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Totem Talk: Curses, foiled again

Matthew Rossi

Okay, you're going to hear a lot of anger and hostility over the latest beta pass for shamans. You won't hear it from me, mind you, because I try not to get angry or hostile in this columns, it's just not my style. But I will say this: if you're playing a shaman in live, you'd probably prefer that these recent changes not go live.

They're not all bad... Maelstrom Weapon now will also reduce the casting time on healing spells as well as DPS spells, allowing you to throw an instant cast heal on yourself or even someone else... but when abilities like Shamanistic Focus get nerfed (45% mana cost reduction instead of the current 60% on live) then I have to ask myself if these changes seem at all rasonable, and in most cases I'm not coming up with a yes. It's possible I'm biased... actually, scratch that. I am biased. If I wasn't biased I wouldn't be playing a shaman in the first place. I play the class because I love the class and I want to see its talents and abilities give it the means to be competitive in its chosen role, be it DPS or healing. While I've never been a large proponent of things like dot shocks or reroll protests (you guys remember those) I do understand being frustrated, and I would even say that if this beta pass went live I'd be frustrated too.

But it hasn't gone live yet. A wide assortment of beta invites went out this week, and I'm sure at least a few shamans got those invites. So please, as a shaman player, if you get a beta invite please go forth and test, and give your feedback. I firmly believe Blizzard, while staffed by fallible humans who can get things wrong, wants the classes to all feel fun and engaging to play. So what we need to do is get out there and test these changes. Because I'm also a fallible human, and these changes may in fact be good. Testing is our best option to find out, as many testers as we can get and as much balanced feedback as they can supply.

That being said, my own preliminary (extremely so... no instance runs yet, just a few hours of solo play) tests on them using the 80 premades is generally not a positive impression.

Elemental got nerfed across the board. Thunderstorm got a damage reduction and a whole yard added to its knockback. and Lava Flows ends up losing 15% of the bonus spell damage it conveyed by the time you max out the talent. Storm, Earth and Fire got changed again, too.

Enhancement got a nice buff to Maelstrom Weapon and a nerf to Shamanistic Focus, so that's kind of a wash. Tidal Waves over in Restoration is looking good with the changes, but Ancestral Awakening got its teeth kicked in. Nature's Guardian saw a small buff in its cooldown.

In addition, the folowing changes made the patch notes:

  • Anticipation (Enhancement): Now is a 3-point talent, down from a 5-point talent and now reduces the duration of disarm effects on you by 16/25/50%.
  • Healing Grace (Restoration): Healing Way and Ancestral Fortitude are now affected by the dispel resistance portion of this talent.
  • Tidal Focus (Restoration): Now works with Earth Shield.

Of these changes, you can't say much bad about the official patch note changes. Healing Grace and Tidal Focus are both good changes, and the Anticipation change will probably make the ability more easily picked up by other specs. The Thunderstorm one just puzzles me: lowering the damage in exchange for a yard's worth of knockback? The talent just really isn't tremendously compelling (I didn't even think it was before the knockback got reduced, though, so I'm hardly likely to be impressed by it now) and I'm not sure why this change was made. The Lava Flows change is an outright and significant nerf: you lose 15% of the spell power it granted, and it's noticeable on your overall damage.

Of the three trees, restoration gets off lightest: while the Ancestral Awakening change is frankly a gutting of the talent, it wasn't a make or break ability. The change to Tidal Waves and the overall strength of the tree seems to combine well, as does Tidal Focus now working with Earth Shield. Enhacement, meanwhile, has seen a real drop in mana efficiency but aside from that is still working more or less the same.

Now, other classes were also changed in this beta push, so acting as if everyone else got buffed but shamans is absurd. I've seen this argument, and it's rubbish. Look at the change to Dispersal, for instance. It is absolutely fair to say that shamans got nerfed, and that the nerfs were unnecessary. It is not fair to act as if shamans were the only ones to get nerfed or that the shaman nerfs were the most egregious ones. It's clear to see by looking over the undocumented changes that a lot of classes got a balance pass this time. Focusing on shamans, however, I can't say that I see how these changes will really balance anything. It is my opinion that, if these changes were intended to balance shamans vs. other classes, they didn't really accomplish that goal. Some of the changes are realy bad, others are trifling nuisances, but none seem to provide any sort of cohesive effect that brings the class in line with others. Shamanistic Focus in its current form was introduced to help address enhancement shaman mana use: I'm not seeing anything in the patch notes that indicates that shamans will have so much more mana regen that they'll be overbalanced with Shamanic Focus in its current state. If anything, they'll be casting more and need more mana. I mean, if you don't want them casting, why make a talent that encourages it?

None of this breaks the class. Elemental still suffers the same problems as before... a lack of a good reason to go deep in the spec for PvE, and now it's lost a big chunk of it's PvP and PvE viability on the 51 point talent...but it's still playable, even enjoyable at 80. Enhancement just requires more management of the Water Shield and Shamanistc Rage abilities, but gains a nice boost in being able to instant cast heals, and Restoration is effectively unchanged in terms of abilities you directly control.

Okay, that more or less covers the shaman changes in beta push 8926. If for some reason you skip to the end of the columns, the TLDR is: I didn't like this beta build, but it's not the end of the world either. Next week, I have no idea what will happen, so we'll play it by ear.

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