It is 2010, several years after we first began hearing whispers of a Soul Shard overhaul and about a year since the mechanic was first introduced in grand style at BlizzCon 2009. There, we received word that our class would play like none other and be defined by new resource-based cooldown abilities and the three Soul Shards used to activate them. Those three Soul Shards, now a part of our UI, were (and still are) triggered by a spell called Soulburn, resulting in what would be a grand moment -- buffing the next ability used in a specific way. We were teased with images of instant-cast Fears and buffed Death Coils with an extended horrify effect and increased healing. My eyes widened at the sight of a direct damage component added to Unstable Affliction. It was eye candy, and it was good.
Things have changed, however, since the early model of the Soul Shard system was introduced. And, sadly, things are not quite as euphoric as they once seemed. The instant Fears, buffed Death Coil and direct damage of UA we once adored are gone. Our three Soul Shards only regenerate while outside of combat, via Soul Harvest and Drain Soul, mainly, limiting those "OMG" moments (if we can still call them that) to three per encounter. And if that weren't enough to get us down, we are told that Soulburn is more in line with PvP gameplay and less applicable to raid boss encounters.
Feeling bleak? Yeah, well, it is easy to do so when overly seductive abilities don't even have the opportunity to be nerfed on beta or live realms and class-defining abilities seem to hugely favor one aspect of our gameplay. And considering the cooldown on Soulburn and relative weakness of Fear and Death Coil as crowd control abilities, it would have been nice to test Soulburn's effects on the spells before they were axed. I would think that the developers would wish to see them tested on a large scale, too, especially after advertising them on a stage as big as BlizzCon.
With the removal of what can easily be argued as the best and most exciting of the Soulburn effects, what can we expect in Cataclysm? Will it be any good? Well, yes and no. I believe that it's mostly yes, but many believe that the effects may not be the exciting, "big deal" abilities that Ghostcrawler (lead systems designer) and his team described them to be (and they are working on that), but they are still relevant, engaging and, most importantly, may prove to be extremely useful. So, let's take a quick look at the abilities that light up on the action bar when Soulburn is activated and what these Cataclysm effects currently have to offer us.
Summon Demon Offering an instant summon for our minions, this Soulburn effect will be very useful in the arena and PvP in general. Because our minions are incredibly specialized to handle different classes with varying success, having another option to change minions instantly and on the move is damn nice. I am already drooling at the macro potential here -- those that would make use of trinkets, Soulburn (which is off the global cooldown timer, by the way) and an instant-cast summon to bring in the proper demons and immediately use their abilities. That's deliciously evil, and to say that this Soulburn effect would help survivability as a result is an understatement. More pet continuity intermixed with specialization in Cataclysm makes this ability a pure win.
However, for the sake of argument, if I had to force a complaint, it'd be that the ability is made semi-redundant by the Demonic Rebirth and Master Summoner talents, the reduction of summon cast times by 40 percent and the impact of haste. We definitely will not be casting for the eternity that we spend summoning demons now, so the overall value of this Soulburn ability is diminished, even if only by a little bit.
Drain Life Drain tanking just might be making a comeback with the buff to Drain Life and its Soulburn effect on the horizon. Drain Life has been tweaked to do a good amount of fast health regen, returning 5 percent of total health (not base health) every second for 3 seconds and producing some decent damage, too. The Soulburn effect cuts that channeling time even further to 1.5 seconds, excluding haste, creating a nice "oh @#$%!" option when Healthstone and Death Coil are on cooldown and your healer is locked up elsewhere. In that light, it can be a make-or-break ability that is tough to predict and interrupt, too. Good stuff. Now, if only it impacted more than one cast and affected Drain Soul, as well.
Demonic Circle: Teleport There's definitely a lot of potential fun to be had with this spell's added effect. A Soulburn followed by a Demonic Circle: Teleport increases a warlock's run speed by 50 percent after teleporting to his Demonic Circle, giving warlocks some breathing room in PvP and resulting in a good amount of separation from things that want to kill us. But the goodness doesn't stop there. Just think of all the creative uses that having an on-demand run speed boost could have: flag running, chasing down fleeing players, boss kiting, etc. Fun times. The only improvement that I can think of that doesn't push this effect from acceptable to ridiculously OP is to finally allow a teleport cast to break movement-impairing effects. Burning a shard to use it -- I don't think that is too much to ask.
