Wednesday, July 15, 2009

[Druid] Oh boy… it's our turn at Q & A

It's only with some trepidation that I read the official Q&A finally dedicated to my main's class. Druids have come a long way, especially from the days of vanilla WoW when I rarely disclosed that I was balance-specced and diligently healed every 5-man I ran, but I'm not sure what needs to be "fixed" about us. I'm actually rather content being a druid at the moment (with the annoying exception of Eclipse, and even that I've mostly come to terms with).

The Q&A starts out with Ghostcrawler giving a brief history of the class and how we functioned in vanilla WoW and Burning Crusade. He mostly hits the items right on the head. I was never an oomkin in TBC, and I performed adequately (well enough that one of the hunters I knew bemoaned the fact a hybrid class could beat a pure class in dps), but raiding moonkin were still largely the exception rather than the rule. He then goes on to talk about where we are now, and part of me is pleased with the acknowledgement that there are really four roles for raiding druids now. Cat, bear, moonkin, or tree; there's a place for all of us.

PvP is a different story. Ghostcrawler acknowledges the pattern of resto druids dominating, feral doing respectably, and balance druids trailing continues in Wrath as much as it ever did in TBC. Feral and balance representation are both low in arena, from what I've seen on my paladin. Resto druids pose a pain for us because if they keep themselves properly hotted they can survive through our burn even if they're locked out of all spellcasting for several seconds, but we never go into a match and think "damn that feral druid" "damn that moonkin" which probably means that both those specs could be better at PvP. Unfortunately Ghostcrawler doesn't outline any specific plans for improvement; just something that they want to do in the future.

On Eclipse:

The goal of the Eclipse talent in the first place was to give moonkin a more dynamic rotation that involved the player paying attention and responding to the environment rather than falling into a monotonous rotation. The Eclipse in 3.2 should less strongly favor one half of the Eclipse over the other since the cooldowns are independent. Ultimately however the problem we are trying to solve is that Wrath and Starfire are just too similar. In PvP you get a little bit of interest out of the fact that they are in different schools, but in PvE by the time talents are factored in, the two spells just become fairly quick (but not instant) nukes and it’s easy to math out which one to use and which one to ignore. Long-term to fix this problem we need to add another spell, separate out Starfire and Wrath from each other a little more, or make one of the other spells, like Moonfire or Insect Swarm, more dynamic. I’ll give a couple of example of caster rotations that "work" in our opinion: Destruction warlocks want to Immolate before they Conflagrate, Frost mages can proc a Brain Freeze and throw out a fast Fireball.

While I agree Eclipse does make things a little more lively than say IS, MF, Wrath x8 the reason I was unhappy when it was introduced was that it was a difficult mechanic to work with. It's random, and it has a 30 second internal cooldown that must be tracked in order to get the most dps out of it. Many a raiding moonkin turned to mods.

Ghostcrawler is correct in that 3.2 will help make Eclipse more manageable, thanks to having separate cooldowns for solar and lunar eclipses, but it won't help one of the reasons I rely on a mod. With everything that happens in a raid environment (explosions, void zones, evil puddles) it's entirely possible to miss an eclipse looming over my head if it only lasts for a second or two. When I dps-ed pre-Squawk and Awe mod, I could occasionally look up at my buffs in the upper right hand corner of the screen and realize "OMG, I have only half of an Eclipse left!" These days Squawk and Awe resides right under my character's feet (same place I'd look for void zones and puddles) and because of that placement I don't miss an eclipse. So even after 3.2 lands, chances are I'll still be using it because I can't miss that eclipse.

What I would have liked is if the moon or sun would stay above our heads for the duration of the buff so it's more obvious that the proc has occurred, and a moment's diverted attention won't cause me to miss it.

I still disagree that Wrath and Starfire are too similar. They will be the way they're going to be used in 3.2, with eclipses rotating between solar and lunar, but I still like the days when mana mattered and thus the spells you used mattered based on their cost and what your gear could support. I'm raiding Ulduar with zero mana regen talents and there are still fights where I'm not remotely in danger of going oom. I can't even remember the last time I took a mana pot.

