In the time since I read the Friday evening druid preview, I had the chance to chat with some other druids I know in game to get their takes on it and most of them seem a little baffled by the Tree of Life change. It's kind of been a given that druids shapeshift, after all. But not all of them were outraged.
One of them, who wasn't particularly given to tree dancing (he was a very serious, game-face tree) was just puzzled, not exactly shouting thanks, but not bemoaning the loss of it either. The questions was more: why?
I guess since I read blogs a lot, and most bloggers are quite tied to being trees, my view is a little skewed. Maybe there are a substantial number of players who don't really care either way. So I did some thinking about the history of resto druids.
Back in the vanilla days, restos did not have any special form to call their own. They healed in caster form and that's all there was to it. (Well, except maybe casting Innervate on priests because goodness knows druids didn't raid if they didn't have Innervate for those priests!)
Then TBC came along and Tree of Life was introduced. It had problems at first and not everyone liked it. Only hots could be casted in tree form and trees had to pop out for the occasional Healing Touch/Nature's Swiftness combo or to Remove Curse or Abolish Poison. Trees moved slower too. Nobody PvP-ed in tree form. It just didn't happen. I remember our trees popping out to caster form on Shade of Aran just to make sure they moved away from him in time.
But after some tweaks, trees could cast more spells in form, pretty much all their healing and defensive utility spells. There isn't really a need to leave tree form anymore unless they want to help dps, which isn't what a healer signs up to do anyway. I don't think I've ever heard a tree druid complain about their inability to contribute to the raid's dps. I think I've heard more complaints from moonkin that they can't help spot heal without popping out of form.
So the primary remaining issues that are "annoying" are 1) they can't be CCed as easily, being trees (PvP-only concern) and 2) the druid doesn't actually gain anything by going into tree form.
1) can be dealt with just by removing polymorph immunity. While I've always liked the druid's inability to be polymorphed, it's not like I'd quit playing a druid over its loss. I don't face mages all that often.
2) is a tougher monster. With ferals it's very easy to see what they gain in exchange for everything they lose. They get a whole new resource system (energy or rage) and a slew of new abilities that can only be used in form.
Moonkin gain two raid-wide buffs associated with moonkin form (haste and crit aura), increased mana efficiency thanks to getting mana back from crits, and extra armor in exchange for the loss of all healing spells.
Tree gain increased healing done aura, increased spell power, increased mana efficiency from reduced cost of hots, and increased armor. It's a little less than moonkin, but the parallels are almost the same.
With balance druids, they just get better at what they do when they become moonkin, but becoming a moonkin doesn't make them better than a mage, and a balance druid outside of moonkin form is less than a mage, though they can certainly help heal when desireable (ex: Dreamwalker).
Resto druids similarly become better at what they do when they become trees, and being a tree doesn't make them a better healer than a priest or a shaman. A tree druid out of form will be less effective as a healer, but they could still toss out a few Starfires if they need to help dps down a boss. I still think that a resto druid out of form will out-dps a holy paladin.
Mechanics-wise, both trees and moonkin give up some of their base caster abilities to become the equivalent of a healer or caster dps of another class. It doesn't seem right that trees would be singled out, and if anything, I think there are more moonkin who would like to stop looking like a ridiculous owlbear than there are trees who want to be casters. Not that I want Blizzard to take away moonkin form either!
Perhaps what's really needed is mechanic gain for being in tree form. Cats and bears do completely different things when in form. Perhaps, in retrospec, a spell like Wild Growth could only be used in tree. Or trees could have situational cooldowns that are uniquely tree-like (ex: Taking Root - Temporarily immobilizes the player while something really good happens in exchange).
The thing is... the cat's out of the bag and it's going to be very hard to put it back. After two expansions of having restos become trees it's messing with the status quo, and what has been a core feature of the spec.
To be honest, trees will be gaining a lot by not having to be in form, and I could see potential cries for a nerf bat because of it. It's not so much that they can dps while keeping the same level of healing. It's really because I play arena as a healer, but the single most annoying spell a druid can use is Cyclone.
If there's no tree form, those restos won't even lose any of their healing capability to cast it. No mana loss switching in and out. No loss of spellpower because they're not in tree form. Cyclone will be less punishing for them to cast than ever.
Of course they won't have the increased armor from tree form either, so maybe that'll be something.
In the meantime, I've started playing my baby resto druid again. Dinged 36. It would be nice to try getting her up to 50 so I can join in the annual Arbor Day screenshot parade hosted by one of our fabulous tree druid bloggers, but I'm not sure I can level fast enough for that.
Keeva made a nice poster for the Pro-Tree movement. It's too big to use as a sig on forums, but speaks very clearly about how she and the other trees feel.