A question for Druids from Ghostcrawler himself; is Tree of Life form fun?
I'd like to get the question a bit more exposure both here and on the forums, because it's a thought-provoking issue. No other healer, as he observes, has to sacrifice anything in order to use a key talent in their healing tree/s, and from how Ghostcrawler's worded his post, it seems pretty clear that the PvE and PvP healing output of the Restoration spec is explicitly balanced around the use of Tree of Life. That's fine -- it is our 41-point talent, and a good one at that. It's not unreasonable for Blizzard to expect that we'll use it. However, It does have implications for game balance when 3 of 4 healing classes retain all of their offensive capabilities, crowd-control, and interrupts while healing, and the Druid relinquishes all of the above in order to provide the same level of healing throughput.
I took a look at the thread in question, and if you want my honest opinion, some of the issues being described are the logical evolution of problems from October 2005 when Tree of Life went live. The game has changed, and while the flagship Restoration talent has slowly changed alongside it, the inherent design of the form still reflects realities from the classic game rather than Wrath. Interestingly, many of these same problems affect moonkin as well.
First off, the original thread can be distilled to three points players continually hammer at:
1. HEY WAIT REJUVENATION LOOKS FAMILIAR: Bear and Cat gain unique abilities and attributes as a result of shapeshifting, which somewhat justifies the limitation of their other class abilities within forms. Tree of Life (and moonkin, as many players point out) do not gain anything beyond their aura. While they can talent into additional scaling from Spirit, etc., a Tree or moonkin simply does what the Druid can already do in the Balance or Restoration trees, but better. More on this in a little bit, because this relates to how and when the talent went live.
2. MY EYES THEY BURN: The perennial issue -- being forced to spend your ingame life as a low-polygon model is really not fun (and on this, I think all Druids, regardless of spec, can agree).
People have heard from me on this point before, and I freely admit that the model issue is the only thing that I actively and without reservation despise about playing a Druid. I really get the feeling that Blizzard consistently underestimates the impact that new art has on the game. People go nuts trying to get a new mount or pet that is simply the more visually interesting form of an existing model, and for some time I've been wondering whether the addition of Swift Flight Form in mid-BC has been playing an unheralded role in the Druid class' newfound popularity (well, popular for us anyway, at roughly 10% of players at 80). Yes, class improvements will always play the bigger part, but Swift Flight Form was the first truly new and unique Druid form added to the game since the alpha. That it had its own realistic animations* was a major plus too. There's no way around it; it looks cool. People like playing things that look cool. People do not like playing things that would get you laughed out of the reviewers' office at Gamespy if you attempted to debut its 2003 graphical design within a 2009 game.
If I were Blizzard I'd actually be wondering whether the introduction of new and significantly better-looking Druid forms would push even more players in the direction of playing, or at least dusting off, their Druids, to the eventual detriment of class balance. Short of a graphical upgrade for everybody, that's a possibility, and it could be why the game has gone for so long without form updates. Do they not want to debut new Druid forms until everyone's sitting on a new and improved character model, regardless of class? Or is that too conspiracy-theorish?
I'd think it was a crackpot theory were it not for the fact that Druids basically spend their lives shapeshifted, and so new forms functionally amount to model upgrades for 1 class out of 10. That's really not fair. I don't want to look good at everyone else's expense (well, I already do as a female Tauren, but we'll politely ignore this). Then again, it sucks pretty hard to be saddled with the ugliest and most outdated models in the game while new art goes live for NPC's and Hunter pets.
3. TANKS ARE TO YOUR LEFT IN THE FERAL TREE: The change to the Restoration Druid playstyle in arenas is not popular, though it bears mentioning that (once again) non-Druids are unhappy with the direction Restoration is going. Druids reached high ratings in Seasons 3 and 4 by combining a hair-trigger playstyle that emphasized mobility, LOS, and an aggressive approach to crowd control. Right now, you should reasonably expect to take Improved Tree of Life with its armor bonus and "tank" incoming damage. The inability to Root, Cyclone, or DPS in Tree form combined with the incredible weakness of caster form makes the Druid a relatively passive presence on their team/s in comparison to earlier seasons.
Non-Druids aren't happy because they sit there and heal for the duration of the match, immune to most forms of CC as an elemental mob. Druids aren't happy because they sit there and heal the duration of the match, with the outcome being decided by how well the opposing melee times their stuns on the tree.
I have mixed feelings, because I really do believe that the underlying concept of Tree of Life is fun. Shapeshifting itself is thoroughly iconic to the class, and there's just something that feels right about specializing heavily in one role and gaining a new form as a result. There's something both fun and funny about seeing a raid ringed and guarded by its Trees, the little leaf-heads bobbing just above the raid in constant motion, that neverending search for a player who needs health. I think it fits the class very well, and I enjoy healing on my Druid in no small part because of it. I would hate seeing a form eliminated, regardless of what decision is made.
INHERITING OLDER PROBLEMS
But it seems pretty obvious that there are certain aspects of the talent's execution that merit reconsideration. Tree of Life, like its moonkin counterpart, did not initially exist ingame. It was introduced in Patch 1.8 when Blizzard began to take a hard look at Druid talents and the overall weakness of the class. I don't believe that the developers were prepared to overhaul the class to a significant extent at that point (that happened more in the transition to BC, and in late 2005 they certainly knew they had an expansion coming up); they were more immediately concerned with the issues that made the class an unpopular choice. With developers, programmers, and artists finishing up Ahn-Qiraj and already at work on the original version of Naxxramas in late 2005, this precluded adding a host of new spells or abilities that would have required additional game balance and graphics while resources were tied up elsewhere.