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Shifting Perspectives: Balance spells redesigned in Cataclysm

Tyler Caraway

Every week, WoW Insider brings you Shifting Perspectives for cat , bear , restoration and balance druids. After recovering from my BlizzCon wounds, it's back to the normal grind. This week, we'll be exploring how some of our spells have changed for the coming expansion and how they could still be improved.

Greetings, team! BlizzCon has come and gone, with little passing for balance druids. Unfortunately, there wasn't that much information for World of Warcraft all around, for us ... Well, the most exciting announcement was a joke about moonkin getting boobs for female models and another joke on removing the balance spec completely. I wasn't all that amused, but I suppose my perspective on the issue is a little skewed. On the plus side, I did get to meet an amazing person in the best moonkin getup that I've ever seen; to whomever you are, you were the best thing at BlizzCon 2010.

All of that aside, let's talk about balance druids -- because let's be honest, we're way more cool than anything else that might be going on right now. I'd like to talk about a few of our spells that have been redesigned for Cataclysm, how they function best now and what spells might still need a little TLC in order to work better. In a strange turn of events, I'll also try and work some PvP balance into this -- I know, the world is probably ending ... But no worries, I have a fully stocked bomb shelter.

The specific spells and talents that I feel still need the most work done on them are Owlkin Frenzy, Thorns and Force of Nature. In some cases, the spells just lack the right amount of power to be useful; in others, they just need a little something extra to make them stand apart from the crowd. The more extreme examples that we'll be dealing with simply don't have a useful niche and need to be adjusted for the sake of making them worth something.

The issues with Thorns

To call Thorns the red-headed stepchild of spells would be harsh -- accurate, but harsh. Thorns has seen the exact same roller-coaster ride every single expansion, and frankly, I'm tired of riding Scooby Doo's Adventure Land. I'm ready to try something else.

Every single time we go into an expansion, Blizzard realizes that no one cares about Thorns, and I mean no one. You never hear tanks asking for Thorns. It has never amounted to anything in PvP. The best reason for Thorns' existence is that it was a fodder buff to protect more important things. The start of TBC went the same as the start of Wrath and has gone exactly the same as what we've seen in Cataclysm; Blizzard buffs Thorns to be useful, everyone cries, and Thorns is nerfed to be useless. I'm ready to bust this broken record.

Thorns has a very basic premise that's prevalent in many games. It's a rather basic, shield-like spell that says, "Hey, don't hit this guy." In previous expansions, one of the major things holding back Thorns was that it had a 100 percent uptime; this meant that not attacking simply wasn't an option for many classes, which is why the damage was kept low. For Cataclysm, Blizzard realized this flaw and corrected it by boosting Thorns' damage significantly while giving it a cooldown. I agree with the concept, but Blizzard really didn't follow through with this implementation. The biggest flaw was the Glyph of Thorns, which essentially gave Thorns a 5-second cooldown -- not nearly long enough if we expect for Thorns to deal respectable damage. This all lead to Thorns' damage being heavily reduced to the point where it just isn't that noticeable, once again.

In order to fix Thorns, the most important thing is to realize the niche that Thorns needs to fill. Thorns is a defensive ability that has an offensive componentant to it; the point of using Thorns is deter players from attacking you. We don't really see that right now in the game. In PvE, it's used as an offensive cooldown to help tanks generate AoE threat while dealing damage, while in PvP, it's used to punish fast-attacking melee targets. We need to get back to the basics.

A very common suggestion for Thorns has been to have the reflective damage be based upon the damage the player is taking, rather than a flat amount. This is a change that must be done. Without this stipulation, fast attacks will also suffer far more damage than slower attackers, to the degree that either fast attackers are going to kill themselves on Thorns or slow attackers aren't even going to care that Thorns is up. Thorn's should reflect 5 percent damage, period. If a rogue hits you five times for 200, then he should take the same damage as a warrior who hits you for 1,000.

