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Totem Talk: A little of this, a little of that

Matthew Rossi

I'm not just a commentator on the shaman class, I'm a rather avid player of said class. And while I respect the work that developers do in balancing the classes, and the tireless efforts of community managers to get this information presented to the player base in as prompt and reasonable a manner as is possible, often in the face of hostility, sometimes a change really makes me angry.

This recent change to Lava Burst and Maelstrom Weapon (not yet implemented in the beta) is such a change. Now, we've already seen Maelstrom Weapon changed so that it has a lower chance to stack, but can stack off of any melee hit (in part seemingly to reduce the dependence on crits the older version of the talent encouraged which led to Elemental Devastation and the guaranteed spell crit from a Flame Shock/Lava Burst combination) and while I don't like that change, I can accept it. And I believe Ghostcrawler when she says that the change to Maelstrom Weapon to no longer affect Lava Burst is one made with an eye to game balance. But I don't care. I hate the change and I can't believe there was no other way to balance Lava Burst's scaling to keep Enhancement shamans out of caster gear or away from caster daggers. I certainly don't want to see Enhancement in caster gear, but come on, this was it? This was the only way to balance this? I really don't like it.

Let me be fair: the return of Flurry and Dual Wield Spec to their higher values is a welcome change, and all this really means is that, as an enhancement shaman, I probably won't be using Lava Burst as much, especially now that Stormstrike is back to only affecting nature spells. Sure, the extra crit from Elemental Devastation would be nice, so I'll probably throw one in when I'm DPSing in a raid or party and can get away with a cast time, but it's not melee shamans don't have enough buttons to push as it is. Working Lava Lash into my rotations as a new instant has been interesting.

It just sometimes feels as though any interesting new application of shaman abilities (and I'm sure other classes feel the same way) gets hammered into the ground in the name of 'balance' rather than an effort being made to actually balance things. Stormstrike going from an ability that worked for all our spells, be they fire, frost or nature, back to just affecting nature is another example of this. Sure, if you're playing on live, you haven't really lost anything. One of the dangers of beta testing (or writing about it) is that you can quickly grow attached to changes that are rolled back for one reason or another. I was in love with all the ways enhancement had to cascade damage and effects, using Maelstrom to proc Elemental Devastation through FS/Lava Burst to keep the melee crit rate high, which kept Maelstrom stacked. Now all of that synergy is gone, and while it's not the end of the world and my shaman on test was still quite capable of doling out the mayhem, it feels like a fun tax has been levied.

Still, it's not all bad. At least Totem of Wrath lasts for five minutes now, I hope more totem durations go up in that fashion. Having to drop totems every 2 minutes is ridiculous. I'm hopeful that there will be a change to a talent or spell somewhere in elemental to extend Lava Burst's range to match other spells that elemental shamans cast, because right now Lava Burst is an elemental spell that enhancement shamans will be using a lot less anyway. Might as well make it useful for the primary spell-casting spec of shamans.
I had a similar feeling about the replacement of Spirit Link with Riptide, but I have to admit that unlike my feelings on the Maestrom Weapon changes, Riptide's growing on me. First off, allowing it to proc Ancestral Awakening is a nice move, and the fact that it's an instant cast heal with a HoT component that can buff Chain Heal, our bread and butter healing spell in raids (and an often cast spell even in 5 mans if anyone other than the tank is taking damage) interests me. I can see throwing a Riptide on a DPS taking AoE or splash damage and then CHing on the tank, counting on the Riptide effect to boost the heal for me. I can see throwing Riptide on the tank as an emergency heal, since it's instant, giving me more time for a bigger follow-up heal, especially if Nature's Swiftness isn't up. As of right now, even with the increase in how much it heals for the spell feels kind of weak to me, but not terribly so, but I've only healed in five mans on the 80 cow so far and my other shamans haven't leveled to the new endgame yet.

If I were taking a snapshot of the class as it moves closer and closer to patch 3.0 I'd say that it's certainly not bad, but needs a few adjustments upwards for fun factor. Balance wise, the changes to enhancement are fully justified, even if I personally dislike them. (You can't always get what you want, I suppose.)

Elemental is having some scaling issues that I frankly don't understand: if Lava Burst was scaling so well that it had to be dropped from Maelstrom Weapon, why are elemental shamans reporting that they are absolutely on the bottom rung of raid damage in Naxx and above? Was the change to Storm, Earth and Fire that severe and if so, does it need to be rolled back? I've seen estimates of shamans being as far as 15% below other casters in raids. Is it losing the ability to consume enhancement shaman's Stormstrikes? If scaling is this bad for elemental (and I freely admit I haven't done any raiding with one on beta, so I can only report what I'm hearing from other shamans) it's really hard to imagine how it would get better through gear. 15% below the other DPS is just ridiculously low if accurate.

Like I said, I've only done a few five mans, but so far restoration feels pretty solid. Not that I wouldn't like to see more work done on Riptide and that I don't still feel that it's weird that Improved Shields gives more benefit than Improved Earth Shield (I guess you could technically take them both) - I do like the combined heal over time options of Earthliving and Riptide, but would like to see both of them adjusted upwards slightly.

Right now I kind of understand why our big bear doesn't like to talk about the beta. For all I know, next week this will all be different anyway.

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