A couple of months back, I had intended to start a series reviewing each of the warrior specs as they are in current endgame. While I freely admit I got distracted by all the shiny bells and whistles of the beta, the time has come to step away from the looming apocalypse and instead look again at the class as it is right now when you log on.
As we established last time, there are no major changes incoming for any of the classes until Cataclysm ships. The way your class plays right now is the way it will play until the pre-expansion patch drops and changes everything.
So how does fury rate overall? It's had its ups and downs ... from top of the DPS in Naxxramas to middling in Ulduar and Trial to (finally) near the top again in ICC (at least if you're in the best possible gear, much of which is still leather). Even if you're in merely solid gear, however, fury can put out a serious hurting. I have yet to be less than No. 1 on the DPS charts on any 5-man I've run since I started collecting my 264/277 DPS set. I'm hardly any great shakes as DPS; it's the nature of the spec and how rage, talents and gear all intersect for the fury warrior. A talented fury warrior (again, I make no claims to be particularly talented) can lead the DPS on any fight halfway friendly to him in ICC.
Wrath saw fury gain and lose on talents -- for example, the change to Rampage (although a late one) that made it a passive crit aura was a very positive talent change -- and ebb and flow with new gear as each raid dropped.
Fury has had such a rollercoaster ride in Wrath partially due to the introduction of the astonishingly difficult-to-balance Titan's Grip talent. While in and of itself, fury didn't see the top-to-bottom redesign that protection did, Titan's Grip leveled the old style of fury (two one-handed weapons or a two-handed weapon slam build) in favor of a paradigm that changed focus. White attacks increased in importance for fury, both because of their ability to generate rage and due to the higher damage of a 2H weapon. Various kinds of penalties were introduced to the talent until the current flat 10 percent damage penalty was settled upon. Even with that penalty, the raw statistics provided by both two-handers, their high top-end damage (especially with attacks like Whirlwind, which hit with both weapons) and the essential nature of modern rage generation means that a TG warrior eventually gains a near exponential return once rage becomes nearly infinite.
Frankly, I love Titan's Grip. I always have. Stylistically, it is a talent that was tailor-made for me. If you sat down and said, "What talent will finally get Rossi to play fury over arms?" This would have been the talent. I'm not blinded by my hideous, demented love for the talent, though. It's a mother pusbucket to balance. And not all of that is the fault of the talent itself but is based on the old difficulty of balancing rage itself for any warrior, DPS or tank. A newly 80 fury warrior looks at his or her DPS and says, "Why am I doing so poorly?" The answer to that question is the same as the reason well geared warriors do so well, and it's rage.
Another difficulty in balancing fury warriors is Whirlwind. Back in The Burning Crusade, Whirlwind was changed so that it hit with both weapons. This turned it from a somewhat OK ability to the "big rage bomb" ability for fury, who started using it in their rotations. Then, when TG debuted, we realized it meant that Whirlwind would hit up to four targets with both weapons, and we squealed quietly to ourselves at the idea of two big axes, swords or maces hitting everything up to four targets in range with both weapons for full weapon damage. As a single-target attack (on bosses), WW isn't imbalanced. It's just a big hit, which is justified by its longer cooldown. But once you get some adds into range, WW goes from a solid DPS cooldown attack to mayhem incarnate. It's the reason a fury warrior can do less damage on every single boss in a heroic and still handily beat the other DPS in terms of overall damage, because it's not considered true AoE (yet) and therefore loses no damage when more mobs come into play (since it caps at up to four targets). It hits four targets like a truck, making it crazy-powerful for trash pulls of around three to five mobs.
All of this would be enough to make fury a rollercoaster of a talent spec in Wrath. In fact, by itself, rage generation accounts for a solid made up statistic of 80 percent of the issues with fury DPS' being too low for undergeared players and too high for overgeared players. But then we have armor penetration to think about.
Then Ulduar dropped. Patch 3.1 not only buffed ArP, it made it much more readily available. Warriors were introduced to a 10 percent flat penalty on Titan's Grip but also given the way out of that DPS hole by carefully considering when and how they could manage to get their ArP up. It was so potentially powerful that it had to be capped at 100 percent (meaning you couldn't create a negative armor condition on a target, which caused some wonky damage in sims), and then the ratings had to change to make it less easy to cap. The armor pen formulas soon became so complex that Blizzard actually explained them in detail to the player base (a very rare thing). One thing became clear.
Warriors do almost exclusively physical damage, especially fury warriors, who have to spec to get the only bleed effect they'll really use (not counting a Rend dance spec).
ArP benefits physical damage.
Warriors do almost exclusively the kind of damage ArP benefits.
You can see what happened next. Warriors, especially TG warriors who could use two big weapons, both with potentially high ArP values, started stacking the stat. First, they looked to hit about 50 percent passive ArP with a proc trinket that could add another 50 percent when it procced, giving them 100% active ArP. But as we progressed through Trial of the Crusader/Grand Crusader and into ICC, it became possible (especially with leather gear) to reach 100 percent passive ArP. And at that magic point, your other stats (hit, expertise, attack power) are high enough from the gear in TotGC/ICC that you have plenty of rage, and each armor penetrating hit just feeds the rage machine more. Rage management and rage starvation, already barely a concern, become even less so with all of the spiking raid-wide damage helping to also feed the rage machine.
This final piece of the puzzle is why fury today has such a schizoid report card. A leveling warrior in full heirlooms might find leveling as fury tolerable, but it's clearly the inferior of the three specs for leveling, and when you first step into heroics as a fresh 80, your DPS will be the bottom. As you gear up, you'll see it climb steadily until you're competitive, but you'll be no chart-topping monster, just decent.
Once you hit a certain gear threshold however, fury explodes. That tauren you saw in Dalaran in full 277 gear with a Shadowmourne and heroic Cryptmaker? He does monstrous amounts of damage. His leather belt, bracers and his attack power/ArP rings and necklace are rewarding him with near endless rage to pump out into attacks that ignore almost all the armor that's possible for him to ignore. He never runs out of rage, so he can constantly use special attacks, which means his hit rating doesn't have to be very high. (It's a bug with the current Heroic Strike that as long as it's queued up, the special attack miss chance is applied instead of the normal dual-wielding miss chance.) This means he can gear for ArP, strength and crit over hit. So fury gets a D, then a B- and finally a huge A+, depending on what gear you're wearing and how good you are at managing your attacks to keep that special attack hit rate and maximizing your rage.
Next week, we'll talk about Cataclysm, most likely. The arms report card will come after that.
Check out more strategies, tips and leveling guides for warriors in Matthew Rossi's weekly class column, The Care and Feeding of Warriors.