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Have faith. Paladin changes are coming.

Zach Yonzon

The Paladin class hasn't gotten much love from Blizzard from what we've seen so far in the development of the Wrath of the Lich King. Of all the class updates delivered during the recently concluded Worldwide Invitational in Paris, France, the Paladin was one of two classes (the other was the Mage) that didn't receive much by way of news. On the other hand, leaked information from the Alpha revealed some new whopper spells for Mages, including cool and explosive (literally) 51-point talents. Hunters don't have new talents yet, either, but the exciting news is that in WotLK, their pets will.

From out of the blue.
But good things come to those who wait. Tipster Delsin helped shed some Light on the slow development pace by linking to what is purportedly a forum discussion with Ghostcrawler, a developer of the new expansion. The responses from the blue were supposedly sprinkled over a couple of weeks, with the first and oldest post revealing little we didn't already know. It detailed the design directive the developers were taking, noting four important points:
  • Retribution Paladins need to have better utility in raids
  • Holy Paladins shouldn't feel so punished during encounters which require lots of movement
  • Protection Paladins need to be great tanks not only for 5-person content but also for raids; at the same time, all four tanking classes should maintain their niche
  • Paladins, more than any other class, need diverse sets of gear depending on their spec and role. Itemization is being fixed across the board to make it easier for healers and tanks to do damage without needing a whole new set of gear
These key points illustrate that Blizzard has a good grasp of what plagues the class, and is moving in the right direction. In two more responses in the same thread, the developers explain why the Paladin developments are taking so long and the issues they're looking at. Read more after the break.

Why not do Paladin changes first so they can be tested more?
The developers acceded to the fairness of the question, but explained in the same breath that there were three sweeping changes that they were making to the class that applied to other classes, as well. The developers felt that applying those changes to what they called "comparatively easy" classes such as Warriors and Priests first would give them enough insight on how to change the Paladin class. These three important changes were:

  • A change in the way damage and healing stats work
  • A change in the way party vs. raid buffs work (as can be seen with the raid-wide totem mechanic)
  • A change in how much damage a tank is expected to deliver as well as a reworking of itemization theories in general
The developers pointed out the delay of Hunter talents as a result of Blizzard wanting to nail the pet mechanics and talents first before moving forward with new abilities. They also note that they've gained significant experience with The Burning Crusade that allows them more confidence with their development cycle. In other words, there's no need to panic.

Saving the best for last?
Ghostcrawler further explains that the reason Paladins were being changed last was because there was a lot that Blizzard wanted to change with the class. In fact, Paladins are changing more than any other class, and that the tiny bits of information revealed at the WWI and elsewhere are only the tip of the iceberg. The Hand of Purity healing spell was dropped in the panel discussion merely to acknowledge that Blizzard knows Paladins need another healing mechanic. They also want Paladin tanks to tank more actively and Retadins to have better control over their admittedly bursty damage. The blue quickly adds that "no, that's not all we're looking at."

The verdict
Personally, I think these small tidbits of information are worth a lot. They may not be as concrete (well, as concrete as Alpha spells get, anyway) as Titan Grip for Warriors or Fan of Knives for Rogues, but the points that Ghostcrawler outlined are dead on. It's as close to understanding the arguably misunderstood Paladin class as Blizzard has ever gotten. I have great faith in them to do it right, too. The Retribution changes that Blizzard implemented in Patch 2.3 illustrated that they understood the class' shortcomings and were willing to address them. Dropping spell damage for Retribution and updating a ton of items was a gutsy move then.

Naturally, even those changes in Patch 2.3 didn't solve all the class' problems. I don't think it will ever be solved, either. Class balance and development is an ongoing process, adapting to the pace of the game and the millions of players who play it. But it seems like Blizzard is serious about doing the class some justice -- pardon the pun. It looks like they know Paladins suffer from the two-button syndrome and the nightmare of having to stand still during fights (or worse, in PvP). They also know that there has to be more reasons for raid leaders to bring Retribution Paladins, and not merely for the extra Blessing. They also feel that auto-attacking and blocking shouldn't be all that a Paladin tank does (it's not, but you know what I mean).

The few Alpha spells we've seen so far have been pretty exciting. We're sure to see the full plethora of changes when the Beta finally opens to the lucky few, but personally, I'm stoked. I don't think Blizzard will drop the ball on this one, particularly with the directions they've set. As much ridicule as the class has received from Kalgan, I'm fairly confident that Blizzard is moving in the right direction.

They've been pretty bold so far, from the consolidation of weaker spells into a more useful one, to exploring new mechanics such as knockbacks and physical pulls. They answered the long-standing gripe of Shamans about not having any crowd control with Hex. They recognized the need for Shadow Priests (already so useful in raids) to be viable for Arenas, and gave them Dispersion. Blizzard has never been braver and more creative in their development. If they say that they need time to get the Paladin class right, then I say take the time. Blizzard, take all the time you need. I have faith in you.

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