Every week, WoW Insider brings you Shifting Perspectives for cat, bear, restoration and balance druids. Welcome to our feral cat edition, brought to you by Chase Hasbrouck, aka Alaron of The Fluid Druid blog. Let the face clawing begin!

This week, I want to take a closer look at the proposed Mists of Pandaria level 90 talents for feral druids. This tier of talents has received significant criticism on the WoW forums and other discussion boards, with the most common appellation being "useless." I couldn't disagree more. Given the constraints that Blizzard has to operate under, I think these talents offer up some interesting new game mechanics.

Heresy, yes, I know. Before you bring out the pitchforks, remember these key facts about how talents are supposed to work:
  • Talents are no longer the prime determinants of player power; they are now merely utility skills. You can fulfill your core DPS/healing/tanking role in a raid with no talents at all, you'll just be slightly less good at it. Rogues, as a comparison, only have one tier of talents that affect their DPS, just as we do; everything else is survivability, crowd control, or movement.
  • Talent choices must be reasonably balanced; otherwise, we're back to everybody picking the same thing, which leads to the developers balancing around everyone having that thing, which causes complaints about not having choices. This balance has to extend to both PvE and PvP.
  • The benefits granted by talents can't be so strong that they cause significant changes in class desirability, or we're back to the shaman stacking model again. Admittedly, any advantages are still going to be min-maxed by heroic raiding guilds, but the perception that it's required cannot be allowed to exist.
At least, that's the theory. The ideal is for all six talent choices to be equally valuable for each PvE role and PvP (cynics are free to substitute "equally useless"). Unfortunately, having four specs makes this exceptionally difficult, so I expect we'll likely end up with two to three no-brainer choices and two to three actual decisions after the balancing and theorycrafting is done. That ends up being pretty similar to the Cataclysm model but with much less added cruft -- perfectly fine with me.

Talent analysis

Heart of the Wild This talent is, to put it mildly, controversial, though the controversy itself is quite old. The irresistible force of "I rolled a cat/moonkin/X to do just that; I want to min-max that and don't want to do other stuff" slams right into the immovable object called "developers want to encourage being a hybrid." Any class that has had the option to use procs for healing or DPS (shaman, paladins) has seen this before. While I generally come down on the Whatever Best Helps Your Raid side of this argument, I can understand how it pushes people out of their personal comfort zones if they're expected to help fulfill the responsibilities of a role they didn't sign up for.

Looking at the talent itself, though, it's far too broad. I think a big part of the initial negative reception to this talent was the idea that this will let druids of all roles do all things. This is a bridge too far; the mechanics changes needed in order to have all four specs be able to fill any of the other three roles in a useful yet balanced manner would be overwhelming.

Instead, I think a much more likely role for this talent is to let you fill a single different PvE role effectively. Feral and guardian druids will be able to do each other's jobs, as will restoration and balance druids, but that's it. Don't get too wrapped around the numbers/text yet; I'm confident that Blizzard will add the necessary changes to make the off role performance effective, such as crit immunity for ferals. Certain bits will definitely disappear as well, such as the hit rating increase by 100%; if that stays, that incentivizes the purposeful reforging away of hit to make HotW a DPS cooldown, which it is not intended to be.

Actually, a better question for discussion is how effective the off role capabilities should be. You obviously don't want ferals/balance with HotW to be more effective than standard tanks/healers, but if it's too underpowered, then nobody will bother to talent or use it. Some 80% to 90% capability is probably a good target. It wouldn't be something you use all the time, obviously (see key fact #1), but for those occasional encounters where the raid leader really needs 2.5 healers or 1.5 tanks, it could definitely work well.

Dream of Cenarius Let's break out the old SAT analogies. In my view, Dream of Cenarius is to Heart of the Wild as Soul of the Forest is to Incarnation -- a choice between a short cooldown/passive ability that's less effective, or a bigger cooldown that's more effective. That's a good choice to be forced to make.

Blizzard has to be very careful how it plays this one, however, as the possibility to incentivize unwanted behavior is definitely there. Damage spells increasing healing done by 30%? Heals increasing next ability's damage by 30%? Hey, this talent is now mandatory, as your resto druids all now have to hardcast a Wrath before they pop a preplanned Tranquility, and your ferals/moonkin end up having to toss out a random Regrowth on anybody before they Rip/Starfall to max their DPS. Is this good design? I don't think so. It wouldn't surprise me, if this talent stays as is, to see DoT and HoT effects excluded from the buff.

Disentanglement This isn't a bad talent (though obviously much more PvP-focused than PvE-), but it's out of place in this tier as is. This is supposed to be a tier that gives druids reasons to deviate from their primary role, not the crowd control or healing tier, and this is elements of both. This isn't motivating people to use different roles; it's motivating people to use a shift for a buff, which means people will simply powershift every 30 seconds to proc the heal.

Talent design recommendations

Even though I think these talents are much better, there are still a few tweaks I'd like to see made. Any other changes you'd recommend? Let me know in the comments!
  • Give Displacer Beast its DoT removal back. It's useless otherwise.
  • Swap the level 90 and level 60 talents. When leveling/soloing, you have to be more hybrid than in a group. Why wait until 90 for the hybrid-encouraging talents? Make Force of Nature and Incarnation appropriately awesome, and it motivates people to get to max level and pick them up.
  • Drop the heal from Disentanglement and make it baseline. As it stands now, Disentanglement is effectively baseline, since the other two abilities are not appealing for PvP. The heal portion is too similar to Renewal, also, and would simply lead to its being spammed on CD in PvE. Make it a proper utility ability.
  • In exchange, add a better hybrid talent to that tier. I'd like to see something that lets a druid trade a resource for a heal, such as costing rage/energy/eclipse power for an instant heal on a CD. You could even call it something druid-flavored, like, I don't know, Gift of the Earthmother or something.

Looking for the latest and greatest in feral cat druid guides? Shifting Perspectives has the answers! Check out our guide to soloing instances and raids, as well as our top gear recommendations and feral guides to the Siege of Wyrmrest Temple and the Fall of Deathwing.

This article was originally published on WoW Insider.