Currently, Druids, when specced fully into the Feral Talent tree, perform very well as a combination of melee DPS and tank.
But with great DPS potential, comes the inevitable trade-off.
While we can do pretty darn good against three mobs, we do not have the AOE multi-mob abilities of the Paladin. While we can soak up a ton of physical damage and laugh about it, we remain weak against spell damage. We have excellent mitigation and hit points, but we have limited means to endure massive spikes of damage or enraged bosses.
This is not going to be changing much in the expansion.
We will be getting new Talents that will help improve our current strengths, and they will also help fill in a few of the gaps in our key weaknesses. But we are not going to suddenly find our gameplay changing dramatically, as we did when Burning Crusade brought Patch 2.0.
In the following discussion, I'm going to talk in general terms about the changes in the Feral Talent tree. We are in the very earliest days of the WotLK Alpha, and everything is subject to change by Blizzard without notice. But I think it's still valuable to look at where things are now as a clue as to what we will see go live this winter.
The first thing worth mentioning is that, In the Druid Feral Talent tree currently active in the Wrath of the Lich King Alpha, some abilities have been moved to different tiers.
For example, Feral Charge has been moved much deeper into the Feral tree, requiring more of a commitment to Feral to obtain it's sudden charge and spell interrupt. That seems to me to be a change based on PvP considerations, but it's interesting to see that they have put that much thought into various possible PvP specs based on the new trees.
Other currently existing Talents are gaining 'Improved' versions, that simply make them more efficient or desirable. Again, these tend to require a deep investment into the Feral tree.
As an example of this kind of change, Mangle is getting an Improved version that requires more points be spent into it, but that will serve a dual purpose of reducing the Mangle cooldown when in bear form, or reducing Mangle's Energy cost when in cat.
That may not seem like a drastic change, but as the current core Feral combat ability, it will certainly serve to have a big impact on our Threat or DPS output.
With the brand new Talents that are active in the Alpha, we see that Blizzard is aware of some of our current issues, and has placed Talents deep in the tree that we can choose to take to optimize our damage output or survivability.
For example, there is a new Talent currently in the fourth Tier of the Feral Tree that directly adds Expertise, and also refunds a percentage of Energy lost from missed attacks. This will be a very nice Talent to have early in the Feral Tree, since so much early leveling in Feral is done in cat form, but at the same time, tanking in later levels requires successful hits to establish threat, and having Expertise will dramatically help those attacks strike home. With the current lack of gear with Expertise on it for bear tanking, it's nice to see this going in.
Another new Talent that shores up a weak area is very, very deep in the Feral Talent tree. Currently, Thick Hide comes very early in the tree, and increases armor contribution from items by 10% when fully specced 3/3. Well, the new Talent deep in the tree builds on this further by adding another +10% armor contribution from items, which is nice enough, but it also serves to reduce all spell damage by 10% as well.
What was it we are notoriously weak to? Spell damage? Oh yeah, right.
There are a few other new Talents in the Feral tree that I'm not going to mention now, since they serve to either increase our DPS output from direct damage and DoTs, or cause the enemy to be slowed and increase their spell casting time, weakening their ability to fight back. That's excellent, I'm not going to complain in any way about Talents that increase our damage potential or weaken an enemy, but they're not major new additions to a Feral druids' arsenal.
But our new 51 point Talent is a very welcome addition. With a full 51 points invested in the Feral Talent tree, we will obtain a new instant-cast ability that will be welcomed by every bear tank. With the activation of this Talent, all Stun, Fear, Snare and Movement Impairing effects are removed, and depending on the form you are in, either your Energy regeneration rate will increase, or your max health will increase for a short period of time.
The ability has a five minute cooldown, but for the dedicated Feral Druid, we will finally have an "oh heck" button of our own.
What's that I hear? Is that the sound of a thousand bear tanks cheering in delight?
I hope so. I certainly hope so.
It may be true that, when compared to other tanking classes, we are not intended to be straight main tanks.
We are hybrids, and we are not limited to simply 'hold and survive'.
In the end game, we sacrifice ultimate tanking excellence by bringing higher damage output when tanking, straight DPS when our tanking isn't needed, and the chance to off-heal and battle rez, Remove Curse and Remove Poison, and provide Faerie Fire and MotW.
Being a hybrid and recognizing our strengths and using them smoothly is the key to being a great Druid.
And it also may be that Warriors and Paladins and Death Knights will get their own tanking Talents that will inspire awe and envy in the Druid set.
But with what we've seen from the Alpha so far, it's clear to me that, no matter what happens, having a bear tank with a strong cat DPS set and high +Healing set along for the ride is something that will only be a force multiplier to any instance run or raid.
I am speculating here based on what I see from the WotLK Alpha, it's true.
But I think that, as far as we are concerned my furry brothers and sisters, the future looks mighty bright.
Mighty bright indeed.
I have to give serious thanks to War Tools for providing us with a look at the Druid Talent trees from the WotLK Alpha. If you find that War Tools is getting slowed down from all the hits during the day, you can also find links to some of the new Feral Talents at the Big Bear Butt Blogger site, provided again by War Tools.