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The Care and Feeding of Warriors: Returning to your WoW warrior for Cataclysm

Matthew Rossi

Every week, WoW Insider brings you The Care and Feeding of Warriors, the column dedicated to arms, fury and protection warriors. Despite repeated blows to the head from dragons, demons, Old Gods and whatever that thing over there was, Matthew Rossi will be your host.

Going back a few weeks, I wrote Ol' Grumpy's guide to Cataclysm instance protocol. Since it was a general post, it didn't focus specifically on warriors, which made it strange and weird and got my hands all itchy. Trying to think about things from the perspective of a ranged DPS or a healer just makes my head hurt. (To be fair, if you've seen the average warrior's int score, you understand my difficulty.)

So now I'm going to try and provide a more warrior-centric view of the new Cataclysm instances and how we're going to have to change and cope. I'm also going to try and provide some advice for people who are just coming back to World of Warcraft after a break. I'm going to assume you at least have a passing familiarity with the class from The Burning Crusade days, if nothing else. (This column would be very, very long if I tried to sum up everything from classic to today.)

So if you're just coming back to the game and your warrior, what's changed? Quite a lot.

A whole new world

Frankly, if you played during The Burning Crusade or even vanilla and stopped before Wrath, you may not have any real difficulty adjusting to the new instances. You'll certainly have a lot of work to do relearning your class, of course, but the instances themselves will be set up the way you remember. If however you left during Wrath (especially once Ulduar came out), then you're probably familiar enough with the basics of how the warrior class works. You'll certainly will have to relearn aspects, and you'll definitely have to readjust to a slower dungeon pace.

Let's first cover the basics of the class changes for returning players. If you missed the Wrath era entirely, you may not even know about the ways various talent specs have changed and developed since BC.

  • All warrior specs start off with a specialization at level 10. When you spend your first talent in a given tree -- be it arms, fury or protection -- you are considered to be an arms, fury or protection warrior. You gain a special attack and passive abilities linked to your spec in order to make you feel like an arms, fury or protection warrior from that point on. Talents have been heavily redesigned; many passive talents have been folded into stances and abilities; and instead of gaining a talent every level after level 10, you gain roughly a talent every other level. Levels in which you don't get a talent point are usually the ones in which you get new abilities.
  • Armor penetration, which has been around in one form or another since Bonereaver's Edge, is now gone. The stat that has effectively replaced it is mastery. Mastery effectively makes whatever your spec does better, and each spec has its own mastery bonus (which we'll discuss in turn).
  • Arms spec is still about a big, two-handed weapon. But Mortal Strike's healing debuff is being reduced in Cataclysm to 10 percent from the 50 percent you may remember (on live, it's currently 25 percent), and warriors gain it as their arms specialization ability at level 10, along with Anger Management and Two-Handed Weapon Specialization. We covered the mastery ability, Strikes of Opportunity, in detail last week. If you remember the old Sword Specialization talent, it's similar.
  • Fury spec is still about dual wielding. If you played in vanilla and BC, you may recognize the Single-Minded Fury talent and its style of play, dual wielding two one-handed weapons. If you played in Wrath, you'll remember the Titan's Grip approach of using two big two-handed weapons, one in each hand. All fury warriors get Bloodthirst at level 10 as their special attack and Dual Wield Specialization and Precision as their passive abilities. The fury mastery is Unshackled Fury, which amplifies all enrage effects or abilities that require an enrage.
  • Protection spec is fairly changed if you only tanked in vanilla or BC, in that it's far better. It deals significantly more damage now than it did back in the old days, in part because passive threat modifiers to abilities (either positive or negative) have been removed and the bonus threat on Defensive Stance increased to compensate. Shield Slam, which was a talented ability in classic WoW and BC and became a standard ability for all warriors in Wrath, is now a specialization ability for protection warriors, alongside Sentinel and Vengeance. The warrior mastery is Critical Block, which allows a prot warrior to block for double the standard amount.
This is a lot to take in, but for the returning player, we can summarize to an extent and let you experience it in game. Basically, at level 10, you spend your first talent point, and from that moment until you've spent 31 points (you gain a talent point once every other level or so now), you're locked into that talent tree and cannot spend any points in an off spec tree. Once you've spent 31 points, the off spec trees open up for you. Many talents that provided passive buffs were redesigned or folded into stances or abilities, so that while you have fewer talent points to spend, you also don't need to spend so many talent points on abilities that just make you able to do what you intended to do anyway.

