Last week was a pretty fun ride, I have to say. Leaving aside everything else we had to chew on after a weekend’s worth of BlizzCon, the World of Warcraft team really went to town with the class previews. I didn’t discuss them last week mostly because we had other things to talk about, but I did greatly enjoy reading them, and after a week or so to mull over all of the changes I think we’ve got enough space to consider all of the changes being made.
Overall, I’m thoroughly happy about what’s being done with all of the classes. There are a couple of losses and a few classes not receiving perhaps as much attention as they deserve, but on a whole the class changes are positive and improve the game for the better. There’s also a lot we don’t know, unfortunately, and the changes aren’t actually the same as opening the beta that we kind of need to already have running at this point, but the first impressions are positive.
The weird thing about the Death Knight changes is that the Death Knights as a whole haven’t actually changed very much. The biggest shifts are two parts of the class resource mechanics. On the one hand, runes are now standardized; on the other hand, diseases now appear to be very much focused on a per-spec basis, thus giving each spec a bit more distinction.
I think the new gameplay style for Unholy looks fairly engaging, and honestly the trim-up element of everything seems like it’s going to improve the overall feel of the spec. As much as the existing resource system made the class more involved for mastery, the change makes it more straightforward in actual play, and that shift is the one that’s ultimately going to matter the most. It’s a solid across-the-board improvement, then.
The idea of Affinity talents is, I think, pretty wonderful. It’s the sort of shift that Druids have required for a long time, making other forms at least marginally attractive for specs rather than forcing everyone to just stay in the one shape all the time inevitably. I’ve no doubt that people will find “best” affinities for specs in short order, but the choice being there is a step in the right direction.
Balance is ditching its particularly gimmicky implementation of Eclipse as a mechanic, and in exchange it’s becoming a fair bit more straightforward. Bears get a bit beefier and less avoidance-focused, because bears; Restoration gets a bit more of a heal-over-time focus, because Restoration. The biggest change honestly feels like the idea that you might, on occasion, want to be in a form other than your primary form, and that alone makes me happy for the future.
Hunters have, honestly, always suffered from the fact that the class had three specs that boiled down to “ranged damage with pet support.” Splitting the class into melee-with-pet, ranged-with-pet, and ranged-alone sounds severe, but the resultant goal seems to be that the flavor of old Marksmanship/Survival pet gameplay is baked into Beast Mastery, and the Lone Wolf tricks are baked into Marksmanship.
That leaves Survival as the odd one, and that’s honestly kind of keen. Survival was The Weird Hunter Spec for most of its existence, and it only shed that designation once the class moved resolutely toward ranged combat only. By bringing that flavor back to the spec, it provides the chance to do a different sort of melee playstyle. I’ll be curious to see how it plays with pets and whether it feels sufficiently different from Unholy’s melee-with-pet existence.
Basically the same, with a slightly easier management system and cleaner lineups for abilities (Frostfire Bolt stopped being a good idea once we moved on from Wrath). There’s not much good to say, but in this case that means the solid remains solid.
Alas, poor Fistweaver, your playstyle is gone. Not that it was actually very good, but it does feel like Monks actually lost something here; you can still get the sense of playing a ranged Hunter with or without a pet, you still summon and control demons as a Warlock, but you sure as heck can’t melee heal any longer. Perhaps it’s for the best.
By contrast, the other two Monk specs get tons of love here – Windwalker looks better than ever, and Brewmaster is a bit of a lateral move but still a net positive at a glance. I can’t wait to unleash some combo strikes, let me tell you what.
Goodbye and good riddance, Exorcism. You had your purposes for Retribution, but you always felt like a kludge. By contrast, what remains for Retribution looks solid, clean, and interesting. I’m hoping we can keep tricks like Eternal Flame for soloing even if not for much actual healing; it’s a fun one. Meanwhile, Holy and Protection both get trimmed up without being massively altered, which is a case of not screwing with the stuff that works.
