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Totem Talk: Totem Consolidation and Totem Expansion

Matthew Rossi

If you read the site (and if you don't read the site you're not reading this now, so I suppose it doesn't matter) then you may have seen yesterday's minimalist beta build notes and the relative storm of comments they created. If not, and if you're terribly opposed to clicking a link, I'll go over the basics. See how much I love you? Well, no, not that way. I'm married.

Anyway, the basic gist of it is simple enough. In buffing the Stoneclaw totem so that it protects other totems (a clearly PvP oriented buff, as totems are rarely targeted by mob AI) a small problem has been quickly discerned by shamans everywhere. We shamans are very, very fast at seeing potential pitfalls. And this one is a relative doozy. In PvP, you will often drop Tremor Totem, as it is the only way for a shaman to prevent being feared or charmed. If you're not dropping that, you'll probably drop Strength of Earth for the boost to strength and agility, popular stats among the physical DPSers. And recently Earthbind was stated to be getting a buff that clears snares and roots.

So far this all looks pretty good, I'm sure. The problem is, these are all earth totems. So if you want to try and shield your precious torso... er, totems... from damage, or keep yourself from being feared all over the battleground or arena, or clear those pesky roots and snares, or buff your friendly face smashers you can't. You can only do one. Which will it be, shamans?

So what, you may say? Other classes have to choose which buffs they can have. Warriors can't provide commanding shout and battle shout at the same time. Paladins don't get ret aura and devo aura at the same time. Having to choose what totems you drop is what seperates shaman players from bots that just thunk down the same totems all the time.

Well, to a degree I don't disagree with this statement. In this particular case, and in a few others I disagree with it, but in general I don't mind the totem mechanic forcing choices especially now that totems are raid wide. If Shaman A can drop Tremor I don't mind getting Strength of Eartth or Stoneskin. I'll also say that after a certain point, I find the vitriol on the forums to be not only unproductive but also counterproductive: nothing is going to keep developers from seeing things your way faster than calling them names,

But the issue of totem consolidation (which remember, Blizzard brought up going into the Wrath development cycle) which brought us the improvement of Strength of Earth totem in the first place is a good one. These things matter, and shouldn't feel like you don't have any choice in which totem to drop. In PvP, right now there are four earth totems you're going to want to drop to some extent. How do you choose between one that protects from fears, one that clears snares and roots, and one that keeps the rest of your totems up? Especially when the totem you want to keep up the most is the one you can't drop because you dropped one that protects others? Yes, Wrath of Air is a very nice totem, but if I'm running around the battleground like a chicken that just saw Psycho (I can only assume chickens are afraid of men dressed up like their mothers stabbing people) I can't really use that extra damage.

Basically, at least in terms of PvP, what we have now is the same problem we had before, just on a different totem. When before you would hear endless battles in PvE over which air totem to drop (should it be Grace of Air, Windfury, Wrath of Air or Windwall? Okay, okay, no one ever asked for Windwall.) now we see the same dilemma in PvP.

Frankly, since the totem mechanic is what makes a shaman a shaman, I've always felt it needs to be intuitive and user friendly, and I'm willing to say that changes to make it raid wide and attempts to consolidate the totem effects go a long way towards achieving that goal. One of the reasons shamans aren't as popular as other hybrids comes from their somewhat confusing and also underwhelming at lower levels totem mechanics. Totems are always better in a group, where they can affect more players, and so when soloing at lower levels they just don't really seem as impressive. However, I've also long agitated for a fifth totem. There's lore to support it, quests that require it, and I can't see how it would hurt the class or unbalance it.

Of course we'd have to decide what kind of effects went under the umbrella of the new totem (the two lore candidates for this fifth totem would be either Spirit, based on the two quests in game, or the Wild, from the Lord of the Clans novel starring Thrall): I would argue for this fifth school to have the effects that buff other totems baked into it, so the new Stoneclaw would naturally go there. You could also easily see a totem that extended totem range, or duration, and perhaps even the long desired totem mobility ability (please, please, please let me pull these dang things up and bring them along with me, even if they don't work while they're moving, maybe similar to a warlock's new port I could drop a "Gate Totem" and the totems I dropped back in the last room would pop up around me or something) could be brought into existence.

There would be issues with having five totems instead of four. Not only would other players fighting the shaman in PvP probably find it irritating to have to kill an extra totem (especially one that could buff the other totems to be harder to kill and which would take more killing itself) but in PvP and PvE shamans might find it irritating to have to pop another cooldown to get the fifth totem's effects, and if those effects aren't compelling enough, they probably wouldn't bother which is probably not terribly compelling for designers. (I often wonder if the guy behind Sentry Totem isn't incredibly bitter.) So it's a lot of work to ask for, and I understand that developers might not feel that it's time well spent.

Another solution would be a lot simpler, but less fun: move the totem protection effect to another totem. Perhaps consolidate the poison and disease cleansing effects into one totem, then add the ability to absorb damage to other totems to this new consolidated cleane totem, especially as DK's make a disease cleansing effect more useful in PvP in Wrath. Such a move would not only make sense within the element of water (redirecting harmful effects away from the totems, in effect 'channeling' the damage) but it would improve the water school's usefulness in this case.

We'll see what happens. If in the end we see shamans just dropping Tremor (which I expect we will, as the new Stoneclaw effect only protects one's own totems, thus making it one of the few totems with no synergy with other shamans) then in the end, the nice buff to Stoneclaw will be as effectively meaningless as Sentry Totem. I'd prefer to avoid that.

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