Our adventures in beta continue, as promised, with a new zone and a new spec. With Hyjal behind us, the next logical zone to head to is Deepholm, and such is where I headed, after a suitably epic breadcrumb quest sequence. My spec was dual wield frost.
Just to give you an idea of where I'm coming from with this testing, I should note that I have been equipping quest rewards if they're itemized for death knight usage, even if they're downgrades, in order to get an idea of how much survivability and damage potential your average casual death knight will have.
Frost Striking for fun and profit
Dual wield frost has long been a vaunted spec. "Death knights use two-handers and that's it" has been the philosophy of many. The whole issue was compounded by the fact that, especially in earlier patches, it often required a minimum gear level or a very weird counterintuitive spec before dual wielding could be expected to churn out anything near the DPS of a death knight wielding two-handed weapons. Lately, though, Blizzard's done a pretty decent job of balancing the style, and I can report that it seems so far that dual wielding will be a perfectly viable leveling spec come Cataclysm. I found, overall, that I didn't seem to go too much slower on killing single or multiple enemies than unholy, and maybe even faster sometimes.
One advantage in the frost tree is that so far, the basic rotation (or at least the basic philosophy of the frost rotation) has changed very little in Cataclysm. All the important talents that make it work, such as Killing Machine and Rime, are still there. There are some slight timing differences due to the new rune system, of course, but nothing major, and with the runic power generation ability of Frost Presence, I generally had enough runic power to squeeze off Frost Strikes in the downtimes anyway.
The one major change is the fact that Howling Blast now only requires 1 frost rune. Luckily, this just means it pairs up quite handily with Death and Decay on AoE rotations, leaving behind enough runes for diseases, a Pestilence and a Blood Boil. For single-target fights, I was still using Howling Blast only when Rime procced, so that was hardly a consideration.
Survivability between dual wield frost and unholy DPS seems similar: You'll definitely want to make sure you have plenty of food and bandages, which unfortunately is easier said than done at the moment. Cataclysm cloth and bandages aren't implemented yet, and Deepholm vendors don't sell level 80 food for some reason. Of course, the other nice thing about frost is that you can easily swap Death Strike in place of Obliterate in your rotation.
Doing mostly single-target fights, I found survivability was pretty easy. Just don't get too cocky and be sure to check your health bar and take a bite to eat when you can. Unfortunately, things got a bit hairier in group fights, and with areas where group fights were unavoidable (including one quest where you had to fight four shadow priests at once to grab quest objectives), things got pretty tough to manage. Luckily, Pillar of Frost's 1-minute cooldown isn't that long for bursting purposes, and I found myself using Hungering Cold as quick respite for bandaging purposes at times. The bottom line is that you may not be as powerful as you think you are anymore. Be cautious, and use your cooldowns.
Deepholm: Where Wrath gear dies
While Hyjal gear was slightly worse than most Icecrown stuff, Deepholm, the next step, has no such issues. If you're in tier 10 stuff, you're probably going to start replacing it here. For example, see the Catapult Loader's Gloves. These things are demonstrably better than even the base tier 10, 10-man Scourgelord Gauntlets, even if gemmed with a Bold Dragon's Eye. Likewise, the Geodecrack Shoulderguards edge out a properly gemmed and enchanted pair of Scourgelord Shoulderplates, though you may find you'd rather keep the critical strike on the shoulderplates over the hit rating on the Shoulderguards.
Of course, that's just for 10-man gear, but even 25-man gear gets a run for its money. The Petrified Stone Bracers will give normal Polar Bear Claw Bracers a pretty huge fight, and the Cloak of Fungal Growth outstrips the Might of the Ocean Serpent in strength. Therazane's Seal might not replace a properly gemmed Ashen Ring of Endless Might, but it will give it a run for its money, and it will upgrade most other non-heroic rings. The blue quest rewards are where it gets really crazy, though. Take for example the Fungus-Stained Legplates, a blue reward with 233 strength. Even heroic tier 10 25-man can't claim that.
Weaponry also gets crazy in this zone: The Axe of Earthly Sundering is a blue axe with more DPS than Shadowmourne. Of course, Shadowmourne has slightly higher high-end damage, a sweet proc and gem slots, so you may end up keeping it a while longer if you have it. Anything else in the two-handed arena is probably getting replaced, though.
For the final big battle of the zone, though, you'll pick up even greater stuff. The final battle of the zone gives you a choice of the one-handed Riftrent Waraxe or the Blacksoul Polearm, both of which pretty much blow alway all pre-Cataclysm comers as far as DPS goes. The Blacksoul Polearm is technically a hunter/druid weapon, but with that damage and DPS, it may just be worth taking for a DK using two-handed weapons, anyway.
There is one other somewhat weird quest reward that's worth mentioning. The Questioning Axe is a strange thing indeed. The slow speed suggests a DPS weapon, but the dodge suggests a tank weapon. If we're going to see more slow tank weapons like this, it should at least be a godsend for those stubborn enough to try to stick to dual wield tanking, since there's no way they'll be able to get Threat of Thassarian. The question remains: Is this a sign of a shift to slow-speed tanking weapons, or is this just one of those weirdly itemized quest rewards that's never really duplicated in endgame content?
As far Deepholm's report card itself, I'd have to say I like it even more epic than Hyjal. Despite some annoying issues with graphics glitches and being stuck in combat due to "battlefield" areas full of endless streams of mobs fighting with friendly NPCs, it's an incredibly well-put-together zone with a very epic feel. I don't want to spoil anything too badly, but a couple of the battles near the end are about the most epic I've ever felt playing solo and are even more epic than some raids I've experienced. This zone has a lot of creative ways to take down a dragon, and most of them are well worth the price of admission. There's also at least one very shocking revelation that shook me to the core regarding an old, beloved NPC, but I'll let you discover the specifics for yourself. Suffice it to say, it may be that the reason you'll quest instead of just joining the dungeon queue is because questing's going to be genuinely fun and compelling.
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