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BlizzCon 2009: Class Discussion Panel - Warlock

Zach Yonzon

Yesterday's Class Discussion Panel at BlizzCon 2009 didn't go over all the classes like previous years, but instead focused on major changes to two classes. One of those classes is the Warlock, which finally gets its long promised Soul Shard mechanic overhaul. The change, as Ghostcrawler had mentioned before, is extremely cool and wasn't something that could be implemented with a minor patch. The revamp is huge -- it overhauls the entire Soul Shard system in two significant ways:
  • Soul Shards are no longer items in the inventory (at last!) but are part of the Warlock UI
  • Soul Shards are not consumed by any Warlock spell other than the empowering ability, Soul Burn
I'll let all you Warlocks have a moment to digest that. When I first saw the changes, I was completely blown away and completely stoked -- the Warlock class will play completely differently from Mages, and indeed from any other class. Soul Shards will become a new resource mechanic akin to Death Knight runes except that they aren't used for spells but for "power moves". It makes a visual impact to playing the class, with the UI showing the Soul Shard resource.

What does this mean? For one thing, it means you should throw your old habits out the window. The Warlock class becomes, as Ghostcrawler puts it, a "blow your cooldowns" class. Soul Burn is an ability with a 30 second cooldown that consumes a Soul Shard and is off the GCD. When activated, the next relevant spell will have an empowered effect -- Ghostcrawler gave examples such Soul Fire (spelled Soulfire in the slide they showed), Fear, or Summoning a demon becoming instant cast. It could also extend the horrifying effect and boost the healing of Death Coil, or make the next three Searing Pains crit. Those are merely examples of what using up a Soul Shard can do to spells. Although not all Warlock spells can be empowered in this fashion, the potential is exciting!

The Soul Shard mechanic adds another layer of complexity to the Warlock class, and while it's easy to understand, it will take skill and good judgment to know when best to use Soul Burn. Note that according to the current plan, Soul Shards are only used in combat (no more of that candy or summon nonsense!) and "regenerate quickly out of combat". The slide indicated "three shards per fight" which makes using Soul Burn over long boss fights an important strategic choice. In PvP, expect Warlocks to use Soul Burn frequently and attempt to get out of combat every time they've run out of shards. Ghostcrawler did mention a way by which to recover shards in mistaken cases or extremely long boss fights, so we'll have to see.

Playing a Warlock will be challenging, fun, and different. The class was supposed to be built around the Soul Shard concept, and I think they've finally found a way to make it work. After the Warlock community has clamored for the removal of Soul Shards, or suggested inelegant solutions such as stacking, I don't think any of us quite expected this. Soul Shards were simply becoming less relevant to the class and became more of an inconvenience, used mostly for creating Soul Wells or summoning friends. The overhaul also frees up one bag slot as a bonus (whoo!).

Drain Soul will become less necessary as a finisher and will likely need a boost or revision to remain relevant to specs other than Affliction. The good news is, Blizzard has shown a willingness to throw everything but the kitchen sink in order to make a better class or game. Removing mana from Hunters, simplifying statistics, adding new class/race combinations... it seems that very few things are sacred to Blizzard. Well, except Soul Shards, I mean -- Blizzard insists on it as part of the Warlock class and were willing to completely overhaul everything just to keep the concept. On paper (or slide), it looks like it just might work this time.

BlizzCon 2009 is coming up on August 21st and 22nd! We've got all the latest news and information. At BlizzCon you can play the latest games, meet your guildmates, and ask the developers your questions. Plus, there's some great looking costumes.

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