Shifting Perspectives: The balance of changes for balance druids

Tyler Caraway
T. Caraway|09.24.10

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Shifting Perspectives: The balance of changes for balance druids
Every Friday, Shifting Perspectives explores issues affecting balance druids and those who group with them. This week, we are once again delving into the wild world of beta to see what's been fixed, what remains broken and what is just awesomsauce.

Greetings once again, fellow moon chickens. This week has been an exciting one for balance druids everywhere, just in case you haven't been paying attention. The latest beta push made many a remarkable changes to our talent tree and for our playstyle; certainly all of the changes that have been made thus far have been lauded by the community as a significant breakthrough toward everything that we have been pushing for this entire beta cycle. Those who know me, however, know that I am not one to throw parades. Some may call it being cynical; others might say that it's downright pessimistic -- but I like to think that I am merely a perfectionist, and as we all know, nothing can be perfect. To that end, while this is certainly a cheerful week to be a balance druid, let us reflect on those changes that still need to be made, the issues that have remained unaddressed and the problems that beta players are still finding with our spec in the next expansion.

Before going into the humdrum of negativity, the bleak abyss of the perpetual rain cloud of doom that seems to surround me, let's at least bask in the glorious light of everything that has gone right this week in the land of overweight, feathered genetic research rejects.

Changes thus far

Blizzard has been a busy little bee (or is it bees?) this week. Here are the highlights of its productivity:
  • Eclipse no longer has a duration, nor does it decay outside of combat.
  • Nature's Grace is now called Nature's Torment. It is a 15 percent haste buff for 15 seconds after casting either Insect Swarm or Moonfire. The effect has a 1-minute cooldown, but the cooldown is reset each time the player gains an Eclipse buff.
  • A new talent named Shooting Stars has been added. It gives Moonfire and Insect Swarm a 4 percent chance per tick to reset the cooldown on Starsurge and reduces the cast time by 100 percent.
  • Another new talent, Sunfire, has been added which turns Moonfire into, well, Sunfire -- essentially the same spell as Moonfire except that it deals Nature damage instead of Arcane. This happens only when you have a Solar Eclipse, thus allowing Moonfire/Sunfire to benefit from the proc.
  • Euphoria is no longer based upon critical strikes. Instead, only when no Eclipse proc is active, Wrath and Starfire have a chance to generate double Solar/Lunar Power with each cast.
  • Starsurge no longer has a knockback, which is worth mentioning for the PvP ramifications that it has.

That's really the gist of everything. There are few other changes, some of which are pretty awesome in their own right -- like Overgrowth, a talent that turns Entangling Roots into a Water Elemental, freeze-type spell -- but I consider these changes more ... for the sake of fun rather than substantive mechanics. That isn't to say that the other new talents or changes aren't great nor that they aren't useful, rather that their impact is more specialized. Either way, it's quite a strong list of changes, many of which are simply beyond words in how amazing it is to finally see them come through. Yet as I have said, there is still much work to be done.

It's all about Eclipse

I believe I have officially signed a contract stating that I have to devote so many words per article to Eclipse or else the post will be rejected. At the risk of sounding like a broken record that gets stuck on the worst part of the song, I find that talking about Eclipse is still very important, simply because Eclipse itself is that important; it's everything to us.

The change to Eclipse decay is the largest leap in making our mastery useful in all parts of the game that could ever have been made. There is nothing, nothing that I could say that fully expresses how delighted I am to finally be able to level with a balance druid and actually get an Eclipse proc from time to time. I doubt this is a change that is going to last, however -- at least not completely as it remains now.

While I don't think any of us expected for the decay to be completely removed (although with other issues that we currently face [*cough*mana*cough*], it was certainly needed), the bigger factor here is that the buff no longer has a duration. I fully expect a duration to be added back in. Why? Simple: Eclipse now buffs all of our abilities based upon spell school, yet only Starfire, Wrath and Starsurge generate Eclipse Power one way or another. This means that a balance druid could, theoretically, get a Lunar Eclipse proc and then spend an entire zone doing nothing but running around Moonfire-spamming everything with said buff and never actually lose it. Note, I haven't actually had the time yet to test if I actually can do this -- although it has been tempting. I'm just saying that without a duration, it is theoretically possible to do.

That is a bad thing. It might not really have any impact on long-standing DPS on a boss encounter, and the damage may end up not being significant enough to matter in PvP, but the sheer flaw in the mechanics is what makes it broken. That clearly is not the intent of Eclipse, so I would expect it to change.

One thing about Eclipse that has yet to be addressed is that it is still nigh impossible to proc it within the confines of strict PvP. Without the decay present, Eclipse is at least semi-viable in a BG setting, where you can have more prolonged encounters, but this isn't true for an arena setting. In arenas or any short skirmish, Eclipse is downright terrible; it takes far too long to proc, it is far too difficult to make full use of, and druids simply can't always make use of their abilities in such a way that most benefits Eclipse. It is somewhat acceptable for Eclipse to not be 100 percent perfect for PvP usage, but I highly doubt many druids would even notice if Eclipse were completely removed from PvP. That's a flaw in design, and it still needs to be fixed.

