WoW Factor: Why I genuinely miss World of Warcraft’s old janky Retribution Paladin

And why failing to get that is still a problem

    
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We all become done.

So now we’ve gone through all of the ability unpruning and changing coming with World of Warcraft’s next expansion. We know what it’s going to look like, and… gosh, it’s underwhelming. And I just remember looking at the way things are lined up right now for Retribution Paladin – the first class and spec I ever really loved, back from launch – and thinking that this spec is clearly much more straightforward as a melee DPS spec than it was in those early days.

And that’s completely missing the point.

I don’t seem to be alone in this, either; a quick (not terribly scientific) survey points to a lot of people eagerly pointing to Wrath of the Lich King as the best time to have been playing Retribution. And when I consider how that was back when Retribution’s lack of Holy Power, the weird juggling of Seals, and the long stretches when you were just auto-attacking and waiting, I feel like it’s worth examining why people liked this version of the class so much. Or at least, why I did.

I am, of course, somewhat exaggerating by saying anyone was just waiting; by Wrath of the Lich King Crusader Strike, Divine Storm, Judgement, and Exorcism all meant that you had something to do on a fairly reliable basis. You would more often than not have an ability you could hit that dealt damage. But not all the time; it was very easy to run into a point wherein you’d hit all of your abilities and everything else was on cooldown.

This was relevant because Retribution had no sort of build-and-spend mechanism by design. Indeed, rather than having a firm rotation, Retribution had a priority list that was all about getting things on cooldown and then letting the steady smack of your seal-enhanced melee attacks rack up the damage, hoping for some critical hits to trigger your Vengeance ability.

That’s not even counting the weirdness of stat priorities. Retribution was unusual in that it actually made pretty solid use of Strength, Intellect, and Agility across the board; Intellect for mana and spellpower (since Judgement and Exorcism were both spells), Strength for our melee attacks, Agility for the useful crit boost. This was mitigated somewhat within WotLK with talents that boosted spellpower based on attack power, but the spec still required a much more odd spread of stats than, say, Fury Warriors.

It was messy, slow, and weird. And I loved it.

Blood flight.

Why? Well, for one thing, that fun part about Retribution was that you weren’t really there solely for wading into battle and killing everyone. You were pretty good at that, but your party also benefited from the fact that you passively offered an aura which boosted durability, survival, and speed. Just by being in the party, you made everyone else a bit better. You also could spread around your Blessings to further boost the team.

Divine Storm was a nice damage ability on a cooldown, yes… but it also boasted a healing component. Sure, it wasn’t even to make you a main healer, but it was enough that the actual healer could breathe a little bit easier, especially if you had Judgement of Light on the main target. You could hit the party with Replenishment, ensuring that anyone with mana could get out more casts and spend less time recovering.

For that matter, the “gaps” in your rotation could in and of themselves be useful. Maybe you’d be more useful right now casting a spot heal instead of just smacking the target. Maybe you need to shield someone from something bad incoming. Maybe the tank is getting pounded and Sacrifice is a good move right now.

The biggest issue that had existed for Retribution from launch was having a paucity of ways to just hit a button and do some damage. By WotLK, that issue had been solved. We still had far fewer buttons to do that than, say, Rogues or Hunters or Mages… but that was also because we had more functions that could be offered than those classes, even if 90% of the time those additional functions weren’t needed.

None of that is really present in Battle for Azeroth. It’s one of the many, many things that makes me sad about this expansion.

A lot of the actual abilities haven’t gone away, technically; my Retribution Paladin is still hitting Judgement and Crusader Strike and Divine Storm repeatedly. And on the surface, yes, bringing Auras back means that some of that old flavor is coming back. But the bonus offered by these Auras isn’t anything like what it used to be… certainly less than WotLK’s passive “my presence makes everyone better regardless of my aura” effects.

There are no seals. The resource system is still build-and-spend. The net result makes Retribution Paladin feel less like a team support that happens to be oriented toward dealing damage and more like… well, an Arms Warrior with holy themes swirling around it.

Everyone wants to feel like a hero. Sometimes there's not a hero moment.

Without a doubt, this makes the spec much easier to balance and design along the way. Consistently having damage abilities to hit instead of just a handful of them is significant. It also means that you don’t have to tune Retribution’s damage around the boosts it provides to the rest of the party. It is a lot simpler and a lot easier to avoid making certain combinations accidentally way more powerful than intended.

It’s also boring. And it’s not what a lot of long-time fans fell in love with.

If you wanted to do damage, everyone knew that Retribution in WotLK was not the absolute best. (It still did very well, of course; after all, when you have an ability that auto-crits against Undead, another ability that boosts your performance when you crit, and an expansion full of undead, you kind of start off with an advantage.) But people who had been playing the spec the whole time hadn’t ever wanted that. We had wanted to be a crusading knight that, much like other Paladin specs, boosted those around us. A beacon of light and inspiration.

But fun tricks like how Judgement was a multi-function ability were the things that Retribution fans actually enjoyed about the class. Removing it – even if it meant that the end result produced a spec that technically did more damage and more reliably hit solid damage numbers – meant that the class just didn’t feel the same. People might not have liked refreshing Seals all the time, but that was because it didn’t add anything to the gameplay but pushing more buttons. The mechanisms involved were fun.

