Making way for new class changes in Legion

One of the hottest topics of any new expansion is the changing of class rotations. One of the most common things in recent expansions has been the removal of old abilities and making way for new class rotations. People are often concerned over the loss of spells they once enjoyed (crying the tears of “pruning). However, our memories tend to be pretty short and after the expansion launches with all the changes, we often don’t miss the spells we lost. For example, what abilities got removed in each of the previous expansions? To remember this, I have to look it up in old posts because I don’t much miss those spells a year or 10 years later. The newest Draenor expansion removed several spells, including Symbosis, Nature’s Grasp, Nourish and other spells. In most cases, we forget that abilities often got removed even in the first several expansions. Legion also comes with an “out with the old, in with the new” policy in the design decisions. With that in mind, I want to talk about these changes more objectively and talk about some of the stated design goals.

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Design goal #1: Abilities should fit the fantasy theme for each class and specialization.

A major change for the Legion expansion was the removal of any tool that didn’t fit the design theme. In some cases, specializations got entire new design themes, such as Outlaw Rogues when “combat” was too bland of a theme to work with. Blizzard did a series of previews for each class talking about the particular theme and core abilities for each specialization. For example, a core theme of balance druids is “leveraging the sacred powers of the sun, moon, and stars”. This meant that for balance druids, over time we have lost most of the spells that leveraged nature – in favor of space-themed abilities.

This also came with the removal of Eclipse and replacement with a “build and spend” resource system, as well as renaming wrath (solar wrath) and starfire (lunar strike) to better fit the thematic elements. Things that didn’t fit with the thematic elements were removed or redesigned, with the goal of “easy to learn, hard to master”. To calrify, as Eclipse was “hard to learn, easy to master”, time spent watching the interface bar move back and forth wasn’t particularly good for balance druids. Once you understood how the bar worked, the rotation was easy with little room for mastery above the basics.

The “hard to master” design often comes in the form of additional spells you pick up via talents. This means there are also more unique talents for each spec, though the classes do still share some common talents (thus, some of the original shared talents are now spec-specific). So, while your spell book might seem small when you first log into your character, you can often pick up many new abilities via talents (thus, a 5 button rotation can easily become an 11 button rotation via talents and artifact weapons, and even those 5 buttons may have much more complex interactions).

Restoration’s core healing buttons remain largely unchanged (with the exception of ‘merging’ swiftmend and Nature’s Swiftness), with the primary changes to restoration being in the form of changes to utility. Feral and Guardian also don’t have major reductions in their core ability sets overall, but still see substantial changes overall.

Design goal #2: Utility should feel unique for each class and specialization

One of Blizzard’s new design goals is to reduce some of the redundancy in spells across the classes, particularly with regards to utility. A major concern has been with how the ability creep has turned into the dreaded “homogenization” feel. Over time, everyone has needed X ability because everyone else had it. In utility, if you didn’t bring equal amounts compared to everyone else, you worried about losing your spots to others who brought more. So, the solution over time to this was often giving everyone more and more utility until everyone had a bunch of mostly redundant things. This is changing in Legion, and is why the watered down utility of having access to ability sets for all 4 specs wasn’t going to work for druids. That means balance and restoration druids also lost utility spells (e.g., stampeding roar).

New Affinity System:   Druids lost a set of baseline abilities common to other specializations. For example, balance druids no longer get a full rotational set of feral, guardian, and restoration abilities baseline. These had become substantially watered down over time as it was difficult to make druids the master of 4 roles at a time, and so you became the master of 1 with some extra buttons you couldn’t really utilize to their full extent. However, as we discussed above with regards to added complexity via talents, the new Affinity talents allow you to choose one off-spec role where you will be at least half-decent.

  • Feral Affinty: Gives you a movement speed bonus and a set of damage abilities – Shred, rip, ferocious bite, and swipe. This would give guardians and resto druids the opportunity to do substantial single-target damage and some AOE damage (via swipe) when they aren’t being called on to perform their main role.
  • Guardian Affinity: Gives you an armor bonus and a set of tanking abilities – Growl (taunt), mangle and thrash (damage), plus iron fur and frenzied regen (survivability). This should be enough to off-tank for short periods of time in a situation where an encounter or situation might call for it.
  • Restoration Affinity: Gives you passive healing (4% HP to you or a nearby ally every 5 sec), plus a set of healing abilities – Rejuv, regrowth, and swiftmend (you already get healing touch baseline). However, you don’t get access to an AOE heal, somewhat limiting your ability to off-heal raid situations, but allowing for saving yourself or a tank from death in some situations.
  • Balance Affinity: Increases your range by 5 yards and a set of ranged damage abilities – Moonkin form (on a 30 sec cooldown), solar wrath, lunar strike, Sunfire (you already get moonfire baseline), and starsurge. This allows you to do relatively decent single-target damage with a little bit of AOE splash damage (via multi-DOT and lunar strike). Note that the cooldown on moonkin form will make the feral affinity higher sustained damage and balance likely better for short bursts, depending on overall balancing.

