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The Care and Feeding of Warriors: A 2010 year in review

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.

This will technically be posted in 2011 -- but that just makes it seem more necessary, in some ways. 2010 was 11 months of Wrath of the Lich King's ending, followed by one month of Cataclysm. We saw the complete flowering of Wrath's raid and dungeon design in terms of gear, encounter design, and the final iteration of the warrior class as tanks and DPS. Then everything changed with the Shattering (patch 4.0.1), as the mechanics we'd had all year (and the year before) changed utterly.

Warriors saw several huge changes this year. Some of those changes ended up being effectively erased in November of 2010. That doesn't change how big they were at the time. And some of the changes introduced by the Shattering were even bigger, game-changers that made warriors a concentrated version of the class they'd been for the last two years.

That's more important than a list of big events or changes. The essence of the class remains, of course. Warriors are the guys who hit things and yell, just as they always have been. Changes to Mortal Strike, talents and how we choose them, gaining and losing talents, even rage normalization haven't done anything to remove that essential nature. If you play a warrior, you don't look to outside forces of divine or unholy power. You don't beg nature to turn you into anything you aren't already. You don't skulk and poison; you don't study magical formulas or suckle at a demonic teat. No pet to cover up your deficiencies. No elements. No ancient words of power or shadow magics.

Warriors draw only on themselves, on their inner fury, their skill with their weapons and armor. To play a warrior is to play the most self-contained class in World of Warcraft. Thankfully, it remains so.

It's very hard to keep from feeling as though the last two months have completely overshadowed the previous 10. That's because they have. We saw no major content patches, class changes or alterations to how the three warrior specs of arms, fury and protection worked between January to early November. Wrath was on track. ICC was released just before the end of 2009, complete with three new dungeons, and aside from some tweaks to Revenge and how it functioned, warriors in October 2010 played more or less the same as they did in January.

This is not to say there weren't issues. It's just that with a major expansion looming, those issues tended to be informing the design of that incoming content rather than being felt as continuous hotfixes and patches.

When you compare what Cataclysm brought -- rage normalization, the ability to roll a warrior of every single race in the game, the removal of stance penalties, an entirely new talent choice mechanic, a complete overhaul of the talent system including how many talent points exist, the addition of the mastery statistic and how it interacted with talent specializations, the removal of armor penetration -- it becomes obvious that most of 2010 was spent in a holding pattern waiting for the expansion. The first four or five months of 2010 were, as far as warriors were concerned, time spent saying goodbye to mechanics that the game and class had effectively outgrown. As I found myself mentioning on more than one occasion, the big issue with the way warriors were designed was that we were too weak in poor gear and too strong in good gear, undertuned until a certain point of near-infinite rage was reached.

Of all the changes this year, from losing two stacks of Sunder Armor and most of Mortal Strike's debuff to gaining Heroic Leap and finally, finally not having our combat stances described as penalties, changing rage was the biggest one. Rage normalization nearly killed the warrior class in 2007 with the introduction of The Burning Crusade. This time, I'll be the first to admit it was much more nuanced and far more effectively implemented. It did not cripple the class. Having leveled two warriors to 85 in the past month, I can say that while warriors remain gear-sensitive due to rage requiring contact with an enemy, it's far less awful to be in leveling gear.

What really amazes me after two months of the Shattering/Cataclysm world comes back to the fact that, after all the hype over the course of the year, all the previews and beta changes and so on, after getting a chance to play a warrior in the new system, I keep coming back to that one truth. Blizzard didn't so much actually change warriors as much as distilling the class down to its three faces, making each face feel even more like it had before. Arms feels like a Blademaster picking and choosing his strikes. Fury feels like a lunatic who would hit his enemy with a couple of police cars, if there happened to be any handy. And protection feels like someone too stubborn to understand that he or she was supposed to have died several minutes ago.

What's really been amazing about the huge, massive changes of 2010 is how they have managed to exist in a context that is really very familiar. I find myself astonished to say that may well have been the most major result of the year 2010 for the warrior class, that despite a remarkable series of changes, it still feels like the warrior class.

Next week, back to gearing.

At the center of the dury of battle stand the warriors: protection, arms and fury. Check out more strategies and tips especially for warriors, including Cataclysm 101 for DPS warriors, a guide to new reputation gear for warriors, and a look back at six years of warrior trends.

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