It seems a pity to break my blog-fast by gorging on a large lump of sugary complaining, but – well, there is no but; it’s a pity, to be sure. Especially as patch 4.1 has continued the trend of making important, timely and welcome quality of life changes to a game which otherwise should really be shuffling off to sip herbal tea and play chequers in the park by now.
Yes, Blizzard continue to do a good job by keeping WoW updated and moving forward. No, I don’t always appreciate all their changes – I’ve not had a lot of time to play recently and I felt a bit foolishly and self-consciously resentful to have to log in just to catch up on all the changed mechanics and inevitable addon updates. But Blizzard also seem to be using content patches to experiment with stuff lately, and elemental AoE has apparently become the test subject for 4.1.
In one of his recent Watercooler posts, Ghostcrawler talked about complexity in area-of-effect damage rotations:
On the topic of AE, some specs have some fairly interesting AE rotations, such as Fire mages (Flame Orb, Flamestrike, Combustion, Living Bomb) and Survival hunters (Serpent Spread, Explosive Trap and Multi-Shot). Other specs have really simple rotations, such as channeling a targeted spell over and over. Boring. Going forward, we’re going to make more of an effort to make sure everyone has a reasonable AE rotation that at least involves more than one button.
Elemental’s been singled out as not complex enough ever since the Wrath of the Lich King beta, to the point where two expansions later we’ve got a DPS “rotation” which manages to look just a wee bit complicated on paper but is rambunctiously complex to pull off in an actual fight. At least a little bit of the complexity is caused by what can best be described as bugs, like searing totem’s exhausting inability to care about attacking anything or the fire elementals who manage to impressively and consistently suicide ten seconds after being summoned. gg no re. And at least a little bit more of that complexity is caused by class design choices made five or six years ago which don’t really seem relevant anymore yet interact in frustrating ways with new design directions – thinking especially of the linked shock cooldown here.
When elemental was given a channelled AoE as our iconic 31-point talent for Cataclysm, I wasn’t really too bothered. It was a cool spell in Warcraft 3 and elemental AoE has always been weak, complicated and frustrating. Now we could finally just spam the shaman version of blizzard and do decent, reliable area damage with a neat animation to boot. Despite being “boring” it was a huge quality of life change and helped offset the growing complexity and finickitiness (that’s a word) of our single target damage.
4.1 hit Earthquake hard. It does half the damage it used to (it never did all that much in the first place) and has a new ten second cooldown; it also has a 2.5 second cast time instead of being channelled, and now functions basically like Flame Strike instead of Blizzard while still costing a daunting amount of mana. The combination of this long cast time, long cooldown, high mana cost, low damage and static location make it almost a liability as a 31-point talent – ridiculously hard to place (and if you get it wrong, wait ten seconds then try again), hilariously unlikely to affect any mobs for its full duration, and so expensive it’s tempting just to not bother trying.
The reason EQ was hit so hard is because Fire Nova has been quite cleverly revamped: instead of spurting from your fire totem, it now explodes off of anything that’s affected by Flame Shock. Because it’s instant cast and tied to the shock DoT, we can use it while we’re moving, and even while the mobs to be AoEed are moving – both otherwise still major weak points with normal elemental damage. And Flame Shock is a spell we cast in our single target rotation anyway, so that’s good, right?
Well, yes, it’s a neat idea. But FN now suffers the same problem that Mind Sear suffered until being changed recently – it doesn’t affect the target you cast it from. Also, often the most important things to AoE die quickly, and Flame Shock is a spell which does damage slowly over time – casting it on something which is going to be dead in 10 seconds isn’t very useful. And to top it all off, the damage of Fire Nova is so low that you need to have several flame shocks up to explode all at once before it’s competitive – and Flame Shock still has a 6 second cooldown, shared with our other shocks.
These things can be tweaked as simple balance changes, and I expect them to be. But it’s really exposed and put even more pressure on the already frustrating single-target linked shock cooldown situation, as well as reminding us elementals of the concerns we voiced during the Cataclysm beta about the design direction of the elemental talent tree which were never really satisfactorily addressed. Getting a complicated new AoE system which, for now, requires a huge amount of effort for a pathetic amount of reward, isn’t very inspiring in that context.
More than most specs, Elemental has always been about more than just doing damage – totems have to be managed in terms of position, duration and type; we are frequently on interrupt, purging, offhealing or kiting duty; we have a number of Big Important Fragile Cooldowns to take care of and we don’t have any quick movement or survival abilities to let us relax our guard during a boss fight. None of this has changed, at least not in ten-man raiding – but we now have to do all this while managing an increasingly complicated and frustrating damage rotation. We just have so many abilities now which do such similar things in such different ways and the game keeps demanding that we use all of them at once – so many cooldowns, durations, positions and targets to juggle all together and all at the same time – there’s just no let up for us in a fight, no moment of calm where we can catch our breath and take in what’s going on.
No let up
If AoE is called for – well, let’s take Maloriak as an example. I have to keep him focused so I can interrupt Arcane Storm and purge his heal-over-time effect, while tracking where he is and when so I know when to Fire Nova, while tab-Flame Shocking as many adds as I can every five seconds, while watching my Fire Nova cooldown, while watching my Chain Lightning cooldown, while trying to predict where the mobs will be in three seconds so I can place Earthquake and maybe a Magma Totem. On top of that I have to look at my mana and decide how much AoE I can even afford. Then when it all ends – far too quickly for me to have built up enough Flame Shocks to explode – I have to rearrange my brain to deal with switching back to our complicated single target DPS rotation. Right now it’s all five times harder what with being new and all, and I guess not playing much for the last couple of months doesn’t help either.
Elemental’s taken a lot of flak as being too simple in the past, criticism which I never really agreed with even though I understood it. I always saw it as a spec which was easy to grasp at a basic level but very hard to really eke the very best out of. I appreciated that it had enough simplicity in spell usage to allow for greater concentration on the peripheral stuff I talked about above. But I think Elemental ended up in the developers’ minds as being a prime target for complicatification (also a word), and once the single target stuff was nicely complicatified, they saw the huge opportunity that shaman design history allowed for a nice big complicification of AoE too.
So we’re the guinea pigs for non-boring AoE, or the glorious recipients of an entirely new and fun way of approaching multi-mob fights – depends which way you look at it, really. I’m not against the idea, but I am against the implementation. Perhaps mostly I’m tired of new fangled complexity being hung on rusty old hooks, which at this point, is something WoW simply cannot avoid no matter how hard it tries.
4.1 brought many welcome changes, and I feel I should welcome this one as well. But I’m not enjoying it. I resent it. I want our totems to work properly at last, I want to not feel like I’m fighting geriatric design choices made 6 years ago whenever I do DPS, and I don’t want to have to shut down all other brain functions just to cope with a brief period of AoE. Most of all I want to stop bitching about it and find something positive to say, but instead? Well, I also play a frost mage, and she can just happily spam Blizzard.