On moonkin PvP:

We don’t think Moonkins are quite there yet, though we’ll see how they look after 3.2 ships. Some of their problems are not limitations with the spec so much as they are ramifications in other parts of the PvP environment, such as some classes being able to burst them down too quickly. Of the casters, and as of this writing, only Frost mages really seem to be a potent PvP force, but it requires multiple forms of CC and escape mechanisms to get there. We really don’t want to go down the road of every caster needing that many unique tools – it homogenizes the classes and makes the mage tools less compelling. We understand some players are desperate to play Balance in PvP, but our priority is on getting underperforming classes viable before we worry about the second or third spec of classes that already have a strong PvP presence. We’ll get there.

I think the issue is that moonkin obstensibly give up the ability to use healing spells in exchange for better armor and their crit aura (though the haste and mana back from crits no doubt helps), but armor only really matters when fighting warriors, rogues, and feral druids, with middling effectiveness against DKs and hunters who have some physical attacks and some non. Given armor's hit and miss with effectiveness, the moonkin is pretty much gimping herself by her inability to heal. When I duel on Hana (the closest I ever come to PvP on her), I rarely use moonkin form because it's not practical. I have to be able to heal myself.

Ret pallies can heal themselves if they have to, ele shaman can heal themselves as well, so it doesn't seem much of a stretch that moonkin should be able to as well. After all, paladins and shaman are plate and mail wearers, so they have comparable armor. A moonkin would be much tougher to take down if they could keep a stack of rolling hots on themselves.

On balance spells:

As I mentioned above, we do want to improve the spell rotation of Balance. We think the spells are interesting when considered alone (expect for perhaps Starfire and Wrath) but they don’t necessarily play together in interesting ways. You don’t try to save up a Starfall for example for great synergy with another spell. We have no problems with Starfall itself -- it is an AE with smart targeting that doesn’t require channeling. It is basically just bonus damage. Often players with a gripe about Starfall are wishing that it still proc’ed stuns with Celestial Focus or was a stealth remover. But those uses meant players saved Starfall for only those specific situations instead of using it when they needed extra damage, which was the original intent.

I admit I don't have a problem with Starfall. I use it every cooldown as long as there's no danger of breaking CC, but it's not very interesting as in when to use it during a boss fight. For something like Mimiron phase 3, where the boss periodically comes down and takes extra damage I'll save Starfall for it, but otherwise it comes back up again so quick that it's best to just use it as frequently as possible with no regard to any sort of position in a rotation. It's a very unique spell, and I like the idea of an instant AoE that travels with me, but they're right that there's no synergy involved and no smart time to use it. But unfortunately this answer doesn't really tell us anything that Blizzard has in mind.

On feral druid playstyle:

The druid class overall is intended to be flexible, and we feel that it is. What we don’t want is a class that can do all things with a single spec -- do damage like a rogue, then tank if the MT falls down, then battle rez the MT and heal her back up, etc. That might sound like a lot of fun, but that’s because you’re fulfilling the role of half the raid all on your own (which means it’s less fun for everyone else watching you be a superstar). Every cat worth their salt will shift out to cast Rebirth or Innervate. But in order to justify cats doing credible melee damage, we felt like they had to give up some of their ability to tank, cast, and heal. Note than you can still take a more hybrid-focused build. Players don’t often do that though because they’d rather do one thing really well. Now I will say that long term something we’d love to do is get rid of shifting costs altogether. We want to see druids in lots of different forms -- more on this in a minute.

The question was lamenting the change in the feral druid playstyle, where they have minimal mana pools so it was no longer possible to shift out, cast a few spells, slip back into cat, roll into bear, pop out again to heal, and so on; a playstyle I became most familiar with after watching one of Azgaz's feral PvP videos (it may have been Nerf Druids 4). It used to be that feral PvP really embodied the druid as a class, with the best ferals using both bear and cat form as well as casting both healing and balance spells (ex: Cyclone or Entangling Roots) to assist them.

