We were interrupted by BlizzCon announcements last week when discussing starting a new Shaman (or resuming an old one). Frankly, the list of changes incoming in Cataclysm makes me leery of discussing the current leveling experience too much, because it's going to be radically altered. Two new shaman races! A complete reworking of gear and statistics! A new profession we'll all have access to in Archaeology, entirely reworked talent trees, a new max level progression option in Path of the Titans, and last but not least (to me) new totem skins!
Seriously, you have no idea how long I've wanted this. I expect the current 'default Horde' totems will remain the Orc totems of choice, but I'm very hopeful for Tauren and Trolls and Goblins and Dwarves to all get their own unique totem skins. Frankly, I want Tauren totems to resemble the giant beating pole Cairne Bloodhoof carries around.
Despite what I posted about my warrior, I plan on faction transferring my Draenei Shaman to Tauren fairly soon and moving him to my Horde server. I may or may not race change him to Goblin when they become available for race change (might be more fun just to level one, we'll see) but the idea of finally getting totems that match other races just fills me with glee. Trolls with weird voodoo looking sticks! Goblins with... I have no idea!
Commenter Squeek made a very good point in our last discussion that I wanted to highlight and discuss. Discussing Elemental Shamans, he pointed out:
We do not scale from buffs other classes provide currently. Intellect is the only primary stat that does something for us, and since it's crit chance, we don't care about it much at all due to the guaranteed crit in our rotation that procs our Clearcasting/damage buff/raid crit buff. Agility, Spirit, Strength, and Stamina don't affect our DPS at all. So when other classes beg for Kings in a raid, I just stand there wondering why there's no Spellpower buff that they can give. They have Might, so why not something like it for Spellpower?
This is an issue that primarily affects your end game raiding Elemental Shaman, but make no mistake: in every five man, battleground, and group quest you do as an Elemental Shaman leveling up, this has an impact on you. The only real buffs an Elemental Shaman can take the full benefit of are +hit or +haste. Otherwise, while other classes gain more health, more mana and more damage, Elemental only gets the first two.
The removal of spell power from gear and switching to a system where it is derived from Int will make Int, and buffs to Int like Kings and GotW useful to caster shamans in the same way they're useful to everyone else. This, to my eyes, is one of the huge possible benefits for the new shaman as the expansion launches: you won't have to learn and understand as many variables going from caster DPS to melee DPS, for instance. For a class that does as much with hybridization as Shamans do (Enhancement Shamans are in a physical DPS role and yet do a substantial portion of their damage as magic, for instance) this can only be good.
I don't see this becoming an issue on the Horde side at all. There's already three possible Shaman races to choose from, and as long as Goblin racial abilities don't end up being ridiculously dominant (in other words, Trolls need a revamp pretty badly, and Tauren/Orcs at least a touchup) then the addition of a fourth Shaman race should have minimal impact. If they don't balance those racials out better, then they can most likely expect either a flood of Trolls switching to Goblins and/or an angry, shoeless, pitchfork and torch wielding mob coming their way out of Sen'jin. Assuming that Sen'jin Village isn't occupied resettling the Echo Isles (because come on, if Deathwing is going to shatter the world and split the barrens in half then it is time for the Trolls to kick a level 10 elite out of their bloody settlement!) by then.
A possible issue for racial balance Horde side is that Goblins will be getting their own starting zone experience similar to that DK's got in Wrath. If it's as fun and engaging, then the levels to 20 will just fly past, making Goblins the easiest Shaman option to get most of the way through that initial dry spell of cast, wait for it to run at you, cast more, then whack it with a hammer that shamans have to endure for the first 20 or so levels.
This also might be a little cynical on my part, to assume that the other races won't also have a streamlined leveling experience and feel more distinct at low levels. One of the big issues with a shaman at low levels (in my opinion) is that the hybrid nature of the class isn't really clearly defined by talent choices for at least 20 if not 30 levels. Are you a caster, a melee DPS, or a healer? The answer really is I don't think it matters when every pull is still cast, shock, cast, whack shock whack until it keels over. This is why I dearly hope classic and iconic abilities like Windfury drop in level so earlier shamans can access them. Bloodlust at 45? I can dream.
Alliance side, things will be slightly different for racial balance. For one thing, we'll go from only one class that can be a Shaman to two, and frankly while I love Draenei I'm sure most Alliance players (and some Horde players) vastly prefer Dwarves to the current options. People who recoiled from BC's supposed sci-fi look (I hate that idea because floating crystals are no more sci fi than, say, walking steam powered robots with buzzsaw hands) will probably take a great deal of interest in the stout, reliable Dwarven silhouette.
As far as racials are concerned, both Dwarves and Draenei have compelling racial abilities. Stoneform and expertise with maces vs +hit and a HoT, no clear winner for Enhancement. I'd rather have the +hit for Elemental, but Resto doesn't really need to use Gift of the Naaru much now that Riptide's here, so both options seem less that stellar for healers. (I'd give Stoneform the edge for fights where you're busy healing but might take an effect you really need to clear off.)
Leveling in the expansion will have new options, new gear choices and new concerns for the beginning Shaman player. With experience from questing changing due to the new zone flow, changes to how our stats interact with buffs and gear, new possible races to play as and yes, even new cosmetic options (sometimes those are very helpful to keep interested when things get grindy) I can only hope we see a vast improvement for the low level shaman. Seriously, it can be brutal getting past level 20, and I sincerely hope we see that looked at and adjusted as Cataclysm arrives.
Next time we talk more about leveling in the here and now with the arrival of the new totem interface at level 30.