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Totem Talk: On the edge of change Part 1

Matthew Rossi

Well, as we recall from our previous talk about shaman changes, Lava Burst is a source of contention among shamans. The most recent announcement from Ghostcrawler is that the ability is being buffed by about 10% which will give shamans at 75 and above more reason to use it without nerfing shamans at 70 when patch 3.0.2 comes out since those shamans won't have access to the spell.

Honestly, I'm really not at all sure what elemental DPS is going to shake out like once this all goes live. Some players seem to feel that elemental is in the bottom basement for DPS due to scaling issues (that is to say, the reworking of Storm, Earth and Fire to remove its ability to scale with gear) that mean improvements in gear don't reward shamans as much as other classes. It would seem to me that if you're concerned mostly with scaling issues, the change to Lava Burst isn't going to fix your issues.

Still, as a continuation of the discussion Ghostcrawler started with the initial changes post, I thought it worth mentioning. Because I wanted to talk today not about buffs or nerfs to the class, but rather about abilities that were originally felt to be huge, important changes.

What about Hex, for example?

You don't hear much talk about Hex anymore. To be honest, I have no idea why. It's a very good spell.

Oh, poor Hex. The second I said you were a good spell I doomed you to either be nerfed into the floor or slammed by dozens of commentators, but I stand by it. The things Hex can't do... keep a druid locked down, be used a spammable CC in PvE... don't detract from the fact that this is a 30 second ability on a 45 second cooldown (so if you hex something, then FS kite it for 15 seconds, then hex it again you've just locked down a mob for almost a minute and fifteen seconds) that prevents attacks and spellcasting. This is pretty sweet, all told. It's decent in PvP (I admit that several classes can get around it with decursing and druids can shift out of it) but all in all my biggest issue with Hex is that you have to be level 80 to get it.

To me, this is an ability that we should get as soon as patch 3.0.2 goes live. We need a form of CC for leveling, because it makes getting instance runs easier and makes soloing less of a 'can I take two mobs' algebra exercise and more of a 'okay, I pull with Hex, kill mob a, then kill that cute lil' froggy'. I'm going to make sure I have Mojo out when I use Hex for added fun.

To me, Hex is an example of a real change in the way shamans will play, which is why I think it's a shame we won't get to play with it once we get our new talents and abilities. Some of these new, class changing abilities are talents (Thunderstorm, Maelstrom Weapon, Ancestral Awakening) which means you'll get them if you choose to spec into them. But Hex isn't, and it's a shame to see it reserved as the cookie you get for dinging 80 when it would serve very well to help you get there in instances and questing. Thankfully Earthliving Weapon will be available as soon as the patch comes with ranks going all the way back to level 30.
Earthliving is one of those ideas that seems so obvious that the fact that we're two expansions in before shamans get it kind of boggles the mind, but now that it's finally here I have to say I really like it. With the changes to downranking I do worry slightly about mana conservation and regen on long fights, but the combination of an extra 150 per heal and a 20% chance to proc a HoT with every heal (even Riptide) which scales with spell power is not only good for restoration, but it's good for any shaman who has to suddenly cast a heal because the healer died for one reason or another. No, Earthliving's not going to make your elemental shaman suddenly out-heal dedicated healers, but it doesn't have to. When I start throwing heals on my enhancement shaman, it's because things have gone south, not because I'm just super-heal-happy, and the ability to get more oomph out of my heals by equipping a healing weapon and throwing Earthliving on it makes me slighly giddy. (I'm even wondering if I would benefit, as an emergency healer, from keeping an off-hand with spell power around and throwing Earthliving on that instead of using a shield, but I haven't had an opportunity to test that out yet).

When we lost downranking, we got Wind Shock in return, and it's a handy ability A low cost interrupt on the same lines as old Rank 1 Earth Shock with a threat reduction ability built in. We do kind of risk running into overload on shocks, what with Lava Burst buffed we'll want to be casting Flame Shock for elemental and both FS and ES for enhancement.

What strikes me is that elemental really needs (in addition to getting its damage issues sorted out, which is always important but is not the whole game) is an ability that is wholly their own that feels as cool and spec defining as Maelstrom Weapon/Feral Spirit/Lava Lash do for enhancement. Totem of Wrath is cool, yes, but it's not only last expansion but it also is, ultimately, a totem you drop no visually different than any other totem. It doesn't feel class defining, especially with Thunderstorm packing far more visual oomph. Part of the problem there is, while Thunderstorm is certainly a very interesting spell graphically, it's basically a talent with a PvE application (mana regen) and a PvP application (getting the various rogues, warriors, feral druids and ret paladins beating you to death to back off for a few seconds) neither of which really plays well with the other or has that intangible cool factor that keeps you using a spell. But it does look awesome, and it does two things shamans have needed for a while, so perhaps Mike is right and I'm being overly critical of the spell. Still, with enhancement getting at least three new abilities that scream 'weird new class paradigm shifting' I can't help but wish elemental had gotten more. Not more DPS (I leave the discussion of caster shaman DPS to the ever invoked 'damage pass') necessarily, as much as I would like it, but we've seen enhancement become a true hybrid using both melee attacks and spells as their talents combine to synergize this playstyle.

Elemental is still almost exactly the same as it has been, and it ends up looking less interesting as a result. Now, you can say 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' but that leads us back into the idea that so many elemental shamans do seem to feel it is broke. Some would tell you every class feels that they're broken. I don't have an answer to that, but I do think that if a class feels fun to play you see less complaints about that class from its players. As things stand right now, I don't really see an elemental talent or ability unique to the spec that really lends it that same feeling of rediscovery.

Next week I'm going to talk about how, as we get closer to release (or even maybe how patch 3.0.2 plays out if it goes live) restoration is changing, and possibly more about elemental. Am I being unfair to the spec? Does it in fact have a lot more variety and fun, class defining abilities that I'm glossing over? We'll talk about that.

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