The Burning Crusade
TBC was a glorious expansion for hybrid classes of all sorts. I cannot even being to stress how radical the shift in philosophy from vanilla to TBC was. Hybrids were still hybrids that focused more so on utility than they did on damage, but our damage was finally being recognized. We were given a purpose, a point, and all of the talent trees reflected this. No longer were this mutated freak crossing physical and magical damage in the most nonsensical of ways. Instead we were breed out to be a pure caster. Casters of merit, of worth, of importance. It was during this time that I actually would use the word surge. A lot of druids, what little of them that there were considering we were thought to be one of the weakest classes in the game at this point, branched out from restoration. Though feral had its day in the sun, balance was not sitting under some dark cloud, crying to black rainbows while reading Poe.
Moonkin Form was increased to be a 5% party buff, we were given Improved Faerie Fire for the first time which increased melee's chance to hit by 3%, and we had a base-line Innervate. Times were good for a change. Raids wanted us as we filled in to be one of the strongest caster groups WoW has ever seen. Starting from mage/mage/shadow/balance/shaman to eventually grow into warlock/warlock/warlock/shadow/balance with a shaman being rotated into the group at the expense of the priest or the druid to chain Heroism. We were undeniably fit for raiding.
That isn't to say that we were not without our own problems. At the start of the expansion, balance druids had 0 threat reduction. None. Zippo. Nada. Nothing at all. This time around there is a hint of resentment in my voice. The issue was eventually fixed a few patches in by giving us a reduction in the restoration tree (Ouch, Blizzard, ouch.) I was bothered most by the principle of the matter. Many balance druids, myself included, complained incessantly about the lack of threat reduction throughout the beta process and absolutely nothing was done about it. It hurt. Going back to that time even now brings up a flash of anger in me provoking the little devil in the back of my head to spit any form of vitriol I can muster. Alas, it is not to be. Though my feelings on the matter are obvious and poignant, Blizzard learned from their mistakes and has corrected the issue. Case closed.
There was more to it than the lack of threat reduction, and I apologize for the brief tangent on the matter. Our mana regeneration was in a poor state at the start of gearing. Abysmally poor. Balance druids often had to rely on their own Innervate to get through some of the more prolonged encounters, which significantly cut back on our worth to many raid leaders. There was also the issue that we were down right terrible in AoE situations. Thankfully there were not too many true AoE encounters during this time, but Hurricane being on a lengthy cooldown was beyond suck. More than that was the feeling that Blizzard wasn't fully ready to commit to hybrids actually being brought for the purpose of damage. Looking at Tier 4, especially for balance druids, made this point crystal clear. The two piece bonus was a flat mana regeneration proc, which we sorely needed, and the four piece bonus was a blah reduction on the cooldown of Innervate. I hate the phrase, but it almost was as if Blizzard was readying the hand slap to our respective faces. It was if they knew of our mana issues, showed they had a perfectly viable method to resolve it, yet completely skittered the issue. Not only that, but they weren't even damage bonuses. The mana was nice, but mana problems eventually go away. So, too, do Tier sets I suppose.
Thankfully later Tier gear rectified the issue. Not amazing, well Tier 5 four piece was amazing, but at least all of the bonuses provided a noticeable DPS increase. A final point of contention, and one which still exists today, was the utter lack of itemization for balance druids. Spellpower and healing were completely different stats during this time frame, and there was nothing, nothing at all for balance druids in the leather department. If I'm recalling correctly, and it's difficult to double check since everything has changed since then, there were a grand total of two raid drops that were itemized towards balance druids. One from out of Karazhan and a pair of boots out of Black Temple. To this end, we were forced to use cloth without exception. That has always been an uneasy subject for many people. Priests, warlocks, and mages do not want us taking their cloth, yet, we had no other option. It wasn't until Sunwell that this was eventually fixed where all of the healing items could be traded in for spellpower items with the simple cost of a Sunmote (which only ran around 5,000g at the time, yeah, only.) It was worth it, though, if only for the sake that we finally had some leather items we could use.
