I have once again managed to steal the Light for another week, as regular columnists Chris and Elizabeth are off on their own epic quests while I am left to tend to the shop, so to speak. For today, we'll take a closer look at how the class is designed and its inherent ironies.
When I first rolled a Paladin, I didn't know what I was getting into. I rolled it mainly as a companion toon for my playing partner, my wife, who was elated at the Horde finally getting a 'pretty' race and promptly rolled a Warlock. As I leveled with her demon-enslaving new main, the experience challenged and frustrated me and it soon became apparent that Blizzard had designed the Paladin under a completely different design perspective. I was hooked. If there are any perceived failures about the class, it is largely because Blizzard had a vision for the Paladin class that was different from traditional class designs.
Blizzard worked hard at defining each class with a clear directive to make each one feel different from the others. Rogues had Energy, combo points and finishing moves; Warriors had Rage, a sort of reverse Mana bar; and Shamans had the totem system. Paladins are designed largely around the interesting Seal system. Everything that a Paladin does revolves around Seals, Blessings, and Auras, with Seals being the primary mechanic for dealing any sort of damage. For the most part, class design has worked for many classes while others, like the Shaman, have had more than its fair share of issues.
Personally, I love the Paladin class. My main is now a Blood Elf Paladin, with my Troll Shaman getting a little less love than it used to. I also used to play a Troll Hunter and an Undead Rogue. While I enjoyed all of them as I played them, it was the Paladin that appealed to me the most. To be honest, I still have no idea why. Maybe it was the challenge. Maybe it was hybrid aspect. Maybe, for all I know, it was the coolness of it all. When you get right down to it, though, Paladins have -- if you examine it very carefully -- what is probably the most inherently flawed ironic class design in the game. Let me explain.
A melee class without melee strikes
With all the buzz of Mortal Strike being handed out like candy, which has actually got our resident Warrior die-hard Matthew Rossi's knickers all in a bunch, it's got me wondering why Retribution Paladins seem to be the only melee class now left without a heal-gimping debuff. Well, actually, that's not true since Feral Druids don't have it, either, but cats definitely have much more options as far as melee combat is concerned. On the other hand, Paladins have 0 baseline melee strikes. The only melee ability that Paladins have is Crusader Strike, a 41-point talent. Beyond that, Paladins are a melee class that relies solely on a glorified auto-attack.
This is the class' most glaring design flaw: it's a melee class without any melee strikes. Anyone who has ever rolled a Paladin will know that the basic attack cycle consists of putting up a Seal, Judging it, re-Sealing, and letting auto-attack take its course. If you're Retribution-specced, you can throw in Crusader Strike into the mix to spice things up. This was one of my problems with Enhancement as a Shaman -- there was only one melee strike. But it was complemented with a plethora of shocks, totems, and the beautiful proc of a Windfury. I don't think I ever appreciated that more than when I leveled my Paladin.
Don't get me wrong. I don't want a Mortal Strike ability. I think it's boring. But didn't anyone at Blizzard ever notice that the one class that has no innate ranged ability also has no baseline melee strikes? More than any other class, Paladins are limited to close combat. Rogues can use a ranged weapon, use Deadly Throw, or even Blink behind opponents with the proper talent. Warriors can also use a ranged weapon, as well as Charge or chase down faraway opponents. Shamans can't use ranged weapons, but they can certainly shock their opponents into submission. Druids, well, what can't they do?
When you fight as a Paladin, you simply make sure that a Seal is up and let auto-attack do its job. The fight is really out of your hands. You don't need to press any strike buttons. You just make sure a Seal is up. You can't get too creative. Of course, there are also Judgements, which you can unleash to produce extra damage, but other than that, you have no other buttons to press. I don't want another Mortal Strike rip-off, really, I don't. But I would appreciate actually not having to alt-tab between putting up Seals. We're a melee class. Give us some darned melee strikes.
A healing class with only two healing spells
Ironically, although they can be excellent healers, Paladins have exactly two healing spells. Three if you count the 31-point talent Holy Shock, which really isn't part of the healing spell cycle because it's expensive and has a long 15-second cooldown. Oh, of course there's Lay on Hands, which is a great way to finish up all your mana in one instant. The joke goes that Holy Paladins have the dilemma of pressing either button 1 or button 2 -- Big Heal or Little Heal? Roll your head on your keyboard and you pretty much have the healing down pat. Of course, in all seriousness, it's a little more complicated than that but you get the point. For a healing class, it's odd to have only two healing spells. At least it's better than having no melee strikes while being a melee fighting class.
In fact, while other classes got a new healing spell in The Burning Crusade, Paladins got none. Druids got Lifebloom; Priests received Binding Heal, Circle of Healing, and Prayer of Mending; and Shamans got a kind-of healing spell with Earth Shield. Paladins were stuck with more of the same. Just as with melee combat, Paladin healing is very basic -- big heal or little heal. You don't have to press too many buttons. In Arenas, you really have to be spamming the big heals because Flash of Light just won't cut it when your teammate is being focus fired upon and might even have a Mortal Strike (there it is again!) debuff.
And then there's Cleanse. On paper, it's a truly wonderful spell. In raids, it's even extremely useful for removing magical silences (on others, mind you), DoTs, or other debuffs. In PvP, if you consider that poisons or other effects stack much faster than the global cooldown that Cleanse activates, then you're in trouble. Let's not even consider resist rates. I think my nose might bleed. It's ironic that it can actually cost a Paladin more mana to remove a mana draining effect.
On a positive note, there's nothing ironic about Paladins being best support class in the game because of their wide selection of Blessings and Auras. While Rogues may have a cornucopia of melee strikes, when it comes to making their teammates stronger, they're about as useful as a rotten banana. In raids, Paladins have the most powerful DPS-enhancing buff in the game -- Blessing of Salvation. They also have buffs based on what you might need. Like your mana? Here's a Blessing of Wisdom. Like to mash faces in? Try on my Blessing of Might.
Auras are fun, too. Though not quite as versatile as Blessings, it's the one area that a Paladin can get creative in. It's not quite as creative as totem twisting, but changing Auras mid-battle can alleviate the routine of pressing two buttons while healing in a raid. Fighting a mostly fire-based mob, throw up Fire Resistance Aura. Getting beat upon by pugilistic mobs? Toughen up with a little Devotion. It's not overwhelmingly complex, but it spices up things between auto-attack swings or spamming Flash of Light.
Honestly, I think it's a great system. The Seals, the Blessings, the Auras... I think Blizzard was really on to something. I don't think they've quite gotten the proper way to do it, though, and the changes they've implemented and are putting into the PTR show that they're determined to get the balance right. Right now, however, I really think the class is half-baked. I know that Eyonix has said that all the classes are a work in progress, but that it doesn't mean any class is "unfinished". However, it still leaves me wondering how Blizzard came upon the idea of making a melee class have no melee abilities -- actually very limited damage-dealing spells and abilities -- or making a healing class have only a big and little heal.
I realize also it's probably why I've stayed with the class. It's intrinsically challenging because it's so strangely flawed. Even though there are areas that need improvement, I won't need to go into great detail because I'm sure the folks at Blizzard already know them. As ironic as it may sound, I have to hand it to Blizzard for creating a class that I actually find very fun to play. I know I don't press anywhere near half the buttons I do when I play my Shaman, I know I keep praying for auto-attack to fire off a Seal proc, and yes, I know I need to stay completely still when I cast my big or little heals, but man... do I have tons of fun. Well, I did say the class was full of irony.