Shifting Perspectives: That special versatility

David Bowers
D. Bowers|10.30.07

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Shifting Perspectives: That special versatility
It's often been said that druids are the three-in-one class: we can mimic warriors, priests, rogues (and even mages), but can't fulfill their respective roles as well as they themselves can. While in recent times druids have been able to gear up and perform as well as their parent classes in many respects, we are far from "warriors with stealth" or "rogues that can heal" or "priests that can off-tank in a pinch."

Our problem as druids is that we cannot but neglect the full breadth of our abilities when we must specialize in only one aspect of our class. Of course, any class works best in situations where most or all their abilities might be needed to succeed, sometimes even in the course of a single fight -- it's just that for druids these abilities include tanking, damage, and healing all together.

If you're playing with an experienced group, each player is likely specialized to one of these three roles, and his or her whole purpose is to minimize the chance that backup tanks, healers, and damage-dealers will be needed. That leaves druids trying to compete with warriors, rogues and priests (and mages), trying to do just as well at the same task, but with fewer abilities to call upon in the fight. Locked into these smaller roles, we must gear up and spend our talents in such a way that even if we were to shift out of our main role into another when the need arose, we wouldn't be able to do very well at it at all.

This brings me to the adventure at hand: Today we will go on an journey of the imagination together, exploring the potential future of druids, considering how this problem of specialization versus versatility might be approached. Indeed, as I gaze into my crystal-ball-shaped paper-weight, I see two possible futures: one, called "The Path of the Pandering Pedant," seeks nit-picky perfection in a class designed for breadth and scope, while the other, "the Way of the Multitudinous Master" brings the full manifest of all our abilities into harmonious use with one another.

The Path of the Pandering Pedant would be for druids to essentially become miniwarriors, minirogues, minipriests and minimages who can still shift forms, but only by finding lots of new gear and spending 50 gold on a new talent spec if they want to do so with any effectiveness. They would gain more and more abilities that are particularly suited towards "contributing something to the raid" in that very narrow and specialized sense, and continue to only use one fourth of these abilities, depending on which form they are specced and geared for at the moment.

This path might end up adding another button or two to press now and then, but ultimately will just lead us further into stagnation. I don't see any versatility here at all, except that druids in this situation would be able to re-gear and respec to mix it up a bit now and then. Ultimately all these specialized roles are so narrow for druids, I fear that none of them could be fully realized on their own.

The Way of the Multitudinous Master, on the other hand, would remain much more true to the druid's overall theme. Here, the Druid class would take a shift in direction so as to gain maximum possible benefit from multitasking, where performance of multiple roles in the group actually makes us perform our one assigned role better than just staying in one form all the time would.

To illustrate what I mean by this, consider a talent which druids used to have a long long time ago: "Swiftshifting: After leaving a shapeshift form, reduces the casting cost of the next shapeshift by 60% if used within 6 sec." Druids who got this talent were excited to be able to pop out of any form, shoot off a heal, and then shift back into form with minimal mana cost. It made their job as spot-healer in tricky situations much more exciting -- testing their skills to shift out, heal a friend, and get back into form before the 6 seconds are up. In patch 1.8, however, the famous Druid talent review that actually helped us out in many ways, this talent was replaced with Natural Shapeshifter, which just gives a boring 30% reduction in shapeshifting mana costs overall.

I'm sad that Swiftshifting is no longer with us -- it promoted synergy, using all the abilities you had available, and yet still helping you to do well at your main task. Likewise there are a few current druid talents that promote a somewhat diluted sense of synergy, such as Nurturing Instinct, which increases your healing spells by up to 50% of your strength (it ends up being not all that much, but still better than nothing, certainly), as well as Naturalist and Intensity, which buff both feral and restoration abilities together.

This is the right direction, but it lacks dynamic synergy that Swiftshifting had. What if your healing spells could put a short but powerful buff on you that increased your physical attack power or hasted your Starfire casting speed? What if Omen of Clarity (or something like it) were somehow less random, so that your physical attacks in feral forms could help you save mana when you saw the need to heal someone? The possibilities for combinations are endless.

Obviously, I can't imagine there are any druids out there who prefer to just be mini versions of an existing class, without using the full breadth of druid abilities. Back around the time just after patch 1.8, there were a lot of "I don't heal" cat druids, but eventually I think those players figured out they were really better off sticking with their rogues. The whole point of a druid is that we are able to do many things -- therefore I hope the future will give us more and more ways to maximize the effectiveness of our multitasking, letting druid talents and abilities specialize in different ways to use all our spells, and play all three roles together, rather than just pigeonholing us into using just a few abilities at the expense of all others.
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