Burst damage is a term used to describe dealing high amounts of damage in a very short period of time. Spells which qualify for burst damage are often mana inefficient. Burst damage may refer to a short period of focused damage dealing, or simply a quick flurry of powerful attacks. Burst damage may also refer to some PvE encounters in which a boss will inflict a lot of damage in a short time.
Burst damage can be achieved in a number of ways: using powerful but inefficient spells or abilities rather than a more sustainable rotation to maximise damage output; blowing powerful cooldowns to increase damage dealt for a short period; or using procs, stacks of buffs/debuffs and secondary resources to provide substantial temporary bonuses to damage dealt. Numerous abilities have synergies rewarding their use in combination with other attacks, making them perfect for dealing quick bursts of damage.
Maximum burst damage output is often achieved by combining all possible sources of burst, such as by using several damage-enhancing cooldowns all at once. Combined, these effects often produce a remarkable - if temporary - increase in damage output. However, focusing on burst damage can cause players to run out of resources such as mana much faster, or leave them without cooldowns to fall back on if things turn sour.
In PvE, dealing burst damage has a chance of drawing aggro, making it inefficient and even dangerous as a means of beating bosses in most cases. However, in some encounters, burst damage is necessary. Burst damage can be very useful when a boss will soon enrage, or when an add must be quickly destroyed.
Correctly managing burst damage is one of the most powerful techniques in PvP. It usually aims to bring an enemy down fast, giving enemy healers as little chance as possible to heal the damage inflicted. When several players focus their burst damage on a single target, the combined onslaught can be extremely difficult to survive. Players often seek to counter cooldown-enhanced burst damage through using crowd control to suspend the player from play while their cooldowns expire. Periods of burst damage are particularly effective when healers are temporarily incapacitated. Focused application of burst damage often forces players to employ defensive and/or evasive cooldowns to survive.
Dealing quick spikes of burst damage is a potent ability in PvP, due to the potential to surprise and overwhelm players. Slow and predictable damage is relatively easy for players to manage, predict and respond to, while unpredictable burst damage is capable of swiftly overwhelming opponents, and is far harder for healers to anticipate and react to in sufficient time. Players can also be easily panicked by spikes of damage, leading them to waste powerful cooldowns. This type of burst damage is of minimal benefit in PvE.
Abilities that can be used to do burst damage normally cause an unusually high DPS (for example, and most instant cast direct damage spells) or extraordinarly high damage (e.g. and ). Talents that allow burst damage often increase the damage caused ( ) or give the opportunity to cast a spell instantly ( , ). Burst damage is primarily dealt through direct damage abilities, although it can also be achieved through a combination of damage over time and direct damage effects.
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Certain classes and specs are better at burst than others. Some of the best are: