Glorious change of utility
If you recall, I leveled some pretty harsh criticism when Blizzard first released the Mists of Pandaria talent trees. Many of the talents focus on utility over pure damage, which is perfect -- in fact, which is brilliant for a design that's supposed to encourage choice -- but that utility all came along with shifting forms. Blizzard was trying to make it work, and I am sure it had some great methods of accomplishing just that. But from a practical stand point, it really just wasn't going to work out.
Turning druids into a class that is capable of fluidly switching between the various animal forms that we possess takes far more redesign that merely slapping around some stellar utility talents. Druids weren't made to be fluid shifters; that level of design just wasn't built into our class, and Blizzard has realized that. Virtually any talent that previously required a specific form to use no longer requires that form. Some of the best utility -- specifically, control utility -- that we had coming was tied to shifting forms; now we're free from that. Best change ever.
The one exception to this is, of course, Displacer Beast, due to the stealth nature of the talent. For a Vanish Lite ability, that's a small price to pay.
New breed of DPS talents
While there were a few minor changes such as Wild Charge's finally being turned into a true movement utility talent and moved with the rest of them, the only talent tier of any note for balance druids is at level 60. Most talents fall into the utility format, which is good because utility is unique, personal; utility is often a preference. Utility can be specific to encounters or strategies, and some hold more value than others, but it nearly always falls into a wonderful gray area we call choice.
DPS doesn't have the same perks. DPS isn't all that gray; it's strictly black and white. There's the best DPS option, and then there's everything else that you aren't even going to think about looking at. That is the level 60 tier of talents. All of them are DPS choices; what remains to be seen is which we're going to end up taking. As it currently stands, the new Soul of the Forest, which is a fairly simple Eclipse gain, is the best flat choice. It's constant, it plays to our strong suit, and it's all-around perfect. It's basically the same as T12 four-piece for the most part, so think around a 2% increase, which is pretty darn good.
Incarnation is virtually the same thing. With half Eclipse consumption, double Eclipse generation, the time between Eclipse procs doesn't actually change, but you do get a higher Eclipse uptime overall, which is where the DPS increase comes from. The 3-minute cooldown is rather prohibitive, but it has potential. Probably the best place that it has is as a burst DPS ability for encounters that require that. Outside of that, there are too many drawbacks.
The wild card here will be Force of Nature. The spell has never really that great -- it's good but not good, although the Treants now have new abilities that could totally change that. FoN could end up being the best out of the lot. We just don't know.
Looking at the end talents
The other major change of note is with Master Shapeshifter, or rather, Dream of Cenarius as it's now called. I had remarked previously that MSS wasn't really a talent that could work out in any viable way. It was an enhancement shaman talent with melee attacks increasing spell damage and spell damage increasing melee attacks; the whole thing was a shambled mess. Luckily, Blizzard agreed and ditched that horse in favor of one that spoke to the true nature of what it was shooting for with the original MSS.
Dream of Cenarius has your melee and spell damaging attacks increasing your healing capabilities, while your healing spells increase your spell damage and melee attacks, allowing the talent to play as an assistant for off-spec roles. The downside to this is that it just isn't that powerful. The effect can only be used once every 30 seconds, which is quite the drawback for a paltry 30% increase healing bonus. Admittedly, 30% sounds like a lot of healing, but it just isn't in the long run. It'll give you an extra, what, 3,000 or so health from a Healing Touch? Maybe push closer to 5,000. Peanuts. On top of that, DoC still has that one major flaw that Blizzard did so well in avoiding with all the other talents: It requires the druid to shift.
The only upside that might make a better case for DoC over the other two is that the buffs are independent of each other. So after shifting out to get that 30% increase in healing, you also get that 30% increase in damage on your next attack. The bonus certainly isn't enough to offset the cost, but it helps to soften the blow a little bit. That's the only true saving grace that this talent has. Disentanglement provides way more healing than DoC does; +30% healing cannot match a heal for 20% of your maximum health. However, both require that you shift forms, but only DoC offsets the cost of that shifting.
Ray of hope at the end
With the changes that Blizzard has shown for the druid talents, I have to admit that I'm finally a tad bit excited about them. I was extremely disheartened at first, because it felt as though all this cool utility that we were going was just going to be far to restrictive to actually make any true use of. Now things are starting to turn around.
I am still worried about our end tier, however. Heart of the Wild is just a hot mess of a talent that I don't even want to touch with a 100-foot pole, and while the other options are OK, they just don't pack the same punch that other class end talents do. Look at any of the other classes (except the poor shaman), and their end talents are exciting! Death knights get the ability that Arthas used! Paladins get Death Sentence, mages completely change the way they regenerate mana, priests get a ridiculously powerful raid cooldown. We get a self heal and can break roots.
The end druid talents just don't quite yet hold up to the awesomeness of the others, but we're getting there. Slowly.
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.