It’s that sort of thing that makes me look askance at the “unpruning.” Yes, we’re getting some of the abilities back. I have auras again! I’m happy about that. But the core philosophy remains the same. I’m still saddled with Holy Power and no seals and Templar’s Verdict and so forth. The loss of auras wasn’t what made the spec less fun to play, but the philosophy that led to losing them is still alive and well… and failing to recognize that what changed goes deeper than having a Devotion Aura icon means that we are, in the end, not changing anything significant.

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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HalLundy
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HalLundy

I absolutely agree. Paladin has become just warrior with extra steps. The class is boring. Somehow, even though you press buttons more often the process requires much less thought. You end up just doing the same rotation over and over.

Coupled with the fact that everyone farts damage these days with huge numbers it just makes it very tedious.

The super-streamlined talent spreadsheet also doesn’t do you any favors.

Oh well, just keep playing classic. I imagine they will alternate: this year retail expansion, next year classic expansion (tbc) and so on.

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Carebear

All the classes had a strategic play of resource/cooldown management and turned into a boring rotation of build resource –> spend resource to do damage… 5+ abilities that all do the same thing..single target damage

At the past you had to think.. “should I use judgment now or better save mana for heal? or better save the judgment cooldown in the case mob is start running away to bring more enemies and have to kill it fast? or just save mana to be able to pull next mob without drink for mana? Better stop doing damage and toss some heals on tank to help healer.. These mobs casting shadowbolts to my group, lets switch to shadow resistance aura. etc etc etc.

now you just build holy power to spend holy power to do damage… either you play rogue or paladin or monk… or warrior or demon hunter.. it doesnt matter

John Artemus
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John Artemus

Paladin was my second main in the game back in vanilla. I started with a balance druid before moonkin or anything. This was in May 2005. I then moved onto Holy Paladin around the fall of that year. Respecced to ret in TBC and never looked back.

When I stopped playing WoW in Legion, my ret pally was still my main, and to this day I consider it my “main character” in WoW. If I ever go back, it’s the first character I’m going to pick back up.

But I have to say, my preferred playstyle is a caster/melee hybrid. Enhancement Shaman really fit that style for years. But in Legion, it was really just a standard melee DPS. They had removed totems and everything from the spec. My dream class and spec would be something akin to Clerics in DnD. This is going back to the early 2000s but an epic cleric who could both cast pretty devastating spells while dual wielding swords and meleeing like a warrior was some of the most fun I’ve ever had in gaming.

So, basically since 2002 I’ve been looking for a class that recreates that fun. I’m still searching. :/

LITF
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LITF

Spot on how I feel about modern and WotLK era ret pally. It was my main since TBC and I had a blast playing it in WotLK. Since then it was just… pain. Watching blizzard just destroy the unique and fun class and make it into some average melee dps. To be honest same goes for my favorite alt of all times – rogue. I feel like with the death of hybrid specs where you could run Mutilate + Preparation for example as a rogue it just wasn’t the same. All this “streamlining” killed all the fun.

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Anthony Clark

Classic baby. CLASSIC!

That’s where I play!

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Bruno Brito

Classic Paladin is poopygarbage tho.

LITF
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LITF

Vanilla paladins had an oppressed and miserable life. Class was pretty garbage back then, so no I will pass on vanilla. Now TBC and WotLK are a different story.

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Ben Stone

Yeah I think the whole ‘all specs have to have equal DPS’ is whats killing all the fun. Everything that made hybrid classes special is gone. Rogues can self heal better than my druid in cat or moonkin form, because my heals can go on other people so of course they have to be garbage. Now you can blow your whole mana bar and not even heal 50% of someone’s health. So much for class theme hey.

LITF
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LITF

I think it’s even bigger problem: the fact that overwhelming majority of mmo playerbase (or at least the most vocal one) are previously ostracized power-gamers. You know, those dudes who’d come for a game of DnD with no backstory or any characteristic for their character, but would be rocking 2 wrist shields (because you can), 2 scimitars, ridiculously looking but minmaxed gear, and oneshot your bosses. These fun killers are now the vocal majority and no wonder the fun was indeed killed.

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Bruno Brito

That’s a common misconception but they aren’t. The majority of the MMO players are casual and silent.

There isn’t even 10% of a raidcore population in WoW.

LITF
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LITF

I did kind of say that I meant “at least the vocal minority”. Which is true. There is a silent majority that usually doesn’t really care/pay attention to balance changes and just enjoys the game, but there is also the vocal minority that is on forums crying every time balance changes happen, or every time there is a dps injustice (so all the time). Now, not to mistake when WoW pop enters an uproar because Blizzard are destroying the game though.

