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Shifting Perspectives: The tree in Cataclysm raids

Allison Robert

Every week, Shifting Perspectives explores issues affecting feral/restoration druids and those who group with them. This week, a square peg meets a round hole.

Yeah, this is another week with a video that has nothing to do with druids, but it's summer and I plead: a.) residual schoolgirl mischief, and b.) mounting hysteria from home renovation and the effort to convince my grandmother to jettison a garage full of canning jars before we can move her.

Anyway. As a few people have figured out, the beta came at an ugly time for me personally, and we've got some ground to cover. Before we do, I'd still like to address an issue raised two weeks ago when we talked a bit about the changes that resto players will see going into Cataclysm. This week's article is a more in-depth examination of how the new Tree of Life cooldown fits into Blizzard's wider sense of raid design in the new expansion. With the advent of the closed beta, we're getting a closer and better sense of how the class will function in the Cataclysm world, but we still have no real idea of how it'll play at 85 in a vastly different raiding landscape.

The cooldown's been bugging me for a while because something about it just feels (words fail me) strange. Blizzard's been pretty open about the changes it's implementing to raid design, and the tree cooldown in its current incarnation seems difficult to reconcile with their intent. This may arise from a misunderstanding on my part, or simply the confusion to which we're commonly prey before we see how this stuff actually works, but right now it feels like the current tree is a troublesome fit for Blizzard's efforts in the new expansion.

What's the current plan for the Cataclysm Tree of Life cooldown?

This is what we know as of late June/early July 2010, as the closed beta's gone live:

Tree of Life
Requires 5 points in Empowered Rejuvenation
Requires 40 points in Restoration talents
100-yard range
Shapeshift into the Tree of Life, increasing healing done by 15% and increasing your armor by 120%, but reducing your movement speed by 50%. In addition, some of your spells are temporarily enhanced while shapeshifted. Lasts 45 seconds. 5-minute cooldown.

Improved Tree of Life

Requires 1 point in Tree of Life
Requires 40 points in Restoration talents
Reduces the cooldown of your Tree of Life by 30/60/90 seconds and increases your damage done while in Tree of Life by 5/10/15%.

/barf -- A speed penalty?

Yeppers. Ghostcrawler (lead systems designer) mentioned there's a chance this'll get axed or at least reduced, and I sincerely hope that's the case. The explanation for why they're trying it makes sense, but unless Blizzard's planning on never programming another raid with boss abilities you have to move to avoid or RNG mechanics where you've suddenly got to haul ass, the tree is going to be a huge irritant on any movement-sensitive fight.

It's become standard practice for me to consider when I'd pop the cooldown in heroic ICC content:

  • Marrowgar You'd be screwed once Bone Storm hits, but that's also the portion of the fight requiring the heaviest healing.
  • Lady Deathwhisper Heroic + ghosts = boom.
  • Rotface I can absolutely see my RNG luck landing a slime on my butt five seconds after popping the cooldown.
  • Professor Putricide This is actually one of the easier fights on which to ask yourself, "When's the best time to pop Tree?" -- the cooldown would inarguably be a huge benefit to phase 3 -- but you've got to wonder if the healing boost is worth a 50% snare versus things like Malleable Goo.
  • Sindragosa $50 says you waste a portion of the cooldown running out of Blistering Cold.
  • Lich King Shadow Trap and/or Defile. Dear God above, Defile.
I can't help but feel that the snare has a foot planted firmly in catch 22 territory; the times I'd most want to pop it overlap heavily with situations where healing becomes difficult or more urgent because the raid has to move. I dunno. Higher health pools in Cataclysm may render that a superfluous concern, but I don't like the idea of a healing cooldown basically canceling its own benefits with a huge blow to the player's ability to react to raid hazards.

What do we lose when the current tree goes bye-bye?

Basically nothing. Everything the tree does -- barring its armor contribution from the present Improved Tree of Life -- is being baked into mastery or other talents.

I suspect if they'd left the tree graphic alone as a totally optional shapeshift form and just named the cooldown something else (e.g. Super Awesome Bongo Heals), everyone would be gung-ho over restoration's first real cooldown outside of Nature's Swiftness. But there's naturally going to be a lot of antipathy to a talent replacing the beloved tree form with a cooldown of as-yet-uncertain impact in level 85 raids.

So what's "strange" about the new tree?

I'll admit I'm still a little ambivalent, not so much because of the graphics hullabaloo, but simply because the cooldown feels weird given Blizzard's other goals for the expansion. When I look at Cataclysm, I see the following statements made by Blizzard concerning their plans for level 85 raid content:
  • Player health will be significantly higher across the board.
  • Healing efficiency will be lower.
  • Raiders will spend more time wounded.
  • Healing skill will be more about choosing the right spell for the right damage and less about landing a heal before a player gets "globaled."
  • The overall trend in healing trees is toward more homogenization, because 10- and 25-man raids are supposed to be equally difficult, and there's no way Blizzard can pull that off if we get another situation like we had with holy paladins on Malygos' Vortex or trees on heroic Lich King.
Understand that I'm writing this with the memory of getting Barkskin and Survival Instincts as a bear tank going into Wrath, only to discover that several raid encounters were specifically programmed around having to blow cooldowns. You didn't get to use them, as warriors had previously used Last Stand and Shield Wall, as "Oh s&$t!" abilities to buy you time if a healer lagged or most of the raid was dead with the boss at 1%; you had to use them in order to survive things like Sarth-3D or Mimiron's Plasma Blast. At then-current gear levels, you didn't have a choice.

What's wrong with that? They programmed encounters, then gave you the tools to survive them.

Right. They give you these big, shiny new cooldowns with the expectation that they will be used.

The game can't be balanced around the assumption that druids won't use the tree cooldown ... But with Blizzard's efforts to provide an equal level of difficulty at the 10- and 25-man level regardless of heal team composition, it also can't be balanced around the assumption that the tree will even be in the raid. No other healer has gotten an ability or cooldown analogous to the tree; the ability is wholly unique in its relatively lengthy (45 seconds) contribution to healing throughput and the amount of healing it can pump out in that period. Druid healing has to be balanced around the tree, but raids as a whole can't be.

The part of me that's seen Blizzard attempt to resolve and balance truly unique abilities in the past is wondering how this is all going to play out, and I guess what I'm most afraid of is that a huge chunk of the tree cooldown will invariably be wasted on most encounters. It's already in the uncomfortable position of being a Metamorphosis-esque cooldown for a role that's considerably more reactive than DPS, but it also can't ever be an indispensable addition to a fight. I guess it feels weird because it's a huge throughput cooldown (good) in a world full of wounded raiders (good) in raids where it can't possibly make a huge difference without causing problems for Blizzard's wider design goals (bad).

Well, we'll see. It's too early in the beta to know what's going to happen, and it's more than possible that I've misunderstood the tree's intent anyway, but when characters get the chance to test Cataclysm raid content we'll have a better sense of how it fits into the future raiding scene.

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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