First off, some news that may be good, may be bad: Paralysis is going away. As we remember, Paralysis was the deep elemental talent that added bonus spell damage and a chance to paralyze to your lightning and chain lightning. At this time, I have no idea what they're replacing it with or why it's being taken out: Since there's a deliberate change to the coefficient on lightning spells in Wrath as well, described as being there to balance out new abilities that provide a nature school debuff (whereas previously LB and CL had a higher coefficient because there weren't many such abilities), I find myself wondering if Paralysis simply wasn't scaling well enough to be of use. Since I can't test this (curse you, Beta gods) I'll just have to take it on faith that Paralysis' removal is a good thing.
Obviously this isn't a huge deal... it's beta, stuff gets changed... but it does have me thinking about how leveling from 70 to 80 is going to feel. To a degree, leveling a shaman is like being starving at an all you can eat buffet: you have so many choices that you might end up not being able to choose at all. Even as someone who really, really enjoying leveling enhancement (so much so that I did it twice) the pull of trying out a restoration spec under the new spell power rules has its appeal, or just ouright committing to the pew pew of elemental combat. (Part of it is that I just like typing elemental combat. In my head it's like the theme song from the Mortal Kombat movie, only with Neptulon and Ragnaros instead of Sub-Zero and Johnny Cage.)
Without belaboring the talents and skills we've covered from the beta already, it's same to say that new abilities mean new playstyle options. I keep coming back in my thoughts to Maelstrom Weapon and how it's going to allow me to use spells that normally have a cast time as instant cast spells if properly utilized. Since Maelstrom reduces cast time by 20%, and can stack up to five times, a full stack means that an enhancement shaman could use Chain Lighting as an instant cast source of AoE damage while in melee with groups of mobs in much the same way that a fury warrior can use Whirlwind now. Since it will be an instant cast, there will be no delay of the autoattack sequence, and thus no reduction of chances for Windfury Weapon to proc. And that's just one possibility for the spell. We've belabored how the talent can possibly work with Lava Burst and Elemental Devastation, although the comments still seemed to have some confusion last week - basically, timed properly, a flame shock followed by several critical hits to reduce cast time to instant could allow a shaman to guarantee a critical hit with an instant cast Lava Burst, thus almost permanently keeping him or herself in Elemental Devastation's increased melee crit chance, thus allowing him or her to more easily stack Maelstrom Weapon procs, thus allowing him or her to even more easily crit with instant-cast Lava Bursts... you see how this could go. I don't see any reason why this couldn't be a very good source for sustained DPS on targets that stay alive long enough for the chain to build up.
It seems to me that the goal is to make shamans hybrids not only in their roles, but also in their playstyle: doing melee damage to more effectively do magical damage that makes you do more damage in melee as well. I like the way it feels, and I am very interested in playing around to see if I'm being too optimistic about it. I expect my blueberry will level to 80 enhancement so that he can play around in the tree to see how well this scales. I remember feeling a bit let down once I hit 60 on the enhancement front, it felt like the run from 60 to 70 enhancement really wasn't scaling as well. I'm hoping we won't have a repeat of that experience. I already know that, despite the fact that I'm losing 217 AP from strength on my current gear that I'm gaining close to 420 AP from Agi and Int, making all this hunter gear I'm wearing less annoying to me.
I will be the first to admit that I don't know how elemental and restoration gear is going to compare in the expansion. To a degree I expect there will be 'spell power' mail and that it doesn't really distinguish between the two specs, leaving it up to the individual shaman to decide exactly how to choose their talents. Looking at deep elemental, I still think 15 points in restoration to increase critical damage with lightning bolts is worth the points, meaning that a solid 51/0/20 elemental/restoration build could take advantage of the unified stats on gear and put out some nice damage, plus with Thunderstrom on a 45 second timer elemental now has access to a form of AoE that allows them to get out of trouble spots while grinding/soloing. I'd really much rather that cooldown was significantly shorter, though. The spell doesn't do a lot of damage as it stands, making it really more of a "Get Away Please" button than reliable AoE. With the loss of Paralysis I'd like to see some buffs to this ability, or a corresponding ability elsewhere in elemental to make it more attractive/useful for more situations. I have to agree with commenters who've argued that the 51 point capstone elemental talent shouldn't mostly be useful for escaping and emergency mana regen. This is the big show of the tree, supposedly, and while I do like it I'd like to see more from it for that big an investment in the tree. At present elemental looks like a tree with a lot to offer a raid, but how effective will it be to level in? I vacillate between excitement and doubt on the power of elemental as a leveling spec in Wrath.
Probably more than I expect. I'm a horrible spellcaster. Good elemental shamans are probably already lining up to show me how effective Thundertsorm actually is. On an aside, I wonder if 50/0/21 is going to be a viable PvP build, with instant-casts from Nature's Swiftness still being so important? I guess we have ten levels to get accustomed to the new realities of each spec's PvP viability.
I'm surprised to see that talents like Blessing of the Eternals pack so much offensive oomph, giving primarily restoration shamans the ability to increase their overall spell critical effect chance. Combined with the way that spell power will continue the process of healing/damage on current gear, restoration shamans should still be able to heal through almost anything while putting out even more respectable damage to help get through questing and soloing faster for ease of leveling. They're still going to be dead last in any shaman spec DPS race, but not by so awful a margin. As someone who really enjoys restoration but can't imagine leveling that way, I'm cautiously considering giving it a few levels in Northrend to see if it works on my orc shaman. Being able to do the quests and still heal an instance run (and there are a lot of instances I'd like to see in Wrath) effectively would be very nice.
With all the talk of gear resets and starting over, I'm starting to wonder how complex the changes to the trees will be before they go live. Are we going to see more spell damage from enhancement? Is elemental/resto going to continue to dominate ranged shaman DPS or are we going to see elemental shamans cherry picking some enhancement talents and borrowing some in your face tactics? (I keep wanting to say yes to this, it makes sense to me that shamans should tend to be in the front lines whether it be with fist weapon or lightning from the heavens, but as nice as Anticipation and Shamanistic Focus could be for such a close combat elemental spec, I think Tidal Mastery is always going to be more appealing) Resto seems to be growing in leveling viability while retaining its strengths for five man, ten man and 25 man raiding, so I hope the other two trees prove similarly empowered by their new depth.
I'm thinking this will be my talent build when I step off the boat onto Northrend soil for the first time. I'm considering throwing my next three talent points in Mental Quickness after that, depending on if spells affected by Maelstrom Weapon count as instant cast spells. What about you? How will you level to 80?