Good morning and welcome to this week's column, an overview of how the talent specialization changes affect leveling a warrior in the Cataclysm beta. Before I started this project, I made sure to keep to the following self-imposed rules.
- No heirlooms. This is 100 percent quest rewards and random drops. (Yes, the Wyrmslayer Spaulders dropped randomly for me while questing in Felwood.) I didn't run any instances because after level 30 or so it got really hard to find an instance group at the levels I was at, but that wasn't a hard-and-fast rule.
- Try and exhaust a zone before moving on. This means doing as many quests as I can, no skipping around, and experiencing as much of the new versions of old zones as possible. Turns out you can actually do fairly well that way. There are a lot of quests out there now.
- Switch talent specialization every four or five levels. There was no real rhyme or reason to this, I just wanted to see how talent specs felt at different levels. Blood Craze is very strong now. Combined with Bloodthirst and the heal from Victory Rush, a fury warrior can easily take on groups without falling over dead or running away. The old warrior strategy of "kill them before they kill you" is actually somewhat viable now.
The goal for giving warriors (indeed, all classes) a feel for their talent specialization as soon as they take it has succeeded for the most part, even in this early stage of the beta. Playing my warrior from 10 to 14 as arms felt like arms. You're using a big two-hander (as big as they get at those levels, anyway) and mortal striking, rending, the standard arms deal. Further levels add depth to the playstyle, but they don't reinvent it. By level 64 or so (the level my worgen is currently at), you're using Rend for the Blood Frenzy debuff and to get Overpower procs while still mortal striking to set up the Lambs to the Slaughter buff.
In general, arms has started to take on that "disciplined, soldiery" feel so long touted for the specialization. It's all about getting conditions to line up. You set up overpowering strikes via shallow, bloody wounds that distract your opponent, and then drive in crushing, horrific blows that tear through his defenses and leaves him vulnerable to follow-up attacks. Imagine the arms warrior as the guy thinking five steps ahead in every confrontation.
Meanwhile, fury has become a much stronger contender for a leveling spec, thanks to having Bloodthirst and the dual wielding talents to start, along with a much stronger Blood Craze. As of last night, my fury spec used this build, which I think combines reasonable offensive power with decent survivability at level 64.
Finally, I find protection still somewhat painful to level in at very low levels (although Shield Slam helps when you're sub-20). It picks up nicely once you're over the middle 20s and you have a decent assortment of talents. I was using this spec at 29, skipping Hold the Line (good as it is) to get down for more rage and to play with Blood and Thunder, which I do find useful for soloing as well as its obvious multi-mob tanking utility. Prot felt the most powerful as a leveling spec once you hit the 40-and-up range, with a decent assortment of learned abilities to supplement your talent choices.
The decision to radically retune talents by pruning them back in this way (so that you'll be level 69 before getting your 31-point talent and beginning to look outside of your talent tree of choice) makes those learned abilities more important than ever. While I'm not entirely pleased with all aspects of this, it does mean you really treasure those abilities as they come in.
Finally, itemization for quest rewards (especially for levels 20 to 40, although the Blasted Lands had some nice 50 to 60 rewards as well) is much, much improved. Not only does green gear look better and more unified now, it tends to have solid if unremarkable stats (under 40, mail is much better for warriors, as an example) and there are more competitive quest rewards that are solid blues nearly equivalent to what you could get running dungeons. It's obvious that a great deal of thought, time and polish has gone into the questing experience.
Obviously not everything is puppies and sunshine, even for our puppy above, seen in the sunshine.
First off, while having signature abilities available from level 10 on for each spec does give them a solid rooting in the feel of each talent spec, the delay 'til you reach the top of your tree (level 69, currently) does create some strange artifacts. For starters, every fury warrior spends 68 levels playing exactly like a Single-Minded Fury warrior. Then at level 69, you can either push a button that says, "Yeah, this is what I want to play like," or another button that says, "No thanks, I want two big weapons instead." It is a long time to wait to get that capstone ability. (Compare this to live, where one can get a 51-point talent by level 60 and stride forth into Outland using Shockwave, Bladestorm or Titan's Grip to one's heart's content.)
It felt very weird taking the one Hellfire 5-man I managed to get with three death knights and a ret paladin healer without that Shockwave. I'd seriously consider moving the 31-point talents down to 27- or even 25-pointers so that you could hope to get them around evel 60. Heck, a 27-point talent as capstone would mean getting said talent at level 61, pretty close to the 51-pointers in live.
Also, with abilities gained the way they are, some levels, you don't get anything: no talent point, no ability, nothing at all. You ding and go about your way. It's unsatisfying. I understand and even applaud the new system in which you just train an ability once and don't have to, say, go out to Fray Island to get the Berserker Stance quest (although I did miss it), but a level with no talent and no ability is just a sad level. If it means adding a few extraneous talent points and bumping the final tally of talent points we get at 85 a couple of points upward, I'd support that.
I could complain about damage output, but frankly, this is hardly a numbers pass at this point in time. Damage seems low, but we'll worry about that later. The abilities seem more or less functional, although rage generation is still a concern. In fact, for both my arms and fury specs, I'm finding Battle Shout and Bloodrage are never off of cooldown; I just need the rage far, far too much in any questing situation. I hope it will get another pass soon.
Next week, I'll have more detail on tanking the two new instances, as I've just gotten my draenei to the beta level cap and started running them.
Oh, and just because it fits the subheading theme:
Check out more strategies, tips and leveling guides for warriors in Matthew Rossi's weekly class column, The Care and Feeding of Warriors.