The first of my posts about Shaman design. There will be several more to follow. Here’s a list of the WoW game design posts I’ve made to date:
The successes and failures of the Shaman talent tree
As with any talent tree in the game, there are places where meaningful and interesting choices have taken place, and a few places where certain talents just simply haven’t worked out at all.
Tier 1 – Defensive Abilities
Nature’s Guardian, Stone Bulwark Totem, Astral Shift
This is a solid talent tier, all three options feel useful in different situations and areas of the game. None of the options are so strong or different that you think “I wish I had the other talent”, however, which is a good thing in that it allows a player to choose their favorite and stick with it, but not so good in that it doesn’t feel like a particularly compelling choice. For Elemental and Enhancement, it’s also somewhat redundant with Shamanistic Rage as a baseline ability, with 2/3 options doing very similar things.
When it comes to leveling, these talents are very near useless when you have access to them, but the same might be said for most talents.
The only change I would recommend is finding a way to differentiate Astral Shift from Stone Bulwark and Shamanistic Rage in some way – perhaps something along the lines of giving it a very short immunity effect for a greatly increased cooldown.
Tier 2 – Mobility and Control
Frozen Power, Earthgrab Totem, Windwalk Totem
All three options are useful in PvP combat, and each talent has its advantages and disadvantages. In PvE, these talents’ usefulness is nearly nonexistent. Windwalk is occasionally useful on some raid encounters, and Earthgrab is good for leveling as Elemental.
Again, aside from Earthgrab as Elemental, none of these talents are very compelling when you pick them up while leveling.
Any recommended changes would include removing baseline abilities from the Shaman class and baking those abilities into these talents to make them feel like a more important choice. I feel our talent choices are often hard to make compelling because we have so much of our utility baseline.
Tier 3 – Totem Management
Call of the Elements, Totemic Persistence, Totemic Projection
I am almost certainly in the minority when I say I feel this is one of our most interesting and successful tiers of talents. All three options here feel useful to me as Enhancement in all areas of the game. There have been times I’ve taken Call of the Elements for emergency stuns or defensive cooldowns with Capacitor and Stone Bulwark, there have been times I’ve projected Stormlash or Healing Tide to areas where they could affect people I wanted them to, or Capacitor to stun far away targets, and Persistence is a passive bonus that makes Earth and Air totems more useable for DPS and Water for healing, and specifically allow you to use most of your utility totems while Earth Elemental is out.
My primary complaint about this tier of talents, however, is a pretty major one for the leveling experience. Almost nothing here is useful at all until you have most of your totems available. This tier of talents needs to be level 60 or 75, because where it is it feels utterly useless for 15 levels, at which point you pick up Capacitor Totem. Level 45 players simply cannot even make use of Totemic Persistence at all. Because of this, my primary suggestion is to have this talent tier as the 75 talents.
Other suggestions include having Projection be a toggle that projects all totems on your target as you cast them until deactivated, though a large part of that comes from a passionate dislike for using the game’s spell placement reticule. Who doesn’t love casting Death and Decay high on a wall 30 yards behind them?
Call of the Elements also feels a little weak for its affected totems – I think a 2 minute cooldown instead of 3 would make it feel a bit better.
Tier 4 – Throughput
Elemental Mastery, Ancestral Swiftness, Echo of the Elements
For Enhancement, these three talents have been surprisingly balanced since the 5.2 talent balance changes. Echo of the Elements has had interesting interactions with Fire Nova and Chain Lightning, make it the go-to talent for AoE, and Ancestral Swiftness has been very competitive with Elemental Mastery for non Orcs and Trolls. The balance doesn’t seem as tight for Elemental, however, as Elemental Mastery tends to conflict with their fast cast times, Ancestral Swiftness flat out yields less single target damage than Echo of the Elements (both of which are effectively passive) and neither talent has the great synergy with Chain Lightning that Echo does. Echo of the Elements also lends a great deal to the burst damage issues Elementals are seeing in PvP combat.
