Sunday, April 11, 2010

Cataclysm Druid class review (Part 1)

Finally! The Druid class preview is one of the two class previews I had been waiting on and it finally was released late Friday afternoon. Unfortunately for me I wasn't all that excited by it in total, though there were a couple things that I do see as favorable. MMO-Champion has the class preview changes up, along with pertinent quotes from Ghostcrawler all on one page, so I'll link to that.

The Druid class is getting three new class abilities between 80 and 85:

Thrash (Level 81): Thrash deals damage and causes all targets within 10 yards to bleed every 2 seconds for 6 seconds. The intent here is to give bears another button to hit while tanking. Talents will affect the bleed, such as causing Swipe to deal more damage to bleeding targets. 5-second cooldown. 25 Rage.

Stampeding Roar (Level 83): The druid roars, increasing the movement of all allies within 10 yards by 40% for 8 seconds. Stampeding Roar can be used in cat or bear form, but bears might have a talent to drop the cooldown. The goal of this ability is to give both bears and cats a little more situational group utility. 3-minute cooldown. No cost.

Wild Mushroom (Level 85): Grows a magical mushroom at the target location. After 4 seconds the mushroom becomes invisible. Enemies who cross the mushroom detonate it, causing it to deal area-of-effect damage, though its damage component will remain very effective against single targets. The druid can also choose to detonate the mushroom ahead of time. This is primarily a tool for the Balance druid, and there will be talents that play off of it. No cooldown. 40-yard range. Instant cast.
Thrash seems like it would be a good addition to Bear, though at 25 rage it's a relatively high cost ability. In multi-target fights, where you will have virtually unlimited rage generation, I imagine it'll be a staple for threat generation. But I'm having a hard time seeing it utilized in the typical boss fight. Although I will say we haven't seen how rage normalization will work exactly yet. Now we have to be very careful of rage starvation but that might not be the case in Cataclysm. If rage generation is that much easier Thrash might become something of a staple, even on typical single target boss fights.

Stampeding roar, on the other hand, is an ability that I'm not clearly understanding yet in terms of its real usefulness. I have never seen, or heard of anyone asking for an ability such as this and so it's kind of come to us out of left field some where. And the lameness of it is sort of annoying when you look at the abilities the other classes are getting. Feels very much like Blizzard simply didn't have many good ideas to give the Druid class, yet they needed three.

Wild Mushroom is, however, potentially a spell that I think I could like very much. Need being able to see the exact mechanic of how it works yet I could be wrong, but either this will be more of a PVP related spell or will act like the Druid equivalent of Seed of Corruption. Druids really don't need another AOE damage spell. Particularly one that will take attention away from the other two primary AOE spells (Hurricane and Starfall). But I can see situational use for it in PVE, but a lot of PVP uses. Magic land mines ftw! What I'd really like to know right now is how many of them you can have out at a time. is it just the one, or will we be able to seed an area with these? If the answer is we can have many up at a time, then this could be a totally awesome spell! PVP choke points could become a very amusing place indeed!

Rounding out the class preview Blizzard posted a few paragraphs for each of the specs:

In addition to the new abilities listed above, we intend to make changes to some of the other abilities and mechanics with which you’re already familiar. This list and the summary of talent changes below it are by no means comprehensive, but they should give you a good sense of our goals for each spec.

  • All heal-over-time spells (HoTs) will benefit from crit and haste innately in Cataclysm. Hasted HoTs do not reduce their duration, but instead add additional HoT ticks. Haste will also benefit Energy generation while in cat form.
  • Unlike the other healers, Restoration druids will not be receiving any new spells. They have plenty to work with already, and our challenge instead is to make sure all of them have a well-defined niche. A druid should be able to tank-heal with stacks of Lifebloom, spot-heal a group with Nourish and Regrowth, and top off lightly wounded targets with Rejuvenation.
  • We want to add tools to cat form and depth to bear form. If a Feral cat is going to fill a very similar niche to that of a rogue, warrior or Enhancement shaman, it needs a few more tools -- primarily a reliable interrupt. Bears need to be pushing a few more buttons just so the contrast between tanking and damage-dealing is not so steep.
  • Barkskin will be innately undispellable.
  • We will be buffing the damage of Mangle (cat) significantly so that when cat druids cannot Shred, they are not at such a damage-dealing loss.
  • Druids will lose Abolish Poison with the dispel mechanics change, but Restoration druids will gain Dispel Magic (on friendly targets) as a talent. All druids can still remove poisons with Cure Poison and remove curses with Remove Curse.