I don't deny that druids should not be able to main tank, heal, and dps all in the same spec, but it should be feasible to do a little bit of each since we are hybrids and paladins and shaman are not cut off from their skills nearly as much. It matters less for PvE, but it makes a world of difference in PvP.

On feral dps rotation:

If you want to do the best damage possible, you need to be able to master a complex rotation. This is one of the features that attracts players to the Feral spec. However, it’s also pretty forgiving. If you just Shred, you’re going to do decent damage. If you Shred and try to keep up Savage Roar, it’s going to be better. If you can also manage your Mangles and Rips and Rakes, then you have the potential to do very high damage (assuming you don’t have to move around much and can reach the target’s back).

I agree with the first sentence, but I don't know about the rest of it. I'm a druid because that happened to be the first class I chose based on the fact I like versatility. I happen to be a moonkin, because my first 10 levels of life were as a caster and I specced to make myself better at what I was already doing. Though I play a feral alt and I like being a feral as well, what draws me to the spec is the inherent sneakiness that comes from being a prowling kitty. The complex feral rotation that exists now is new to Wrath and was never part of being a cat before.

I'm also a little skeptical about how forgiving the rotation is though, but I have no experience at the raid level as a cat. I do know that PvP is pretty darn difficult though (never an optimum dps scenario since targets move a lot), and Ghostcrawler's answer does nothing to address making PvP easier for cats.

On feral interrupts in PvP:

Feral druids have Bash (which they can improve through talents), Maim and the Feral Charge stun. We think their tools are sufficient for PvP and there are other melee classes that can handle it in PvE. It’s not a strength of the spec for sure, but we’re okay with that. We don’t want all melee to be identical.

While I would like my interrupts to come off cooldown sooner, I'm pretty much okay with that. It's not really our strength and good ferals can still keep a caster locked up for a while.

On bears and their inferiority complex:

We think bears have felt inferior because for a long time we basically said “You are designed to be inferior.” Sometimes old perceptions die hard. Bears are not inferior tanks in Ulduar and it’s possible their survivability is too high in 3.2.

Has that ever been the case? In TBC bears tanked just about everything except Illidan because of a game mechanic and they were a choice tank for Sarth 3D. Certainly the feral was not frequently utilized as a MT, but my TBC guild held them in high esteem for their unique ability to be both decent tank and decent dps in the same spec. Not inferior, but different.

I can't speak for any possibility of their survivability being too high in 3.2, but they are definitely solid tanks in Ulduar.

On Savage Defense:

Community Team: Savage Defense has been the source of a number of debates as players feel it is somewhat lackluster and doesn’t provide enough of a benefit, especially in PvP.

Q: Do we have any plans to change and/or improve Savage Defense?

Ghostcrawler: We’re pretty happy with Savage Defense for now. It accomplishes its goals, which were to make dps stats more useful on leather and to keep bears from hitting the armor cap so easily. You might consider it lackluster if you’re counting on it saving your life, but it does account for a lot of damage over the course of a boss fight.

I included the community team commentary and the question on this one because the patch that nerfed bear armor and added Savage Defense is the one that made me a squishier flag-runner than I'd ever been in the past, and the fact that Ghostcrawler only answers in regards to PvE (over the course of a boss fight!) doesn't help. Bear form is our equivalent to plate armor and while Savage Defense is perfectly fine in a boss fight, where the boss in going to be in front of you the entire time, it's terrible in PvP because it relies on us getting a crit. I can only imagine how annoying this must be in arena where crit is reduced by resilience.

On bear vs. cat swipe:

The bear change was just a quality of life issue. A bear can wipe the raid if they can’t pick up incoming adds. The cat is much less likely to wipe the raid by not being able to Swipe all the adds. We don’t need for cats to be an awesome AE spec. We just want them to have something to do on big packs that everyone else is AE’ing, which is what cat Swipe gives them. On the other hand, if there is a perception that bears can’t manage adds, they aren’t going to be used on a lot of fights.

