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Shifting Perspectives: Fear itself

Allison Robert

Every Tuesday, Shifting Perspectives explores issues affecting feral/restoration druids and those who group with them. This week, we condemn vuvuzela abuse while secretly hoping that someone manages to sneak one into Wimbledon or the local maternity ward.

The above video has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with druids or World of Warcraft but I promised myself I'd try to sneak it on the site anyway.

The official version of the Cataclysm restoration talents doesn't differ hugely from the one we saw back in mid-May, so I'm not going to repeat a talent-by-talent rundown like we did for the resto talents then and their feral counterparts last week. However, we do have a better sense of the spec's future due the clarifications afforded by blue posts, and what Ghostcrawler's written on the forums shed a lot of light on what Blizzard sees for the spec. I've been in contact with a number of people over common worries for the spec's future in Cataclysm, and below the cut I've collected a number of them (many of which I've previously expressed myself) with potential answers for these concerns.

EDIT: Shortly before this article was set to go live, I wound up excising the last portion, which concerns how the new Tree of Life cooldown fits into Blizzard's raid design in Cataclysm. I'm going to bump it to an expanded column next week.

Fear: HoTs have been gutted.
Possibility: HoTs may actually be too strong

Blizzard's been pretty open about its desire to end restoration's Rejuvenation and Wild Growth spam-a-palooza in raids, and make no mistake; in the current talent build, they have indeed nerfed Wild Growth with a higher cooldown and increased mana cost. Many of the spec's new and updated talents also bypass Rejuvenation in favor of a new emphasis on improvements to direct-healing spells. The developers are clearly uninterested in supporting a two-button playstyle.

However, HoTs are acquiring two things that promise to be a very big deal in an expansion with higher health pools across the board -- haste and crit. That's automatically a huge throughput gain at no cost to the player. Think of it this way: Rejuvenation and Wild Growth spam without the benefit of haste or crit (barring the four-piece tier 9 bonus, obviously) currently provide the resto druid's highest throughput in raids, whereas the spells that already benefit from these stats (Nourish, Healing Touch, Regrowth) are the ones sitting on the sidelines like girls with at a sock hop with empty dance cards.

There are also a number of new talents (Blessing of the Grove, Improved Rejuvenation, Empowered Rejuvenation, and the revamped Gift of the Earthmother) that do impact Rejuvenation's throughput -- and in the case of GotE, add a version of the hugely useful tier 8 set bonus. Rejuvenation, at least, is still likely to be a bread-and-butter spell, and that's important given that our primary contribution to the heal team is still going to be huge throughput. We still have no equivalent to buffs like Ancestral Fortitude or Guardian Spirit. Even our big new Tree cooldown (see below) is designed around massive throughput.

If you're going to worry about any HoT on the chopping block, it's Wild Growth that's taking a big hit. Where Lifebloom fits into all of this is a little easier to see with the new version of Empowered Touch.

Fear: The new talents seem more oriented toward PvP.
Possibility: Maybe, but they also address a longstanding mediocrity re: tank healing.

For a few months now I've been kicking around parts of a column prompted by a comment left by Redielin on Shifting Perspectives: In defense of a glyph everyone hates. The problem with our direct-healing spells, Redielin noted, isn't that they're bad, but that the supremacy of paladin tank-healing has more or less forced everyone else to find another niche in raids. The spec that comes closest to their capacity for tank-healing is the discipline priest, but their damage-prevention abilities are equally useful when it comes to raid damage (more particularly when it comes to Infest on the utterly murderous heroic Lich King encounter). Any holy paladin in a raid will be instantly assigned to tank heals, and everyone else either raid-heals or competes with the Gatling gun tank spam of a holydin.

I've healed heroic Deathbringer Saurfang -- the clearest example of a fight where "tank-healing" makes the greatest difference -- with no holydins in the raid before. It's not a fun experience. I can also contrast it to the night where we ran three holydins on the heroic 25-man version, and the rest of the heal team could literally have fallen asleep at their monitors with no effect on the outcome. Not that I did, mind you. Did you know that a restoration druid can hit about 2,000 DPS on Saurfang? I didn't until that night.

Bottom line? It's hard not to notice that many of the current talent changes have given us a reason to use direct or situational heals more, and as much as we've grown used to dismissing talents like that for PvE use, talents like Living Seed (now yoked to Efflorescence) and the new Empowered Touch help us as potential tank or single-target healers. After reading Ghostcrawler's response to a commenter concerning the new restoration talents, I've been trying to train myself out of the reflexive, "That must be for PvP" response into thinking, "You're getting what you really need as a healer more easily, and now you've got more room for a little eccentricity."

And, yes; stuff like Fury of Stormrage has more obvious application in PvP than PvE, but Blizzard is aiming for talent trees where a min-maxer could realistically say, "You have 15 extra points to do whatever you want," rather than the current "Use this build if you're haste-capped and this one if you're not, and any other choices you make are bad and you should feel bad." Having shifted most of the passive talents into mastery bonuses, they're free to toss talents into the spec that can be tailored to individual playstyle preferences.

Fear: Losing the Tree's armor contribution is a huge survivability loss in PvP.
Possibility: Who cares? We're getting Feral Charge back.

Actually, PvP restos will have two very interesting 11-point options -- Solar Beam and Feral Charge -- available to them in the balance and feral trees respectively. I honestly think Blizzard's intent is to resurrect a version of the Burning Crusade 11/11/39 spec (then Insect Swarm/Feral Charge), which was pretty damn good for battlegrounds and anything outside of 5v5 arena. I can only assume they're trying to inject the BC druid's mobility into the space vacated by the current Tree form's armor contribution, and frankly? It sounds like a terrific, albeit possibly overpowered, idea.

Longtime readers may remember a November 2009 column in which I admitted that Wrath PvP healing is kind of a snoozefest compared the dynamism of the BC playstyle: The answer to everything, instead of thinking your way through a match-up, CCing an enemy player, or making a strategic retreat, is to try to outheal anything that occurs, if for no other reason than the Tree's inability to do anything else ... being unable to do anything but heal sucks.

I won't miss that. The Tree was never really intended for use in PvP. Being shoehorned into that role always felt off-putting, as if Blizzard wanted to reduce resto's dominance in 2v2 but was afraid of creating an equally big monster by removing the tree's crippling restriction to healing spells.

Fear: The Tree of Life cooldown is going to suck.
Possibility: Probably not, but ...

I've decided to bump this portion to next week after discussing the matter with a few readers over email and tweets; the subject really felt like it merited a column of its own. As a gloss on the argument, the Tree cooldown's current design feels somewhat odd given Blizzard's acknowledged design goals for Cataclysm -- namely, its desire to equalize the difficulty of 10- and 25-man raids. The developers can't realistically assume that the Tree will be present in 10-mans, and right now it's the only healing cooldown available to any class that massively increases throughput for an extended period of time. In an expansion with decreased healing efficiency and high health pools across the board, I'm not sure how those two goals mesh with each other.

Anyway, we'll get a better handle on it as Cataclysm moves into the public beta and more information becomes available, but we'll see you next week for a discussion of competing design goals for the Tree cooldown and Cataclysm raiding as a whole.

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).

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