Redesigning Druid Raid Utility: In this discussion, it’s important to talk about the primary baseline utility available in raids. Only feral and guardian bring stampeding roar. Instead, balance brings back Innervate (buffing mana of healers). Restoration brings a single-target mark of the wild buff that adds to the base stats of one player in your raid. The major concern of the utility changes is that restoration may not bring enough unique utility that helps the raid in day-saving ways. Being able to move your entire raid out of the fire quickly allows you to save the day more than a passive minor DPS boost to one of your raiders each encounter. Keep in mind that resto druids won’t often be tanking or doing significant DPS in raids, making the affinity relatively minor in terms of frequently used off-role utility (whereas the other specs may benefit from the affinity utility more for raiding).

Design goal #3: PVP abilities are now chosen in the PVP talent trees, instead of being baseline

One of the biggest loss of baseline buttons happens in the way of PVP abilities no longer being baseline. In some cases, they significantly reduced the number of crowd control and survivability buttons aimed at PVP effectiveness. This is felt in forms such as Cyclone no longer being baseline for all druids. Instead, cyclone is an optional PVP talent, with decisions still being made about which specs will or won’t have access to cyclone via PVP talents.  This is also a factor of why some of the druid utility was taken away – as the goal was to trim down survivability, crowd control, and movement abilities across all the classes. In the PVP talent tree, you will choose 6 talents that augment your primary role, including being able to re-acquire some abilities that are no longer baseline.

Conclusions

Every class is worried about the removal of abilities in Legion. However, at this point, many classes have buttons they don’t use very often, are redundant with buttons other specs have access to, don’t fit the core thematic design, and/or are PVP buttons better suited for the PVP talent tree. Thus, while there may be fewer baseline abilities, the total maximum set of buttons for every class is still on the order of 20 to 25. If you aren’t happy with around 20 buttons, then the problem is with the design of those buttons, rather than needing more buttons. I would anticipate many more changes between now and the launch of Legion. Thus, it is better to focus on discussing why druids need a specific button to be effective and fun, rather than worrying about the total number of buttons available. With alpha soon resuming (and other specs likely to open for testing soon), we’ll still have a lot of work to do. However, in giving feedback, keep in mind these three core design goals for how abilities and talents are designed for Legion. Saying you want more buttons just for the sake of having lots of buttons isn’t an effective feedback strategy. However, resto druids got back Cyclone as a PVP talent by showing that the spec needed strong crowd control options in terms of fulfilling the core playstyle that was still consistent with the design goals.

The most important design goal of Legion is to make sure that class specializations feel unique, effective, and fun. In many cases, I think removing some abilities to make room for new design goals might help the game overall move forward. Don’t let fear of change and fear of “pruning” impact our ability to give solid design feedback. It’s too soon in the development process to panic, as anything broken now allows time for it to be fixed. Things that are broken can only be fixed with giving good constructive and specific feedback about what Legion things aren’t working in the context of Legion’s goals. I for one welcome this “out with the old, in with the new” design style for the next expansion.

Posted in Beta Feedback, Druid - General, Feral Bear tanking, Feral DPS Cat, Legion, Moonkin Balance DPS, Player Versus Player, Restoration Healing Trees, Written By Lissanna

9 comments on “Making way for new class changes in Legion
  1. Gildina says:

    Design goal 2 is all about uniqueness but they are removing eclipse. This is the most unique thing to the spec and is what I think has been the reason that I love the spec. Balanced Druid has been my main class and spec since I started raiding in ICC. I have a Mage alt and never play arcane because I hate the mechanic of spend your mana then build it back. My biggest fear is that is how my class of many years will play out in Legion.

    I had concerns with the changes in Warlords but I got a chance to play it in the beta, some of the changes that were talked about didn’t happen and in the end the rotation wasn’t a big adjustment.

