So, I've been down for a few weeks (pro tip: try not to have an allergy attack and a scratched cornea in the same week; they do not mix well), but I finally got into the beta with last week's big push of Annual Pass members. Unfortunately, now that I've had the chance to give the initial feral changes a spin, I'm a bit concerned with the current design direction for the class. Let me start out on a positive note, though, and talk about the good things that Mists is bringing us.
What I like
What I like
The new talents Some of the new talents are great and force tough decisions. The talent design is clearly trying to make you choose between always-on but weak passive abilities, a short-cooldown ability of moderate strength, and a long-cooldown ability of high strength. While some of the talents and tiers need some adjustment, they generally work on a design level.
Wild Charge opens up many new possibilities for movement and/or giving your raid leader heart attacks. I can already see a /cancelform macro for, essentially, one-button Intervenes. This will let you stay on the boss just a bit longer or quickly bail your healer out of a jam in PvP. I don't see the cooldown staying at 15 seconds, though. Having to pick between Feline Swiftness and Wild Charge will be difficult, which is good design. Unfortunately, Displacer Beast isn't much use to anyone at this point, so hopefully that gets redesigned.
The healing and DPS tiers (2 and 4) are also well done. Nature's Swiftness is a bit too powerful in comparison to Renewal, since you can just NS+Healing Touch to get the same effect, but the tier works overall. Likewise, Incarnation is a bit weak as a DPS cooldown compared to Force of Nature, but you still have a solid choice between a passive effect via Soul of the Forest or active effects.
The new AoE CCs are also nifty (Ursol's Vortex is awesome, even if the graphic is boring) but need some adjustments. Specifically, I'd like a decreased CD on Mass Entanglement and to see it exchange places with Mighty Bash to create an AoE CC tier.
Effective hybrid abilities In my Dragon Soul gear, Healing Touch was hitting for 30k (45k with NS), and Wrath was hitting for over 10k. This gives us a bit of a ranged option and/or a healing option, if an encounter forces all players into range. We won't have the mana for sustained output, obviously, but for 15 to 20 seconds, we can contribute in a much more meaningful way than before. Tanking is straight out, though.
Fun glyphs The glyph redesign is achieving its goals. The major glyphs provide buffs that are helpful but not mandatory or boring; the minor glyphs offer some cool customization options (though I'm already jealous of the rogue's Glyph of Disguise). I'd like to see a few more, and the Glyph of Cat Form is too strong as is, but these glyphs are definitely moving in the right direction.
What I don't like
Removal of Stampede As a class that revolves heavily around DoTs, our burst DPS and ramp-up times tend to be poor. Stampede was the answer to that problem, and it worked well. When leveling, it gives you a burst of damage and CPs to allow you to kill an enemy mob quickly, without having to wait for energy regen if Tiger's Fury is on cooldown. For raiding and PvP, it was our way to switch DPS targets quickly. Sadly, it's gone for now; here's hoping it comes back, somehow (probably renamed; the hunters stole it just like they steal our weapons. Psh.)
Savage Roar change Savage Roar was reverted from a 80% buff to white damage to a 30% overall damage buff, which is what is was in Wrath. Right now, I don't get the rationale for this change at all. In the druid class preview for Cataclysm, one of the points made was that the feral rotation was too challenging, and Blizzard wanted to make it less so. The Cataclysm change accomplished that by making the maintenance of Savage Roar much less important. Sure, you needed to keep it up for the best DPS possible, but you could ignore it entirely and still only lose about 10%. Now, having Savage Roar drop off is a huge DPS penalty, which means it'll go back to being our highest-priority ability again. Not a fan.
Increased white damage Our basic melee attacks are hitting about twice as hard as they do on live realms. Of all the changes, this one makes the least sense to me. I know, I know, why am I complaining about something hitting harder? Well, if it stays this way, melee damage will go from being 20% of our damage to 35% to 40%, which means we lose a lot more if we have to shift out. That means all of those fun hybrid abilities and talents will end up never being used.
Reduced baseline crit All of the passive crit that you used to have? Gone. My cat on beta lost about 15% crit from live. By itself, I'm not terribly concerned about this, but it feeds into the larger problems.
Increased rotational difficulty Take the things I already mentioned, put them together, and you have a rotation that looks a lot like it did a few years ago. Right now, combo points are so easy to come by that well-geared ferals are generating 45 to 50 CPs a minute, which means that we can use a lot of Ferocious Bites. With less crit to generate CPs via Primal Fury, no free Ravage, and Savage Roar being much more important to keep up full time, it won't surprise me to see Ferocious Bite going back to being a spell we use only during Berserk.
PvP issues All the CP issues I noted above? Now imagine them twice as bad, because guess what? Your bleeds are now dispellable (via the monk's new ability, Detox), and Savage Roar has gone back to being a removable enrage effect.
Now, don't get me wrong. I like abilities having counters. What I do dislike, however, is effects with large costs that are removable by effects with small costs. There's a reason that Fury, Fire, and Ret are fairly rare in high-level PvP play; too much of their offensive toolbox can be removed trivially.
Overall? It feels like the developers are abandoning most of the changes that they made in Cataclysm to go in a different direction -- but I'm not sure what that direction is, as I haven't seen much in the way of feral feedback. Still, there's a good bit of time left, so I'm hopeful that we'll see some proposed fixes soon. I've also posted a revised version of this post to the beta forums, so feel free to discuss here or there.
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.