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Shifting Perspectives: Moonkin abilities to look forward to in the next expansion

Tyler Caraway

Every week, WoW Insider brings you Shifting Perspectives for cat , bear , restoration and balance druids. Balance news comes at you every Friday -- learn how to master the forces of nature, and know what it means to be a giant laser turkey! Send questions, comments, or something you'd like to see to

Once again, we're in another slow patch week. Oh, sure, there've been some good developments in regards to enchanting and alchemy, but nothing that really impacts balance druids (or any class) as a whole. If you're of those professions, grats on your gains, minor as they may be, but really it's all inconsequential. Oh yes, and there's some deal about Hurricane getting a new animation; it's pretty cool, if only I used the spell with any frequency.

With that aside, it's time to get serious about looking into the next expansion. Although we still have a raid to go in this one, we all know that Blizzard will be announcing plans for the next expansion at BlizzCon next week, and it's never too early to look ahead. That in mind, we'll be spending our time looking at things that balance druids lack. Getting new abilities is a mainstay of every expansion, and we all know that this is quickly becoming a touch-and-go endeavor; characters can only hold so many abilities. Given that, let's look at what it is balance druids are currently missing from their tool set, those abilities we could use to really flesh out our gameplay.

Solving the movement problem

One of the original premises of Cataclysm was to create better movement DPS for casters all around. It wasn't a shock to anyone that this was one area where casters all-around failed. When an entire skill set relies upon standing still, it creates a few complications when players aren't able to do this. More than the impact that this held on caster raid slots, it also restricted Blizzard in the types of encounters that it could design. High movement was virtually off the table if it ruins the ability for a significant portion of the raiding community to do their jobs.

For balance druids, our salvation was to be Moonfire via the Lunar Shower talent. We've been down this path quite a few times in recent history, primary with how Lunar Shower was changed. Blizzard wanted for Moonfire to be a solid movement DPS option, but it didn't like the ways in which we were using it. Fault can be with whomever you like. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter -- what's been done has been done. Lunar Shower in its previous life didn't meet Blizzard's expectations; the new design doesn't meet ours.

What's clear is that balance druids need to have a movement DPS tool added into their arsenal; what isn't as obvious is how this should be done. It's entirely possible for Blizzard to create a talent that modifies one of our abilities to fill in this role or even a glyph, as it did with elemental shaman. Blizzard could just as easily add in a new ability. There are arguments that could be made for both, but I think at this point in time, the latter is the best potential option.

A talent has proven to be ineffective in this expansion, so there's no reason to believe that a new one would work in the next. While it is possible for Moonfire or Lunar Shower to be adjusted to provide the function it is intended for, the complexities of our rotation have proven that this is a difficult task. In the end, simply adding in a new ability to specifically fill in this role is the best course of action. It can be worked into our rotation expertly instead of being awkwardly jammed in. In no way is this an easy task. Creating a new spell that is useful, unique, and viable yet specifically tied to an extremely narrow niche isn't the same as making a pot of tea. But Blizzard has proven their designers are more than up to the challenge when they put their minds to it.

Getting back to our roots

It is somewhat amusing to a player who has been around since the good old days to see the types of arguments that players and the developers get in around certain aspects of the game. One of those is tier set bonuses, with tier 13 being the most recent example. All the way back in the time of tier 5, our two-set bonus was rather strange; indeed, even our tier 4 set bonuses were fairly suspect. What do I mean? Oh, how about reducing the cast time of Regrowth any time that we shifted out of Moonkin Form? That doesn't exactly scream DPS. Funny enough, too, that tier 5 was considered one of our highest DPS sets; in the time of Sunwell, there was much debate over whether we should use four pieces of both tier 6 and 5 or tier 6 and off pieces. Odd how all that works out, huh?

Tier set bonuses, however, aren't a matter that I really want to bring up. Instead, what is more interesting is what this tier set focused on: our healing. Balance druids back in The Burning Crusade weren't considered to be a full DPS spec. We were a support spec, and a part of that support was our ability to heal. While the game has come a long way since then, there are parts of it that have not changed. Despite that our PVE prowess is no longer balanced around our ability to heal, our PVP capabilities are. In fact, this is something that Blizzard has brought up numerous times in response to complaints about balance druid shortcomings in PvP, yet there is virtually no support for these capabilities anywhere in the spec.

Balance druid healing is long since a thing of the past. The more specialized talent trees of Wrath were a major blow in druid off healing, but the spec locking of Cataclysm was the final nail in the coffin. The added bonuses to heal passives given to restoration druids merely for being restoration druids, coupled with their massive talent support, set the bar for their skills far beyond the reach of any balance druids. Although our gear might be compatible, the lack of talents to back up that gear drives this to sheer meaninglessness. Try it at any gearing level -- balance druid healing is excessively weak.

That is the huge contradiction in design philosophy that needs to be addressed in the next expansion. One of the primary reasons Blizzard hasn't given balance druids better defensive tools for PVP is because of their ability to self-heal, yet that ability holds no water because it is so diluted from the lack of support behind it. The ability for balance druids to heal in general does not need to be increased, but our potential to keep ourselves alive in times of need does.

I'm not talking about creating a system where balance druids can heal themselves as well as a healer could, but enough so that they at least stand some chance of remaining alive -- a way for their ability to self heal to actually mean something. A talent or two that increases the healing that we do to ourselves, even if it's temporarily, would go a long way in helping our primary defensive tool live up to the name that it has been given.

A lesson in mobility

In a similar tone as the above, our healing isn't the only long-standing ability we've had that has suffered from a touch of neglect over the years. I've talked before about how druid mobility (particularly balance druid mobility) has deteriorated over time. Druids have long been noted as being a highly mobile class in PVP, regardless of the spec that we play, yet this long-held truth is no longer accurate.

As WoW grew older, more classes were fleshed out to fix up their flaws, while those things that they were already good at were generally left alone. For a majority of abilities, this works perfectly fine. Interrupts, for example, are rather the same in relative power now as they were back when they were first created, despite many new specs gaining access to them. Mobility, however, doesn't follow the same scheme. As classes such as paladins, warriors, and rogues gained additional mobility tools, druids (at least non-feral druids) weren't ever really given anything to compensate. What was once a shining paragon of the druid class has long since dropped to a rather pitiful excuse for what it once was.

Not all of it can be attributed to the changing power of other specs. A part of that is also the fault of the way the landscape of PVP has changed since times beyond yore. No matter the fault, the truth is there: Balance druids are just not as mobile as they once, or that mobility doesn't hold the same weight. Feral has gained several new mobility abilities over the years, and while we have access to those abilities, druids are not about shapeshifting the way people seem to think.

It isn't feasible for a balance druids to shift into Cat Form and make use of Dash or Stampeding Roar in an effort to make a quick getaway; to do so would prove that cats don't have nine lives. What druids need -- what balance needs -- is a mobility tool that isn't tied into Cat Form. We need to be able to quickly maneuver ourselves around a battlefield, and what we have just isn't cutting it.

Every week, Shifting Perspectives: Balance brings you druidic truth, beauty and insight ... from a moonkin's perspective. We'll help you level your brand new balance druid, tweak your UI and your endgame gear, analyze balance racials and abilities, and even walk you through PVP as a balance druid.

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