    Hoping for the best but still concerned and keeping a wishful eye on my Battle.net client.

  2. Lissanna says:

    I talked about the Eclipse change in a previous post. The problem with Eclipse is that it involved spending time watching your UI and not making actual real decisions about what spell to cast. The bar told you what you could cast, rather than having to think and make the best decision. So, once you memorized what the bar allowed you to cast, there wasn’t much depth or complexity beyond that early learning part.

    The new rotation just feels better, offers you way more control over choices you get to make, and allows you to stop watching a bar slide back and forth forever. I updated my post to make this removal choice clearer. The new rotation feels better. It’s more fun. It’s more dynamic. There is still a lot of polish the new rotation needs, but the core of what balance is remains the same, just minus a UI bar you have to watch.

  3. Gildina says:

    I read your previous post and I will admit that I haven’t spend much time looking at the changes. The way you explain the rotation does put my mind somewhat at ease, building power to spend on starfall/starsurge isn’t too different from building charges to spend on the same spells.

    Saying eclipse tells you what spell to cast is far from the case though. You have your main spell that you cast depending on the side of the bar you are on, you refresh your dot ideally right after you hit max power. You cast starsurge and monitor the stacks of empowerment refreshing when you have used the stacks. You think about the fight and hold back on starsurge if there is an AoE situation coming up so you will have the charges to spend on starfall. You monitor the charges you have watching that you never get to 3 but never really wanting to spend the last unless you are sure the timer will have given you another before you need it. There will always be something you will be watching on your UI. It could be dots, resources, empowered spells or even an eclipse bar. Pre Warlords we had the option to cast the wrong spell to stop the bar saving the eclipse for a high damage burst if the fight called for it.

    I have read a lot of what you have written in the past and found a lot of good things in what you have said. Thank you for taking the time to keep this blog. I hope this isn’t coming across as anything more that a concerned Moonkin as I mean no disrespect to you.

  4. Lissanna says:

    It’s definitely fine to have concerns about major changes in the class design. Ultimately, the good elements of the rotation aren’t going away – they are just changing how you make decisions in ways that make the rotation more friendly for new players while also allowing for more advanced decisions via changes to the rotation from talents. Eclipse was one of the reasons why I quit playing my balance druid in raids. I changed over to a mage for my raiding main two expansions ago. So, I have a pretty strong personal bias against Eclipse. With Eclipse gone (and moonkin form updated), I can go back to playing my druid again more regularly.

    I’ll do more specific posts about the rotation and talent package overall once they are further ahead in the class design. Overall right now, however, the overall feel is good.

  5. Zxathras says:

    I mainly play a hunter but I’ve welcomed the removal of abilities since it started in WoD. Hunters had far too many DPS buttons in MoP and it made it harder to pay attention to encounter mechanics. I know you’ve talked a lot about mental bandwidth and ability to deal with encounter mechanics. I think the ability prune is a reaction to that problem. Reduce the number of abilities you have for your character and you have more “space” to remember and deal with encounter mechanics.

    • Lissanna says:

      Sure, and allowing people to basically choose how many buttons they want to deal with allows people to choose how many things they want to remember. People with more skill will always be rewarded, but it doesn’t leave new players in the dust. It also makes encounter mechanics more meaningful when you don’t have endless buttons to counter each of those mechanics, and instead have to be smart about how you deal with the mechanic.

  6. Spencer says:

    How concerning is it to you about the loss of major raid utility for Druid? I fell in love with Druid healing this expansion and finally made the switch from my hunter that I’ve felt trapped by.

    However the MMOC forums are acting like the sky is falling for Resto in the legion alpha. You’ve played this game for a long time, I’ve only played since mid-MoP, so from your view, how troubling are the Resto changes? Is it way too early to be worried? Enjoy reading your blog.

  7. Kath says:

    I actual do miss Nature’s grasp, I found it extremely useful. I would use it in dungeons and raids to root mobs that had aggro on me next to tanks. In pvp I would use to root pets or players so I could get away. Very useful for rooting dks after they had death grip you.
    Yes Symbosis was fun I don’t miss nor do I miss Nourish.
    I do miss tranquil on my boomy as it was nice to be able to help out sometimes.
    I will not miss Eclipse but I will miss having the ability to rez someone as a non healer. My feather/furry druid has always been able to do this and it does not make sense to me why I should not be able to.

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