One of the nicest things about 2011 for enhancement was that it wasn't 2010 any more. If you've been an avid reader of my column, you probably know by now that I think that 2010 will most likely (and hopefully) go down in history as the year in which Blizzard tried and was often successful at driving droves of enhancement shaman away from the class in masse. An overcomplicated rotation that still gave us the worst single-target DPS of any spec in the game, terrible mobility, lack of scaling from armor penetration (worst. stat. ever.), absolutely zero competitive AoE DPS ... The list of the bad things about the Icecrown Citadel/Ruby Sanctum era is worth an article in and of itself. In fact, I think we've done a number of those in the past.
So one of the best things about 2011 was the changes made to address a lot of those issues. Ancestral Swiftness gave us the normal bonus run speed that classes like ret paladins received, and since Ghost Wolf was changed to be usable indoors, we're much better at maximizing time on target. Armor penetration was thankfully removed from the game (coincidentally, I'm fairly certain that 4.0 saw a significant drop in headache medicines to WoW players), and the awesomely cool mastery stat was added in its place.
AoE was reworked multiple times, and 4.3's final iteration is actually very potent, particularly on longer-lasting packs of mobs such as heroic Madness of Deathwing or Yor'sajh the Unsleeping. Our priority system was also reworked to be less strenuous on your fingers, but that's mostly just led to our filling in gaps with Lightning Bolts at three or four stacks of Maelstrom Weapon.
All in all, 2011 was actually not that bad of a year for enhancement, but that's partly because anything would have been better than Wrath of the Lich King enhancement.
Where we are now
This isn't to say enhancement didn't have its downsides this year. After all, we sort of hijacked the DPS-focused Ask the Devs thread back in June, and we did organize the People for the Ethical Treatment of Shaman movement. We had a lot of grievances to air in those days! Our AoE was still in a miserable place and would stay that way until nearly the end of the year. Spellpower weapons also dominated this year. With their being the weapon of choice during early tier 11 and the Eye of Purification being BiS throughout Firelands, between a third to a half of this year was spent with spellpower weapons being our best main-hand choice.
What does the future need to hold for enhancement?
Enhancement still has some very glaring issues that we're hoping to see addressed in the future. Overall, the spec is in a fine place right now, offering competitive single-target damage, solid long-term AoE damage, and powerful group utility, be it in personal damage reduction, buffs, or heals. However, due to the nasty beast known as stat scaling, it's impossible to predict whether single-target DPS that's competitive one patch will be as competitive the next.
Quite simply, there needs to be a change made that allows us to benefit from crit or haste. Currently, we hit cap at 1,742 hit rating, expertise cap at 540, and then stack mastery to infinity and beyond. Unfortunately, due to our sharing gear with hunters, mastery doesn't always show up on our off-set pieces, but the leftover crit/haste pieces that do show up are incredibly bad for us. Even for pieces that do have mastery on them, if the other stat isn't hit or expertise we get slightly annoyed.
But that's not all enhancement would like to see addressed. There's also our DPS cooldown ... or rather, our lack of a DPS cooldown. When Feral Spirit was first introduced at the end of The Burning Crusade, it was both a potent cooldown and a powerful, 45-second-long heal. Unfortunately, their damage was severely neutered in Cataclysm. Compared to the powerful cooldowns of other specs like Combustion, Avenging Wrath, or Pillar of Frost, and our burst DPS for fights like Spine of Deathwing is just not as competitive as it could be. Thankfully, currently our sustained single-target damage is enough to keep us viable, even without a strong cooldown. Looking forward, though, it'd be really excellent to see Feral Spirit either redesigned or replaced with something that actually makes us feel like we're contributing in a burst DPS phase.
Show your totemic mastery by reading Totem Talk: Enhancement every week. We've got enhancement-specific advice on the latest gear and tier gear set bonuses, and we'll help you dig in and learn to level the enhancement way.