There has been something about balance druids that has bothered me since the druid pass all the way back in vanilla WoW: Why do we shape-shift into moonkin? Moonkin are the magical guardians of Elune, the protectors of her sacred sites. For night elves, it makes a touch of sense of them to transform into the mystical moonkin, but where's the connection for tauren? They do not worship Elune; they have no real following of her; she isn't a paragon of the druid faith. Elune is merely a goddess for the night elves. Why then, do balance druids as a whole transform into her protectors?
What's more, moonkin themselves don't even cast any spells. It wasn't until very recently that we saw any of the owlkin species that are able to use Moonfire; until then, all of them have been melee-only creatures. They were never really known to be advanced casters, so why were they chosen to be the central model for balance druids? To go even further, why did balance druids need a specialized shape-shift at all? Our shape-shifting abilities have always been there to alter our abilities to an entirely different set that what we have. Cat Form turns us into a melee DPS form, Bear Form turns us into a tank form, and Travel Form allows us to, well, travel faster. Moonkin Form has never done any of these things; it has never really changed our ability set, nor has it even really allowed us to cast better at all. So what was the point of creating Moonkin Form to begin with?
The question then becomes what is the point of having Moonkin Form? Should Moonkin Form play a vital role in our DPS, or should it merely be there for utility purposes? Moonkin Form has also been one of our primary defensive tools against melee classes in PvP; is that how it should be? Should Moonkin Form be our first line of defense against melee attacks, or should we have something else?
You can go either way on many of these questions. For myself, I tend to think that Moonkin Form should be nothing more than an ability that we use situationally. The druid class overall is about shape-shifting; however, I simply disagree with the premise that this facet of our class should be defined to mean that we are always shifted into one form or another. For feral druids, it makes more sense that they remain in Cat and Bear Form, as those forms change the basic functionality of the class; however, Moonkin Form does not do this.
Druids are casters by nature. We cast spells perfectly fine without the need for changing our form; given that, it really just doesn't make sense to me that we should shift in the same way that feral does. Compound this with Moonkin Form's never really having a place in the balance tool set -- its mere existence seems to be for the sheer sake of giving balance druids something to shape-shift into.
I'm of the opinion that this is a design flaw; things shouldn't exist simply for the sake of their existence. Moonkin Form either needs to be a shape-shift that actually does something, actually changes the way that our spells or casting functions, or it needs to be scrapped completely. Perhaps I am biased by the fact that I would much rather sit in caster form where I can see my armor, anyway -- and I'm often told that I picked the wrong class if that is what I want -- but there just doesn't seem to be a point to Moonkin Form. The damage increase was tacked on merely to give us a reason to be there. I simply believe that instead of slapping on such a basic reason to be in Moonkin Form, Blizzard should have questioned why Moonkin Form exists in the first place. What is the point of having the ability?
Nature and arcane?
Nature spells make sense for balance druids -- we are the masters of nature, after all -- but how does arcane factor into the equation? Balance druids have control over the natural forces of Azeroth, but why do we also have power over the moon and stars? How is it that balance druids come to possess such power, and why doesn't it extend to any of our other abilities? Healing spells for all classes are restricted to a specific school -- shaman use nature, paladins and priest use holy. Why don't druids who specialize in the duality of forces use arcane healing abilities as well as nature-based spells? Is it purely a balancing reason, to prevent healers from being able to heal from two different schools should they be locked out?
Is the druid version of arcane power at all connected to the mage version? Mage arcane magic is purely that, magic; it is the raw, unaltered face of magical ability. So what does that make the druid version of arcane magic? Is our arcane magic actually just nature magic in a different form? Is this too merely in place for balancing reasons? And why is that balance druids took to their name so literally? Eclipse, that fickle mechanic we have loved and hated since its conception, has been stated to be a tool for balancing balance druids between our two schools of magic, to have us work in an equilibrium between nature and arcane. Does this then imply that our arcane magic isn't nature-based at all but comes from the same source as mage magic?
The balancing of forces that we do, the shifting between nature and arcane -- has it actually proved to be an improvement over our old standard of Starfire spam? Is it a better system than what other classes have developed? Balance druids are unique in that we are the only caster class that uses two different nuke spells that don't have cooldowns attached to them. Wrath and Starfire can be spammed whenever we choose; thus, we require a mechanic such as Eclipse in order for us to switch between to two. It has worked thus far -- but the question isn't whether or not the mechanic can work but rather should it even exist to begin with? Should we switch between nature and arcane damage? Or perhaps we should try a different method; maybe we should change more towards the fire mage system, in which they can stack crit for Fireball or stack mastery for Frostfire Bolt. Maybe we should follow the same example; maybe we should be able to choose between stacking crit and mastery for Wrath or stacking haste for Starfire -- or a different mixture of stats for our spells.
