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The Light and How to Swing It: Bracing for change

Zach Yonzon

We know a second pass is coming. As good -- or bad -- as everything might seem right now, Paladins have yet to get another look from the developers and as Ghostcrawler mentioned on the forums earlier, they're nearing finalizing those changes soon. A few days back, Blizzard asked the players for feedback on all three trees, and it looks like all those constructive comments are finally going to see some results.

The good thing is that, despite all our misgivings about how the class has been handled all these years, it seems that Blizzard is finally listening. Holy wanted ways to be more mobile and have group healing utility... the Wrath Beta brings creative ways to solve that with instant Holy Lights and double duty healing. Protection needed stat consolidation badly, for starters, and it's slowly moving that way with Stamina granting spell power through Touched by the Light. Retribution needed raid utility among other things, and Blizzard is shaping up the spec to be a mana battery like Shadow Priests (and Survival Hunters). It's not everything players have wished for, but it's pretty darn close and there's no doubt that we're moving in the right direction.

Let's be clear about one thing: this is still Blizzard's game, and the Paladin class will turn out the way they want it. While many of us might have visions of what the class should be, and though some of us might know the class inside and out, Paladins in Wrath (or even Patch 3.0) will still be Blizzard's Paladins no matter how much we like or dislike what they do to the class. Fortunately, as I mentioned, they're actively seeking feedback now and -- for the most part -- listening to them.

Blessing of Kings
One of the things that Paladins have asked for for quite some time was for Blessing of Kings to become a baseline talent. Ever since it was moved out of the Retribution tree -- which effectively dashed hopes of Retribution raid utility early on -- it became a much sought-after talent that has many Holy (and Retribution) Paladins taking points in Protection just to get it. Ghostcrawler says they're not comfortable making it a trained skill and that "burying it deep in Prot <snip> doesn't feel great, either."

I hope I misunderstood that last statement, though. I hope Blizzard isn't even remotely considering putting BoK deeper into Protection. It's a mandatory buff that at least one person in the raid is supposed to have it because it scales well no matter where a raid is in terms of progression. It's so good that many Paladins will sacrifice 10 points just to get to it... which might be the heart of the problem. Just the same, however, Blessing of Kings needs to either be a baseline ability or left where it is -- or lower.

I've lost count of the times when players have asked me for Blessing of Kings not understanding that it's a talented Blessing and that not everyone has it. My question is why doesn't everyone have it? Protection is the only tree with two of its own Blessings. The new Blessing of Sanctuary is so juicy, Protection should probably share one with the rest of the Paladin community. You know, just sayin'.

Messing with the last two tiers
This is an interesting design philosophy that shouldn't just apply to the Paladin class but to all trees of all classes. I believe that Ghostcrawler was referring to making Tier 10 more appealing than just mere point-fillers in order to get to the whopper 51-point talent. For the most part, this is true. Players look at the 51-point talent with little regard for the 45-50 point filler. This applies less to Holy, where the haste bonus from Judgements of the Pure is a significant raid contribution self-buff (see what writing at 4am does to you...). On the other hand, Shield of the Templar in Protection is mediocre and Righteous Vengeance from Retribution can be skipped.

The problem with Tier 10 in Wrath -- as with Tier 8 in The Burning Crusade -- is that most have only one 5-point talent. It's feels like it's pretty much only intended to reach the last tier. While avoiding the bloat, it would be nice to see more than one option for Tier 10 and one amazing power for Tier 11 that matches up competitively against 21-point talents. Righteous Vengeance is skippable mainly because it excludes Crusader Strike, still the Retribution Paladin's bread and butter, from the bonus. Players opting to hybridize should feel the sting of skipping out on the tenth tier of a tree and not just think, "I can live without Divine Storm".

Beacon of Light
I raved about Beacon of Light last week when I played around with it on Beta. My fears were confirmed when Ghostcrawler said she felt that, "it may be a little OP right now", because to be quite frank the spell kicks major butt. It's like Blessing of Light and Binding Heal's bastard love child on steroids. I like the way it works now and Blizzard will probably need to just adjust the numbers a bit and not necessarily rework the spell again. If you're not seeing how amazing the spell is, you probably have the wrong rank keybound -- a bug showed up on Beta during the last build that had several, non-functional versions of the spell appear on the trainer.

Vengeance back to 3 stacks
Vengeance posed a delicate problem for Blizzard. On one hand, the talent provided an amazing 15% damage increase for 5 talent points, which was cheap enough but offset by the fact that it relied on crits in order to be kept up. On the other hand, Vengeance scaled too well with gear because as the Paladin's gear got better, his crit rating got higher, and it came to the point where Paladins could keep Vengeance up indefinitely.

The problem was two-fold -- first, Vengeance in that regard was overpowered because it was never intended to be a permanent buff; second, most Paladins felt that they needed to have Vengeance up permanently in order to be competitive in raid DPS. Blizzard nerfed Vengeance to two stacks totalling +10% damage for five talent points. Of course, as they mentioned in a thread, a stack of two isn't much of a stack at all.

Ghostcrawler also says that they're looking at bringing the stacks back up to three, "
because that just feels more fun than 2." I like Blizzard's repeated use of the word 'fun' throughout Wrath's development cycle. This indicates that their design is geared primarily towards making the game fun for people, something that can easily get lost in all the number crunching. The proposed change to reduce Vengeance to three talent points would be extremely welcome -- even though it's an effective nerf -- because it frees the tree further from bloat.

Judgements of the Wise and Replenishment
This is the one change from the last Beta build that got the Paladin community in an uproar. Replenishment was intended to standardize mana battery mechanics and free the buff from a difficult cycle of scaling DPS. I'm not so hot on the change, but I understand the rationale behind it. No matter the tweaks on Replenishment -- it still returns too little mana and scales badly with low mana pools -- it's important that Blizzard fixes a Retribution Paladin's mana management.

Ghostcrawler has acknowledged as much and mentioned that a reworked Divine Plea was part of the solution. It can't be the only solution but it's a start. Hopefully, it will still be tied to Judgements, similar to the first iteration of the spell, and return mana only to the caster. It will be interesting to see how Blizzard fixes this in a way that is reminiscent of the old version of the spell while not overpowered at the same time.

Deep Ret and Prot
One or two more talents to come for each tree... this is exciting. It's possible they'll fill the sparse Tier 10 with tasty talents to lure Paladins from a potential cross-speccing. Reducing talents like Vengeance to 3 points from 5 will also help free up the tree from bloating. Seeing the next builds of Beta should have some pretty good stuff.

The trees right now still all need a little polish, not just in terms of the abilities working on Beta, but in terms of each talent's concept and how it synergizes with other talents in other trees. Divine Purpose no longer makes any sense now that Toughness, lower in the Protection tree, gives a greater movement-impairment reduction. Small incongruencies like this guarantee that there will be more changes to come, hopefully to emend things. Looking over the list that Ghostcrawler mentioned, even if it's not yet the final scope of work, has got me stoked. The winds of change are blowing, and it feels pretty good.

Do you have Faith in the Light? Let Zach spread the good word in The Light and How to Swing It. Zach pontificates about the Shockadin in the new expansion, as well as writes up little ruminations on how to deal with Patch 3.0. He plans to celebrate the return of proper mana management for Retadins when the new Beta build comes out.

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