Tuesday, October 20, 2009

What's in a name.... plate?

Have you heard the term nameplates in WoW before? I hope so, because nameplates are one of the truly indispensable tools available to a WoW player - and they're part of the default UI!

If you don't know what nameplates are just head into the game, find some neutral or hostile NPCs or critters and hit your 'V' key. Assuming you haven't remapped 'V' to anything else, health bars should be popping up on your screen over the heads of NPCs and critters around you. These are the tools of which I speak.

There is an incredible amount of crucial data displayed on screen while you have nameplates active and they don't just work for enemies. The 'shift+v' binding will display friendly nameplates so if you are a healer you can use the nameplates to heal friendly players or NPCs nearby that may not be in your raid window. This is especially helpful in places like Wintergrasp, or for healing pets if you feel so inclined and don't include pets in your raid window setup.

The main function of nameplates, in this blogger's opinion, is to give you an easy visual reference during combat without having to constantly switch targets to check health values. This is especially helpful during the Freya encounter - and I'll refer back to this fight throughout this article.

The Freya encounter provides us with two specific examples of how nameplates can be used efficiently and both relate to how her adds are handled.

Detonating Lashers

To my knowledge this pack of adds has a unique mechanic in how they are presented during the encounter. A large group of them spawn at one time and as each lasher dies, they explode dealing a moderate amount of AoE damage to anyone nearby. Their aggro is also spotty which makes controlling them difficult.

There are other tactics that can be used to manage them, but my guild's strategy revolving around AoE damage until the lashers are at about 50% health, then single target burns following the tank. To keep the lashers all together we stay clumped up in one spot while killing them. This means that we need to exercise control over how quickly each one dies as too many detonating at one time can easily kill a substantial portion of the raid.

Using nameplates on this pack gives you a bird's eye view, showing the health value of all the lashers on screen. This visual reference is key to knowing when to stop the AoE, as you can easily keep track of the entire group at once through their nameplates.

Lasher Pack

Not to be confused with detonating lashers, the lasher pack consists of three different enemies that must die within a few seconds of each other. If all three of the lasher pack do not die within so much time of each other they will revive their fallen comrades to 50% health. This is not impossible to recover from, but it is often hard to throttle DPS sufficiently once the plan has gone awry so the initial killing of the mobs is the most important part.

Much like the detonating lashers, nameplates will give you a birds eye view of the entire encounter and add to that the fact that you can target the lasher through it's nameplate and you have an ultra efficient tool to not only make sure they are all three dieing at a similar pace, but target lashers (or other NPCs in similar encounters) who are at much higher health values in order to help them quickly "catch up".

Tanking With Nameplates

I generally think nameplates are indispensable, they are always on for all of my characters - but tanking is one situation where nameplates are exceptionally helpful.

If you have aggro coloring turned on nameplates will glow yellow, orange or red if you have high threat on them. If you don't have aggro coloring enabled you probably should - even if you aren't a tank. So head on into interface options and get that enabled!

Aggro Glow Coloring
  • Red: Solid threat; this mob is on you and not going anywhere else anytime soon.
  • Orange: Mostly solid threat; this mob is on you, but if you don't show it some love it may change targets soon.
  • Yellow: Nearly solid threat; you have high threat on this target, but someone else has more. If you're not tanking you're about to pull threat if you are tanking this mob is probably beating on someone else.
  • No coloring: Someone else has solid threat; this mob is interested in someone that's not you!
Nameplates are invaluable during tanking because of the coloring feature. Especially during 5-man heroics and raid instance trash it will help you to get a bird's eye view of who you have threat on and who you might be losing threat on.

I've personally almost stopped using Omen altogether on my tank because of nameplates. It makes aggro management almost trivial to be able to view this information so easily. The aggro coloring will allow you to make snap decisions faster; allowing you to notice which target you may be losing threat on and switch to them to quickly build threat before the healer or some stray DPSer gets an unhappy mob in their face!

Other Information

Aside from health values and aggro coloring nameplates also display the name and level of the mob and a castbar with spell icon just below the health bar.

Since mobs that aren't your target or focus don't have a referenceable UnitID they can't be targeted with a standard macro - unless they are your mouseover target. Coupled with the castbar on the nameplates you could, if you felt so inclined, make a macro to interrupt a mouseover target and simply mouse over the nameplate to target them with a mouseover macro.

Some examples of how this would be useful are interrupting the shadow damage attack the burrowers cast during Anub'arak in the coliseum or dispelling the shield from an evoker in Thorim's arena(this would be good for healers, but as DPSers should always burn down the evokers first in the arena it becomes a moot point for DPS since the evoker should already be targeted).

A macro set up this way would look like this:

/cast [target=mouseover] Wind Shear

All in all nameplates are a great tool. If you know how to read them they pack an incredible amount of highly useful information into a very small space. In fact, in patch 3.3 the usability of nameplates will be expanded further as they will no longer sort themselves by default (freeing up more viewing space as they'll no longer stack in a way that prevents them from overlapping) and extending the range and conditions under which they'll be visible over a target's head.

So to sum up in just a few words: If you're not using nameplates, you probably should be!

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