Our assessment of new and altered talents and abilities for feral can be found here
LOLBARETANK: My main is generally specced PvE feral, mostly for the purpose of tanking in 25-man raids, and I've been really happy with the changes made to bears. Going into patch 3.02, if I had to describe our biggest problems, they'd be:
We had other tanking issues, but these were more particular to Druids (barring #2, which was a weakness Warriors shared as well. Tab-targeting, anyone?).
- 1). We really only scaled with respec to stacking stamina and agility past the armor cap. More stamina was always nice, but a high dodge rate in conjunction with high armor was an unpleasant recipe for constant rage starvation (unless you were tanking something like Brutallus, in which case your rage bar hit 0 only after you died or he did).
- 2). AoE threat was pretty weak. I used to have a small, bitter chuckle when DPS protested that Swipe would be sufficient to hold aggro in the event that they developed a hankering to AoE two seconds into a pull. One word: Hyjal.
- 3). The constant, maddening problem of staying defense-capped in PvE gear. Many Druids resented having to PvP for gear that would enable them to stay crit-immune versus level 73 raid mobs. There was no +defense on leather of any kind past the Heavy Clefthoof set, we had to walk 15 miles through driving snow to get it made, and once we got it we had to share it with other bears. Those were bleak times, children, very bleak times indeed.
Where my bears at?: Very happily, all three issues have been dealt with. #1 is always going to be a quirk to some extent as we don't scale with nonexistent +parry or +block, but Natural Reaction -- and the increased damage done by bear tanks -- has gone a long way toward addressing the rage starvation issue. Swipe's increased damage and the abandonment of its target limit has made AoE tanking a joy rather than an absolute nightmare. And Survival of the Fittest now provides 6% crit reduction (you need 5.6% to be crit-immune to mobs three levels higher than you, which is what you'll face in raids), which is a blessed, blessed relief from the hell of pulling out a calculator each time you wanted to replace a piece of +defense gear.
While most bears probably lost about 10K armor in the transition to patch 3.02, and it was a bitter pill at the time, it's unlikely to have had measurable impact on your 5-mans or raiding. With the damage and HP of raid mobs now considerably lower, you probably won't notice the difference, especially if you're 3/3 Protector of the Pack and in a full group. With that said, mob damage and HP exist in thoroughly un-nerfed form at 80.
Armor, armor, everywhere: Blizzard is eliminating bonus armor contribution from cloaks, rings, and trinkets while expressly stating that our armor will somehow be altered to remain the same regardless. A commenter on EJ notes that at the Naxxramas-25 level this is a loss of 15,800 armor from the rings, cloaks, and trinkets that bears are most likely to want. This won't ship with Wrath, so we're still not sure exactly what armor you can reasonably expect to have at 80. As John writes, they're going to have to be pretty careful with how they fix this, because any increase to Dire Bear's armor modifier will wind up affecting all specs in PvP. But it will have to be fixed in some capacity unless Dire Bear's modifier (as John calculates) is bumped all the way to an astronomical 690%, which is what we'd need to make up for the armor loss; bears cannot tank without the armor to compensate for our relatively poor avoidance.
Is a 690% armor modifier going to fly for resto and balance PvP? Doubtful. Most commenters have concluded that a feral talent change will likely accomplish this. In general I think the change will ultimately be for the better as it indirectly addresses another ongoing feral itemization headache. Without this change going live, I 100% guarantee that bears in progression-oriented raiding guilds would still be rocking Badge of Tenacity heading into Naxxramas.
Frankly, I have no real right to complain, especially because I spent most raid nights spamming Swipe on trash just to watch the numbers fly and screaming "F*****G OWNED, FLAMINGO!" Our damage has gone up, our time-to-live is still the best out of all four tanks assuming gear parity, our AoE tanking is pretty darn good (to say nothing of just being possible in the first place), and the other night the most obnoxious ret paladin I have ever had the misfortune to PuG with finally shut the hell up once I beat him in damage.
And that, my friends, is what we call game balance.
And yet there's a slap in the face: Why is there no "Boing!" sound programmed to accompany Feral Charge-Cat?
Faster, pussycat!: Cat damage has improved, but not extraordinarily so in comparison to other raid DPS specs. The single biggest increase to your damage is going to arrive with Savage Roar at level 75, at which point you will finally start scaling more in line with other DPS specs. As many have observed, it's essentially a version of a Rogue's Slice and Dice, although more Druid-specific; the +40% AP benefit from Savage Roar is significantly better for us than the +30% attack speed from Slice and Dice would be. Most of our damage in cat form is, and will continue to be, from yellow attacks affected only by energy gains and not by attack speed. As any Rogue will tell you, once this buff is up, you should never allow it to drop. This means your DPS may suffer relative to casters on high-mobility or multiphase fights (e.g. Illidan, Kael'thas), but assuming a 5-CP Savage Roar, you've got 34 seconds to get another one up.
Abandon hope all ye who enter Ruins of Lordaeron: Feral needed....help. I'm the latest in a long line of people to observe that melee DPS without a Mortal Strike effect and/or a Rogue's endless bag of tricks -- feral Druids, retribution Paladins, and enhancement Shamans -- have traditionally had a hard time in arena. Feral's great strength is speed and resistance to snare that gives us an advantage over other melee...at least until the mana runs dry (more on this in a moment). Feral has, however, gained Infected Wounds, which is going to be particularly effective versus double-DPS teams in 2's. We've also gained a significant source of additional burst in Rend and Tear, Berserk, and King of the Jungle. This may result in more popularity for Feral/Rogue partnerships, especially as the IW debuff is applied automatically on skills (Mangle, Maul, and Shred) you'll be using anyway. Otherwise, the somewhat unorthodox but often successful technique in 5's of baiting focus fire while in bear form is likely to stick around.
I can has pwnage?: Has feral gained enough damage and burst potential to make them more viable in arena? And is that really the cornerstone of their PvP success anyway? The few high-end feral arena stars I've seen tend to spend a great deal of time out of forms Cycloning, healing, and rooting, but Season 5 feral gear currently lacks int, mp5, and spellpower. Feral mana regeneration, especially in rogue gear, is heavily dependent on the new version of Improved Leader of the Pack, which requires you to be in bear or cat form, and also requires regular crits (less likely against well-geared opponents).
So I look at feral in arena as heading toward one of two possible fates, absent any changes to the spec or its gear (which is, I think, unlikely as Blizzard is still tinkering with a number of things). Either they've gained enough damage and burst at 80 to justify spending more time in forms, deemphasizing their caster form CC and heals, or their mana efficiency at 80 may very well turn out to be a problem. I think it was Ghostcrawler who stated recently that developers were actually concerned that feral mana efficiency was too strong (we can't be mana drained or burned in forms, and no one can dispel or interrupt the ILotP proc on health or mana), which I actually see as confirmation that they expect and want ferals to do better in arena. Either way, they're aware of the issue, and plans are in place to add reduced shifting cost to a deep feral talent.
Bear (har!) in mind that this is just for arena; feral has generally been stronger in battleground and world PvP, and I expect that to continue.