Do not misunderstand me; the new Eclipse is a fantastic, unique mechanic that I do enjoy, but that doesn't make it the right or the only choice. Eclipse has been problematic since its conception. Blizzard has tried everything in its power to make it work, and it is still trying to make it work. Mastery is a terrible stat for balance druids, which may end up causing scaling issues for balance druids, depending on how the scaling for other classes pans out and gear is designed. We are already in a position in which we're pretty much going to reforge any mastery form our gear into haste when we can -- is that not a flaw in the design? Is the flaw in the scaling or the mechanic itself? Perhaps it is time to try something different besides Eclipse at this point.
It is obviously far too late in beta to make this type of sweeping change, and I wouldn't want to, anyway. Eclipse is a good mechanic at heart; it's merely a matter of scaling and balancing that may need to be done in order for balance druids to work out in the end. The simple fact remains, haste is far too good for us while crit and mastery are far too weak. What might we do to change this in the future? Will it even become an issue?
For want of a unique utility
Homogenization is one of the large buzzwords of Wrath and Cataclysm for every class and spec out there. Buffs and debuffs are all being equalized between those classes that bring them in an effort to make raid stacking easier; however, whether players admit to it or not, every class or spec still brings its own unique abilities that can assist the raid in ways that are often undervalued. Mages have Blink and Mage Ward, which can be extremely useful in a variety of situations; warlocks have Demonic Teleport, Health Stones, and a variety of pet abilities that can assist the raid in ways that often aren't quite as tangible as a straight buff. Druids, particularly balance druids, have always had Innervate and Rebirth as our own unique little niche that we bring to a raid; however, both of these have been significantly hurt for the coming expansion.
Innervate took a strong hit in power for feral druids. Balance druids still have a relatively strong Innervate; however, balance druids are now required to use Innervate on themselves in order to sustain our mana. This isn't very problematic in the grand scheme of things. The issue that I take with it is that Innervate has always been our little buff to bring to the raid. Innervate is our Blink, our Health Stone; it has been that one thing that we have had that no one else can bring.
Rebirth, too, falls into the same category. Bringing dead raid members up again is a huge deal -- so big, in fact, that Blizzard is very scared that raids are going to stack druids of all varieties for this specific ability. Not that I share that fear; however, there have been encounter mechanics in the past that have supported the stacking of druids for Rebirth. To deter this, Blizzard has restricted the use of combat resurrections to one in a 10-man and three in a 25-man. While I can agree with this change, it only further chips away at the unique flavor that balance druids bring to a raid.
What then, do we have now? What unique abilities to balance druids bring to the table? What abilities should they bring to the table? Utility is not always as cut and dry as people may think, yet what little extra things can a balance druid do that no one else is capable of? What small, perhaps unnoticed ability do we possess that sets us apart from everyone else? What abilities might we have that could be changed to give us this utility?
I have discussed before that I believe turning Thorns away from an offensive ability into a more defensive ability that can be used to reduce threat would be a great change for balance druids overall. It would also give us additional utility that would be stellar to have in any raid setting. It wouldn't be as unique to us, given that paladins also have this ability; however, it would still be a great start, and there is so much more that could be done. Force of Nature is a prime target for granting additional utility that perhaps only a balance druid can bring. There is also Faerie Fire, which is great for feral druids and the Feral Aggression talent, but for balance druids, it's a spell that has little to no value to us. Perhaps we could get a talent to allow Faerie Fire to do something more for us, to give it that little extra power that we're missing.
Remember though, utility doesn't have to always be about increasing damage -- it can be methods that help you survive or deal with encounter mechanics in a different way. Again, look at mages with Blink. Blink is great for Defiles on Lich King, and warlocks have Demonic Teleport to deal with Valks on the encounter as well. Neither of these increase DPS in a literal sense, but both of these abilities are amazing to have for that encounter. Balance druids need that. We need to have a little piece of our tool set which helps us shine in odd situations where others don't.
What do you think?
Questioning the design intent of abilities and general game concepts is the very foundation of making a better game. WoW is always changing, and despite what some players may feel, the playerbase is the driving force behind those changes. Blizzard questions every change that it makes; it constantly questions every ounce of its design. The players should be no different. By questioning abilities or the direction that a spec is taking, we can cause Blizzard to also look into these issues on its own. We may or may not get the changes that we are looking for, but that should never be the point.
We question things because we care about our class, about our spec, and we want it to be the best that it can be; we want to fix any flaws that we may feel are within the system. Beta may be ending soon, Cataclysm might be just around the river bend, but that doesn't mean we should ever stop questioning things. On the forums, in your personal blogs, and here on WoW Insider, always ask what could be changed to improve balance druids. Blizzard does listen to the community; the developers do read its forums and other websites, and they pay attention.
I have asked my questions of Blizzard, and now I would like for you to do the same. What do you feel could be done to make balance druids a better, more enjoyable spec to play -- be it for PvE or PvP. If you could change anything at all about balance druids, what would it be? Do you like the new Eclipse mechanic? Do you like Moonkin Form? What raid utility do you think balance druids should bring? How should they bring it? Blizzard is always listening, and there is never a bad time to give feedback, so now is still the perfect time to ask your questions.
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).