Soul Fire As simple and potentially uninspired as this Soulburn effect is, it is very difficult to argue against the sweetness of an instant-cast Soul Fire -- one that we'll be able to cast on the move, uninterrupted and as part of a burst-heavy PvP combo or early in a destruction rotation (after Conflagrate and a potential Backdraft proc) to engage the Improved Soul Fire talent. The only downside to this effect is that it will not be as enjoyed equally across the board. Affliction warlocks lack any buffs to their fire spell damage (Demonology receives a 15 percent buff, while Destruction receives 25 percent), so while this would give them some much-needed burst, it would be noticeably weaker than for warlocks of a different specialization. Affliction does get its own Soulburn talent, so I guess it evens out in a strange kind of way.
Healthstone OK, I have to admit that this one has me scratching my head a little bit. My first impression was that it would be of great help to survivability and warlock drain tanking, increasing our maximum health by 20 percent for 8 seconds. But then I logged into the beta, tested it and realized just how awkward this effect seems to be. It currently does not replenish more health than a normal Healthstone when consumed, but only increases health relative to your maximum. In other words, the Soulburn effect would be next to useless at a time when the Healthstone would be most useful -- an odd and somewhat backward design, to say the least. It would be far more useful if a Soulburn-infused Healthstone would not be consumed upon use and restored 60 percent of maximum health, instead of its current base health limit.
Now, given these weaknesses, the ability still could have its moments. For example, when a warlock is expecting a great deal of incoming damage, a Soulburn could be activated and a Healthstone consumed to heal and give 20 percent more effective health for a healer to work with. But depending upon heals and damage done, you may not have needed to use it in the first place. I can see this being abused in the arena to the point where teams feign heavy DPS on a warlock just to get him to burn a shard and Healthstone, losing both at the same time. So, while it can be useful, there is a lot of risk and room for potential error. Gauge your healer, incoming damage, potential CCs, and use it wisely.
Searing Pain This is another one of those effects that has me intrigued but that I am not quite sold on just yet. I'm interested because when the ability is paired with the Improved Searing Pain talent in the destruction tree, it will produce several casts worth of Searing Pain that will critically strike every time, assuming that the warlock has at least 10 percent increased critical strike chance on his gear. That is some consistent, heavy and fast DPS that would be very useful when burning down a PvP player or trying to establish aggro on a mob, etc. I am not yet sold on this, however, because I am not sure that a chain of critical-striking Searing Pains would outperform blowing cooldowns and throwing an instant-cast Soul Fire. Depending on the numbers, the ability may be extremely situational for when those cooldowns are not available -- and even if they aren't, would blowing a shard on Searing Pain be worth it? I'll have to get back to you on this one.
Seed of Corruption At the beginning of this article, when I said that the best and most exciting Soulburn effects have not been implemented, I may have lied a little. The truth is that a Soulburn and Seed of Corruption combo, which applies Corruption to all damaged targets upon detonation, is literally explosive, incredibly exciting and has more damage potential than all of the other abilities combined. Now, that may be obvious, given that Seed of Corruption is an AoE spell, but there is more to it than that. Consider hasted Corruption and Seed of Corruption ticks on a large group of mobs with a high amount of health, and you can begin to see just how much damage will be getting dished out. Imagine using it on a group of PvPers hugging a flag point -- I crack a smile just thinking of the insanity that would ensue. I just hope that we'll find many opportunities to make use of such a fun ability in Cataclysm -- because, sadly, I hear that use of AoE will be few and far between.
Creative new tactics
Well, that just about does it as a quick-and-dirty overview of the new Soulburn abilities. I am very excited to see the creativity that this mechanic will bring to our class when it finally goes live. There are many who are already experimenting with it and finding some interesting effects -- like casting a Soulburn before combat begins and then immediately using Soul Harvest to replenish it after 3 seconds, effectively resulting in four active shards per encounter. Or hanging on to a Soulburn cast for as long as possible, using filler spells in the meantime, before unleashing a buffed ability, which would be a great way to maximize DPS or throw off enemy targets in PvP.
Anyway, I am excited to see what you all think of the abilities. Post your thoughts in the comments, plus a few ideas of what you'd like to see implemented into the Soulburn mechanic. Who knows? Blizzard developers may be reading, and your idea just might be the one they're looking for.
Blood Pact is a weekly column detailing DoTs, demons and all the dastardly deeds done by warlocks. For more information on the upcoming class changes, check out WoW.com's Guide to Cataclysm.