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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

New expansion: Druid class halls & form reskins

The new World of Warcraft expansion (Warcraft: Legion) brings with it a flurry of new features. A few of the changes are particularly interesting to the druid class. The new expansion overall looks amazing – with tons of different lore progression on a bunch of different story threads. This story is for all the WOW lore fans who want to see the main story’s progression back at home in Azeroth.

Artifact weapons – Clarification for kitties

First, the new Artifact Weapon system will allow for customizing legendary weapons, with awesome new skins and lore. However, feral and guardian druids can’t see their weapons. So, instead, your cat and bear skins will change based on the weapon customization.

Updated cat druid models

Note that they did not say ANYTHING about restoration or moonkin druids. I’m seeking clarification on what is happening with moonkin/resto (mostly by spamming everyone on twitter). For cat and bear druids, we know that the choices you make about your artifact weapon change your skins. However, moonkin and resto druids can already see their weapons – so we need more specific clarification on whether moonkin keep their 1.0 models while cats get to be fangs of the first nightsaber.

The other thing they didn’t talk about was whether or not you could have more than one artifact weapon. We don’t yet know how artifact weapons interact with Dual Specs. If you run two different specs and actually use them – are you locked to only one spec due to the weapon system, or can you progress more than one weapon? Overall, the idea of artifact weapons sound neat, but we’ll have to see how the practical implications work.

UPDATE: The press kit came with pictures of what we believe to be the Fang’s weapon graphic you would see outside of your feral form:

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Druid Class Halls – Druids are for fun times with friends

In the announcement, they talked about a class-specific hall where members of your class will come together. This builds off the concept of garrisons, but are seemingly more social hubs for activity. This means for druids that we will be able to host frequent dance parties. I expect to organize druid parties periodically for hanging out in our druid class halls. This has a chance to be a really fun feature, if done correctly. If anything, however, the druid hall will be the best hall. Druids are for fun times with friends!

Emerald Dream raid and druid lore

Not to be outdone by features, this expansion will have a significant amount of druid lore (including the site where Malfurion first learned about druidism). This includes a long awaited raid where we will venture into the Emerald Dream. Thus, for people who thought Warlords of Draenor fell short in terms of lore, there will be tons of lore for everyone to look forward to!

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Talents specific for PVP

They are making a change to the PVP system that will include talents designed only for PVP. This will change how your druid plays in PVP compared to PVE. This expanded PVP system includes a lot of different features that will be relevant to everyone. However, a different set of talents for PVP may ultimately give more flexibility in balancing the class.

I will definitely be here blogging all of the new expansion news, views, and changes – particularly those relevant to druids. At this point, given the heavy class-focus, I may even consider going back to my druid  for my primary character. I look forward to what the future brings!

Posted in Druid - General, Feral DPS Cat, Legion, Player Versus Player, Written By Lissanna

Now with more fire!

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Old screenshot from the Fireland raiding days. :)

So, druids should all be familiar with the infamous Fire Kitty staff from Firelands.

We recently had confirmation that the effect from the fire kitty staff is now available without the staff. You can get seeds (5 at a time, each seed lasting 1 hour) from Firelands. Since the Burning Seeds are bind on account, you won’t be able to pick them up from the auction house. Instead, you have to actually go to the Firelands instance to get them.

So, now you can get the temporary fire kitty buff without having to keep an outdated staff equipped (I for one know how embarrassing it can be to get caught in the wrong outfit half way through a raid). We all know how much druids enjoy being on fire. Or at least, that’s what we try to tell Juvenate.  More details available on WoWhead.

Posted in 5.2, Feral DPS Cat, Written By Lissanna

Repost: Talent points: When more isn’t better

Remember back in Wrath of the Lich King (not that long ago), when we had these hugely cumbersome talent trees? You had to invest 5 points in things that you get for 1 or 2 points now. New players looked at the giant web of 1% increases to abilities, and talents buffing abilities you didn’t normally even use (ie. Improved faerie fire for moonkin was a source of constant frustration for the druid community for a long time). You spent talent points on buffs and debuffs that benefited your raid, so everyone spent 2 of those talent points improving Mark of the Wild (we spent 5 points on improved MOTW back in Vanilla & TBC). As a reminder of how daunting those talent trees used to be, lets take a look at a picture of the WOTLK talent calculator:

 

Why am I showing this to you? Well, lets take a look at our very recent history. In this case, the final talent point in a tree is 51 points deep. For Cataclysm, rather than making the talent trees 56 points deep (and then 61 in MoP), they shrunk the talent trees for  Cataclysm. This streamlining got rid of a lot of talent point sinks (no more Improved Mark of the Wild), and reduced the point cost of a lot of talents (ie. Cataclysm’s tree has mostly 1 to 3 point investments). Cataclysm also constrained you to only being able to put points in one tree until you hit the end, to stop the endless cycle of trying to create ultimate hybrid builds by investing points split more evenly between two trees (ie. the “restokin” specs this blog was named after).

