Ok, before I get into the talent system and the ideas that have been floated for the Priest class in MoP, I should put on the record my views about the Pandaren.
Here it comes: I’m really not bothered either way. I also have my doubts that something as small as a new race will truly ruin the game for many people all by itself.
After all, we have hooved and tentacled Draenei, giant walking cows, the extremely silly Tuskarr and, the one that would have ruined the game for me if anything was going to: the Worgen. Seriously, there must be someone at Blizzard with a real English accent that they could have been used, surely? Or give me a call, I’ll voice some lines for you. Anyway, that was a year ago, time I was getting over it. The point is, WoW is a tongue-in-cheek game, and will continue to be in the future; if you really want proper high fantasy, this probably isn’t the franchise for you.
The way I look at it is to ask myself how often I actually look at the races in the game? When I go to create a new character, or when I interact with a key NPC like the Druid trainer in Stormwind. Otherwise, I just don’t notice people’s races except in passing. It took me a fortnight to realise our new rogue was a Worgen, and even then it was only because I caught him in close-up and thought he was moving oddly. I might play one to see how they look and feel, I might even look on in snobby amusement at the 4 flavour-of-the-month Pandaren in Maraudon with me as I level yet another Priest, and I’ll certainly be on the lookout for the slew of panda-based puns that will inevitably follow, but that’s as far as Pandaren will really affect my experience.
Until they sit right on top of my fish feast with their enormous furry behinds, that is…
The New Talent System
Right, off the soapbox again!
Here’s the short version of the new talent system, just in case there’s someone out there who hasn’t heard yet: each class still has three specialisations (except Druids who get an extra new one to allow bears and cats to have their own specialisation), but instead of having talent trees tied to each specialisation there’s now a single “tree” per class. Every 15 levels you have to choose between three talents which are broadly similar in goal but different in their details. All those spec-specific spells and boosts that you used to have to talent into are now going to be granted automatically as you level.
The developers have always said that they wanted talents to be used to differentiate your character and to specialise. The trouble is that you can’t give players a new spell every level, so most of the talent points end up being spent on things that reduce the cooldown on spell X or increase the damage of spell Y. Some of those talents were stripped away with Cataclysm when the number of talent points was dropped from (potentially) 76 to 41, but the developers clearly didn’t feel that had had enough of an effect for their taste.
My experience in Cataclysm has more or less borne that out. There is arguably more choice than there used to be, but cookie-cutter specs, theory-crafted decisions and “filler talents” still predominate. At the most you get a handful of talents to play with, the rest are “mandatory”, so the new system simply grants you all those “mandatory” talents as you level (with no need to visit the trainer), and lets you pick the utility talents directly.
The developers have stated that they want talents and talent choices to be switched with a similar level of difficulty as glyphs, which to me seems like a good thing. I like the flexibilty of glyphs in their current form (although I find the range of choices still far too limited) because it gives you the option to switch a few glyphs in and out between pulls to tweak your character for the needs of the encounter you’re facing. If talents go down the same road, that would be a fantastic source of optimisation and a great way of customising your character to your playstyle and the needs of your raid group.
A closer Look
Wowhead, on top of this sort of thing as usual, has a Mists of Pandaria Talent Calculator up on their site so you can check out the current iteration of the talents for you classes of choice. I’m going to go through the Priest talents, to see what sort of choices we’re likely to be making in the next expansion.
Here’s the tree as of November 8th, 2011:
Level 15 – Crowd Control
Here you have the choice between a small-radius mass root on a moderate cooldown (which I will not be able to say in my Kiwi guild without hilarity ensuing!), a multi-target long-range fear with a long cooldown, and the Psychic Scream we all know and love.
This is an interesting choice where different situations will favour different talent choices. Psyfiend feels a little bit more like a soloing/PvP talent than a raiding one, although maybe I’m not seeing the niche. The choice between an AoE fear and AoE root is more interesting though. Using existing content for example, rooting Sons of Flame would be more use than fearing them so you can control their direction, whereas in encounters with dangerous melee adds such as the Blood Beasts back in ICC a “proper” CC like a fear would be more useful than a root. Assuming that those two abilities applied to those creature types, of course.
Level 30 – Mobility
The choice at level 30 is all about movement – yours and the raid’s. You’re choosing from the current Body and Soul, a self-applied 25% movement increase while levitating, and a get-out-of-roots Escape Artist-alike.
