Remember, as far as the tank is concerned, that keeping DPS who pull aggro alive is not the highest priority, in fact it shouldn’t even be in the top 3, so DPS have to take responsibility for their own survival.

  2. Deadpool says:

    One thing I would like to add to your well done article is my suggestion to dps’rs to set recount and skada to switch off and over to your threat meters during combat. Check your numbers when it’s over. It’s tempting to watch your damage climb during a fight but just as mentioned above you want situational awareness and keeping your a$$ out of the bad, that can be hard to do when your eyes are glued to the meter.

    • Gazimoff says:

      It’s a good point about damage meters. I run mine disabled so that my UI is fairly streamlined. It’s all part of getting better awareness of what’s going on instead of watching numbers.