Welcome, balance druids! It's the week before Cataclysm, and all of the WoW internet is abuzz with excitement. This is the week of leveling guides; what zones are the best to quest in, which quests to avoid, which are a must, what spec and glyphs you should use to maximize your damage and uptime -- all that good stuff. If you are looking for such information in this week's Shifting Perspectives, then I'm sadly going to disappoint you this time. Fortunately for me, I've grown a thick skin that can withstand anyone's stare of disapproval, and I've got the Rent soundtrack blaring, so everything is splenda.
Instead of focusing on the leveling experience that everyone will soon get to enjoy, I want to talk about those quirky little things about balance druids that have become a bit of a topic as of late. A few of these issues are things that were brought up during the beta process; some of them are issues that only developed on live servers. A lot of things have changed recently, and the new WoW forums are all a-twitter with concerns both from and about balance druids. Will we "suffer" -- though I doubt anyone who's been playing a balance druid since release would call Wrath "suffering" -- another expansion with faulty mechanics? Not likely at this point, but there are always things worth improving and looking into.
Starsurge, Starfire, Shooting Stars ... Sometimes I swear I never know if I'm playing WoW or getting an astronomy lesson. Or would that be astrology? I never can remember the difference between the two. This is where things start to get a little bit awkward. I was initially going to talk about how Shooting Stars procs being consumed without providing a benefit if you were already in the process of casting a Starsurge was likely working as intended due to Starsurge having a cooldown and how the proc resetting that likely worked, but it seems I was wrong. Just yesterday a minor patch was released which says to have fixed this issue. As of right now, the reports that I am seeing say that it actually hasn't been fixed, but I unfortunately haven't been able to get on-line to test it for myself as of yet. Even if Shooting Stars is still bugged, we at least finally have some confirmation as to how the talent should work; which is a lot more than we had a few days ago.
Having this fix is such a huge deal that I don't even know where to begin. If I'm allowed to have a geek attack for just a moment; this fix has a huge impact on modeling balance DPS for things like WrathCalcs and Simcraft. Previously, parsing out whether or not a Shooting Stars proc occurred during a cast and was thus wasted was more than a little bit of a pain in the butt, but now the whole thing is much simpler. I suppose it's nice that we get the additional burst too, but who cares about that where there are numbers involved. Right! Right?
Shooting Stars fix and PvP
I will say this about the change -- it is great for PvP; especially if it works out to where you can instantly Starsurge immediately following Starsurge. The burst capacity for double Starsurge is pretty much better than a double rainbow clear across the sky, so having this capacity is leaving me without words.
Not really, I'm never honestly without words; I mean, come on, it's me we're talking about here. So, just to stay true to my nature, here's my little however -- that never actually stays little. Having the burst potential that back to back Starsurges can provide is great; having it based upon RNG is not. Here is the thing, I may be crazy, but I've noticed that Blizzard has gone with a pretty set standard for caster DPS specs. A vast majority of them have some form of controlled, mild-ish burst and then they all have a RNG talent which can provide them with much higher burst on top of that.
Frost mages have controlled burst with Icy Veins and Deep Freeze -- as well as Shatter combos -- but they also get a bit of RNG burst from Fingers of Frost and Brain Freeze. Elemental shaman have Lava Burst and then they also have Elemental Overload and Lava Surge. Balance druids really only have Starsurge, and I suppose a Cyclone into Wild Mushroom combination with Shooting Stars being our RNG burst.
It's a little off topic, but here is the problem I have with that. Lava Burst and Starsurge have very similar damage, with Starsurge having a very slightly higher max damage potential. Lava Burst only has a 8 second cooldown, Starsurge has a 15 second cooldown. Lava Burst has a 100% critical strike chance if Flame Shock is on the target, Starsurge benefits from Eclipse. See where I'm going with this? Starsurge is fantastic amounts of damage, but it really just doesn't hold it's own against some of the other forms of burst damage out there.
To that end, Shooting Stars really isn't all that glamorous either. It's somewhat better than the elemental shaman counter-part Lava Surge since it makes Starsurge instant as well as resetting the cooldown, but, given the choice, I would still much rather have to face back to back Starsurges instead of back to back Lava Bursts. There's a lot of give and take with Shooting Stars. For example, it has a much lower proc rate than Lava Surge does, but it works off of two DoTs that don't have a cooldown where as Lava Surge only works off of one DoT that does have a cooldown. Shooting Stars really only shines when a balance druid is multi-DoTing several targets at once -- which really seems to be the playstyle that Blizzard is pushing us into for PvP, and I frankly don't like it all that much.
Oh Solar Beam, how many things are there to say on this spell? I don't think there has ever really be a more controversial ability in all of WoW to date. The number of people who claim Solar Beam is grossly overpowered is only comparable to the number of people who will swear to you that it's totally balanced, if not rather weak. I tend to think that Solar Beam is just going to be another Cloak of Shadows issue -- since it's new and highly useful, everyone who isn't a balance druid thinks it's totally overpowered, yet after it's been around for a while, people realize that it isn't nearly as bad as they initially thought.
One thing is rather undeniable, though, and that is that how Solar Beam functions is highly important in terms of whether the spell is balanced or not. Right now, I really don't think there is any agreement on that. Even I have to admit that I have no clue how Solar Beam actually ends up working out in the real world. Despite testing it over and over again, I have yet to see anything reliable from Solar Beam with and without the glyph. In some cases, the spell works exactly as it states; a player is silenced for as long as he is under the beam, and the silence ends once he moves out of the beam. Other times, I've noticed that the silence can linger even after leaving the beam -- sometimes for a second, sometimes for a bit longer. When using Solar Beam directly on someone casting, I've seen it lock the player out of his spell school for 5 seconds, and sometimes it locks out for 10 seconds -- and that's both with and without the glyph as well.
There are a lot of inconsistencies in how Solar Beam operates, both in the real world and in confined testing. Some of it is attributed to lag; at other times, I simply don't know what causes it. Solar Beam has changed a few times already in how it functions, and I swear that sometimes the game cannot make up its mind on what should happen. At this point, I am going to fall into the group of players that calls Solar Beam "bugged" simply because I haven't seen anything reliable out of it.