Moonkin to OOMkin

I think Sturmvogel said it best with these two quotes:
This mana scheme isn't going to work. It needs to be taken out back and shot already.
The way it is now in beta is just donkey poop.

Harsh words? Perhaps, but they are entirely accurate. The only thing to remember about mana regeneration for balance druids is that there is no mana regeneration. The return from Euphoria is completely laughable, and the "new" Dreamstate talent is an utter joke. At level 85, going simple from one Eclipse proc to the other, I end up with just over 50 percent of my mana left. With a perfect rotation that is as minimal on mana use as it possibly can be, I can barely sustain myself for just over a minute, and that is after using Innervate. Dreamstate currently isn't working in beta, but it would make absolutely no difference, given that I run out of mana well before the 3-minute mark for the cooldown to be up again.

There is no other way to say it other than that our mana regeneration is complete trash at the moment. It makes the game completely unplayable. When leveling, the druid is forced to use nothing other than Insect Swarm and then run around spamming Moonfire in order to kill anything -- simply because it's impossible to actually play how the game designers intended while having the mana to support it. This has to change. We need some kind of passive mana regeneration. Otherwise, we can't even do anything in PvE -- let alone PvP, where the strain on our mana is even higher.

At this point, it really doesn't even matter where the mana comes from -- just that we actually have mana. Make it be returned from critical strikes, make it entirely passive, make us have to /dance for 2 seconds ... It really doesn't matter anymore, but we simply cannot exist how we are today.

The benefit of the new talents

As mentioned above, we did manage to get several new talents that are quite interesting. The big three that have the largest impact on our rotation and abilities are Nature's Torment, Shooting Stars and Sunfire.

There is no questioning how amazing Nature's Torment, the new Nature's Grace, has become. From the testing that I have been doing, even with fairly minimal haste, it isn't difficult to achieve close to a 100 percent uptime on the buff. Frankly, the new Nature's Torment is one of our best talents now, and I personally love it. The only downside worth mentioning goes back to when it was first changed to a flat 3 percent haste buff; losing out on the buff proccing from critical strikes really hurts the value of crit on our gear. As it stands right now, we don't have a single talent that actually supports having gearing more towards crit, which is problematic only so much as haste is naturally going to be worth far more than crit is. The only question that remains is whether mastery is worth more than crit -- and so far, it's turning out to be.

Shooting Stars is another great new talent that merely adds another small random proc to watch for within our rotation. Before talking about the talent itself, I think one thing should be made clear. Yes, Starsurge has lost its knockdown effect, but I highly doubt the sole reason for it was this talent. Balance druids have been given a lot of new control tools thus far in beta, least of all the ability to pick up instant Entangling Roots. With all of our other control methods, gaining another one was pushing the boundaries or at least could be seen that way. I would say that is more the reason the knockdown element was removed, not the addition of this talent.

As for Shooting Stars itself, the proc is rather decent, but honestly it isn't the most amazing talent in terms of PvE gameplay. Starsurge isn't a spell that we use on cooldown every time the cooldown comes up; instead, we game it so that we can use Starsurge in order to extend the duration of each Eclipse proc. With this being the case, Shooting Stars procs are really only useful at times where they proc when we have an Eclipse active (which, granted, is fairly often); otherwise, using Starsurge would mean not being able to have the spell ready again for the next Eclipse proc. It might not necessarily result in a DPS loss to use Shooting Stars procs right when we get them, but any gain would be excessively minimal.

The talent is pretty solid for PvP; even though the proc chance is rather low, it does provide additional burst that's both powerful and instant and cannot be ignored. Changes don't need to be made to the talent, although an increased chance to proc would be nice. It needs to be understood exactly how powerful the talent really is.

Finally, not much can really be said about Sunfire at this point because the talent is completely broken on the beta servers right now. Although it's fun to have Moonfire turn into random mob abilities, it doesn't exactly allow for the best of testing. I would still like to point out that this does create something of an imbalance in the DPS between Solar and Lunar Eclipse procs; a Solar Eclipse is going to be worth far more DPS at this point. That isn't a bad thing, and the pros certainly outweigh the cons in this situation, but it is something to keep an eye on.

The main reason why Sunfire was needed and why the talent is so awesome is because Moonfire is our primary damage ability while on the move. To have Moonfire only benefit from a Lunar Eclipse significantly cripples our movement DPS, which needed to be changed. Sadly, Wild Mushroom does have a slight cast time, so it cannot be used on the move. Having this equality in our movement DPS is important to ensure that we remain on par with other classes, so I wouldn't expect anything to change with this talent.

Every week, Shifting Perspectives treks across Azeroth in pursuit of druidic truth, beauty and insight. Whether you're a bear, cat, moonkin, tree or stuck in caster form, we've got the skinny, from a look at the disappearance of the bear tank to thoughts on why you should be playing the class (or why not).

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