WoW Factor: A quick first impression of Shadowlands class changes

All over again.

Every so often, we wind up in a lull of information or exhaustion with World of Warcraft that leads readers to speculating in the comments about what in the world I’m going to write about for the next several weeks. To those commenters, I would like to say… well, several things, but first of all I appreciate the consideration and care about how I will do my job in light of the fact that the game I’m covering is not offering much to cover. Seriously, I appreciate that much thought for my well-being.

However, I also would hasten to point out that not only do I always come up with an answer for how to fill my usual article count for the week, but sometimes I come up with an answer and it turns out that I have to rearrange things because, say, Blizzard posts a preview of the coming class changes for Shadowlands. And since I didn’t want to bump our wrap-up of the expansion tour, well, now we’re going to need to do this as an extra this week. Something else gets bumped instead. So let’s talk first impressions of this lineup, yes?

This. Is. Exhausting.

The bowl of petunias thought “oh no, not again”

All right, we’ve got to get this out of our systems, and I’m getting it out of my system now, so let’s just take a deep breath and do so. Ready? Go.

I am so tired of learning to play every single class again.

We’re cutting Maelstrom from DPS Shaman lines again! Every version of Paladin has Holy Power again! Better start applying Hunter’s Mark again over and over, Hunters! I hope all of you enjoyed dropping Searing Totem for every fight and you’d better get used to Whirlwind again in your AoE rotation, Warriors!

Yes, obviously, this is a situation in which the actual volume of changes varies wildly between classes. It’s not the actual changes or the merits thereof that I’m exhausted by in this particular scenario, it’s the fact that the changes just keep coming and they always seem aimed not just at the details but the basic playstyle. I could feel the stress migraine starting just at “we’re removing Maelstrom” bit in the Shaman entry.

The worst part about this, though, is that it’s coming two expansions after the designers went through every spec and pruned it up and gave it an identity, playstyle, and balance. Bringing things back to how classes felt at the end of Legion would have been a commendable goal, but instead it feels like yet another redesign for a wholly separate paradigm, and so it’s hard not to be exhausted. Or feel like we’ve set up a new rotating pattern of behavior wherein we’ll get an expansion with a huge combat redesign, then one that screws it all up, then everything gets redesigned again…

And I don’t see much of anything being done to mitigate this particular exhaustion, even on the preview level. Regardless of what you think of the actual changes, there’s a sense of existing tedium at the thought that once again, we’re getting thrown into a wildly different gameplay situation and you’re going to need to learn how to play again. How large that hump will be remains to be seen, but the fatigue is present just the same.

I blame absolutely no one who is stuck on that irritation, even as it’s one I share. Even if several of these changes do look good and functional, the irritation at having to weather another round of learning how to play is substantial. I am so tired.

We’ve got it out of our system. Let’s move on.

We all float down here.

So what’s the philosophy look like?

As a whole, most of the big changes don’t appear to be ones that are going to massively change the rotations that various classes and specs utilize. Indeed, I imagine some of the fatigue already mentioned is that while the at-a-glance changes are substantial, they’re still not exactly new abilities or anything. No, they’re chiefly older abilities that either have situational usage or alter your passive state of being on the regular.

Case in point: Arcane Explosion for Mages. This is a longstanding and familiar ability for Mages, and so its return as a universal ability feels significant. But in practical terms, Frost and Fire both have other ways to deal AoE damage that they will be engaging in more often than not; instead, Arcane Explosion mostly serves to mean that Mages can once again blast down groups of tiny little ankle-biters regardless of spec. It’s not going to have a huge impact on the moment-to-moment gameplay.

Class resources, notably, have been consolidated across the board, with classes using multiple resource systems seeing them either reduced or made universal. This is at the root of Holy Power returning to all Paladin specs, Maelstrom being removed from Shaman, and Fury becoming the baseline for Demon Hunters. In all seriousness, this tends to not make a huge impact, as most of the resources only some specs used were… well, pretty boring on a whole. Like, theoretically they’d serve to differentiate the specs and how they played, but in practice they just sort of sat there as existing resources with different names.

A lot of other returning abilities are either passive or not terribly interesting in terms of moment-to-moment gameplay. Auras, for example, don’t change your rotation but offer your choice of a utility buff based on the scenario. (One of which… feels pretty much useless, but we’ll cover that when we cover the individual changes.) Totems are just things you drop as you go. Eyes of the Beast has never been tremendously useful, but it’s a toy you get back if you want it. Poisons can be applied again for that added little edge.

This isn’t to inherently complain about these things; on a whole, I feel like these changes are not just understandable but positive changes, even if you’re not going to be interacting with them on a regular basis. Sure, a lot of Priests aren’t going to be using Shadow Word: Death, but the fact that they all have it is a substantial difference from other healers. (Although why do Shadow Priests keep Insanity, exactly?) Even if you don’t need to use Arcane Explosion a lot, it’s there when you do. And so on.

There’s definitely hints of a more defined class flavor creeping back in with these changes. While the individual changes are still early and the proof is going to be how everything plays, it does feel like work is being done to at least address some of the persistent issues in current design. Not all of the issues, but enough that it feels slightly less irritating.

And hey, let’s be real, we’ll see how these actually work out and have time to really be either pleased or frustrated during the duration of the alpha. It may have even started by the time you’re reading this. Stay tuned for more specific analysis of the individual classes in the coming weeks; as mentioned, though, I didn’t want to let the unveiling pass without comment until next week.

War never changes, but World of Warcraft does, with a decade of history and a huge footprint in the MMORPG industry. Join Eliot Lefebvre each week for a new installment of WoW Factor as he examines the enormous MMO, how it interacts with the larger world of online gaming, and what’s new in the worlds of Azeroth and Draenor.

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