Making bear swipe 360 was perfectly understandable, given that they couldn't AoE tank as well as the other classes without it, but leaving cat swipe as 180 because cat's don't need to be AoE-ing isn't the solution. Many ferals will use both bear and cat at times, and it's a shift in perception on what an ability can do when it has the same name from form to form. If cat swipe is still called Swipe it should work similar to bear swipe; otherwise give it a different name. If doing too much damage is a concern, then nerf it. Just like we don't want abilities to behave differently in PvP vs. PvE they shouldn't work that much differently across forms.

Now I'm going to skip most of the resto Q&A because I've never played resto at a level higher than 25 so I don't feel qualified to talk about it, but I will include the one big chunk from Ghostcrawler that he says is the one answer we should read in everything he's said in the druid Q&A.

The strength of the Resto druid is in heal-over-time spells. They can also do some decent single-target healing through Nourish or group healing through Wild Growth. The tree pretty much used to be a PvE mechanic since “rooting yourself” in PvP to benefit from ToL greatly limited the druid’s crowd control and escape abilities. We made enough changes to the talent to get trees into PvP in Lich King… arguably too well.

Druids overall have a strong niche. We are at a little bit of a crossroads with the Tree of Life however. We are currently wondering if druids sacrifice too much just to be as good as a healer as everyone else. What I mean is that if druids were good healers in caster form but great healers in Tree form, then there might be a decision there. However, we pretty much assume that healing druids are in Tree form nearly all of the time and balance around that. We don’t think it would be fair for them to be the best healers just for taking that talent.

In addition to having to give up utility in order to heal as a Tree of Life, we have become less enamored with druids locking themselves into one form. In fact, you really never see the basic tauren or night elf druid form (you know, the one that actually shows off the awesome armor art) because all druids are in cat, bear, tree, or moonkin form nearly 100% of the time. I’m not saying we would just cut Tree of Life from the game. It’s been around awhile and for better or worse, it’s part of World of Warcraft now. However, we could see taking the druid in a direction where shifting was much more common and easy to do. Maybe you only go into tree form for certain spells but leave for other spells -- this didn’t work previously because of the high cost of shifting, but in the absence of power shifting, we’d love to get rid of the costs completely. Another way to go would be to make Tree of Life form a cooldown, more like Metamorphosis. You shift into tree when you need a healing boost, but you don’t stay in it all the time. Now, I am totally waving my arms here. This is not the kind of change you are going to see in the next patch. But it is something we’re thinking about long term, and the kind of thinking we’d love to have more feedback on from the community.

So wow… shapehifting costs may be removed so we can see druids pop into their caster forms more often. Mind, we'd still need a reason to pop out, a reason that may never come into play during a raid except for a battle rez or an innervate (if a feral), but for PvP? Wow…

After the resto section the Q&A moves on to general druid concerns and itemization.

On bears not benefiting from block and parry on tanking gear:

We think it’s interesting that a bear and a warrior tank might look at the same piece of gear and place different values on it. That’s one of the elements that makes looting interesting and rewards players who understand their class. You shouldn’t take a ring because it says “TANK” on it. You should take it because it benefits you. And really, when players say “wide variety of tanking gear” they really mean rings, neck, cloak, and possibly trinkets. Currently we’re in a world where tanks emphasize Stamina and Armor as much as they possibly can, which makes other stats feel lame by comparison. But that will likely not always be the case, and we kind of doubt it will be as much of an extreme in the Coliseum.

Hana is a feral bear tank on her second spec. I don't tank often, but I decided that was the option I wanted to make available to myself. And what I find annoying is that most rings and necks intended for tanking have defense on them. Rawr is full of defense rating pieces that I dislike rolling on because it makes me look like "lol, feral doesn't know what she's doing." I try to get rogue oriented rings and necks when possible, but sometimes it just doesn't make any sense. I'll save a piece from getting sharded, but when I'm rolling for off-spec and the DK is rolling for off-spec I know he's going to get more mileage out of that piece than I will so I pass, and that's what annoys me. It's not just that this is better for him than me, it's that some of it is actually wasted on me entirely.

