WoW Factor: Examining Shadowlands’ Hunter, Priest, and Mage ability changes

    
6
Actually call it a comeback.

Here we are again, and we’ve got a new mess of classes that got changed! Although in many ways these are the classes that changed the least relative to theirĀ current World of Warcraft implementations; Priests even get to keep their special snowflake resource while everyone else is losing that weird bit of vestigial design. Not that I am particularly annoyed about Insanity sticking around while Maelstrom is gone, though.

Really, I’m not; it’s just a weird exclusion.

Anyhow, for the second part of this series, we’ve got a pretty straightforward lineup, and one that I tend to more dabble in than play actively, so my apologies if I miss something that might otherwise be very obvious to a career Mage player. With that warning out of the way and your hate mail no doubt prepped and ready, let’s get this train rolling with a Feigned Death as the next part of the D12 roll order continues on.

A pet you can no longer have.

Hunter

Arcane Shot is an odd choice. It’s a choice I like, don’t get me wrong, but it feels weird simply because, well, one Hunter spec no longer equips a ranged weapon. As much as I would like to believe this is changing and we’ll go back to having both ranged and melee weapons equipped, including on Hunters, I consider myself realistic and imagine that in practical terms it’s just some sort of instant ranged attack without much justification. It’s also telling that that’s the most interesting part of the lineup of returning abilities for all specs.

Eyes of the Beast, yes, it’s a fun tool that never should have been removed, but it doesn’t really do much of anything, you know?

Beyond that, though, there’s not a whole lot that the various specs are actually changing. Survival’s big update even seems like a confession of that – a bunch of damage buffs are incoming, but the fundamentals aren’t actually changing all that much. Some new talents here and there, some new options, but Hunter in Shadowlands is going to feel a lot like Hunter in Battle for Azeroth but with more pet choices.

That’s fine in and of itself, but it does kind of underpin that as much as the big push for this expansion was “unpruning,” not every class got hit with pruning in the same way. Heck, the most iconic stuff that got lost from some Hunter specs (like the consolidation of traps under the now-melee Survival) isn’t actually budging much. So with everything staying mostly the same, Hunter is less “getting de-pruned” and more “not getting pruned further.”

He really isn't I know, but work with me here.

Priest

To be entirely honest, Priest fills me with conflicting feelings. This was perhaps the only place wherein there was actually some legitimate argument to be made that two specs shouldn’t have access to abilities on the other side of the fence; it felt a little odd that Holy never had a counterpart to Shadow Form, sure, but the core idea worked well enough that having Discipline in the middle made sense. Then again, the familiarity of stuff like Shadow Word: Pain edges out that thematic side just a touch, so I’m hardly going to begrudge priests happy to have that old friend back.

The continued use of Insanity, meanwhile… well, already covered that. Not much to add down here. Let’s move on.

It feels like Discipline is mostly getting benefit from Mind Blast in this particular situation, while Holy gets to throw around some Pain casts here and there and Shadow is… well, still the same basic Shadow, but at least now it has some tools to be a bit more durable when alone? That’s a nice change. Surrender to Madness feels a bit different, but not all that much.

Again, some of the issue here is just that un-pruning doesn’t really fix some of the issues at play here; I feel like if you liked how Priest played during Legion but not currently, none of these changes really address that, but you have a couple of new toys in the talent trees that are almost like addressing it? Maybe I’m overthinking things here and people are way more hype about having Shadow Word: Pain on Holy than I am.

csat

Mage

I realize that objectively, Frostbolt and Arcane Explosion and Fireblast are probably going to have about as much impact on overall rotations as Arcane Shot is for Hunters… but I have to admit that makes me happier to have these back on the Mage spell list. It was always oddly satisfying to me both to recognize that Frostbolt was no longer worth bothering with as a non-Frost mage, but also that it was still there.

Again, this is with full knowledge that it’s not really all that useful. It’s the principle of the thing.

Beyond that, though… well, we’re right back into the territory of not much changing a whole lot. Mirror Image is going to change Frost a bit, for example, and some timing windows are being loosened, but for the most part the fundamental elements of the playstyle remain the same. If you weren’t too fond of Frost before now, you’re not going to find it much more compelling when the expansion goes live.

In part, this is actually for the opposite reason of Hunter – while Hunter had fun toys without a whole lot of use that got pruned, Mage generally had most of its pruning targeting stuff that was largely unnecessary. There are niche uses for Arcane Explosion as a non-Arcane Mage, by contrast, but it’s not going to be a core part of your rotation in all likelihood when you have so many more useful tricks for AoE anyhow on your main spec. Tweaks to those rotations and how the specs work will probably help, but…

Well, remember how I mentioned a while back that at one point we got new abilities with an expansion? Right now all of the discussion is about restoring old abilities that we used to have or tweaking talents, but there’s nothing about new toys. “This talent is now a baseline” feels less like a new toy to me and more like recognizing that an existing toy is too valuable to just be selected.

Sure, this isn’t exactly surprising, but in lieu of any new toys beyond covenant abilities (which, you know, you get one of to stick with) it all feels just a little bit perfunctory. Can’t we get a little bit of new abilities added? You know, as a treat?

I know, that’s a lot to ask, I should be happy that we’re getting one new ability, which is a step up from the none of Battle for Azeroth. Still, it does dampen my enthusiasm just a hair for classes that aren’t changing a whole lot. Points for not reinventing the wheel, yes, but it makes things a bit more boring.

Fortunately, our next trio of classes are a bit more interesting… you’ll just have to wait until next week to find out which three those are. Until then, well, let’s see who gets alpha access? It isn’t me.

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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