For ret paladins, the most exciting aspects of the paladin changes preview were the ones that were not explicitly laid out. None of the new spells have me jumping up and down in excitement, but there are still little hints and glimpses of other toys and tools that could be coming our way.
Keep in mind as you read this that while I may sound negative about certain details, my overall feelings on the changes aren't negative. There's a lot of potential good here; we just won't see it all until further down the road.
Blinding Shield (level 81): Causes damage and blinds all nearby targets. This effect might end up only damaging those facing the paladin's shield, in a manner similar to Eadric the Pure's ability Radiance in Trial of the Champion. The Holy tree will have a talent to increase the damage and critical strike chance, while the Protection tree will have a talent to make this spell instant cast. 2-second base cast time. Requires a shield.
This obviously isn't a retribution-oriented ability. Gregg and Chase surely have more to say about it, but it's worth mentioning anyway. This ability will have questionable PvE applications for retribution, but it's going to be the herald that ushers in the need to weapon-swap for PvPers. The two-second cast time will be a limiter for using it offensively, but when all else fails it's another tool in the toolbox for those times you need to peel people off of your healer or other weakened party member. I expect it will see some use from retribution in the arena and the new and improved battlegrounds, but not so much in dungeons and raids.
I do want to mention that I'm incredibly amused by the addition of this spell. Eadric the Pure is openly mocked for this spell on a regular basis. His ultimate ability does nothing if you're not looking directly at him. Congratulations, protection paladins. Your greatest weakness is your enemy's turning his head slightly. Luckily, mobs don't know how to close their eyes.
Healing Hands (level 83): Healing Hands is a new healing spell. The paladin radiates heals from him or herself, almost like a Healing Stream Totem. It has a short range, but a long enough duration that the paladin can cast other heals while Healing Hands remains active. 15-second cooldown. 6-second duration.
Again, this is a spell primarily for holy, but you're terribly mistaken if you don't think retribution will take full advantage of this. The only thing that would prevent retribution from making regular use of it during AoE damage-heavy raid encounters would be an extremely high mana cost, one that Judgements of the Wise and Divine Plea couldn't come close to refilling.
Between Judgement of Light, Divine Storm and now Healing Hands, retribution will be better than ever at keeping their teammates alive. Utility like this is a good thing to have as a DPS class, especially with how healing has been described in Cataclysm. The frantic up and down of health pools will be smoothed out significantly, so every little bit will help. Taking pressure off of your healers is a great thing.
Guardian of Ancient Kings (level 85): Summons a temporary guardian that looks like a winged creature of light armed with a sword. The visual is similar to that of the Resurrection spell used by the paladin in Warcraft III. The guardian has a different effect depending on the talent spec of the paladin. For Holy paladins, the guardian heals the most wounded ally in the area. For Protection paladins, the guardian absorbs some incoming damage. For Retribution paladins, it damages an enemy, similar to the death knight Gargoyle or the Nibelung staff. 3-minute cooldown. 30-second duration (this might vary depending on which guardian appears).
I'm sure this spell is going to be fantastic. It will be a good DPS boost and another well needed cooldown. The idea of an angel swooping down to put the beat-down on your enemies for you sounds awesome. That being said, it also leaves a bad taste in my mouth when one of your new spells is described as being like another class's spell. It's one thing if it's a major raid buff like spreading around Heroism, but just getting the death knight's Gargoyle isn't exciting. It's a neat spell, but nothing I'm going to jump for joy over.
If I were holy or protection, I could likely be far more excited about this. It's hardly a bad spell. It fills a gap that needed filling. Retribution needed another DPS cooldown, protection needs some on-demand cooldowns rather than passives, and holy is going to need some serious help on its party/raid healing. It's a dynamic spell that will help all three specs in areas where they need it. I don't fault the design of the spell at all. It's just not that exciting for retribution. It's not unique. It's a holy gargoyle.
It's a case of, "This isn't what we want, but it's what we need." Maybe it will see some tinkering over the course of the Cataclysm beta to make it more interesting. It's also very possible that simply seeing it in action will make me warm up to it. I'm a sucker for pretty lights. Penance is my favorite healing spell in the game after all.
Changes to Abilities and Mechanics
Crusader Strike will be a core ability for all paladins, gained at level 1. We think the paladin leveling experience is hurt by not having an instant attack. Retribution will be getting a new talent in its place that either modifies Crusader Strike or replaces it completely.
