The changes came as quite a shock to me, as it was not terribly long ago that Blizzard released a very thorough 71-point talent tree preview for priests and a few other classes. The new trees seem to have taken that preview, beaten it with blunt objects, and buried it somewhere in the Tanaris desert. Tragic, but let's take a look at what's left.
If you're a priest who has been keeping up with Cataclysm news, the first thing you'll probably notice is that a lot of things are missing. Where is discipline's Power Infusion? Where did holy's Spiritual Guidance go? (It had been tagged on to Chakra previously.) What happened to that new holy talent, Divine Accuracy? And why, good goblins, are we no longer being allowed to cross talent at early levels after we saw all that potential for holy/discipline hybrid DPS? It's a lot to digest for priests, but as I have said in the past: don't panic.
From a PvE perspective, the overall feel of disc's talent tree is intact. Absorption focused talents are still a predominant feature. Signature game play talents like Borrowed Time and Pain Suppression are still there, and yet another, Power Infusion has vanished without a trace. The offensive talents we saw previously remain, meaning we will still have access to extra fire power while soloing or PvPing.
What's missing is the variety of defensive PvP talents. If you want a self-defense talent for PvP, you now have one option for passive defense, Focused Will. Instead of taking talents to make you a priest tank, you will now find talents which buff your healing - meaning that you are going to have to be relying largely on getting casts off on yourself if you want to survive. Let's hope Blizzard is serious when they said they want to reduce chained stuns and disables in PvP.
Disciplines raid utility also takes another choke by losing out on the raid wide aura that Renewed Hope once offered, and has instead created a talent similar to Grace: the buff now only really works for the targets you cast heals onto. Further, Rapture has changed and discipline priests no longer provide energy return to their shielded allies when Power Word: Shield breaks. When I look at this lack of granted raid utility, I think about the loss of Power Infusion and wonder if they are connected. In Blizzard's desire to have us bring the player and not the class, are they trying to reduce the contribution individual players bring to a group?
- Penance -- Could we possibly unlock Penance at level 10? I can't be sure as of this moment, but if it does this could make Smite spam a little less redundant while leveling.
- Discipline Priest (pushback resistance) -- At first I thought this was a direct response to my remarks about having to cast to survive in PvP, but holy shares an almost identical mastery bonus. Great for PvP, but how much utility and advantage will this give us in PvE?
- Meditation -- Mana regeneration, as boring as it ever was.
- Soul Warding -- Previously, I complained about the possibility of Soul Warding no longer providing a full removal to the current 4-second cooldown of Power Word: Shield. After I made those complaints, my ninja spies infiltrated alpha and alerted me that Power Word: Shield had its cooldown reduced to 3-seconds, thus making Soul Warding cooperate perfectly again. Now I'm finally making a note about that to you, my fine readers (you look good today, by the way.) Soul Warding being pushed down deep into the tree is ideal since the impact it has on low level priests is microscopic.
- Archangel -- This Cataclysm talent, which once promised us Penance while running, has changed. No longer can we run along side our shaman allies and heal. Sigh.
- The Greater Heal Dismay -- Both Grace and Renewed Hope do not buff Heal, the supposed "new" addition to priest healing. With the loss of discipline's Flash Heal bonuses, and no buffs to Heal, I suspect Blizzard wants to have discipline priests cast Greater Heal quite a lot more. They have said this, of course, but now I am seeing exactly how and why. Even with careful application of Borrowed Time, I think this will slow down the existing fast paced feel of discipline and instead create an even "burstier" style to discipline's single-target healing since Penance's cooldown will probably remain intact. I'm interested to see how healadins and disc priests will compare to each other now. This could prove interesting, though it will be very different from what we are currently used to.
- Upper tier accessibility -- When I look at the top of the tree from the perspective of a holy or shadow priest I don't see a lot of going on. There are some buffs, but no utility. Talents like Focused Power are gone, which in the last preview, reduced the cast time on Mind Control and Mass Dispel. I guess those spells will be receiving baseline reductions. Inner Focus, even though it is in the third tier, now seems like it may be too deep for holy and shadow to access, which makes me wonder how willing shadow and holy priests will be to use Divine Hymn in the future.
- Power Word: Barrier -- I actually have little to say about this as our 31-point ability. It does seems quite appropriate but I think it's funny that the whole tree is so focused on single target healing and defense and then this talent is group oriented. Right now I want to know how it will interact with glyphs (I assume it must, since Guardian Spirit and Dispersion both have decent glyphs attached to them.)
