Despite the somewhat fancy title, what follows is a slightly edited repost of a piece I originally posted in the Cataclysm alpha forums. I had thought that the forums would be wiped or at least remain invisible after the beta started, but as this was not the case the original post is still there – but I wanted to post it here anyway both for my own records and to allow folks to comment, disagree, discuss etc.
I was trying to look back over the impact of Lava Burst on elemental’s playstyle, itemisation, scaling and stuff, and also look forward to what might be planned for it in Cataclysm. From the time of posting until now, the only difference between Lava Burst (LK) and Lava Burst (Cataclysm) is the Lava Surge talent and the ability to Overload – we’re still awaiting the new 31-point talent trees and possible further revisions to the way elemental will play (Edit: 31-point trees are now up but not much has changed, will comment on them another time). Unleash Elements was also still in its very earliest stages and wasn’t fully functional for Flametongue Weapon.
I was trying very hard to sound positive and constructive without just writing a stupid list of my own bad ideas or a whine session featuring my favourite pet peeves, and in the process I fear I may have not said what I wanted to say. Nobody replied to it on the forums (I get the impression there weren’t (m)any elemental shamans in the test at that time) so I don’t know what folk thought of it. Anyway, here’s what I wrote, and I’d be very interested in points of view on the topic: has Lava Burst been good? bad? both? What changes does it need or is it OK as-is? What do you like or dislike about the spell and mechanic?
Lava Burst feedback
I want to briefly talk about some of the ups and downs of Lava Burst’s present mechanic, at least as it’s been perceived by members of the shaman community as expressed through message boards and blogs. Historically Lava Burst has only been a concern (in PvE, at least) for elemental, but if it is added to Maelstrom Weapon then I suppose it will become an issue for Enhancement too.
As we all know, Lava Burst is a guaranteed critical strike if Flame Shock is active on its target when the spellcast finishes. The spell receives extra bonuses to its critical damage which makes it much more attractive for it to crit than otherwise (though its DPSC is still the highest for any elemental spell even if it fails to crit).
Positive points of view
These are points of view that players might see as positive, though I’m aware not all of them may be considered a good thing from a developer point of view.
I think most folk agree that the present mechanic is, at least in the absence of external factors, a lot of fun! It’s fun to smack Flame Shock then pull off that fast Lava Burst and see a big number flash up, listen to the Clearcasting proc sound trigger and know that our next two spells will be benefiting from that extra 10% damage. It’s just a very pleasing package on its own.
While Lava Burst’s base damage varies by a whopping 326 (compared to Chain Lightning at 138 and Lightning Bolt at just 100) – which, especially combined with Clearcasting/Elemental Oath interaction, can make Lava Burst crits vary dramatically in magnitude – it is still a pretty solid rock on which to build the elemental ‘rotation’.
Despite the variation in crit damage, there’s still far less variation in a Lava Burst crit than exists for Lightning Bolt normal/crit damage, especially when Overloads are factored in. Thus Lava Burst is a regular, reliable spike of damage with a very narrow damage range compared to other spells.
Because it procs Clearcasting, it reliably adds the 10% damage bonus to the next two spells cast. Under normal conditions an elemental shaman will only fire off 5-6 spells between Lava Bursts, which means that Clearcasting is guaranteed to be active for at least a third of those “filler” spells.
Its fast cast time combined with this reliable damage also makes it the one spell an elemental shaman will attempt to never delay even during periods of intense movement (e.g. the old Heigan “dance”), further adding to its perceived consistency.
One of the great strengths of Elemental is that we have almost no ramp-up time between zero DPS and maximum DPS. All it takes is one Global Cooldown to cast Flame Shock and then we can hit with our hardest-hitting spell (yes, Lightning Bolt can do more damage in a single cast with crits and Overloads, but this is very random and it also takes longer to cast). The rest of our ‘rotation’ time is essentially just filler until Lava Burst is ready again, and as there is no synergy between Lightning Bolt/Chain Lightning and any other spell, we can just “spam” them freely.