Cleanse is being rebalanced to work with the new dispel system. It will dispel defensive magic (debuffs on friendly targets), diseases, and poisons.
Blessing of Might will provide the benefit of Wisdom as well. If you have two paladins in your group, one will do Kings on everyone and the other will do Might on everyone. There should be much less need, and ideally no need, to provide specific buffs to specific classes.
Holy Shock will be a core healing spell available to all paladins.
Crusader Strike becoming a baseline ability at level 1 is going to do a lot to help the leveling process for paladins. The mere fact that it's another active ability at low levels is huge. Until now, Judgement spells and Consecrate were a paladin's only active abilities until level 50 for retribution and level 40 for protection and holy. Judgement has a 10-second cooldown and Consecration has an 8-second cooldown, not to mention an extremely high mana cost. That's a lot of doing nothing but auto-attacking while leveling up. The addition of Crusader Strike should do a lot for all specs.
Retribution is also getting a new strike entirely out of the deal to replace Crusader Strike in our talent trees. This opens up a lot of possibilities for something more interesting. Chances are high we'll see the same treatment the shaman's enhancement tree is getting in the form of Primal Strike, a simple, baseline strike at low levels that gets replaced by Stormstrike when you've invested enough talent points into the tree. I know just a couple paragraphs ago I said getting another class's ability is kind of boring, but allow me to contradict myself: It would be pretty neat if our Crusader Strike replacement had an effect similar to Stormstrike, except for holy damage. Make the bonus to holy damage significant enough after Replacement Strike so we need to think about our rotation and what comes next. What do we use up those Holystrike charges on? An Art of War'd Exorcism and a Holy Shock? Would it be worth delaying your next Divine Storm?
At first glance, it appears that Cleanse is staying the same as it ever was, but according to the recent announcement regarding the dispel changes, that's not the case for us retribution paladins. We can still deal with poisons and diseases, but we lose the ability to defensively dispel magic. That is absolutely a hit to our PvP mobility. We will still have Hand of Freedom, which is a great ability (and the dispel mechanic changes will make it more costly to simply purge it away), but we'll be losing the ability to cure ourselves of things such as Slow, Frost Nova, Entangling Roots, etc. This might be balanced out by the fact that all healing specs/classes will be able to cleanse those. That means you'll almost certainly have a healer behind you in the arena or rated battlegrounds to cure what ails you, but it makes you much more reliant on someone else.
It's a point against retribution, but a point in favor of overall PvP cooperation. I would still like to see the class get some kind of gap-closer, because the class sorely needs it. Retribution paladins are still one of the most easily kited melee classes in the game. No real snare, our stuns are on long cooldowns, and while we have Blessing of Freedom to help us out for a few moments, that's still countered by our opponent's turning around and running away from for a few seconds. Pursuit of Justice only does so much. Again, we're heavily reliant on our teammates for basic class functions.
The consolidation of Blessings of MIght and Wisdom is a good thing, though you could be cynical about it and say it's less reason to take a paladin to a raid. You wouldn't be wrong about that. You would need fewer paladins to get all of the buffs you want, but hopefully Cataclysm will make that irrelevant and raid recruitment will be more about skill and less about buffs and debuffs. It should also help avoid the 30-minute pre-raid conversation about who has what blessings with which talents when you join a PUG without your needing to pray everyone has PallyPower or some equivalent. It also means that you personally will always have both Might and Wisdom active when you're off doing things by yourself or you're the only paladin in a raid. Every bit of "free" mana regen you can get your hands on is good, especially with the potential incoming Replenishment nerf.
Holy Shock's becoming baseline is interesting because retribution almost has a mechanic exactly like it in Art of War. You are given the choice between an instant nuke via Exorcism or an instant heal via Flash of Light. The two are very close to duplicates of one another, except one is a proc and one simply has a cooldown. I fully expect changes to one or the other so they're differentiated. I wouldn't be surprised if Art of War goes the way of the Sentry Totem. It's possible Holy Shock would be changed so it can't be used as a damaging spell, but that's counterintuitive at this point. Holy paladins need it, and they seem intent on giving holy more damage options rather than less of them. If they keep them both, we're in Redundancy City and will pretty much have multiple abilities all serving the same purpose. Two instant holy nukes back to back, or two instant heals back to back. More straight-up burst damage, or even more defensive abilities as a DPS class. Neither seems in line with Blizzard's described direction for retribution. We'll see what happens.