This looks familiar

What hasn't changed? Well, warriors still tank with a one-handed weapon and a shield. Arms warriors still use a big two-handed weapon, and if you played in Wrath, you'll recognize their proc-based priority system. Fury warriors still dual wield, although now you can use either a pair of one-handed or two-handed weapons depending on what suits you.

Also, rage was normalized. So far, it hasn't been the disaster it could have been, but you should be aware of it. If you're used to the old rage model in which you starve for rage constantly until you get to a certain gear tipping point and then have limitless rage -- that model is dead. Your rage generation will be roughly the same no matter how you're geared, with the exception of haste, which has the potential to increase rage by increasing your rage generating melee attacks.

Now that we've covered all this, how are instances different?

Deep in the dungeon

Again, if you're a vanilla/BC baby who hasn't played at all in Wrath, you won't really find much to relearn here. There will be CC (which you don't have) needed for very large pulls until your group outgears them. If you're a DPS warrior, you'll need to watch your AoE attacks (Bladestorm, Thunder Clap, Sweeping Strikes, Whirlwind, Cleave) because you'll have a good chance of both breaking CC and pulling aggro. If you tanked in those time periods, you'll need to mark pulls and sometimes give people assignments, just like then.

If you're a Wrath baby, especially if you only played in Wrath after most everyone had at least iLevel 219 or better gear, you may be used to running instances and zerging everything into mulch. This will probably happen again once everyone is in raid gear, but for the first few months, you're going to have to treat Cataclysm instances the way you did Wrath instances when we were all just starting out. Believe it or not, people did not generally pull two or three trash packs and burn them down the first time they ran Utgarde Keep.

In general, I expect gear inflation will be a lot less dramatic in Cataclysm than it ended up being in Wrath. Since there will be no separate itemization for 10- and 25-man raids, you won't need to itemize for 10s, 10 heroics, 25s and 25 heroics; this means that each new tier of raiding won't have to balance older tier's 25-man gear with the newer tier's 10s, and so on. A result of that, however, is that heroic dungeons will seem harder for longer.

Unlearn bad habits

Basically, it all comes down to good habits vs. bad habits. Gear inflation created in many players (including a lot of warriors) the idea that it was OK and even desirable to just unleash hell at a moment's notice, to pull constantly without worrying about mana or threat. People would create a false sense of urgency by constantly hectoring other players to go faster, pull more and generally burn through the instance, not as if playing a game for fun but rather as if cleaning out raingutters or cleaning up animal feces.

Frankly, this attitude has always existed; it's not unique to Wrath. (As any BC-era warrior tank who was rejected for a 5-man because "a paladin/druid can put out more AoE" remembers.) But in Wrath, a spiraling gear curve, much stronger AoE threat for tanks, new tanking class and rather sweeping changes to the grouping system (a new LFD tool that was so far improved as to almost defy explanation) combined to create a moment of absolute saturation for the impatient players who wanted to burn through a dungeon as fast as possible.

Make no mistake: This is behavior that the opening months of Cataclysm will punish you for, especially as a warrior. Tank responsibly, making sure to let your healer regain mana and not to stress her or him unduly with super large pulls. Ignore any complaints about pace. DPS with an eye towards using AoE only when threat has been established or CC isn't in range. Do not try and zerg every pull. If you do this, you should be OK and find that despite all the changes, Cataclysm is not an entirely new game to you.

Check out more strategies and tips for warriors of all specs in Matthew Rossi's weekly class column, The Care and Feeding of Warriors. Here's what's happening with warrior threat in the expansion, as we bid farewell to armor penetration and look toward new mechanics for our class.

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