Holy cow. You'll be hearing that lame phrase a lot once the next expansion rolls around and Taurens start dispensing their own brand of divine -- or should I say, bovine -- justice. All jokes aside, Tauren Paladins are just one of the big changes for class once the Cataclysm hits, and it's a pretty cool one. Blizzard seems to have planted the seeds of lore to explain the rise of "Sunwalkers", the flavor name for Tauren Paladins. Character-wise, Taurens are the most sensible choice, as well, considering they are arguably the Horde's noblest race. Undead Paladins aren't in the cards, unfortunately, even though it's something some fans have toyed around with because of lore reasons.
But no, the whole "risen from the dead to wear plate" role has been filled up nicely by Death Knights. Instead, we've got the Sunwalkers, which is pretty cool for Horde players who've always wanted to try out the Paladin class but perhaps didn't want to play Blood Elves. Worgen and Goblins, Cataclysm's new races, aren't eligible to become Paladins, which rules out experiencing the new starting areas as champions of the Light. The good news is that Azeroth will be reshaped -- good news for us players, anyway... seems like a bad deal for Azeroth -- which means that we're likely to get new starting areas to experience the thrill of leveling once again.
What does this mean? If you don't have a high level Paladin, it might actually be wiser to hold off on creating one and just wait until the Cataclysm. Waiting until the expansion opens up the option of rolling a new race as well as going through entirely new low-level zones. Of course, the expansion is quite a ways off and most players can likely level one from 1 to 80 before it launches. Still, it's an idea.
More levels, more talent points, and new talents
The new level cap is 85, which should be pretty exciting for high level Paladins who intend to get to max level before rerolling any of the fancy new races or race/class combinations. The five levels will arguably be a comparable experience to the ten levels from 61-70 or 71-80 we got from the previous expansions. Ghostcrawler said that Blizzard will no longer be deepening the trees beyond the 51-point talents, which essentially means five more talent points to invest.
This is actually great news if you consider that the developers are pruning the passive, boring, yet-often-picked-up talents. We might see Deflection and Divine Intellect give way to something more fun like Divine Purpose, which essentially modifies an existing ability, or Holy Shield, which is a spell only available through talents. Paladins of any spec will become more robust, with each talent point a meaningful investment as opposed to passive effects players don't actually feel. It will be interesting to see what talents players will want to pick as opposed to what they need to get.
Passive bonuses and Mastery
What Blizzard has done was toss all the relevant passive effects into each tree as a bonus for investing points in it. This means, for example, getting passive healing bonuses when you place points in the Holy tree or tanking effects when putting points into Protection. Ghostcrawler actually put up a slide that showed Paladin trees and here's what we might be getting come Cataclysm:
- Spell Crit
- Crit Heal
- Damage Taken
- Block Amount
- Melee Damage
- Melee Crit
- Ability Cooldown
One of the most impressive moments in Blizzard's preview panel was the simplification of stats -- the removal of spell power, attack power, and MP5 will shake things up for Paladins. Blizzard already started going down this road when they consolidated Healing and Spell Power, as well as Spell and Melee Crit. It's even simpler in Cataclysm where Spell and Attack Power as item stats will be removed for good. Instead, Intellect grants an amount of Spell Power while Strength (for Paladins) grants Attack Power.
This should make gearing up a simpler task for Paladins -- essentially, Holy Paladins will be stacking Intellect (no more of that MP5 nonsense, finally!) while Retribution and Protection will stock up on Strength. What about Defense, you ask? It's gone. No, really, Blizzard chucked Defense out the bin. Pretty much everything a tanking Paladin needs will be in talents and the inherent bonuses of a tree. One curious question I've got is about Spirit -- will Paladins need it now that it'll be a "healer" stat? Spirit is tantamount to mana regeneration now, and will only be for healers. Does this mean Paladins will now have to look at a stat we'd ignored since forever? Probably.
Essentially, Paladins will have to unlearn many old habits and learn practically a new game. Tanks will look towards Mastery to improve their tanking abilities, and it isn't yet clear how much the passive talent bonuses are worth. How deep should players go into a tree in order to receive X bonus? We'll learn more about these new mechanics as soon as more information about Cataclysm comes out, but it's heartening to know that new tanks won't have to worry about hitting the Defense cap or focus on Block Value (that's gone, too!). The idea, it seems, is to have Protection Paladins able to tank from the get-go.
Of course, Blizzard left something for the min-maxers to do. Reforging is a skill available to crafters such as Blacksmiths, who can break apart an item and re-forge it to have different stats. This means that even simplified stats can be made more complicated -- see, an item can have some of its stats reduced or removed and converted to another stat it doesn't already have. Confused? Yeah, it can get a little messy. The point is that reforging allows players to make use of gear that would otherwise be less useful to them. This means less items will go to waste, as players can simply reforge them into what suits their spec or playing style. What this means for the Enchanting market, one can only guess.
Path of the Titans
Finally, there's the Path of the Titans, which further complicates what we thought was a simplified game. Blizzard pulled one over us there. Essentially, these amount to specialized glyphs, or Ancient Glyphs, which can be unlocked over time through Archaelogy and being chummy with some cult. Although not role or class-specific, which means that a Rogue or Mage can have the same Path as a Holy Paladin, the bonuses are certain to have benefits for specific archetypes.
In the examples that Blizzard gave, for example, one Ancient Glyph could grant increased damage after a critical strike -- not necessarily something a healing Paladin would pick up. Leaving more for the min-maxers to toy around with, we'll learn more about what Blizzard has described as more ways to customize your character. Blizzard taketh away, and Blizzard giveth. Or something like that.
Cataclysm is a whole new ball game. If basic things like key stats are changing, expect core abilities to have some changes, as well. Talents, skills, rotations -- most of what we know might be obsolete when the third expansion hits. As fun as it is to play a Paladin now, it might even be a good idea to roll one from scratch when the Cataclysm changes the face of Azeroth.