Turning Thorns into a true defensive cooldown

The first thing that should pop into your mind at this is that the damage would scale far too well in PvE, where boss mobs hit for far more than players are capable of. That's why there should be two restrictions placed upon Thorns in order to limit its use in PvE. The first (also a common suggestion) is to cap the reflective damage based upon a percentage of the player's maximum health. This way, a boss isn't going to be able to hit itself for some absurd number when a tank has Thorns.

That's only half of the solution, though. Thorns, as a DPS cooldown mechanic, really shouldn't exist. The mechanic is far too specialized in terms of boss ability usage, and the damage contribution becomes wonky. Not that meters are everything, but Thorns does not report to the druid's damage done, so even if it is a DPS increase to use, this isn't reflected. Either way, the basic premise of Thorns is that it is a defensive cooldown, and there is nothing defensive about plopping it on a tank to eke out slightly higher DPS.

To this end, Thorns should function exactly like Hand of Salvation does, reducing the player's threat by a certain amount while it is active. This gives Thorns a more unique, or partially borrowed, PvE mechanic for threat management. It would also allow for balance druids to have a threat tool to use in the case of emergencies, something we're lacking at the moment.

Yes, we would all mourn the loss of keeping Thorns up on the tank, and I understand that it was a useful mechanic. But Thorns is not one of our offensive tools. It's a defensive tool, and it should fullfill that defensive role in all aspects of the game -- not just in PvP, when we pray that melee player stops hitting us due to the damage he is taking while continuing to turn us into chicken nuggets.

Giving Owlkin Frenzy a purpose

Oh, Owlkin Frenzy, I do not think there has yet to be a more conflicted talent that you. I often wonder if you have mother issues, but I'm not Freud enough to go into that conversation. Owlkin Frenzy is a purely PvP talent that every druid and his mother has been trying to work into PvE since it was created. We've come up with some pretty fantastic ways of doing it, too. Suffice it to say, these methods don't work any more; every time that a brilliant druid finds a way to work Owlkin Frenzy into a PvE build, Blizzard finds a new way to nerf the ability to make that useless. No more standing in lava during Sarth, no more procs from BQL's pulsing aura, and so many more casualties that came with it.

But why wouldn't balance druids want to keep Owlkin Frenzy for PvE? All the talent does is increase damage done, provided you are taking specific forms of damage.

For a PvP talent, it's rather strange that it would increase damage done. Blizzard has been very careful in forcing the fact that yes, Owlkin Frenzy is a PvP talent down our overstuffed throats; we get the point by now. Every time a PvP issue has come up for balance druids, Owlkin Frenzy has been the go to fix. Mana issues? Owlkin Frenzy now restores mana! Simply put, despite players' best efforts, Owlkin Frenzy doesn't work in PvE -- and despite Blizzard's best efforts, it doesn't work in PvP, either.

There is nothing wrong with a reactive PvP talent that increases damage done, but the way in which Owlkin Frenzy does it isn't practical. If you want Owlkin Frenzy to be useful in PvP, then it has to do something like making Starfire an instant-cast or provide temporary stun immunity (which is probably too powerful, but, ehhh) or at least have charges instead of a duration. Personally, I see Owlkin Frenzy more as a defensive talent, and I would push it more in that direction.

First, Owlkin Frenzy should be a charged-based ability that procs the same as it does now but with a different effect. Each charge should impact our primary nukes in different ways to allow the druid the choice of how he wishes to defend himself. The first portion of the ability should be to add a 2-yard knockback and a 15 percent slow to Wrath per charge of Owlkin's Frenzy, essentially making it an extra Typhoon to peel melee away, should Typhoon be on cooldown. The second effect would be to reduce Starfire's cast time by 33 percent per charge. With a limit of three charges, Wrath would have a 6-yard knockback coupled with a 45 percent slow, while Starfire would be instant. This offers the druid a choice: He can try and get a melee player off of him with a Wrath cast or deal out some pain with a hefty Starfire.