I’m particularly interested in Holy’s new proximity trick; it seems like the sort of thing that can be executed and used in several different ways depending upon a given fight’s requirements. It doesn’t make Holy “front-line healer” so much as it makes Holy a spec that cares a great deal more about positioning in general, and combined with the greater emphasis the game has been showing for mobility that suggests a bit more of a locational game in general.
I’m super impressed with this preview specifically because it manages to have a version of Shadow that looks attractive and a take on Holy and Discipline that differentiates the two from means other than just big heals vs. shields. Bit of a shame that Discipline sort of yanked Mistweaver’s damage-and-heal routine, but Penance was already doing that by degrees.
The changes to Shadow in particular emphasize that the game seems to be moving toward DPS specs really requiring a more explicit buildup after a pull before unleashing their big attacks. It’s always been the case, but removing mana outright really doubles down on that element. Now the question becomes whether I want to stick with Discipline or play around with all of that shadowy goodness…
At last, we know the difference between Assassination and Subtlety! It’s been a long time coming, and the ultimate deciding factor is mobility and poison. By contrast, Outlaw gets renamed from Combat, which seems to be one of the most pointless possible renames when we still have several specs running around with the same name on two different classes.
Don’t get me wrong, Combat wasn’t a good name, but I would like to have seen a new name for at least one version of Protection somewhere in there.
We don’t know yet how much all of this will translate into actual gameplay, but the fact that all three specs look to have distinct identity alone gives me hope. The preview also makes Subtlety actually look like a neat playstyle in contrast to the usual Assassination-with-more-stealth niche that it’s long occupied, so let’s see how that one plays out.
As an Enhancement player, I’m quite happy. If I were Restoration… I wouldn’t be unhappy, but the issues that the spec has had this expansion aren’t really changing. That doesn’t mean that the spec is bad or even suffering from a major lack, just that it still has weaknesses like the general uselessness of its Mastery at higher gear levels. Many of the changes here are going to depend on talent options and our full suite of abilities, which we just don’t have yet.
Regardless, I think the changes bode quite well as a whole. Elemental and Enhancement have long been sort of half-assembled and reliant on assembling pieces from leftover abilities. The fact that they’re being redesigned doesn’t mean that the redesigns will necessarily be brilliant, but they’re at least an effort.
The loss of Metamorphosis for Demonology is one of those things that’s going to hit everyone differently – either you consider it a core element of the spec’s gameplay or you consider it something pretty far outside of what the spec should ever have been. Me, I’m in favor of the change, but being at least mildly annoyed by it makes perfect sense under the circumstances.
Affliction and Destruction are remaining in largely the same place, with the former having a slight change to resource generation but the same basic flow. I do feel like space is being carved for these playstyles apart from their obvious contemporaries, which is good; there’s always the risk of Destruction feeling like an ersatz Mage and Affliction feeling like a close cousin to Shadow Priest, so avoiding those issues is a good thing.
Gladiator Stance is a bit of a shame, but I suspect that several of the game’s big playstyle shift talents at level 100 were meant as test balloons for different methodology that didn’t always work out (Lone Wolf, for example, definitely made its mark). I think keeping Protection’s focus where it is was probably the right move in the long run. All of the specs seem to be getting more of a balance and comprehensibility pass than anything, with the promise of more play-defining talents.
This is, I think, a good thing in the long run, because while the core rotations don’t change much for Fury, Arms, or Protection, Warriors cover a lot of ground. Allowing you to nudge your Fury style toward different flavors of Warrior gets across the sense that Warriors offer a wide range of different options without actually expanding them beyond other classes. Sure, your core isn’t going to change that much, but the surrounding content is going to have an impact.
Of course, none of this is beta… and that’s an issue. It’s an issue I intend to discuss in the next installment of this column, whether we get one by then or not. Until that next installment, you can send feedback to email@example.com or just leave it down in the comments below.