Also I’m not talking about WoW playerbase exclusively, rather about a recurring trend in all mmorpgs I’ve played. There is always silent majority that just enjoys the game for the most part as they can, and then there is vocal minority that is always crying about balance, dps percentiles, some classes being META META META, etc.. And then there are people who parrot that vocal minority in the game and play the role of braindead gatekeepers – they kick “bad” classes from groups, don’t invite “fckn casuals”, grill people in the chat for running suboptimal specs, etc.. And all that without even understanding whys and hows of it – simply because they heard/read this streamer/hardcore raider/other internet persona say that X is bad (for example).

Either way, point is that in past this vocal minority did not have as much impact on the games we play, but these days I can’t shake off the feeling that there is no way around them as soon as you try to do any kind of somewhat difficult group content. In past you could pug normal and heroic raids (before mythic was a thing) in WoW just fine, now it feels like it got immensely more difficult to even get into a group for normal/heroic. And what’s worse is after all the gatekeeping going on now pugs on average seem to disband or run into infinite recruitment loop much more compared to, say, WotLK. Just randomly leaving group now is insanely common, leaving after first wipe is also much more common, very few people make any effort to come prepared for the raid. In this sense I guess casual part of the game got significantly worse just as elitist minority did, just in a different way.

Tbh what people often refer to as “casual” player I wouldn’t even call casual – there seems to be a trend where not bothering with even trying to play allright is called “being casual”. And I’m not meaning minmaxing your build. I mean basic things such as knowing what your spells do, having general idea what spells are useful and when, having actually some practice and knowledge in using your class. Apparently now all these things are not considered casual. Casual players I knew from the dawn era were people who knew their class well enough to participate in content they apply for, they just didn’t put as many hours as some people do, didn’t participate in some of the brutal grinds, weren’t a part of raiding guild rosters or statics. They were allright players you could do content with granted you catch them online. Maybe they wouldn’t do top tier dps or know tactics in their entirety, but they would at least bring healthy attitude and willingness to learn, to actually play the game in their limited time. What I see now labelled as casual are players who downright don’t care about even trying to improve, who never read any boss guides in order to make up for the lack of experience, who leave at the first sign of difficulty or if they stay don’t show any signs of learning or improvement. While casuals of old would do decent and show promise in most cases (sure, there were some really bad players then too), contemporary casuals are more often than not are just a burden that doesn’t want to hear anything and just wants to be carried through the content at your expense. Right now I feel like being casual is just a convenient excuse to have nonexistent skill at the game and have 0 personal growth, to expect others to carry you through content and have no respect for others time. Sure, there are exceptions, but my entire point about term “casual” is that it got stretched to cover not only respectable casual players, but also everything underneath.

We are just facing some serious issues with MMO communities on both ends, where we have vocal minority constantly crying about balance and sucking fun out of the game for the sake of “balance” and “dps justice”, we have increasing degrees of toxic elitism in most layers of higher segment of the core playerbases, we have ever decreasing quality of casual players and bottom end of the playerbase, and in some cases toxicity even there (ever heard of toxic casuals?). I don’t claim to have a solution, I’m only concerned that it’s simply getting worse and worse.

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Bruno Brito

These fun killers are now the vocal majority and no wonder the fun was indeed killed.

You said it was a vocal majority. They aren’t. They’re a minority. That’s my only point. I agree with most of the rest.

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Taran Wonderer

I would want my class to play differently every expansion. I’d get very bored if any of them stayed the same.
Otoh, the idea of providing a fourth role of utility/jack of all trades is my favorite.

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Jokerchyld

Love the Black Cauldron! :)

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styopa

It wasn’t just Ret, most people seem to regard WotLK as the ‘sweet spot’ for many, many classes. I’ve variously main’d Hunter, Druid, Pally, and Warrior and all of them in WotLK were pretty good.

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Bruno Brito

Yeah. Even DK, which was mainly the new door for more “developed” rotations, had a decent set of priority skills, altho it hurt my hand to do ICC on the afternoons.

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Braud

I agree with this pretty much completely. I had a Ret Pally named “Braud” back in Burning Crusade. I was excited when they added divine storm, and made it to where judgements didn’t remove seals. I really felt this way about the mage too. I used to have so much utility in a small group. I had a good cc, I could make food for my party to recover, I could make portals. While all of that may still be true, it definitely isn’t as useful as it once was.

But what I’m wondering is – Are we the vocal minority? Is there a giant group of people that would be overwhelmed by the number of spells and abilities that we had at our disposal? Is filling up 4 hotbars too much for people these days?

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Bruno Brito

But what I’m wondering is – Are we the vocal minority? Is there a giant group of people that would be overwhelmed by the number of spells and abilities that we had at our disposal? Is filling up 4 hotbars too much for people these days?

Not exactly. WoW had some irrelevant abilities, but they took the pruning too far. That being said, most of their changes were less based on player feedback and more on what they think it’s best for the game.

There’s a reason why people complain about WoW’s direction constantly.

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Haxton

They weren’t irrelevant abilities. They were just irrelevant to the particular spec that’s being played. At least at first with the big cut when Cataclysm rolled around. I don’t know how it is anymore.

But the general pruning from Cata was basically making sure a newbie player isn’t throwing frost bolt or arcane blast at something when they’re playing as a fire mage.

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Bruno Brito

They liked because you could watch porn between skill usages.