(Incidentally this seems to have had unfortunate ramifications for the spec in PvP, though I can’t really comment on this as I’ve barely tried PvP as elemental.)
I wanted to keep this separate from the ‘consistency’ point even though they’re very closely related. There is really no randomness to the elemental ‘rotation’. I actually very much like this, because I find random procs very frustrating especially when they have a significant effect on DPS. Although Clearcasting procs are, to an extent, random, with elemental critical strike chances as they are presently combined with the guaranteed uptime from Lava Burst they are very reliably random. And there is nothing the elemental shaman can do or fail to do to cause procs.
Critical points of view (no pun intended!)
These are perspectives that might be considered a problem for players.
Value of critical strike rating
Lava Burst has been blamed for the poor scaling of elemental’s DPS with critical strike rating as compared to haste rating and spellpower. There is some merit in this view as clearly having a spell which accounts for 15-25% of a shaman’s damage unaffected by crit is going to have an effect. However, mathematical models adjusted to render Lava Burst subject to the same critical strike chance as other elemental spells show an insignificant rise in the value of critical strike rating – in one example, from about 70% of the value of a point of spellpower to 80% of that value (compared to haste at >100% of the value of a point of spellpower). This isn’t significant because, even with Lava Burst’s huge crit modifiers now positively affecting the value of critical strike rating in this example, the elemental stat priorities are not even close to changing. There would still be no normal situation where critical strike rating was preferable to haste rating.
A rather bigger culprit of elemental’s poor scaling with critical strike rating (as compared to haste rating) is the generally high crit rates in the present raid game. This is partly symptomatic of item inflation through hard mode gearing, but was present even at the release of WotLK through elemental’s inherently very high crit chances. This seems likely to remain a problem in Cataclysm especially with elemental’s mastery providing an innate bonus to critical strike chance. That is to say, critical strike is much more valuable compared to haste when the shaman has a low critical strike chance. The total effect of raid buffs, talents and glyphs in WotLK is to add 28% to an elemental shaman’s crit chance before gear and consumables:
- 2% Glyph of Flametongue Weapon
- 5% Thundering Strikes
- 5% Call of Thunder
- 5% Elemental Oath
- 3% Totem of Wrath
- 3% Focus Magic
- 5% Improved Scorch (Etc.)
(Blessing of Kings adds another percent or so through intellect > crit conversion.)
This means that a naked elemental shaman in a raid, aside from being very cold and a little embarrassed, has already got 28% critical strike chance on his or her main spells.
Therefore it’s the complete package of Lava Burst guaranteed crit + high base crit + haste/crit rating conversion rates which renders critical strike rating an unambiguously third-placed stat for elemental.
While not a “problem” per se, the dramatic inferiority of crit compared to haste has left the elemental community very unhappy with items which have crit but not haste – mail items and caster shields especially. This perception, combined with the difficulty of itemising mail for restoration as well as elemental while trying to keep some variety in loot tables, has contributed to the general dissatisfaction with elemental itemisation in some parts of WotLK. If crit and haste were not so dramatically apart in value then elemental shamans would be far more willing to consider items which lacked one or the other stat.
Value of haste rating
Ironically considering the last point, there has been some concern regarding elemental’s scaling with haste rating because of:
- Lava Burst’s fixed, 8-second cooldown and
- Lava Burst’s 1.5s cast time which equals the global cooldown
(2) is partly an issue because of the very high haste ratings we have seen through itemlevel inflation in WotLK. It has been relatively easy for shamans raiding cutting-edge content to get to a point where they have enough haste to push Lava Burst’s cast time below the global cooldown hard cap of 1 second, at which point the spell ceases to scale with haste in a meaningful way. However, as elemental shamans have two different haste cooldowns – Elemental Mastery and Heroism/Bloodlust – we can anticipate that even with dramatically lower haste levels in Cataclysm, this concern will remain at least in part.