On cloth itemization being better for moonkin/trees and bears wanting tanking leather:

No. Druids are a leather-using class. We are just going to have to make three types of leather (melee, ranged and healing). You have to understand that even though we have pushed bears and cats farther apart, we still consider them to be part of the same spec. We can’t get into the business of itemizing for niches within a particular spec or we’re just going to have too many items per tier. I can see the argument for having tanking and dps leather and making the casters use cloth. That’s just a different design and we currently like for certain classes to be associated with certain types of armor. We like that druids look different from say priests or mages (even ignoring the forms thing). We like that we can kit druid tier piece armor to look a certain way.

Also note that if we buffed bear mitigation through more tanking-oriented leather that we’d just have to nerf them in other ways. In my experience, most bears end up with “tanking leather” anyway because they want to gem and enchant their bear gear differently. Having one set of gear that you wear as cat or bear isn’t really feasible in Ulduar.

I'm fine with the cat leather being different from bear leather. It took a bit of learning, but I regularly pass on leather that would be better for cat as long as I have bear equivalent or better. I'm a little concerned about the three types of leather though since I thought Blizzard was trying to get away from that. We still have no pieces of leather with +hit on them aside from the moonkin tier pieces. I do have to say though that Ulduar has some very nice leather pieces. I'm actually not wearing any cloth at the moment and I'm still performing very well.

On relics:

The alternative to “clutter to loot tables” is that they go on vendors. We view vendors as an absolute last resort. They are there as a hedge against being very unlucky with drops and to give players motivation to do bosses even when that boss no longer drops any upgrades for them. When the best relics are available on vendors, then every druid will have those relics quickly. They essentially just become part of the core identity of the class rather than an upgrade that you get at some point along your progression. The best solution is probably something where a boss has a 10% (or whatever) chance to drop a relic in addition to its normal loot table.

I like the idea of having a boss drop an item on top of its usual loot table. It's not much different from the way epic patterns are already being handled, so it doesn't seem to me that coding them that way should be that difficult. It sucks a bit when something doesn't drop for a long time; the Starfire idol was that way with me and Naxx25, but as long as it's added a vendor before the next tier of content (so it's still possible to obtain once your guild is no longer running the raid that drops it) as it was with Ulduar, then it should be fine.

On 310% speed flight form:

At this time we want to keep the 310% flying speed very rare – maybe 5% or less of all players. If we made a flight form that less than 1% of players had access to (since probably less than a tenth of those 5% would be druids) it’s hard to argue that’s a good use of art time.

How about forgetting the art then and making it a new ability like Cold Weather Flying? I would very much like to fly faster in the form I'm most comfortable with.

On using Warstomp and Innervate in forms:

We like the fact that Innervate requires shifting. We want druids to shift more. Warstomp I could see an argument to allow in forms since it’s nice (but not mandatory) that racial benefits are useful to a variety of classes.

I think it's fine that ferals have to pop out to Innervate. It's not intrinsic to what they do that they need to Innervate themselves while in form, and it's just a bonus to another class to get an Innervate at all. Moonkin and trees can already Innervate without shifting. I know moonkin can Warstomp (just like they can Shadowmeld), but I'm less certain about the other specs. A stomping tree would be helpful in PvP I'm sure! As for cat and bear I'm less certain that it's necessary. As long as they can't Shadowmeld I'm cool with not being able to Warstomp.

On updating more druid forms:

I know for a fact that the current Travel Form and Aquatic Form are loathed by the artist who redid bear and cat. We do have plans to update additional forms at some point in the future.

No more seal/walrus thing for aquatic form? Travel form doesn't bother me so much, but aquatic form looks like a combination of a seal, a walrus, and a beanbag. It'd be nice to see something better.

And that's all that Ghostcrawler wrote!

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