I was all set to make excuses about why I wasn’t going to post about the latest elemental Shaman Cataclysm talent preview, but it somehow ended up being simpler just to post about it. I’m not really sure how that works, but OK. This isn’t going to be super in-depth or amazing, just some impressions and thoughts. I’ve probably missed some stuff out. I don’t know if some folk might consider what follows spoilers, but if you do be warned that you MIGHT CONSIDER WHAT FOLLOWS SPOILERS.
State of the tree
The first thing I notice is that not much has changed (so far) in the elemental tree itself – at the moment it still has a very similar look and feel to how it is now on Live realms. A few talents have shifted up in the tree, maybe to make it easier to get down the tree without taking ‘filler’ talents or maybe to make it more accessible to folks hybridising from other specs. It’s still impossible to move down to essential talents like Shamanism without taking talents which are, in Wrath of the Lich King, situational at best and useless at worst: at least two points are required in either Convection or Elemental Warding to move past tier 2, and 4 more points have to be sunk in these or some combination of Eye of the Storm and Unrelenting Storm to move past tiers 4/5.
Now I happen to like Eye of the Storm, and it’s become a pretty much mandatory talent for raiding in ICC with various fights featuring varying amounts of spell pushback, but it’s the sort of talent that seems to me like it should be “optional” (as it’s of peripheral rather than core benefit to the spec). I don’t really consider “the only remotely sensible way to move up the tree past some utterly useless talents” to be “optional” 8) But if we do grant that it’s an important talent that we don’t want to skip, that still leaves three points in some form of mana reducing talent or damage taken reduction talent: the latter seems like it should be a flavour choice to fill out the tree rather than mandatory to progress up it – even given what we expect regarding healer mana in Cataclysm – and the former, well, in Wrath of the Lich King mana has almost ceased to be a meaningful resource for elemental. Maybe we’ll find it more of a concern in the expansion.
(Edit: reading over that this morning made it seem a bit muddled. What I’m trying to get at is that if you have a choice between a talent which is totally useless OR a talent which is very situational as the only way to move up a tree, it’s not really a choice – you take the one which has even the slighest hope of being useful. Similarly if you have a choice between a talent that increases damage and a talent that doesn’t, obviously you’re going to need to take the talent that increases damage to remain competitive in a raid environment – again it’s not optional. I don’t mind non-damage talents being the only way to move up a tree – that makes perfect sense, really!)
The enhancement tree has changed quite a bit with Dual Wield once again within reach of other specs and a bunch of other talents swapping tiers or being removed altogether. Just barely in reach of an elemental at the moment is the Searing Flames talent which I’ll talk about in a minute. Seems like enhance is still going to be the default offspec for elemental so it’ll be interesting to see whether the self-only bonus planned for Enhancing Totems is of any use to us. If we’re forced to take Imp. Ghost Wolf to move up the tree I’d certainly not be complaining, especially with it now usable indoors.
Major talent changes
Totem of Wrath has been replaced by Earthquake as the signature 41-point talent, which as I’ve previously said sounds pretty cool. I don’t know how they’re going to balance the knockdown and damage and all that jazz but I’m sure they’ll find a way to make the spell work even if that’s not in the form it is now. We also get a placeholder (“[PH]”) talent converting all our fire totems into suppliers of the new 10% spellpower buff that will replace the present forms of ToW/DP. This is all familiar from the earlier Preview and is also very welcome. I do hope, however, that we don’t end up having to “clip” Searing Totem to ensure the spellpower buff stays active 100% of the time – that’d just be annoying.
Elemental Precision, as expected, gets the spirit-to-hit conversion we were promised and keeps its latent hit bonus, while losing the threat reduction – seems threat reduction talents are going bye-bye across the board and being baked into the core mechanics of the game.
