This week, we look at the Cataclysm beta from the inside. If that's not something that interests you or you're looking to avoid spoilers, boy howdy, is this not the column for you. Seriously, you probably shouldn't even look at that screenshot, really.
The first thing to report is, leveling a warrior from scratch in Cataclysm is probably the easiest it has ever been. Part of that is of course the new leveling experiences for the worgen and goblins, but I also started a blood elf warrior to see what that is like, and the streamlining inherent in the new talent and ability system made itself felt there as well. As of the most recent build, warriors start with Heroic Strike instead of Slam. It functions more or less exactly as you'd expect, and it basically serves the same role when leveling that it always did until you get Mortal Strike, Shield Slam or Bloodthirst.
Generally speaking, the arms rotation (at 80) feels much the same as it does now. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing is up to you. I personally found the attack speed boost from Lambs to the Slaughter a lot of fun but felt it could be tweaked for more real viability. (Basically, while Flurry lasts long enough to do real damage with it, Lambs only lasts until your next hit. With MS on a 5-second cooldown, that means LttS doesn't feel like it's up long enough.) The reason I opened this article with a screenshot made directly after a LttS proc was because it's just so much fun to see your DPS double on the pane between a Wrecking Crew and LttS proc. The new Heroic Strike is actually more useful to arms than it was, as it fills the role of "nothing else is ready to go" if you find yourself having used Overpower and Execute on proc, Mortal Strike is still cooling down, and you don't want to wait for an Improved Slam short cast time for one reason or another. (I expect you'll be using it on high-movement fights.)
Fury warriors at 80 will need to unlearn a few habits, but the new HS is actually pretty useful there as well. What's really hard to do at present (with Impending Victory still in the talent tree, which we know isn't the plan moving forward) is to unlearn using Whirlwind on single target. Contrary to my own musings, it's an absolute DPS loss now; don't do it. I've found the best results using Bloodthirst on cooldown, with Bloodsurge Slam and Impending Victory as they proc (whatever new attack comes in will be in IV's place) and Heroic Strike if you see your rage creeping over the middle point or if there's no other button to press. On trash waves (there's a fight in the Kelp Forest of Vashj'ir that is nothing but trash waves), Cleave replaces HS and Whirlwind becomes your new best friend, since it hits everything in 8 yards with both weapons for 50% normal damage. You can WW down a lot of naga this way, especially with the Even the Odds talent. You'll compulsively use the new Battle Shout as soon as it is up for the rage, and Fury in the Blood tempted me to try and keep either Bloodrage or Berserker Rage on cooldown. In the end, once we have the issue of "What's our other melee attack?" straightened out for single-target rotations, fury might well end up a very engaging high-DPS spec again. I didn't really feel my rage generation was low in either arms or fury. I missed certain talent synergies, but not terribly so.
It's very strange to effectively only use HS as a prot warrior when there's absolutely nothing else or you are just swimming in rage; it takes some time to unlearn the muscle memory demanding that you spam the ability. In my limited experience (running exactly half of one dungeon before chain-disconnecting), I found HS useful when I was simply loaded to the gills with rage I wanted to get rid of. Tanking on the warrior didn't feel massively different. It was nice putting Rend on every bear in a 40-yard radius with Blood and Thunder; don't get me wrong, I know I was rending their best friend, but it's still a weird thing to be doing. With mastery bonuses not fully implemented yet, it's hard to know what stuff like Vengeance will end up doing in the finished product. Losing defense was less painful than I'd imagined, but I do find it a bit jarring to have to tell people when to CC mobs. (To be fair, in Blackrock Descent I didn't really even get around to it all that much, since we barely got to the first boss before chain-disconnecting.)
As one example, we'll look at Neverending Winter on live and on beta. Things you'll notice immediately is that armor on shields has dropped. It's not just shields, either. Armor across the board seems to have less armor in Cataclysm, at least on pieces that had bonus armor on them. If you're stacking armor above all else, expect to take a hit. (You'll also notice there's still defense rating on the legs of the 277 set, which I assume is simply an oversight. It's not there on the 251 set.)
A quick comparison between the 251 tanking set on the beta and live reveals that while most stats stay the same, armor drops by 1,357, dodge nearly doubles, parry remains the same. Strength, stamina, hit, expertise and sockets are unchanged. So there are clearly no "catching-up" changes; if anything, ICC gear becomes slightly less desirable at present. (Again, let us repeat the mantra: This is beta, and all things are subject to change. Right now, for instance, we know that block is way too low on the beta.)
For DPS gear, armor penetration is gone, baby. It seems to change into either haste or crit rating, depending on the original piece of gear. Ramaladni's Blade of Culling on test has critical strike and expertise instead of armor penetration and expertise. But on pieces with crit and ArP (like most of the Ymirjar Lord's Battleplate), the ArP turns into haste. As you can see in the above screenshot, that's enough haste rating to give you almost 15% haste, which reduces the swing speed of a 3.4 weapon down to 2.96 seconds. With increased swing speed and the new rage normalization, rage generation does indeed seem to be positively affected by haste, although I haven't done enough testing to determine if we're actually also just plain getting more rage with more haste in any sort of linear fashion. I've stacked str instead of crit or haste so far on both my arms and fury warriors and seem to be getting solid results for it.
And yes, my XP is crazy, but with leveling I expect that to change. It's not like I actually had much choice in terms of what gear to wear, really.
In general, there's really a lot to take in, and I've barely had a chance to do more than scratch at the surface. With design elements still lacking or being changed, and gear being tweaked, we can say that all three specs are in transition (with fury feeling the most altered at the moment). It's definitely playable and won't really throw any experienced warriors off too badly. HS spam is finally, joyfully dead. Armor penetration is gone. There's haste on everything. Cue me yelling, "It's a madhouse, a madhouse!" over and over again.
However, despite all the changes, the new streamlined leveling and the talent tree revamp does make for some easy leveling. If you've always been curious about a warrior, Cataclysm is definitely a good time to jump on.
Check out more strategies, tips and leveling guides for warriors in Matthew Rossi's weekly class column, The Care and Feeding of Warriors.