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Shifting Perspectives: The bear's wish list

Allison Robert

Every week, Shifting Perspectives explores issues affecting druids and those who group with them. Today we gnaw on Alex until he's convinced that we tank, and then restrain ourselves from penning a letter with the salutation, "Dear Santa..."

Today, druids, I crave your indulgence for wading into a potentially volatile topic, but I think the time has come to address an issue that's divided the druid community into two embattled camps:

Can beast mastery raid?

I kid. I don't know who beast mastery is, and whether he raids or not is a matter between himself and his God. So, rather than pestering some poor bastard over his existential crisis in ICC, I figured our time might be better spent with some observations on how the druid class has fared in Wrath of the Lich King, and more particularly on the things that haven't worked out so well for us. Before Cataclysm's beta starts, I figure it'll be cool to air a class wishlist and get some feedback. UPDATE: And Blizzard has pre-empted me on this.

To be frank, there's something a bit fool's-errandish about the whole enterprise, because we have no idea what kind of content awaits us in Cataclysm, and today's problems may not even exist there. It's an old saw that generals like to prepare their armies to fight yesterday's war, and I'd be lying if I said there weren't an element of that here. I guess it might be more accurate to describe this article as "Things I wish I'd written two years ago" -- when Wrath's beta was on the horizon -- but one of the irritating things about hindsight is that things actually need to be behind you.

The "yesterday's war" problem is actually one with precedence when it comes to designing classes for content that hasn't been released yet, and you can argue that Berserk is a pretty good example. The fear immunity was thought to be a Very Big Deal before Wrath went live, because Fear chains owned PvP in Burning Crusade, and bears weren't able to deal with it on any boss encounter in which it made an appearance. If you were a cat staring down a warlock, you knew perfectly well you'd spend most of the ensuing fight running your ass off, and if you were a bear, there was no amount of begging that would convince your raid leader to let you tank Archimonde.

Along came Berserk. We cheered, wept and hugged each other. It wasn't Berserker Rage, but it was something, right? Versus all that nasty fear we'd have to deal with in the expansion?

And then ... fear just stopped being an issue. Warlocks are less dependent on it for PvP than they've ever been (don't mistake this for saying that they're not dependent on it at all, which isn't true), and the mechanic all but vanished in PvE. Auriaya and Lana'thel are the only bosses in the entire expansion in which fear is even remotely a concern.

So I'm writing this fully aware that what we're convinced is a problem now can be -- as we say in the news business -- overtaken by events. As a matter of fact, as I tidy this article early Tuesday morning, we've just seen confirmation that news on upcoming class changes is going to be released this week, and more specifically, Friday for druids. So now I find myself in the somewhat awkward position of writing a wish list that will be answered (or not) within the space of a week. Of course, this also means that for all those of you from Blizzard reading this -- if you haven't already included an exciting array of feral staves, mind-blowing cooldowns, new animations and the ability to generate gold on each Swipe crit in your upcoming feature on druid class changes -- there is still time.

Today, we'll talk about the bear, and next week (subject to the information with which Blizzard decides to torment us on Friday) we'll cover cats and trees. I'll tell you right now that three things floating around my cat shortlist are: an interrupt/stun that's not a finisher, a damage cooldown in addition to Berserk, and less of the "rogue without the good stuff" ethos. Trees are a little trickier in that we only just got some information on how dispel mechanics are being reworked for Cataclysm, and it dovetailed into one of the things I've privately wondered about for a long time. However, I believe that we as a community can get behind any list of changes in which we are being buffed and everyone else is being nerfed. Nelson's "Ha ha!" from The Simpsons has been playing on a continuous loop in my head since approximately 10 p.m. last night.

Listed below are changes from which I think the bear could benefit, some history on the related problems, and why a "fix" might not happen (and may not even be a good idea, let alone necessary).

The bear wish list:
  • a ranged silence
  • less dependence on weapon upgrades for threat generation
  • possibly a beefier damage-reduction cooldown than Barkskin (pending Cataclysm raid mechanics and the gear overhaul)
Ranged silence When Wrath's beta hit, we were all really happy to have the protection against caster damage afforded by Mother Bear (later changed to the talent we know as Protector of the Pack), but I didn't see the silence issue coming. Burning Crusade dungeons are generally squarish, boxy affairs with lots of right angles to abuse for LOS pulls, and I figured that Wrath would be more of the same.

Not really. The bear is entirely dependent on environmental features to control a pull, and when these features don't exist --

"Just LOS caster pulls," we tell new bear tanks.

"I'm in Pit of Saron. LOS where?"


-- pulls get inconvenient, messy, and (in the case of areas with patrolling or nearby mobs) unnecessarily dangerous. We can Bash and Feral Charge casters and ranged, but as both abilities freeze a mob in place, they make the positioning issue worse rather than better ("Here, allow me to root you where I didn't want you anyway.")

If you'll allow me a moment's frankness, I despise being the only tank who has to plead with her DPS to interrupt ranged mobs so I can do one of the most basic and necessary tanking functions -- positioning a pull. I hate swallowing 35K bursts from Ahn'kahar Spell Flingers. I hate how pulling the early portion of Old Kingdom is such a pain in the ass. I hate the Icecrown 5-mans pulls when there's nothing I can do to get multiple caster and melee mobs within range of each other. I hate being completely helpless watching a healing mob fire off heal after heal with no interference from DPS and no option on my end if Feral Charge and Bash are both down.

Why it might not happen
In a word, PvP. A PvP feral spends a lot of time in bear form, if for no other reason than the cat's lack of survivability. (It's essentially a rogue with all the rogue's weaknesses, but without the rogue's ability to control a fight or, failing that, reset it with Vanish. More on this when we reach the cat portion of this series.) Frankly, a bear with access to a short-term silence is a not-inconsiderable concern, as the form combines decent damage with a short-cooldown immobilization/interrupt and a metric ton of health.

Other tanks all have ranged silences, but they're either tied to talents fairly deep in their respective tanking trees (Captain America and Shield of the Templar for the paladin, and Heroic Throw and Gag Order for the warrior) or baseline abilities in an explicitly anti-caster melee class (Mind Freeze, Death Grip and Strangulate for death knights). But as any dedicated arena player could tell you, all three plate tanks have had enormous and intractable PvP balance problems for most of Wrath, and that's a depressing sign of just how hard it is to balance a tank class between PvE and PvP content. As much as I want caster pulls to stop being so frustrating, it's not worth it if the bear just winds up being the latter-day version of Wrath's prot warrior in arena.

So I'm not optimistic that we'll get a silence, but the inability to do jack about caster mobs may wind up being less irritating if the geography in Cataclysm dungeons just permits easier pulling. Blizzard's been heavily hinting that we'll see the return of more dangerous heroic mobs, and I just hope we get the tools to control these pulls. One of the reasons bears and warriors hated tanking places like Shattered Halls and Shadow Lab was that you can't necessarily rely on puggers to help you do that.

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