When looking at the historical data, there’s a huge element of it that is caused by people’s perception of how easy a spec is to pick up and play. “Simplicity” and “ease” are hard things to quantify and compare. What one person finds simple and easy is not always the same thing that others will find simple and easy. Some people find something like a Fire Mage where you primarily use three abilities too simple, whereas the speed and quick thinking of it may push someone else away. Some claim the Windwalker priority is simple because its slower and you aren’t pressing a button every second, others will say its complex because of all the choices and things you need to micromanage. Havoc Demon Hunters are typically called simpler due to fewer buttons, but some may find the speed at which you have to press these buttons to be what makes things more difficult. For my purposes I want to look at 3 things that I find important when considering how complex or difficult an spec is; speed of actions, consistency of actions, and quantity of actions. I also will add resource management to the list since its an important distinction between both specs. I’ll explain each of these in their own section. Some of my methods may not be the best way or make the most sense, but its my article so back off.
Speed of Actions
I am starting here, although I’m not necessarily saying that I believe its the most important. On the contrary, when compared to the two other factors I generally feel this is the least important. When I say “speed of actions” I mean how frequently do you need to make a decision and perform an action yourself. This isn’t necessarily how often your character performs an action, because some actions are automatic or passive. Its generally referred to as APM or “Actions per Minute” but I want to define it more specifically to BPpM or “Button Presses per Minute”. How often to my fingers need to do something to make my character do something.
There are a few ways to look at this, one is to use SimCraft to tell me how often things are pressed in a perfect situation, the other is to pick a random log from WarcraftLogs and compare them. By using my Monk run through Raidbots it comes out with 51.7 BPpM compare to my Demon Hunter with 64.1 BPpM. By looking at the top log on Abyssal Commander Sivarra for each spec, the top Windwalker did 53,717.4 DPS over their 2:31 kill, and had a BPpM of 42.9 when looking at “rotational” abilities. The top Havoc DH did 63,943.5 DPS over their 2:26 kill, and had 61.8 BPpM when you only count “rotational” abilities.
Its pretty clear when you look at current Havoc Demon Hunters, they press a LOT more buttons than current Windwalker Monks. Havoc is limited by your GCD due the ability to fill time with generating and spending Fury and they have a GCD that starts at 1.5s but can drop below 1s with Haste, whereas Windwalkers can’t directly control their influx of Energy and are always at a 1s GCD, which limits the number of abilities that Windwalker can use in a given time. If you like spamming the hell out of your keyboard, then Havoc wins this round for you, if you like having things move a little slower and have an extra tenth of a second to think, then Windwalker wins for you.
Consistency of Actions
This is an area that’s interesting for both specs, as both get to similar spots via different means. What I define as “consistency” is how often does X do Y and how often does it do Z. Some abilities always do the same thing, some have added procs and bonuses that change what you do next. I’ll explain using examples;
Windwalker’s base toolkit is generally consistent; Tiger Palm ALWAYS costs 50 Energy, and ALWAYS generates 2 Chi, Rising Sun Kick ALWAYS costs 2 Chi, Fists of Fury ALWAYS costs 3 Chi, and Blackout Kick ALWAYS costs 1 Chi and reduces the existing cooldown of Rising Sun Kick and Fists of Fury by 1 second. However, as you may have found with Windwalker, this last one isn’t entirely true all the time, as it won’t reduce the cooldown if its less than 1 second, so if you have 0.8s left on the cooldown, it won’t reduce it to 0. Its not a very impactful difference, but it is there. The only “inconsistent” part of a Windwalker’s base toolkit is that Tiger Palm has a chance to proc a free Blackout Kick, so sometimes you’ll have one and sometimes you won’t, and you’ll need to react to that and take that into consideration.
Windwalker loses much of its consistency when we start adding in Azerite Traits. The strongest Azerite Traits that Windwalker uses almost all add an element of randomness to the spec, removing consistency. Dance of Chi-Ji gives you a chance to have a free Spinning Crane Kick to use, so sometimes you will and sometimes you won’t. Fury of Xuen is somewhat less “random” since the Haste it gives you contributes to some additional Energy regeneration but also slightly faster cooldowns, and with the way cooldowns work, not effecting things currently on cooldown, it may have almost no noticeable effect at all. The lack of “consistency” for Fury of Xuen comes with sometimes seeing a huge difference with the buff, and other times seeing almost no difference, plus the random nature of the stacking proc chance. Pressure Point is another relatively minor loss of consistency as it simply increases the rate of free Blackout Kick by a small amount. Glory of the Dawn is very noticeable when using it because sometimes you’ll be left with one additional Chi that you may not have planned for. Open Palm Strikes falls into a similar category as you may have another Chi that you need to account for. All of these put together have turned a relatively consistent spec into one that relies heavily on getting, and correctly using, a variety of (in my opinion) disruptive procs.
