Ghouls have been one of my most beloved features of the Death Knight for some now. I like having an undead squire by my side, and they can be pretty useful for some extra dps and even some lifesaving interference in a pinch. However, they also felt like one of the least firmed up aspects of a Death Knight for some time now, with abilities coming and going on a patchly basis, and bugs that kept the ghoul from being summoned or allowed to summon a massive army of ghouls in no time flat.
Still, they have their uses, and despite still being incredibly flimsy healthwise, do offer a decent amount of extra damage when they're up. The drawback is that 50 silver is a lot for a pet that lasts less than 5 minutes, and without points in the Unholy tree, the Ghoul is completely uncontrollable, and may have a tendency to run into suicidal situations without listening to a word you say.
As far as perfecting the Ghoul and deciding on its place in the class, there seems to be two schools of thought. The first, mostly made of Unholy specced Death Knights, sees the Ghoul as a fun and useful part of the class, and wants to see it tweaked to have good survivability, good dps, and generally be worth keeping out. The other class see Ghouls as mostly a novelty, a thing to be bought out occasionally, and such a pain to upkeep that they don't really want to have to deal with it as a pillar of the class. They'd rather be able to forget it exists when they want to.
Both positions have their passionate supporters, but Blizzard seems to have found a rather ingenious way to give both sides what they want: Talents. Recent talent changes provide a lot of buffs, and if you collect them all, you should have a much easier time using your ghoul to your hearts content.
The Talents and the Changes
The bug's been around for a while, but now it's official: It's no longer a bug. As Ghostcrawler explains, Master of Ghouls will now officially make your Ghoul a permanent pet, with a pet bar and the already implemented names. In addition, some of the other talents and abilities surrounding Ghouls are being tweaked, such as Ravenous Dead, which will now offer a Ghoul up to 60% more strength and stamina from talents. You can also combine this with the existing Night of the Dead, which will continue to provide a way to keep your Ghoul out as often as possible, even if it gets caught in one two many AE attacks.
So the Unholy Death Knight, with the proper talents, will first have a controllable Ghoul. The pet bar provided by the talent will allow a Ghoul to become viable in PvP. Leap will allow them to chase down a runner or harry a ranged attacker immediately. Gnaw will allow the Death Knight to close with the attacker, keep a focused opponent locked down, or work in a pinch as a spell interrupt. Thrash should make Unholy Death Knights even more of an anti-caster threat in PvP. Huddle.. well, Huddle might make your ghoul last another second if he's being hit bad.
A Ghoul can get a very nice set of stat and damage boosts from talents and glyphs. The new Ravenous Dead is great because it makes your Ghoul scale very well with you. The extra stamina provides much needed survivability, while the strength means the Ghoul will provide a solid amount of DPS. Add the glyph on top of that, and suddenly the Ghoul is a machine.
In the meantime, Frost and Blood Death Knights can probably ignore the ghoul to their hearts content, and bring it out only when they really want a little bit more help.
But does it work?
So how are these nice buffs working out? Do they make talented ghouls damaging enough and survivable enough? Unfortunately, the answer is primarily yes and no.
Ghoul damage is awesome. VERY awesome. Jayde reports in his recent Unholy PvP analysis that it's actually doing about half of his damage. That's admittedly probably in part because... well, it's Beta. Scourge Strike, one of Unholy's damage mainstays, is doing far too little damage right now, so Unholy damage is probably lower than it should be -- low enough that a ghoul doing mostly auto attack damage can overtake it.
This, combined with a ghoul's low survivability, has actually turned out to be a liability in PvP. Due to both their awesome DPS and skills such as Gnaw and Thrash, canny PvPers have learned to take down the ghoul first, and rightly so. But not only does this then leave the Unholy PvPer without some of his best PvP tools, but it also leaves him without half his DPS! It doesn't look very pretty for him from then on out. If his cooldown is up, he can resummon the ghoul, but right now, even with the bonus from Ravenous Dead, the Ghoul will die pretty quickly and pretty easily no matter how often you resummon him.
What a Ghoul Needs
So the general path that ghouls are on is actually very nice. Power them up via talents for those to want them, but let the base form stay weak enough that those who don't can get along without them. The thing is tweaking the numbers just right.
I don't know if ghoul damage needs to go down so much as Unholy damage needs to go up, but there's probably a point at which we need to make sure that ghouls aren't so much of an Unholy Death Knight's DPS that it's a nearly unrecoverable blow to their DPS when they die. In that case, ghoul damage may need to be nerfed slightly, though hopefully not too much. Make sure personal Unholy DPS is at the proper level too.
Survivability is where ghouls most definitely need a helping hand. Even with Ravenous Dead, their health just isn't high enough. A bump to their base health, perhaps to Hunter pet levels, could help a lot there. You could also simply add a higher stamina buff to Ravenous Dead. Of course, I should probably take this opportunity to state once again that what pets really need is some resilience. Regardless, ghouls need more survivability. A good health boost would definitely be nice. Huddle is pretty lackluster, so it may need a buff or a redesign too, although it'll probably be better off once ghouls have more health for it to work with.
Once ghouls have that nice blend of health and damage going, they'll be in pretty good shape. The basics of ghouls right now are pretty sound, they just need some numbers tweaking, I think.
One thing I would like to see, though, is some minor glyphs that change the look of your ghoul. Not that he looks bad by any means, but... there's a lot of cooler undead looks. If I could use a minor glyph to make my ghoul look like a Geist, I'd pretty much be the happiest Death Knight ever, is what I'm saying.
And bring back the Explode button. It's somewhat of a pain having to take Corpse Explosion and set it up on a mouseover macro just so I can use a pretty nice ability that was once a nice little pet bar button.
And finally... What kind of a name is Eyeslobber? The ghoul names are sort of cool, but there's some really silly combinations.