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Shifting Perspectives: A peek at the beta bear

Allison Robert

Every Tuesday, Shifting Perspectives explores issues affecting feral/restoration druids and those who group with them. This week, we push off from the island of Swipe spam and float toward the ominous continent inhabited by Lacerate spam.

Hail, druids. I've had another week in the beta, and my main's now level 82. While I would love to tell you that all of the bugs we talked about last week have been tracked down and eliminated; that's not the case, so I'm not sure that a big analytical article on abilities that Blizzard's by no means finished with is a great use of our time. But I did tank a very successful Blackrock Caverns run, and Ghostcrawler (lead systems designer) recently wrote something interesting about the future of AoE tanking, so today's post is going to take a quick peek at how bears are developing.

Also, there's a great quest in Mount Hyjal where you throw bears off a tree, which naturally I recorded. It recorded upside down for some reason, so I'll have to figure out how to flip it before it gets posted.

Tanking on a bear feels like it's turning in the direction of protection warrior tanking, which is a good thing, but I'm not sure how close Blizzard is to being done with the tree. As such, don't take this as anything other than a few observations specific to the current beta build, and a limited few at that. The dungeon finder's broken at the moment, so groups aren't as easy to get.

How good is Pulverize?

Pulverize, on the outside, is a pretty sweet deal. It provides instant threat, an indirect threat buff in the form of additional crit, additional Savage Defense uptime and -- for now -- more rage generation, although that's likely to be changed (which means Primal Fury in its current form won't survive). But it does have a problem, and that's that it turns Lacerate into something within shouting distance of the current incarnation of Swipe. In other words, it's a skill that you wind up spamming, not because you want to, but because you kind of have to. And Lacerate is a much clumsier tool than Swipe for that purpose.

Unlike Swipe, Lacerate's threat on application has never been mind-blowing, because what you're really after is the damage and threat return of the bleed component (particularly a five-stack). It's precisely that damage and threat drip that you have to sacrifice to keep the Pulverize buff going, which lasts at most for 16 seconds, assuming you've talented into Endless Carnage. Assuming you want to keep that really nice buff going, you're then tasked with devoting five global cooldowns every 16 seconds to a single mob to Lacerate up then Pulverize. In essence, your reward for spamming Lacerate is having to go back to spamming Lacerate in short order. For 5-man tanking, this isn't realistic in a multi-mob pull. For single-target tanking (something to which Pulverize is vastly more suited), it still means that, rather than one Lacerate every 15 seconds to maintain your stack, you find yourself spamming it constantly if you care about getting and keeping the best buff.

So yeah. I don't know what's going to happen with that. Maybe having the best buff active all the time isn't important and we're not being balanced around it. Maybe Blizzard wants you to choose between getting Pulverize or having a Lacerate stack running. It's also possible that Blizzard intends for the AoE bleed provided by Thrash to take the place of the threat/rage/Savage Defense drip you'd be getting if you'd spread a few Lacerates around a pull instead. But my assumption going into this expansion is that Blizzard is doing its best to get druid tanks away from the one- and two-button spam that's infested 5-man tanking, and Pulverize doesn't feel like a good fit for that.

How hard does _______ hit?

Whatever the skill you'd want to ask about, you can take it as an article of faith that it's not hitting very hard right now. I don't know how much of this is intended behavior due to the presence of Vengeance and how much of it is Blizzard still working on talents and abilities behind the scenes. I recorded some trash pulls and boss fights in Blackrock Caverns with the user interface active to show readers exactly what you can expect to see, and I hope to get that flipped around and posted this week. As a short gloss, I'm seeing Swipes in the 200-300 range, Mangles in the 1,200 to 3,000 range, Thrash around the 100-170 range, etc.

On that note, how is Vengeance working?

It's really, really great after an extended period of time getting hit ... which is kind of frustrating because it'd be doing you a lot more good earlier than that. I think Vengeance has a ton of potential; the idea behind it solves the problems caused by DPS threat outscaling tank threat as gear improves. But it doesn't seem to be helping much so far because:
  • Tank damage is really low right now (the yellow 109 you're seeing in the picture below is a Thrash, by the way), and Vengeance doesn't seem to stack very quickly. It's not making a real difference at the start of a pull when you need it the most.
  • By the time it starts making a difference to the amount of damage you're doing, most of the pull is already dead.
On the live servers, my main (in good but not astonishing feral kit; I've been raiding as resto for most of the year) does about 3,000 DPS while tanking an average heroic dungeon. On the beta, I'd be surprised if I were managing even half that. I went out and did a bunch of Mount Hyjal quests in bear form to see what kind of attack power increase I could manage just from quest mobs, and the pictures here are representative of what you can expect.

The end result is that, because Vengeance takes so long to ramp up, skills in the early part of a pull lack the meaty, reassuring smack of a big damage boost on mobs itching to go elsewhere.
I'm curious if Vengeance might be an issue down the road. It used to be that 5-mans were annoying to tank past a certain level of gear because bears and warriors were invariably rage-starved and paladins never took enough damage to get much mana back from healing. Now I'm wondering if tanks are going to wind up going crazy trying to hold threat against geared DPS simply because the mobs will die even faster than Vengeance can stack.

Mein Gott! Can we even hold threat against a group in a 5-man?

You absolutely can. If you're already in the habit of tab-targeting around mobs to spread love taps around (BC and classic tanking habits are hard to break), it won't take you that long to make the transition to Cataclysm tanking. Just budget a few pulls to learn how best to spend your GCDs. You will almost certainly find yourself repeating requests to your DPS not to go nuts at the start of a pull, however. Frankly I think the more pressing issue concerning threat in 5-mans right now is simply that groups are too accustomed to AoEing everything down with the benefit of massive early tank threat, and it's going to take a while to train players out of the behavior.

There's a lot more that I'd like to add here, but before doing so I'd like to figure out why my video capture's gone haywire and correct it; I'd much prefer to discuss how Swipe's new cooldown is working with some convenient video.

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, you'll find 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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