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Shifting Perspectives: What balance druid design can take from SWTOR

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 requests to or @murmursofadruid.

Welcome to a new year, balance druids. It's been a flurry of a holiday season for many folks, although things have been rather quiet on the Blizzard front. In terms of any new information being released, all that we've seen thus far is a minor patch announcement that does hold some good news: Our four-piece tier bonus is getting 10% Starsurge damage tacked on. While this isn't monumental in the sense that it suddenly turns the bonus into a must-have, it's a good boost that was sorely needed.

Instead, the major release of the holiday season was the highly anticipated release of Star Wars: The Old Republic, which I myself have been glad to officially have my hands on. WoW-killer, front-runner MMO of the new year, or potential flop, it's far too soon to tell -- but what is telling is how new game designers approach the MMO genre and what Blizzard can learn as other companies look to emulate its success stories. What then could SWTOR possibly have for balance druids? Quite a bit.

Comparing SWTOR casters to WoW

As Star Wars is far more a sci-fi genre than fantasy, you might think that there isn't much correlation between it and WoW, yet you couldn't be more wrong. In fact, SWTOR copied a huge amount of its gameplay from WoW in far more ways that people might imagine. In the game, there is something of a caster-style class with the Jedi Sage and the Sith Sorcerer classes, and where these two drew their influence from is readily apparent. Like WoW, SWTOR also uses a talent tree system, and the Sage/Sorcerer has two DPS tree choices that both focus on casting.

The first of these is telekinetics and lightning, which are near identical copies of elemental shaman. Can't be, right? Well, the spec has a Lava Burst clone. It also directly copies Overload and Elemental Focus -- and I don't mean inspired replicas of these abilities, I mean direct duplicates. The second spec is identical to shadow priests, with a little bit of affliction warlock thrown in. The madness and balance trees focus on DoT damage while using a channeled nuke filler, also coming with its own Haunt-esque ability.

Why should we as balance druids care that some other game is directly copying the abilities from other WoW specs? Simple -- because none of it is inspired by us.

Emulation is more than the best form of flattery

For all of the inspiration that SWTOR has taken from WoW, none of it can be directly correlated to the way in which balance druids play, despite the fact that you can see the influence that nearly every other WoW spec has had on the way in which SWTOR designers crafted their game. They had a completely blank slate. They could have chosen any type of design that they wanted, and they clearly took from WoW what they thought was working while leaving behind what wasn't.

It's strange to think about. After all, balance isn't a broken spec. It isn't underperforming in the least; in fact, we've been stronger than both elemental and shadow for this entire expansion. Why then would a game developer that so clearly borrowed from WoW's design not choose to take anything from the balance druid toolkit? The answer is rather quite simple.

Simplicity matters

SWTOR is built upon a single principle: simplicity. For all the talk that Blizzard has done and the vast amount of successful effort that it has made in making WoW more casual-friendly and more intuitive to play, SWTOR is entirely a pick-up-and-play style game. I'm sure, given six years and multiple expansions, that much of that will change, yet the difference is night and day when you play the two. In SWTOR, which abilities you use and when is all rather obvious -- yet WoW doesn't quite have that, and especially not balance druids.

On paper, balance is perhaps one of the easiest specs in the game to play as. You keep DoTs up, you cast Wrath until Lunar Eclipse, then you cast Starfire until Solar Eclipse. Rinse, repeat, with Starsurge thrown in on cooldown for good measure. Yet take that philosophy to any high-end Moonkin or to the official forums, and you'll be smacked down with mocking spread-sheets and ridiculing priority lists that show a far more complex system than what you get from face value. Maximizing balance druid play, much the same as with all classes, is hard.

The spec, the Eclipse system, ability cooldown usage -- none of it is intuitive at all; in fact, it's been one of the largest headaches that I've ever come across in my gaming experience. Balance druids lack simplicity. We lack that built-in playability where a player can just pick up a Moonkin, play around with it for a little while, and get what they're supposed to do. SWTOR, at its heart, is a game made for that type of playstyle, and we simply don't have it.

The take-away

I've perhaps unfairly painted this in the negative when the reality is that the complexity of balance is part of its appeal. I personally love the difficulty in optimizing my Moonkin. I feel accomplished when I manage to pull it off exactingly and am rewarded with a high damage output, but I am merely a single player, and a game shouldn't be designed around my wants.

While there will always be that group that craves challenge, the vast majority of the playerbase shouldn't have to suffer for it, and that's how it feels playing a balance druid. I'm a man of many alts, and for very few of them do I feel the need to invest as much research time into playing as I do with balance. That's prohibitive gameplay. If someone who has already been playing WoW can't intuitively pick up a balance druid and make it work at least on an acceptable level, then something is wrong in the design. ... Yet that is where we are.

Balance druids lack simplicity, we lack that self-explanatory rotation that you can get from other specs, so much so that new MMOs scoff at the idea of incorporating our mechanics into their game design. If Blizzard takes anything away from SWTOR, I hope it is that, and I hope that it can apply that knowledge to balance druids in the future.

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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