Owlkin Frenzy and Eclipse

In a shocking new development, Eclipse is still a horribly clunky design for PvP balance. There's been a cadre of druids that believe that Eclipse's poor implementation for PvP is more acceptable due to the fact that Eclipse was never really a PvP talent to begin with. I laugh at these people. Eclipse is the cornerstone of our DPS. It is our source of mana regeneration. It's our flippin' mastery effect! To say that balance druids shouldn't care about Eclipse in PvP is denying the central concept of our class to an entire area of the game. Eclipse must be functional in PvP.

The most painful part of Eclipse in PvP is actually generating eclipse power itself. It's hard to stand around and cast multiple Wraths and Starfires without someone thinking that it would be a swell idea to stop you from doing that. Even though I think these people are two bits short of a box, we must plan for all contengencies. A very good solution would be to allow each charge of Owlkin Frenzy to increase the eclipse power generated by a spellcast by a factor of 1. Basically, with a single charge, Starfire would generate 40 solar power; with two charges, it would generate 60 solar power; and with three charges, it would generate 80 solar power. With a full stack of Owlkin Frenzy, it would only require two Starfire casts in order to go from 0 Eclipse to a Solar Eclipse proc, or only just that single cast if Euphoria also procs -- plus that first Starfire would be instant.

A stipulation to this design would be that the additional gains only occur if you currently don't have Eclipse up -- this way, you do not consume your current Eclipse proc faster than you should. I'm of the opinion that the design is a rather smart way to deal with the Eclipse issue. If you aren't being targeted, then you should be more free to cast, so the lack of Owlkin Frenzy charges isn't that big of a deal. When you are being targeted, it allows for a great method to generate Eclipse as you want it and use it as you see fit.

What's up with Force of Nature?

Serious question, folks: What is the deal with Force of Nature? Force of Nature and Summon Water Elemental came out in the same expansion, and I don't think anyone can argue for having treants over the water elemental. In Wrath, enhancement shaman gained Spirit Wolves, which were arguably even better than both of the previous temporary summons. Throughout the course of Wrath, there have been a updates and changes for the elemental and wolves to only make them shinier, yet we haven't seen a single thing for Force of Nature; in fact, Force of Nature has pretty much been overlooked for everything.

There is so much wrong with Force of Nature that I'm not even really sure where to begin. The treants do not scale from crit, haste, or mastery, which is a pretty big hit as far as scaling is concerned. Their base damage value is excessively high and they scale rather decently from spellpower, so they certainly don't run the risk of being useless, but the lack in scaling from additional stats makes them feel bland. The more important issue is that they do not scale from your personal hit, meaning their attacks are capable of missing. Nothing is more annoying than seeing a string of miss, miss, miss, miss, dodge, miss, dodge, dodge. Even worse, they do nothing. Our treants are nothing more than wailing little children throwing a temper tantrum, wildly swinging at a creature's face and hoping that it goes away. They have no special abilities, and they have no added little benefits; they just sort of fling their arms around.

As far as improving Force of Nature, I do not having any big ideas myself simply due to the fact that I don't care. I don't care at all what additional ability Force of Nature gets -- but for the love of Elune, let them do something. Anything! Have them root things, cast Rejuvenation on you or other party members, cast Moonfire, leave a stacking debuff ... It really doesn't matter. Just give them something. Heck, Blizzard even added the Glyph of Mirror Image for mages to allow their mirrors to cast the spell associated with their specialization; why on Azeroth can't Force of Nature have some form of update? It's a bland spell and suffers for it.

Every week, Shifting Perspectives treks across Azeroth in pursuit of druidic truth, beauty and insight. Whether you're a bear, cat, moonkin, tree or stuck in caster form, we've got the skinny, from a look at the disappearance of the bear tank to thoughts on why you should be playing the class (or why not).

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