New Talents and Talent Changes

  • Tree of Life is changing from a passive talent to a cooldown-based talent, similar to Metamorphosis. Mechanically, it feels unfair for a druid to have to give up so much offense and utility in order to be just as good at healing as the other classes who are not asked to make that trade. We are exploring the exact benefit the druid gets from Tree of Life. It could strictly be better healing, or it could be that each heal behaves slightly different. You also will not be able to be banished in Tree of Life form (this will probably be true of Metamorphosis as well). Additionally, we would like to update the Tree of Life model so that it feels more exciting when you do decide to go into that form. Our feeling is that druids rarely actually get to show off their armor, so it would be nice to have at least one spec that looked like a night elf or tauren (and soon troll or worgen) for most of the time.
  • We want to make the Feral cat damage rotation slightly more forgiving. We do not want to remove what druids like about their gameplay, but we do want to make it less punishing to miss, say, a Savage Roar or Rake. The changes here will be on par with increasing the duration of Mangle like we did for patch 3.3.3.
  • Balance druids will have a new talent ability called Nature’s Torrent, which strikes for either Nature or Arcane damage depending on which will do the most damage (or possibly both), and moves the Eclipse meter more (details below). The improved version of Nature’s Torrent also reduces the target's movement speed. 10-second cooldown.
  • Restoration druids will have a new talent called Efflorescence, which causes a bed of healing flora to sprout beneath targets that are critically healed by Regrowth.
  • We plan on giving Feral cats and bears a Kick/Pummel equivalent -- an interrupt that is off the global cooldown and does no damage. We feel like they need this utility to be able to fill the melee role in a dungeon or raid group, and to give them more PvP utility.
  • We want to make sure Feral and Balance druids feel like good options for an Arena team. They need the tools to where you might consider a Feral druid over an Arms warrior, or a Balance druid over a mage or warlock. Remember that the PvP landscape will probably look pretty different for Cataclysm with a focus on rated, competitive Battlegrounds.

Mastery Passive Talent Tree Bonuses

  • Spell Damage
  • Spell Haste
  • Eclipse

Eclipse: We are moving Eclipse from a talent into a core mechanic of the class and making it less random. Balance druids will have a new UI element that shows a sun and a moon. Whenever they cast an Arcane spell, it will move the UI closer to the sun, and buff their Nature damage. Whenever they cast a Nature spell, it will move the UI closer to the moon, and buff their Arcane damage. The gameplay intention is to alternate Arcane and Nature spells (largely Starfire and Wrath) to maintain the balance.

Feral (Cat)
  • Melee Damage
  • Melee Critical Damage
  • Bleed Damage

Feral (Bear)
  • Damage Reduction
  • Vengeance
  • Savage Defense

Bleed Damage and Savage Defense: Feral druids will receive two sets of passive bonuses depending on whether the druid is in cat or bear form. Bleed Damage will be improved for cats. Savage Defense is the current bear mechanic for converting crits into damage absorption and will be improved for bears.

Vengeance: This is a mechanic to ensure that tank damage (and therefore threat) doesn’t fall behind as damage-dealing classes improve their gear during the course of the expansion. All tanking specs will have Vengeance as their second talent tree passive bonus. Whenever a tank gets hit, Vengeance will give them a stacking attack power buff equal to 5% of the damage done, up to a maximum of 10% of the character’s unbuffed health. For boss encounters we expect that tanks will always have the attack power bonus equal to 10% of their health. The 5% and 10% bonuses assume 51 talent points have been put into the Feral tree and the druid is in bear form -- these values will be smaller at lower levels. Remember, you only get this bonus if you have spent the most talent points in the Feral tree and are in bear form, so you won’t see Balance, Restoration, or Feral druids in cat form running around with it. Vengeance will let us continue to make tank gear more or less the way we do today -- there will be some damage-dealing stats, but mostly survival-oriented stats. Druids typically have more damage-dealing stats even on their tanking gear, so the Vengeance benefit may be smaller, but overall the goal is that all four tanks do about the same damage when tanking.

  • Healing
  • Meditation (The amount of mana you regenerate in combat as a function of your Spirit)
  • HoT Scale Healing

HoT Scale Healing: HoTs will do increased healing on more wounded targets. The mechanic is similar to that of the Restoration shaman, but with HoTs instead of direct heals. In Cataclysm, we anticipate druids using a greater variety of their spells so there is a distinction between healing and HoT healing.

We hope you enjoyed this preview, and ask that you provide your initial thoughts and feedback on what was presented here. Please keep in mind, what you’ve just reviewed is a work in progress and as we move closer to the Cataclysm beta, you’ll see these changes as well as others continue to develop in response to testing and feedback.