Havoc, on the other end, is inherently a more inconsistent spec. Demon’s Bite generates between 20 and 40 Fury depending on your talents, Blade Dance costs 15 to 35 Fury or less depending on your talents, Chaos Strike has a chance to refund half of its cost, Eye Beam is generally a Fury spender, but with the right talent becomes a big Fury generator, the frequently used talent Demon Blades takes Fury generation almost entirely out of your hands except for Felblade if you’re using it, which has a chance to spontaneously reset its cooldown. Havoc generates soul fragments that are semi-random and provide resources that you have to deal with.
Contrary to Windwalker, Havoc’s most desired Azerite Traits are relatively consistent. Eyes of Rage always reduces the cooldown of Eye Beam the same amount, even if the frequency of orbs is variable. Chaotic Transformation always resets the correct cooldowns. Furious Gaze always gives you a big chunk of haste, and even has a mechanic built in to minimize overwriting the buff if you use it again too close back to back.
However, Havoc is consistent in its inconsistency and the spec is set up to allow for this inconsistency; due to having one resource, which I’ll touch on later, Havoc is in direct control of their resources. Have too much Fury? Just spend it and generate more. Have not enough? Just generate more. Windwalkers fight with the amount of resources due to the constant influx of Energy. This means that a random, unplanned, Chi can mean that you over cap your Chi or Energy, lessening the benefit of that “free” Chi that is meant to increase your damage. Havoc having one resource means that there’s no competition between resources and everything can be balanced around one thing.
The biggest point of contention when it comes to the consistency of Windwalker, and is something that smacks me in the face every time I switch back to my Windwalker, is the horrible inconsistency of Storm, Earth, and Fire and Whirling Dragon Punch. However, those are more “bugs” than intentional variability, so I’ll cover them in another section.
So, comparing Windwalker and Havoc for how consistent they are as specs; Windwalker is a very consistent spec that’s intentionally made more variable through Azerite Traits; Havoc is an intentionally inconsistent spec that is designed to allow for this inconsistency and function well with it. If you like things to be predictable, then Windwalker is best, but since you can’t really play the game without Azerite Traits right now, both specs are inconsistent in slightly different ways. So we’ll call it a draw.
Quantity of Actions
In terms of specifically looking at performing actions, I saved “quantity” for last. When I say “quantity” I mean how many different things does each spec have in their toolkit that they have to manage. Similar to “speed” this is something that’s easier to quantify using similar methods. Using the Raidbots report of my Monk that I used to determine BPpM, I can look and see that of those 51.7 BPpM they are spread between 10 abilities; Blackout Kick, Fists of Fury, Flying Serpent Kick, Rising Sun Kick, Spinning Crane Kick, Tiger Palm, Touch of Death, Touch of Karma, Whirling Dragon Punch, and Storm, Earth, and Fire. You could easily add in three more abilities depending on your talent choices, as I’m using the talent choices that actually give me the LEAST amount of abilities to press. Contrast this with the Raidbots report of my Demon Hunter to see that 64.1 BPpM are spread through 8 abilities; Annihilation, Blade Dance, Chaos Strike, Death Sweep, Demon’s Bite, Eye Beam, Immolation Aura, and Metamorphosis. You could even combine two sets of these abilities since Annihilation replaces Chaos Strike, and Death Sweep replaces Blade Dance during Metamorphosis, meaning really only 6 buttons to worry about. So, looking at the Raidbots reports, the Havoc Demon Hunter is doing 2.9k more DPS with having to worry about pressing 4 less buttons. This is further confirmed using the WarcraftLogs reports from above, the top Windwalker on Sivarra that had 42.9 BPpM did so with 10 abilities (11 if you count Cyclotronic Blast). The Havoc that did 10k more DPS did so with 8 (really 6) abilities.
If you look at the absolute best and worst a spec can do, in Single Target Windwalkers can have 8 abilities (Blackout Kick, Fists of Fury, Flying Serpent Kick, Rising Sun Kick, Tiger Palm, Touch of Death, Touch of Karma, and Storm, Earth, and Fire or Serenity) at the least and at least 14 at the absolute most (add in potentially Spinning Crane Kick, Whirling Dragon Punch, Fist of the White Tiger or Energizing Elixir, Rushing Jade Wind or Invoke Xuen, the White Tiger, Chi Wave or Chi Burst, and Reverse Harm).
Havoc has, at the least, 4 abilities (Annihilation or Chaos Strike, Death Sweep or Blade Dance, Metamorphosis, Eye Beam) depending on talent choices, and 10 at most (add in potentially Felblade, Demon’s Bite, Immolation Aura, Fel Barrage, Dark Slash, and Nemesis). The discrepancy is pretty big when one spec has, at minimum, twice the buttons to press and abilities to worry about than the other. You’d have to add in Demon Hunter’s movement abilities that deal damage (Fel Rush and Vengeful Retreat) and Throw Glaive which can be used as fillers at times. This would bring Havoc’s total to 13 if you, for some reason, needed to press all those buttons. Windwalker’s total of 14 is an absolutely reasonable talent combination and ability usage.
This difference effects how people set up their keybindings and how many buttons each spec uses, how many actionbar buttons or WeakAuras they need, and how many things they have to mentally juggle in order to play at their best. When I started writing this I was linked a Wikipedia page about The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two by one of my guild members. Its a common psychological principle that someone can’t keep an infinite amount of things in their head at one time. If the magic number of things that people can mentally juggle at once, Windwalker is always above it, and Havoc is almost never above it.
This is where I want to go to next because its something that can easily get ignored when it comes to comparing both Windwalkers and Havocs.
Windwalkers operate on a dual-resource system where Energy regenerates over time, and you use Energy to create Chi which you use for your abilities. Havocs operate on a one-resource system where you simply press a button to get resources. This is an important difference when it comes to being able to perform in your spec, specially when you’re just learning. Its easier to learn and attend to one resource that you can control the flow of, than it is to attend to two resources, one you can control the flow of, and the other you can’t.
It may seem semantic, but I believe its a philosophical difference between the two that makes resource management as a Havoc DH feel very different, and for many people “better”. Windwalkers are constantly fighting to find a way to use the resources that they’re given, whereas Havoc are constantly fighting to generate the resources they need. Havoc you have full control, Windwalker you do not. I don’t necessarily believe this is a good or a bad thing, Windwalker isn’t the only dual-resource spec, and Havoc isn’t the only one-resource spec. However, when you’re getting into the nitty-gritty of comparing both, it is a difference worth noticing.
This is the last thing that I want to use when comparing both specs and how easy they are to play, because its something that I’ve made myself acutely aware of as I learn Havoc and try to improve as Windwalker. Windwalkers tend to pay for their mistakes for much longer than Havoc does due to Windwalker using Hit Combo and the way Windwalker’s Mastery works. One single mistake that results in dropping Hit Combo results in less damage for the next 5-10 seconds. If you press the wrong button as a Havoc, you barely notice because things are fast and mistakes aren’t punishing. When you press the wrong button as both specs, you risk wasting resources and cooldown time, but only Windwalker has the added punishment of reducing the damage of your next ability, or several. This leads to newer players being more scared of making mistakes, not understanding the weight that mistakes have, or pushes them away from the spec since they feel extra punished as they learn and improve.
Simplicity and ease of play are obviously largely subjective and personal. However, there’s a clear difference in the general perception of the complexity and ease of each spec, and in my opinion and experience the perception is rather accurate.
Some of this goes back to the very beginning of each spec. When Blizzard introduced Monks in Mists of Pandaria, the focus was on unique mechanics; Brewmasters had Shuffle/Stagger, Mistweavers had damage based and melee range healing, but Windwalkers lacked that uniqueness that brings people to the spec. Windwalker went through several drastic changes in Mists, which made it very hard for people to keep up and enjoy the spec. Combine this with the spec’s relatively lackluster damage ability compared to other specs, not straightforward priority and playstyle, having to start at level 1, and coming into an already saturated melee market, and you have a recipe for negative community perception and apathy, and low population.
Havoc, on the other hand, was received a lot better when it was introduced. They started at 98, they had well established lore that was connected to the game and not to a (fantastic) children’s movie, they could double jump and glide, and more. But what was clear to me, and many people, was that Blizzard learned a lot of lessons from Windwalkers and used them to put out a spec, in Havoc, that felt more polished, without really fixing those lessons for Windwalkers. When comparing the two specs, its easy to argue that Windwalker is more complex, and has to do more for, historically, less damage, and after playing both to a reasonable extent, that’s how I feel.
My least favorite part of playing my Havoc is how much less complex it is and how I feel it allows me to pay more attention to other things going on in the raid fight. I say that is my least favorite part of playing Havoc because I feel it further highlights the shortcomings of Windwalker and shows what Windwalker could have been.
In my perfect world, Windwalker is the slower paced, but more complex spec, whereas Havoc is the faster paced, but less complex spec, and both do roughly equivalent damage. However, currently Windwalker is faster than its almost ever been, more complex than its almost ever been, and does less damage than it almost ever has. The extra effort isn’t resulting in extra performance.