(1) has been a serious problem of perception in the elemental community, especially for new players. The high damage of Lava Burst has encouraged players to try to fit specific numbers of Lightning Bolt casts in the window between Lava Burst cooldowns with no “gap” – and if there is a “gap” (that is, time between the remaining cooldown of Lava Burst and the final Lightning cast that is less than the cast time of another Lightning Bolt), to cast nothing and wait for Lava Burst to come off cooldown. I think this is very counter-intuitive behaviour to encourage, even accidentally, for a caster spec!
I say “accidentally” because community theorycrafters (myself included!) have shown that in most cases casting nothing while waiting for Lava Burst to come off cooldown is lower DPS than casting something and pushing the Lava Burst cast back a little. However there are still theoretical haste values at which it is in fact slightly higher damage to wait for Lava Burst’s cooldown and not cast anything. The haste ranges are very narrow and the DPS gains very small – and the possibility of executing such an exacting timing requirement in-game almost zero – but the very existence of these possibilities is, I think, unfortunate and has had the effect of confusing a lot of players.
Interaction with 4t10
It’s worth mentioning that the 4-piece tier 10 elemental bonus has made trying to cast Lava Bursts as “tightly” as possible even more important. Unfortunately the mechanics of Flame Shock’s interaction with Lava Burst and the set bonus feels a little awkward, because whether Flame Shock falls off or is refreshed seems to depend as much on lag as on player skill and timing, and has led to a situation where it is optimal to overwrite Flame Shock rather than simply re-cast after it has fallen off.
While I made a big deal of how consistent elemental DPS is as a positive point, there are those who see it as a negative – that elemental DPS is “too easy” and “boring”. I’m not one of those people; I think that with totems to manage, the raid depending on us for Heroism/Bloodlust, the possibility of extra raid roles like interrupting, dispelling, kiting, offhealing and so on and so forth, there is plenty for an elemental shaman to be thinking about while executing our fairly simple “rotation”. It’s also my opinion that the rotation is not really as simple as it seems as trying to minimize the time between Lava Burst casts and maximise DPS during movement is often very challenging and a lot of fun.
But nevertheless elemental can be perceived – rightly or not – as a sort of a two-button spec, just mashing Lightning Bolt and Lava Burst, with little room for finesse or variation.
The new Lava Surge talent does potentially offset this in a very interesting way – flame shock ticks having a chance to reset the cooldown on Lava Burst – but I fear it doesn’t fit very well to the WotLK incarnation of Lava Burst being a massive damage nuke on a short cooldown with a fast cast time. There’s not a lot of time in the 8-second cooldown window for those procs to happen in a way that the player can react to it meaningfully, especially if haste levels end up lower than they have been in WotLK.
I love the idea of Lava Surge and I think it would go a fair way to offsetting the above complaint. However I also greatly fear the impact of adding a random proc element to our rotation – I value our present consistency and reliable DPS output – and I wonder if it’s a bit similar to other DPS talents like Frost Death Knights’ Rime.
I should also mention that Unleash Elements (or Unleash Weapon, whatever it’s going to end up being called!) has a lot of potential to be a really fun addition to the elemental toolkit, but obviously I can’t really comment much on it until there are some more solid numbers in place for it and our other spells at level 85. I think it’d be great to have another spell to cast, especially one that promotes synergy with our other spells, talents and glyphs – but we need to have a reason to cast it. As Lava Burst is one of only two elemental spells it presently affects, I think the direction Lava Burst takes in this expansion will be a big factor in the use of this new spell.
As I’ve said, I know that what the players enjoy about a spell may not necessarily be things that the designers intended or support. I particularly wonder about the lack of ramp-up time and consistency of elemental damage as “good”, and the crit/haste issues as “bad” – perhaps the former are unintentional artefacts of Lava Burst’s design, or the latter intentional hurdles placed in front of elemental shamans in an attempt to make gearing more interesting? (though I hope not!)
While I’ve really enjoyed elemental in WotLK, it has definitely not been without its frustrations and I feel that many of these can be traced back, directly or otherwise, to Lava Burst. I would love to see the spell get some serious attention in the Cataclysm development process even if it ends up not changing much, because it has become such a foundational part of the elemental ‘lifestyle’ and seems set to remain a defining part of our gameplay for the foreseeable future.