Restoration Druids:
I'm extremely happy to see that HoTs will innately benefit from critical strike rating now.  And just as importantly haste will continue to decrease the time between ticks but not shorten the length the spell lasts.  That in an of itself will have a huge impact on resto healing.  Additionally that HoT scaling based on target health is sexy!  Efflorescence could be interesting, though they haven't told us enough about it yet.  Will Efflorescence be an area heal spell, or will it be single target?  If it's single target then I wonder if Living Seed will be left alone, or whether it'll be tweaked or even removed.  Because I'd think they'd both be just too similar to have both remaining in the arsenal.

Although I don't think Resto Druids needed any additional spells I am annoyed that for the third expansion in a row the Resto healing experience will be changing considerably.  You can read between the lines when they say thinks like:
Unlike the other healers, Restoration druids will not be receiving any new spells. They have plenty to work with already, and our challenge instead is to make sure all of them have a well-defined niche. A druid should be able to tank-heal with stacks of Lifebloom, spot-heal a group with Nourish and Regrowth, and top off lightly wounded targets with Rejuvenation.

HoTs will do increased healing on more wounded targets. The mechanic is similar to that of the Restoration shaman, but with HoTs instead of direct heals. In Cataclysm, we anticipate druids using a greater variety of their spells so there is a distinction between healing and HoT healing.

and most importantly:
We think there will be more reason to cast Healing Touch (perhaps with some number tweaks) for when you need to heal someone who has a real health deficit.

Druids don't have perfect analogs to the priest heals, but you can imagine Regrowth as the Flash Heal, Nourish as the heal, and Healing Touch as the greater heal. Lifebloom is something you'd put on a tank before healing with Nourish or Healing Touch (which might even refresh the stack). Rejuv will still be good for the reason hots are good. Wild Growth is still a group heal. Tranquility is an emergency heal, and we'll change it to act more like Divine Hymn.
Let me know how that Rejuv spamming with WG on cooldown works out for you at 85.
You can see that Blizzard has many changes in mind for how the class will perform--again.  And I find that annoying as hell!  In Vanilla Resto Druids essentially used one spell -- Healing Touch.  They might have used the others to some lesser extent, but the mainstay was the Healing Touch.  At the time it was the largest heal in the game and it was used a lot.  However, with the extensive Resto make over that came with the Burning Crusade Druids became the uber mobile healers they continue to be today with the additional of life bloom.  Life Bloom was really the mainstay heal as you'd keep a rolling stack of 3 Life Blooms on the target, along with a Rejuv.  With the addition of Swiftmend you had a second emergency button to push if you needed it, keeping Nature's Swiftness in reserve for a NS > HT combo.  I used Regrowth very little, though it would be the "go to" heal if I need to heal someone for more than a pittance or if Swiftmend was on cooldown.

In Wrath of the Lich King healing changed again.  Blizzard virtually removed Lifebloom from everyone's healing use by upping the cost of the spell dramatically.  Even with a second change that refunded some of the cost after it bloomed it simply wasn't as efficient as it once was and of limited use.  Especially in that Resto Druids now had Wild Growth.  Today most Resto healing is rolling Rejuvs on multiple players and interspersing Wild Growth when the cool down is up.  Regrowth is used as the main heal and virtually no one used Nature's Switness/Healing Touch combos any more.  I've even considered dropping Nature's Swiftness and using that point elsewhere as the cool down for Swiftmend is short and it no longer consumes the HoT with a glyph.

But things will be changing again in Cataclysm.  Not satisfied that those pesky Resto Druids get off so easy and are so mobile, they're going to make sure we can't simply Rejuv and Wild Growth our way to happiness.  Makes me really wonder what Holy Paladin healing will look like.  In any case you can clearly see that Blizzard is going to make you want to use other healing spells.  The comments about Life Bloom sound like it'll become a staple again, but I wonder how much of our mobility will be impacted by making class changes that favor Regrowth, Nourish, and Healing Touch.  Particularly in PVP where a lot of my survivability comes directly from my mobility.

Lastly, the loss of the "tree form" isn't a big deal to me.  I really hate the fact that so many of my abilities are unusable in tree form to begin with, and having used any of those, having to use mana to then get back into tree form is an impact on the class that no other healer has to bear.  All that being said Blizzard could have easily just allowed the use of all abilities in tree form and been done with it.  But they chose not to -- for whatever reason.  Turning tree form into a short term "buff" is fine with me though there are many people in the official thread that see it otherwise.