You remember how holy was always considered the tree for healing, and then in Wrath it became slightly hazy as discipline jumped on stage? Well, I think that feeling has returned. Just the fact that Desperate Prayer, a pure healing ability, is the mastery bonus. The fact that shadow priests still have no reason to look here is further indication.
All those clear PvP talents we'd seen coming out of the alpha previews? They've completely vanished, unless you see the new Surge of Light (which no longer seems to grant instant Flash Heals) is what you'd call a PvP talent. In that sense (the offensive sense) holy certainly still has solo fire power, but without self-defense talents this tree now seems completely oriented around PvE. But with PvP changing so much, maybe we won't need those defensive talents anymore?
We still have a lot going for us as healers. Strong HoT healing early on, Deliverance (or Serendipity, as I like to think of it still) is ideal for early 5-man healing. There is a lot of focus on mana return and mana cost reduction, making me think that holy priests will continue to be good at restoring the mana they burn through.
Now, let's talk Spiritual Guidance. As you know, Spiritual Guidance currently buffs holy priests' spellpower by 25% of their spirit. In the talent preview, this talent was appropriated by Chakra (I am aware of the absurdity of that statement) and I made a remark about how this made Chakra unquestionably mandatory. Now that is no longer the case, but the 25% buff is completely absent. This means holy priests will not longer tower over this discipline counterparts in raw power, and I'm honestly curious if holy will get hurt in the process. Not hurt when compared to disc, but other healers. I have theorized that disc's shortcomings are from poor scaling, and to see holy lose a major scaling talent concerns me. I hope that Blizzard will pay careful attention to the growth of healers, and balance between them, not just at the start of Cataclysm, but throughout it. Something can be balanced at the beginning and not be at the end, something us priests (particularly shadow priests) know a lot about.
Odds and ends
- Lightwell -- You may all recall that I was pleased with Lightwell being made into a prerequisite for Chakra. While nothing really appears to have changed about this fact in the talent preview, I wanted you guys to read this quote, which addresses the complaint of clicking Lightwell dropping target:
How's about them apples? (Obligatory Goodwill Hunting link. NSFW, sort of.)
- Inspiration -- I was concerned after the last preview that disc priests were losing ways to proc Inspiration, since the tooltip did not list Prayer of Mending or Penance. That has been corrected in the latest tooltip, so no concerns for disc priests anymore.
- Spirit of Redemption -- On a similar note, I don't think disc priests will be seeing this talent anymore. It's too far deep. Farewell, my dreams. No pew pew Penance lasers.
- Divine Accuracy -- No really, where is it? That was one of the coolest things about the preview Blizzard. I was excited that healing priests would no longer need to gem for hit in PvP. Maybe that is dead.
- Desperate Prayer -- Blizzard has already responded to the outcry that this spell in it's current form is rather lackluster to be a mastery bonus. They state that Desperate Prayer will be entirely different in Cataclysm. See if for yourself:
- Holy Priest (pushback reduction on disc/holy spells) -- As I said before, I was a bit disappointed when I saw that both discipline and holy share this as a mastery talent. I know mastery is supposed to suck up all the boring talents and grant them to us automatically, but pushback reduction as healers was previously a talent we could take at level 10. It's not like it was something we had to put much time or thought into.
- Meditation -- Again, I yawn, even if I fully understand the necessity of this talent. Can you really blame me? (I'm sure you could, so don't answer.)
I am most surprised about Blizzard no longer allowing players to freely cross talent. I foresee this impacting the ability for priests to easily build a Smite spec, but at the same time I think leveling will still be effective in different ways for both holy and discipline. There are a lot of losses I think healing priests have to be sad about, but the game is changing, and we'll have to accept that. We do have a ton of great new changes too. This new talent preview didn't change a lot of things for holy compared to our last two or three previews, which I think is probably a good thing. I think Blizzard has a very strong vision for where they want holy to go, at least in PvE, and that's far better than the alternative. It's too early to know if they're going to come up short on their promises for holy PvP, by the way, but let's cross our fingers. As for disc, the future seems very different, and that can lead to uncertainty, but it also seems the development team has a good idea where they're taking it.
Just remember: don't panic.
World of Warcraft: Cataclysm will destroy Azeroth as we know it. Nothing will be the same. In WoW.com's Guide to Cataclysm you can find out everything you need to know about WoW's third expansion. From Goblins and Worgens to Mastery and Guild changes, it's all there for your cataclysmic enjoyment.