Restoration seems to like all three in different situations.
My recommendations for this tier of talents include Echo of the Elements being changed to not affect Elemental Blast, but having a higher proc chance on Lightning Bolt for Elemental. This will largely solve the random burst issues of Elemental in PvP. Elemental Mastery should also provide something outside of its haste buff – reducing it to 15% haste and adding + 10% damage and healing would remove the GCD capping issues entirely while allowing it to actually have a noticeable impact on the numbers you see for Enhancement, instead of simply providing auto attack damage for you and your pets.
Tier 5 – Healing
Rushing Streams, Ancestral Guidance, Conductivity
I personally feel this is the most problematic and worst tier of talents available to all three specs of the Shaman class on many levels, including how some of these talents contribute to the pollution of the current healing landscape and a great deal of why is covered in my 6.0 healing blog post.
These talents don’t work well in the current landscape, even ignoring their effect on it.
Conductivity has been a talent with an extremely tiny niche ever since it was introduced fairly early in MoP beta. It originally replaced a talent that provided 10% damage reduction to players standing in Healing Rain, which would’ve been a little on the powerful side. Every version of it since has been laughably weak, outside of Elemental Shamans using it to AoE grind mobs outdoors and keep themselves topped off, and the latest version isn’t much different… only it removes its niche use for Elemental.
The issues with Conductivity’s current design are that the added global cooldowns simply aren’t that useful for Enhancement. Being a cooldown-based spec with an active proc in Maelstrom Weapon, we’re replacing roughly half of our usual Lightning Bolt casts with Healing Rain casts, which based on this, suggests I would lose 4.6% of my overall damage to keep Healing Rain on cooldown, or 12,000 DPS. Conductivity allows us to not have to re-cast it as often if movement is low, which isn’t a huge gain because we’d still need to cast it sometimes. If Conductivity reduces the damage penalty of keeping Healing Rain down by 75%, it’s still a pretty negligible gain because you’re losing Ancestral Guidance, a very useful raid-healing cooldown, and only regaining about 3% of your overall DPS.
For Elemental, Conductivity is very awkward and unwieldy to use because it costs them significantly more to place than it does Enhancement. Because of that, Conductivity will be a huge DPS gain for Elemental in situations where they’d want to keep Healing Rain down… but I expect those situations will be very few and far between if at all. It could see some rare situational use, but the value of sustained healing simply doesn’t compare to that of the potential uses of burst healing that you’re giving up to get it in Ancestral Guidance. It will also be effectively useless in high movement situations, which, to be fair, is most situations.
Restoration Shamans stand to gain the most, one Unleash-buffed Chain Heal cast every 15 seconds as well as slightly higher Healing Rain uptime, but only if the Shaman doesn’t have to move their Healing Rain. Compared to having a healing cooldown or the potentially very useful Rushing Streams for smaller groups, it doesn’t appear to be a very compelling choice. I don’t see it being competitive in any scenario outside a Patchwerk-like encounter.
Rushing Streams has a lot of potential for Restoration Shaman due to their already-large toolbox of raid cooldowns and spread healing weakness that this talent does a great deal to cover for. Combined with the glyph, this is a pretty interesting option for Restoration and situationally even Enhancement in the current landscape, but Elemental will again suffer a significant damage loss to make good use of this talent. I also very much dislike what even more smart healing does for the healing landscape, but at least this talent has a little promise for 2 of the specs as things stand right now.
Ancestral Guidance is easily the strongest talent of the tier for nearly all areas of the game for all three specs. The burst healing provided by this talent is very significant and covers high damage periods very well. My dislike of raid cooldowns on DPS aside, this is the only real choice for all 3 specs in a raid setting for the vast majority of situations, and the only one Elemental will take going forward.
I feel this tier of talents needs the most work to be an interesting choice for all 3 specs, and may need to be scrapped entirely. My view of smart healing and splash healing in the hands of DPS can be seen in my healing blog. A tier of healing-themed talents that are a throughput increase for Restoration while not being free healing for the DPS specs would be ideal.