As someone who maintains a leveling guide for WOW, I often interact with new players to the game who are first trying to navigate the druid class and figure out how to spend their talents. Talent trees largely have a “right” and “wrong” answer. For a restoration druid at level 85, Wild Growth is NOT optional, it’s NOT a choice. It is something you HAVE to take or you will fail at being a restoration druid. What is the difference between automatically receiving Wild Growth as you level and placing a talent point in Wild Growth? Well, really absolutely nothing. The only real decisions you get to make are for talents that increase your damage/healing/survivability/utility by leess than .05%, as those end up being non-mandatory talents, and when you run out of “mandatory” talents, you are free to pick through whatever unhelpful dredges are left in the talent tree to figure out which ones are the most likely to provide some benefit (and often times, people make the wrong choices even for “optional” talents).

However, Mists of Pandaria (and beyond) have the same problem of needing to give you more talent points and additional class progression in a way that has the ability to turn talents back into this sort of jumbled mess.More levels means more points, and that means more filler junk, more confusion,  more spreadsheets, and creates all sorts of balancing issues.

My recent adventures in Star Wars: The Old Republic has taught me one thing… That more talent points isn’t always better. The SWTOR talent system is modeled off of the Burning Crusade and WotLK style talent trees. When I started my first character, I had to figure out what talents I wanted to invest in. As a brand-new character, I looked at the talent tree on Torhed (wowhead’s SWTOR equivalent) and saw a bunch of talents that largely say: “Improves your Blah by 1%”. When you are new to a class or game, you don’t know what those abilities do, just that the talent says it makes the ability a tiny bit better. You often invest points in talents that you realize later you aren’t ever actually using. I ended up having to change my talent spec somewhere between level 20 and level 25 because I realized that my talents just weren’t fitting the rotation I was actually using in combat. The talents just didn’t seem to  be doing anything to help me, and getting to place a talent point in minor stat upgrades every level didn’t really have any real meaning at all – it just slowed down my leveling process by having to go out in search of trainers that could help me undo all my mistakes (and it took me half an hour to find a trainer that would unlearn my talents in SWTOR).

Another approach to “talents”: Diablo III
In addition, I spent some time playing with the Diablo III beta, and saw how their skill system ended up feeling a lot more meaningful than the talent choices I was making in SWTOR. In Diablo III, you choose what skills you want to use (and add runes to augment those abilities), and your choice of one ability prevents you from having access to others, as there is a limit on how many abilities you can have at one point in time. In Diablo III’s skill calculator, you can have up to 6 active skills (which you can change if you need to), and you get to choose 1 of 5 possible runestones to modify that ability, and you get 3 passive skills that also improve your effectiveness. In this case, there isn’t an obvious answer as to what “spec” you should be, since every Wizzard may end up with a slightly different arrangement of skills, runestones, and passive abilities. While you still have the opportunity of making bad choices, you do get the ability to make your character’s build much different from other people and it allows for much more variety.

Based on all of this, I decided that I am all in favor of Mists of Pandaria’s new talent trees.

The MoP system keeps the best part of WoW’s talent system for each class (ie. the core choice of being resto, moonkin, cat, or bear for druids), and borrowed some of the better choice mechanics from other games that force you to pick one at the exclusion of being able to have another ability instead. In MoP’s system, you don’t choose your core spells through this new talent tree. Instead, you choose utility abilities that will augment your character’s power (regardless of which specialization you choose). All those old “mandatory” talents become things you automatically pick up, which were never really about making choices in the first place.

Does the Pre-Beta version of the MoP talent calculator still have flaws? Sure. Some of the utility choices don’t really provide something every druid would want to use. However, I think those individual talents in the MoP system are a lot easier to fix than a plagued system that permeates too many video games. I welcome the simplification in terms of number of points, and I welcome the increased complexity of not always having a “right” answer. Sometimes, simple systems still have a lot of complexity. At the very least, the MoP talent system allows for a lot more growing room for future expansions.

Posted in Druid - General, Feral Bear tanking, Feral DPS Cat, Moonkin Balance DPS, Restoration Healing Trees, Written By Lissanna

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