One of the biggest changes to the restoration tree is something that's been lost, a talent that used to encourage enhancement and elemental shamans to spend points here. Nature's Guidance will be replaced on the tree by Improved Water Shield. This means that people who specced into restoration for the hit bonus will need to look elsewhere to make it up, either on gear or in alternative talents. Most elemental shamans took this talent in addition to Elemental Precision, so it's not like they're going to switch those points to a talent they already had, and similarly most enhancement shamans were already taking Dual Wield Specialization. So effectively both specs have lost 3% hit and must look to gear to make up the gap. I don't know if an increased mana regen talent that will speed up the rate in which you have to cast Water Shield (thus using the GCD) is worth losing 3% hit. In fact, scratch that. It's not. This is not a good change for restoration at this level and basically hurts it for elemental and enhancement shaman who previously knew they were going to be spending points in the tree to get the talent, which in fact may be Blizzard's intention, to make resto less of a 'I have to spend these points in this tree' talent option for other specs.
Cleanse Spirit, for 31 points in restoration, allows restoration shamans to finally remove curses as well as poison and disease. My entire reaction to this can be summed up as "This is good."
One impressive ability coming in for restoration shamans is the new 51 point talent, Spirit Link. I still have loads and loads of questions about this ability. As the tooltip stands, we know that it can link up to three players (the target of the ability and two friendly targets, I assume the caster counts) and shares 50% of the damage any of the targets takes between them. If any single blow is enough to deal 30% of a target's total health or if the damage shared is going to take any one of those targets below 20% health (or, as I like to call it, execute range) then Spirit Link goes bye-bye. Now, I assume that Spirit Link doesn't share healing between the three linked targets. That would be freaking insane. Besides, that's what we have OP chain heals for. There's still a lot we don't know about this ability (I suspect, based on the tooltip, that you can't have three resto shamans all linking the same target in Spirit Links to end up sharing his damage with six other people, for instance, as it says in the tooltip that you may have only one link active at a time and I bet that includes everyone in the link, but I don't actually know this to be true, it just seems logical) but it still has all sorts of possibilities. Do we know a boss hits fast and does a lot of damage via many smaller hits that are hard to heal through? Spirit link that druid tank with another druid tank and a warrior in full stam gear to spread the load out. How will this be used in PvP? Does the shared damage act as normal damage, breaking CC like polymorph or sap? This could be the best 51 point talent in the game, depending on these details.
But there's more to deep restoration than the capstone talent. We also have Ancestral Awakening, Improved Earth Shield, Blessing of the Eternals, and Tidal Waves. Ancestral Awakening is a nice flavor spell, helping to cement the shaman as a healer who gains his or her powers through negotiation with the elemental spirits and his or her predecessors, and since it seems to go off whenever a shaman crits on a healing wave or lesser healing wave, there's a nice potential here for some more distributed healing. I wonder (well, okay, my wife wonders) if the Ancestral spirit who shows up looks like the shaman... can Tauren get Orc ancestral spirits? Should we take 'ancestral' at face value here? And how do the ancestors feel about being constantly pulled out of wherever ancestors spend most of their afterlife every time I crit on a heal? I'm probably thinking too much about what is a nice utility healing spell. Improved Earth Shield, Blessing of the Eternals and Tidal Waves all look like solid talents you're going to pick up if you're serious about healing... more bang for the ES buck, more healing crit and more bonus from Earthliving, and a one-two punch of faster casting and more effect from your heals if you crit on a chain heal all seem pretty decent to me. I mean, if you're going for Spirit Link anyway, these are all solid talents.
Taken on its own, restoration is looking pretty solid to go deep in. As for synergy between it and elemental or enhancement, it's lost a good deal of that with the loss of Nature's Guidance. This makes restoration less the 'default' choice for your other talent points and gives shamans some (possibly unwanted) options, as well as ensuring that shamans are going to start looking at hit on gear more seriously. As we discussed in the preceeding posts, elemental and enhancement have some interesting options for synergy with talents like Elemental Devastation and Maelstrom weapon for an Enhance/Elemental spec. Elemental might adopt some low tier enhancement talents like Shamanistic Focus and blend some melee into their DPS (although I'd have to admit, I don't think I'd personally want to do that as an elemental shaman). Another difficulty for restoration shamans is that, in order to get all the deep resto talents you might want, you're going to have to spend big (this example talent build shows you what I mean) and that can mean you won't be able to go into enhancement or elemental for any real depth. Of course, that talent build isn't the result of weeks or months playing the spec to 80 and discovering that X talent isn't as good as it looks, so who knows?
In the end, I think we're looking at a combination of less cookie cutter "and resto up to Nature's Guidance" builds and more experimentation with what the various talent trees offer each other. Resto still has goodies like Totemic Mastery and Tidal Mastery to tempt other specs, so I doubt it will be abandoned totally, but now there's a good chance people might decide to go more on the offensive with their spec choices. I'm interested in seeing how it all shakes out.
And this ends my pontification. Now, it's up to you guys to contribute your thoughts, or withold them and be forever... well, unheard, I guess.