Tier 6 – Empowered Elements
Unleashed Fury, Primal Elementalist, Elemental Blast
These talents have largely been imbalanced enough the entire expansion for each spec to have their go-to talent and never switch from it in the PvE game, while seeing a much wider variety of use in PvP, which is very contrary to the norm.
Unleashed Fury spent a short time as the go-to talent for Enhancement in Tier 14 due to having excellent synergy with our T14 4-piece set bonus, but was eclipsed by Primal Elementalist in 5.2 when it received a substantial buff. It has otherwise went relatively unused by PvE Shaman.
Primal Elementalist has been the go-to talent for Restoration all expansion long and Enhancement since 5.2, providing more healing and flexibility for Restoration, and far surpassing the capabilities of the others for Enhancement. While it’s been occasionally okay for Elemental, it doesn’t see a whole lot of use for them.
Elemental Blast has went effectively unused in PvE by both Enhancement and Restoration, while being the only real option for Elemental as it is the only one to scale fully with their Mastery – Primal Elementalist doesn’t at all, and Unleashed Fury doesn’t directly. For Enhancement, Elemental Blast’s damage has often been competitive with the other options, but it has drawbacks that leave it unused, causing you to plant to the ground when casting and adding a button to an already-crowded set of offensive abilities, one that is quite difficult to use optimally.
PvP has been an entirely different story, with all three talents being used by all three specs depending on setting and team composition, with each offering different forms of burst damage, healing, or survival for each spec.
While a common complaint of this tier of talents has been that it doesn’t offer a whole lot for Restoration, I have long felt that the talent tree revamp has been most successful when it offers you situational but useful tools in those situations, and due to that, Primal Elementalist and Unleashed Fury weren’t far from the mark for being compelling talent choices for them. Elemental Blast, however, only provides a healing bonus in situations where you’d cast offensive spells, but Restoration damage isn’t meaningful enough in those situations to give Elemental Blast a real use. While it’s my favorite talent (even as Restoration due to my offensive healing style), even I have to admit its uses are almost nonexistent. Ra-den, maybe?
My recommendations would be for Elemental Blast to enable a Priest-like DPS capability for Restoration without any healing benefit outside the stat boost. For Enhancement, the stat boosting attribute should be a percentage increase to ratings similar to Amplify trinkets so that it scales at a more similar rate to the other options, with the spell itself leading to the highest Patchwerk DPS returns to offset its higher difficulty of use. Unleash Elements will retain its current mobility, and Primal Elementalist its current burst benefit for the spec. still It should also be taken off Echo of the Elements for Elemental with compensation elsewhere for Echo to alleviate PvP burst problems.
Primal Elementalist and Unleashed Fury are simply a matter of numbers tuning for each spec. They should be the weaker Patchwerk talents for Enhancement due to how easy they are to use, and stronger for Elemental due to adding a rotational ability. Guaranteeing an Earthliving proc on Unleash targets for Restoration may be enough to make it more desirable for them.
While most of the talent choices don’t need huge changes, I feel the healing tier needs to be redesigned from the ground up, while the Totem Management tier needs to be moved deeper into the tree where you can actually make use of it by the time you get it. Where it is right now, these talents just simply don’t get used until a couple dozen levels later. I also feel there isn’t really anything to look forward to early in the leveling experience, and moving the throughput tier to a much lower level will provide that.
The talent tree would feel a lot better for the leveling experience with some tiers shuffled around like this:
Elemental Mastery – Ancestral Swiftness – Echo of the Elements
Nature’s Guardian – Stone Bulwark Totem – Astral Shift
Frozen Power – Earthgrab Totem – Windwalk Totem
Rushing Streams – Ancestral Guidance – Conductivity
Call of the Elements – Totemic Persistence – Totemic Projection
Unleashed Fury – Primal Elementalist – Elemental Blast
While not perfect, the talent tree isn’t too far from where it should be.