It took a long time for Blizzard to fully commit to their new stance that hybrids could be brought to raids in order to deal damage. To some degree this was understandable, yet it left many balance druids feeling more than a little slighted. For good reason, too.
Wrath of the Lich King
At last we arrive to the current content. Blizzard took another radical shift in design philosophy at the on-set of this expansion. I, for one, think it has turned out rather well. There are issues, there are flaws, and there are disagreements as there will be with any system. Despite all of that, this game, and balance druids, have come a long way. Everything is leaps and bounds above where it was before.
We struggle to this day with Eclipse. A point that many balance druids are unhappy about. It might seem that I would view Eclipse much as I viewed previous issue balance had with threat reduction in TBC. After all, during the beta process I struggled immensely towards getting this talent to be removed from the game. Many balance druids did. We stated many flaws with the system time and time again, some of which were ignored, some that were not. I want to class them obvious flaws, but to do so would be a mistake. Again, how is this any different than the threat issue? After all, the player base told Blizzard what we saw as fact; facts which were ignored as the talent was pushed into reality. Once again, Blizzard was proven to be wrong. Eclipse did not work, it failed horribly. Yet, I cannot fault them for that.
For all of the postulating that we do, the players are wrong just as often, if not more, than Blizzard is. They do not hold it against us, why then do we hold it against them? Eclipse was an experiment. Blizzard wanted the mechanic to work, that much is clear, and they were willing to do whatever it took to this talent in order to make that happen. A noble effort. Eclipse has failed, yes, I do not think there can be any contention to that, yet it has taught us so much. Balance druids were not broken by Eclipse, we have remained in a position of relative power throughout the entire expansion. We've slipped and stumbled from time to time, yet Blizzard was always there to pick us back up onto our feet as a doting parent would a child learning to walk.
Balance druids are only now finding their legs. Though we have existed for nearly six years, we have spent much of that time crawling around gazing at the world with an innocent glaze to our eyes. Only now have we finally become toddlers just starting to function on their own. Yet, like it would be for any six year old child in this state, it is a painful process to watch. It seems almost sad in a way that it has take us this long to reach the point where we are now. Be that as it may, the results follow the path of design exactingly. Changing the basic philosophy behind a game is not an easy task. Not so much in the development, testing, coding, and other technical changes (which are difficult in their own right,) but also in changing the mind set of the player base. Those playing this game have proven themselves to be passionate in a way that few would have expected. Changing the foundation, the rock upon which this game has been built for so many years, is not something the community is going to take lightly, nor have they taken it so. Is the change better for the game overall? I say it is. We fuss, we fight, we kick and scream, cry inconsolably, and weep with joy. We laugh, make friends, burn bridges, and learn to love our characters.
Change is a scary concept, it is a big concept, almost unfathomable. Given that, we cannot always win the fight. There are times when we must accept that what is, is. In this case, what must be accepted is that players like different things, different graphics, different mechanics. There are different principles that draw each of us to this game, and the game must cater to that broad aspect. For this to occur, no player should feel they are so hopelessly inferior simply based on the class they want to play. Change is coming, a better change, a different change. Embrace it.
I am a balance druid. My first raid was done as a balance druid, so too will my last. I cannot say why I love balance so much, only that I do. I've seen the high points and the low points of this history. Nothing yet has broken me away form this class, this spec. There are others like me, and I can only wish that there will be many more before this game is over. Cataclysm is coming, change is coming. I'll be there, blasting things to bits with the fury of Nature, will you?
Every week, Shifting Perspectives treks across Azeroth in pursuit of truth, beauty and insight concerning the druid class. Sometimes it finds the latter, or something good enough for government work. Whether you're a bear, cat, moonkin, tree or stuck in caster form, we've got the skinny on druid changes in patch 3.3, a look at the disappearance of the bear tank, and thoughts on why you should be playing the class (or why not).