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Totem Talk: Analysis of Shaman Q&A

Matthew Rossi

This week saw the first of Blizzard's class Q&A columns. Amazingly, we shamans got to go first. While Eliah already covered the basics for us, I thought going in depth with the discussion would be worthwhile. There's a lot of information in the Q&A as a whole to go over and discuss. For example:

  • One longer-term change we are considering is removing the buff totems (replacing them with normal spells) and making all of the totems do something more active, like the current damage or healing totems. We've even discussed letting shamans carry a totem on their back (the tauren do it already) but that may be too far out there.
No, no it's not too out there. Make it happen, make it happen now please. I don't care if you have to make a new weapon category that only shamans can equip for this to happen, I want to see shamans with those great big honking totems on their backs already.

I don't know how I feel about the idea of losing Windfury Totem and getting some kind of Windfury Aura or what have you, though. I mean, it would be more convenient, sure, but totems are a big part of the way the class plays and I don't know how I'd feel about losing the buff totems. I've never found totem placement to be onerous outside of the fact that I have to drop the totems individually, and they're looking into a fix for that.

  • One of the features we have been working on is a way for shamans to drop all four totems at once (on one global cooldown). This will hopefully make the totems more attractive while soloing and will let the shaman in a group environment quickly get his or her totems down again if the group has to move or they get destroyed. We'd like to get this feature in soon, but we want to make sure the user-interface works well and feels integrated to the rest of the game, so we can't yet announce a date. And of course, this is still in the planning stage, and so subject to change.
This really can't happen soon enough. One of the things that drives me crazy when I spec enhancement and bring my undergeared self into a fun run 10 man is that I have to spend so much time dropping totems while other classes can just start with the DPS. It's not a problem when we're about to pull a boss, since you should have time to drop whatever totems you're going to use, but when clearing trash (especially if the rest of your raid is geared enough to chain pull) it's obnoxious.

A couple of weeks back we talked about enhancement finding themselves getting hit hardest by the AoE damage in Ulduar - turns out it's not just that enhancement have the lowest stamina on their set gear (although they do) but it's also an artifact of the class. "Shamans currently have the lowest base health of any class, and this often leads to concern over their survivability." It turns out that this comes down to us from the original design of World of Warcraft, and that the current plan is to change it. "This is one of those weird legacies that has been in the game forever. Nobody currently working on classes can remember why that decision was initially made, so we plan to revert it for 3.2." Since elsewhere in the Q&A they talk about how shamans were designed in tandem with paladins as the 'offensive hybrid' to the paladin's 'defensive hybrid' (wow, how times have changed) I imgaine the shaman's lower base health was meant to be balanced by their offensive options like purge and windfury.

What's really odd about this is that back in the day, enhancement actually had a few tricks that made them decent tanks. Rockbiter was a solid aggro tool at low levels, for instance. My orc shaman tanked Wailing Caverns for a group back before the gates to AQ had even opened yet and Silithus didn't even have any real point to going there. (I think he hit level 20 just around the time they put the Cenarion Circle outpost and flight point in, before that the only FP was closer to the entrance to the zone.) It's interesting to see the changing nature of the game interact with such older design elements, I guess, but I'm still glad it's getting changed.

  • Q. When itemizing for the shaman class, what are the aspects that are looked at, and are there plans to make additional improvements to the way itemization is done for the class or for specific talent specs?
  • A: One of the problems we have with dropping one-handed weapons is the overlap. If we drop axes, rogues can't use them. If we drop swords, shamans can't use them. If we drop fists, death knights can't use them. We are looking at changing one of these restrictions in 3.2, though it likely won't be for shamans to use swords.
Well, I'm torn here. The most obvious change would be to let DK's use fists. On the one hand, boo to anything good for DK's. (Let's see how long it takes the DK players to grab the torches and pitchforks! Just kidding, guys, I love the way you overwrite all of my good melee buffs.) But on the other hand, more fist weapons! Yay! I love fist weapons! I'd seriously be okay with every boss in the game dropping a fist weapon, even caster fists. I don't even think it makes sense for fist weapons to be unavailable to some classes - even a frail bookworm like a mage or warlock should know how to punch someone, and how hard is it to wear a set of brass knuckles (the default fist weapon appearance) or slide your hand into a grip? So sure, bring on more caster fists and let everyone use them, if it gets more fists into the game.

I am mildly sad (but not surprised) to see the nails driven further into the coffin of two hand weapon use by shamans. I know it's the way Blizzard intends the various specs to function (dual wield for enhancement, caster weapon and shield for elemental and restoration) and it's been said numerous times, but anyone who leveled up and remembers the glorious day your 2h weapon finally has windfury on it can understand my nostalgia here. Boom! Things go flying apart into chunks! Boom!

Finally, the discussion of PvP was interesting. The only time I PvP is as resto because, frankly, as enhancement I get kited to death too easily even with Imp GW, and that's not even taking a rogue deciding I should be dead in the amount of time he can keep me stunned into account. The points made about shaman mobility and how healing shamans are very strong in fives (which leads to them being focused down first, and the survivability being low in that circumstances. Elemental has a niche as a 'kill the wounded guy' spec according to Blizzard.

  • One of the challenges of designing the shaman class is that we think it is one of the most challenging classes to play in PvP. (Players sometimes call this having a "high skill cap.") The shaman has to think about defense and offense at the same time, while many classes can worry about one or the other. For example, a Holy paladin can concentrate on keeping his or her group alive while the Restoration shaman has to do that while also keeping totems up, offensively purging buffs from the enemy team, using Wind Shock to interrupt spell casts, etc. The challenge is making it not too difficult for the average player but also not too powerful for the guy who can master all of the shaman's tools. (Warlocks and hunters have very similar challenges, by the way.)
Frankly, I think they've gone too far towards the conservative here. The shamans who master all of the classes abilities in PvP (and brother am I not one of those) doesn't get the bang for their buck, so to speak, that other classes can currently muster in PvP. Shamans are still very vulnerable (in part due to that lowest overall health issue, in part due to a lack of real options to escape beyond an easily trinketable disarm/silence spell in Hex and the 51 point elemental talent) and I really believe this needs to be addressed.

Finally, yay, they're looking for ways to kill totem stomping macros. Awesome, get that done, can't wait for that. I'm fine with totems being easily killable but not with people not even having to target the things to kill them.

There's a lot more in the Q&A than we can possibly cover here... the discussion of how to place relics in the game, on bosses or badge vendors, I found of particular interest. I'd almost always go for vendors myself, as these drops quickly become shards once every shaman has them. I recommend going over to read it in detail, to see how Blizzard views shaman itemization, the current raiding role of the class and how they believe it's doing, and so on. I intend to discuss the healing portion of the Q&A in its own post soon, as shamans as healers are currently very different from their BC role.

Next week, possibly healing in depth, and possibly Ulduar.

Check out more strategies, tips and leveling guides for Shamans in Matthew Rossi's weekly class column: Totem Talk.

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