I’ve posted my slightly muddled concerns about the way this might work in practice elsewhere, and I’m not sure to what extent that concern is justified. I like the idea of the talent – it’s obviously an attempt to make our “rotation” more dynamic and reactive – but I dislike its present design. Others have already given examples of why it might be problematic – PvP burst being one obvious area – and expressed doubt that it’ll go live in this form, and I tend to agree. Aside from the obvious burst damage issue and the “dead zone” thing I pondered, there’s also the issue of usefulness. Reducing Lava Burst’s cooldown using WotLK numbers doesn’t actually increase overall DPS all that much. This was a major problem with the old incarnation of 4t10 – it’s just not that great for PvE to have a lower cooldown on Lava Burst. It’s great for burst/PvP but relatively poor for sustained damage over time. I plugged a flat, reliable 3 second cooldown reduction into ZAP! and it spat out a DPS increase of about 300, in the context of 10k overall.
But despite that reservation, it’s not a major issue because (a) the spell numbers can all be rebalanced so that a reduced cooldown is more desirable and (b) a single talent is not generally meant to provide a huge, game-breaking DPS boost anyway. I actually expect Lava Burst to be a more significant component of elemental DPS in Cataclysm, because we’ll have lower crit and haste to prop up LB/CL and LvB will itself benefit from our new Elemental Overload mastery and the Acute Overload talent. So yeah, a modest increase from 3 points would be totally fine. But first we have to want to take the talent, and that might be a problem because of the new tier 5 enhancement talent.
This is the enhancement talent which causes Searing Totem to deal an extra 100% of the damage from its hits over 15 seconds, stacking up to 5 times. This just about doubles the damage output of Searing Totem – that’s like an extra ~600 DPS at 5 stacks, and with the totem’s attack hitting every ~2.5 seconds you’d probably manage to keep the DoT rolling without maxing out the talent. It seems like the best way to get to 3-4 points in Searing Flames at present is simply to ignore Lava Surge (as well as Booming Echoes and Unrelenting Storm), or only to sink one or two points into it. If Searing Flames stays where it is and as it is, it’d be extremely desirable for elemental and could well lead to us skipping talents in our own tree which we’d rather have. That is, I suppose, something that the game designers would be pleased to encourage. But presently a spec without Searing Flames would be lower DPS than a spec with it, which kinda makes it seem “mandatory”.
I think we can be totally confident that this will not be a desirable talent for elemental (or restoration). At present we can’t dual-wield caster weapons anyway – they’re all main-hand only – so we’d have to use a physical DPS offhand dagger/mace/axe enchanted with Flametongue Imbue to make it worth dual wielding. Which is totally nonsensical and something the devs would never go for. It could be prevented simply by making imbues unique or by making shields/caster offhands more desirable. If it was left where it was in the tree but made undesirable for caster shamans for simple mechanical reasons, I’d not be terribly surprised if it eventually became baseline to the class. It’d make sense for enhancement shamans to have it from the start while levelling anyway.
There’s presently no mention of Unleash Weapon in the talent trees at all, which I’d take to mean that they’ve not got around to putting it in yet rather than there being no talent synergy planned. Lava Flows remains as it was, suggesting that Lava Burst itself is unchanged – a small niggle in my mind, as I see Lava Burst’s present incarnation as inherently problematic. I’d like to see Lava Burst reworked for Cataclysm to make it a bit more interesting and flexible and allow more meaningful interaction with a talent like Lava Surge. But perhaps that’s asking too much of a spell which has clearly been “successful” in terms of being enjoyed by the vast majority of elemental shamans. There’s also no mention yet of Spirit Link for resto, or any talent synergy with Earthquake, Healing Rain or Spiritwalker’s Grace. So I think the trees, despite being “further along” than some others, are still in a very early state. I do remember how much the talents changed even in the last month or so of open beta for Wrath of the Lich King, so we shouldn’t expect what we see now to represent what we’ll be playing with come release day. There’s a lot of development time, testing and sheer iteration to be gone through.
All the same, it’s important that we make our thoughts known (politely!) to the developers since they’ve specifically asked for feedback and clearly want to come up with talent trees and class mechanics which people are going to *like* :) So go forth and feed back! I’m interested to know what y’all make of this preview too.