New Talents and Talent Changes
We want to ease off the defensive capabilities of Retribution and Holy paladins slightly. We think the powerful paladin defenses have been one of the things holding Retribution paladins back, especially in Arenas. One change we're considering is lowering Divine Shield's duration by a couple of seconds. Having said that, Retribution does pretty well in Battlegrounds, and Battlegrounds will be a much bigger focus in Cataclysm since they can provide the best PvP rewards. Furthermore, the healing environment of Cataclysm is going to be different such that a paladin may not be able to fully heal themselves during the duration of Divine Shield to begin with, so this may not be a problem.
We feel Retribution paladins need one more mechanic which involves some risk of the player pushing the wrong button, making the rotation a bit less forgiving. In addition, we want to add to this spec more PvP utility. Right now the successes of the Retribution paladin in PvP seem to be reduced to either doing decent burst damage, or just being good at staying alive.
We want to increase the duration of Sacred Shield to 30 minutes and keep the limit to one target. The intention is that the paladin can use it on their main healing target. That said, we would like to improve the Holy paladin toolbox and niche so that they don't feel quite like the obvious choice for tank healing while perceived as a weak group healer.
The first point here is scary but necessary. It's been said over and over that retribution paladins are too tanky in PvP, and making Holy Shock a baseline ability isn't going to help that. It's going to make it worse. We're lacking the necessary tools to be competitive in the arena, and it's largely because giving them to us could be dangerous. If we had the offensive tools necessary to be competitive in the arena but retained our incredible defensive capabilities, that's a nasty combination. A nerf to Divine Shield wouldn't make me happy (especially if it killed our sacred bubble-hearth!), but if that's what needs to happen for real PvP viability, so be it. It is true that we're much stronger in battlegrounds than the arena, and considering PvP is going to shift over to a battleground focus, this might not even be something we worry about in a few months. It could all be moot.
I won't complain about a more complex rotation. The possibility is there to screw up your rotation right now as a retribution paladin, but the loss of DPS is minimal compared to other classes. You can't faceroll your way to victory, but you can come closer than anybody else. The new Crusader Strike replacement could do this for our rotation, but it wouldn't necessarily have PvP implications like they're suggesting for ret. We'll see if that PvP utility will come in the form of this strike or something else entirely. Maybe we could see the -spell damage debuff that was discussed long ago could make a comeback?
A buff to the duration of Sacred Shield is welcome, even as retribution. Popping it on yourself in a raid encounter can do a fair amount toward keeping you alive, especially when combined with Art of War's instant FoLs. The only drawback is if you want to keep it on yourself 100% of the time during a raid encounter, you need to interrupt your DPS rotation constantly. A 30-minute duration will solve that. It won't pack as much punch as a holy paladin's Sacred Shield, but it's still a good thing.
Mastery Passive Talent Tree Bonuses
Melee Critical Damage
Holy Damage: Any attack that does Holy damage will have its damage increased.
These mastery bonuses are boring but expected. Some of the mastery bonuses we've seen from other classes are exciting; others are ho-hum straight buffs. These fit into the latter category, but at least we know we won't need to rely on procs and games of random chance. A holy damage mastery will also be better in Cataclysm than it would have been in Wrath of the Lich King. We don't have to deal with armor penetration showing up on our gear, so there's no need to plan out our stats to work around it. We should have roughly the same ratio of physical to holy damage throughout the expansion. The only problem that remains is haste, which doesn't necessarily give our holy damage the same sort of boost it gives our physical damage. I foresee the numbers on that mastery being shifted around a lot throughout Cataclysm to find the sweet spot.
To sum up:
The specific spells and abilities shown to us in this preview are underwhelming, but the other details given throughout help me keep my hopes up. We will be getting a new strike with some hook to make it superior to Crusader Strike, Holy Shock becoming baseline might have an impact on our rotation, and they have additional plans to make our rotation a deeper, more rewarding experience. Some of these changes are good, some are frightening, but we don't have nearly enough details to celebrate or get angry. We'll need to keep a close eye on the Cataclysm beta once it goes live. There's potential for good, but it's far too early to know.