Shadowlands Class/Spec Feel, part 1
One of the big distinctions of WoW, for good or ill, is how much things change across each expansion. I never really took these changes to heart much, as I was a Protection/Retribution paladin main and thus things seemed to only really get better over the years. Seriously, when your “rotation” was re-casting Seals every 10 seconds and just auto-attacking, for years (!!!), everything was an improvement.
With Shadowlands still shiny and new, I decided that I could kill two birds with one stone: level up all my classes from 45 to 50 and decide which ones were worth crossing the veil. Luckily, leveling only took 2-3 hours via Warmode in WoD’s Shadowmoon Valley per character. If a character had cleared out that zone in years past, I plowed through Redridge instead. Kinda weird, but it works.
I started with Druid as that had been my “main” in Legion, and they are very nice for Gathering. And while I stuck with it until level 52, it was precisely this class that led me to start this “let’s maybe play something else” experiment.
Balance Druid – Technically speaking, I may never have really liked Balance as a spec despite playing it for like a year. Part of the problem is with Druids generally, which is Too Many Buttons. And yet none of them really feel good to press. Balance in particular is supposed to have this Lunar/Solar gimmick, but being in those phases never really feels impactful. And then you have 2-4 DoTs you can place on mobs, but those are absolutely not enough to kill anything on their own.
About the only enjoyable thing about Balance is being able to pool and then fire off multiple Starsurges against, say, a second nearby mob after finishing one up. Or just using a Starsurge as a sort of execute-effect against the mob you’re fighting. And, yes, I’m aware that Starsurge technically buffs your Eclipse state and so you should fire it off immediately before chain-nuking. Doesn’t change the fact that neither Wrath or Starfire feel good to cast, buff or no buff.
Guardian Druid – While technically a tank spec, Guardian is actually the recommended leveling spec for Druids… which should really tell you something about Druids as a class. In any case, I took Guardian for a spin in Redridge right before Shadowlands and it’s pretty okay. Tanks are not especially meant to be focusing on moment-to-moment coolness as much as they are weaving in defensive cooldowns to counter boss abilities.
Having said that, Guardian is overall an enjoyable experience. Having a proc that turns Moonfire into a capable nuke is fun, and I also enjoy keeping track of stacking Thrash bleed effects.
Feral Druid – I haven’t actually spent much time as Feral, aside from parking my Druid back at the Auction House. Tiger Dash outside the AH, and Flight Form back in is OP. My initial impression is similar to Balance though: too many buttons, not enough power. Which makes sense in a way, as Feral’s whole schtick is layering bleeds and that doesn’t do much for mobs that die in 10-15 seconds.
My other problem is Tiger’s Fury. This is a 30-second cooldown that gives you 50 energy and grants you a 15-second damage buff. Okay. This is sort of like Rogue’s Marked for Death talent which grants 5 combo points, including the ability to have it reset on mob death (if talented) to essentially keep it active for every encounter. Thing is, Marked for Death is useful for prepping Slice and Dice on the first mob and then burst for other mobs. Conversely, I never really know how to use Tiger’s Fury. Open on a mob, spam away my energy, then pop it to spam some more? Pop it before the opener?
I fully concede that perhaps my own skill/familiarity with the class is at the root of my dissatisfaction. That said, if all the fun is being hidden under a bushel, that’d kinda on the designers.
Retribution Paladin – my namesake main has been neither for a few years now (had to change to Azuriell when I migrated servers), and there is a part of me that is sad about it. Another part of me is just fine. While paladins in general, and Retribution specifically, have massively improved since the “let’s make only Horde paladins viable DPS, haha” TBC days when I first started, I don’t actually like them now. There’s just… something missing. Even Hammer of Wrath (at level 46!) can’t fill the hole.
If I had to guess, it would be two things. One, Crusader Strike having a cooldown. Seriously, it’s dumb and creates dead space in any rotation. I think I read an interview once that said it was intentional because that created opportunities for paladin players to weave in other utility abilities, like the various Hands/Blessing spells or a random heal. That’s great… in organized group content, potentially. It also creates massive overhead in terms of setting up macros because ain’t nobody got time to manually click Blessing of Sacrifice or whatever on the healer or tank in the thick of combat.
The second thing is Sacred Shield. God, I miss that spell. Was it OP? Probably. In fact, it absolutely was when it was first released. And seeing as how it no longer exists in the game even as a PvP talent, I think Blizzard agrees it still would be.
Regardless, I liked the design of Sacred Shield as a 30-second buff that granted a 6-second bubble every 6 seconds. It created a buffer when getting dispelled in PvP, it added to Retribution survivability, the mini-bubble gave Flash of Light a 50% crit buff which increased its strategic value, and the targeting limitation (only 1 at a time) made it mean something when you gave it to someone else.
That was great design! Sigh.
Shadow Priest – My Shadow Priest has changed a lot over the years. Or I suppose it’s possible that I just haven’t played them in years? Devouring Plague being a “spender” for the Insanity resource feels really weird. It’s a cool effect and all, but not the first thing I think of when I imagine a spender. A-ha! I’m now crazy enough to give you this… six second disease!
Having said that, the Shadow Priest feels really, really good while leveling. Downtime is practically nonexistent. Lead off with Vampiric Touch which auto-applies Shadow Word: Pain (via talent), hit with a punchy Mind Blast, then immediately start channeling Mind Flay. By the end of the channel, you either have an instant-cast Mind Blast or a Devouring Plague ready to get them into Shadow Word: Death range. Successfully executing the mob this way gives you 40 extra Insanity (via talent) to plaster the next mob with early Devouring Plagues. Meanwhile, you’re zipping around with speed boosts from Power Word: Shield and only really need to heal once with Shadow Mend, if at all.
Seriously, there is no comparison between this and, say, Balance Druid or Retribution Paladin.
The one downside – really apparent when leveling in Warlords – is the weak AoE. The sweet-spot is 1-2 mobs. Against more than that you can multi-DoT and perhaps channel Mind Sear, but it just feels bad. Much better to DoT a few and try to burn a single mob down so you can start the Shadow Word: Death train. Still, it’s not as though Balance or Retribution felt better in crowds.
I am a little saddened by what Blizzard did with Voidform. Building up Insanity as a resource to unleash Voidform, in which you grew increasingly powerful the longer you were able to maintain a rapidly-draining Insanity bar, was extremely elegant design. Use void spells –> go insane while rampaging –> come to your senses. Now it’s… what? A DPS cooldown? I mean, sure, every class needs a DPS cooldown, but it’s just sad how little interaction it has with Insanity anymore. I understand that Blizzard kinda burned themselves with the original design insofar as players get obsessed with trying to prolong Voidform – to the point where Surrender to Madness was a viable talent! – but I don’t think the current incarnation is the right solution.