Again, you have a choice depending on your situation. If you’re taking damage so that Levitate just won’t stay up, then Path of the Devout probably won’t be of much use. But for getting around dungeons or running around during an encounter it could be brilliant, especially since Levitate is instant-cast. I can see that being very handy for a number of mechanics, like getting behind Meteors on Alysrazor or getting away from Sindragosa before the Blistering Cold gets you.
If you don’t personally need the speed boost, you might instead pick Body and Soul to help your team-mates with kiting or getting out of the bad quicker. I love that Body and Soul has been opened up to all specs now, because it’s a fantastic utility spell that I’ve definitely missed since switching to Discipline.
Phantasm may take more care to find uses for it, especially since many boss root effects aren’t removable, but there are effects like heroic Beth’tilac’s Volatile Poison which this would be very handy for.
Level 45 – Healing (and Damage-dealing) Goodies
At level 45 the choice is a bit more diverse. The three talents broadly give you some way to boost your output or your efficiency, depending on your taste.
From Darkness, Comes Light (complete with bonus comma) in its healing form is the good old Surge of Light talent. You get a low but non-zero change to proc a free, instant Flash Heal. This can be a nice way of throwing a quick decent-sized heal on someone for no cost, or a simple efficiency boost.
The most interesting is Divine Star, which travels 20 yards in front of you, healing (and damaging) anything in its path, before turning around and doing the same on the way back. Sort of Light of Dawn meets Flame Orb. This could be very handy when the raid can be grouped up, but probably not so valuable on spread-out encounters, depending on the range.
Finally we have Archangel. If Archangel is going to be a viable choice for all three specs then it has to be something which is going to be granted to all three Priest specs as part of our standard toolkit, which is cool in itself. So assuming you have the opportunity to stack Evangelism, the Archangel talent gives you a pretty significant healing boost every 30 seconds, which would be great for encounters with alternating heavy and light damage phases.
Level 60 – Self-defence
At level 60, you get a selection of talents designed to keep you alive. You have Desperate Prayer for a quick 30% heal every 2 minutes, Angelic Bulwark for a permanent 30% buff to your shield effects on yourself, and Final Prayer for a stay of execution when your health drops very low.
Probably the easiest to understand is Desperate Prayer, although with such a long cooldown its utility might be limited.
Angelic Bulwark is a nice talent if you’re taking a lot of damage and are going to get the value from the larger shields. AoE-heavy fights might be one good example, or a fight where you’re soaking a debuff or DoT. It also sounds like a good pick for soloing and PvP where personal protection is high on the agenda and shields are used frequently.
Final Prayer is a complex talent. Essentially, it grants you a chance to live where you might otherwise have died, and it’s passive, although it has an internal cooldown of 90 seconds. Where might this be useful? Back to Majordomo, you get Leaping Flames on you. If you’re a little slow to react and get out, Final Prayer pops up and gives you an extra 20% of your HP as an absorb bubble, soaking up an extra tick that might otherwise have left you perilously low or even dead. All while you’re running out. You could achieve the same with a self-bubble or Pain Suppression, of course, so you’ll need to weight up the advantages to you of the passive nature of Final Prayer versus the other talents available.
Level 75 – More Goodies
Another eclectic mix at level 75: a buff to damage and healing to targets below 25% HP, our old friend Power Infusion, and the haste boost of Serendipity.
You can rule Twist of Fate in or out depending on the fight mechanics and damage profile, because it will either be near-useless or godlike depending on where those green bars spend their time, but the choice between Power Infusion and Serendipity is going to be tough.
As they stand at the moment, if you need a throughput boost and your mana will take the strain then Serendipity looks like the better pick. On the other hand, Power Infusion is a strong personal cooldown for efficiency as well as throughput, and also has application to the rest of the raid as well. So when DPS checks are your biggest problem you might want to plump for PI to help out your friendly neighbourhood damage-dealer and pay them back for all the Focus Magics over the months.
Level 90 – Tank Cooldowns and More
Here’s where things really get interesting. Two life-saving single-target cooldowns or AoE-Atonement-Lite.
First up is Vow of Unity. This one looks a lot like Hand of Sacrifice. Throw it on your tank, for example, and half the damage she takes is instead applied to you; to stop this from killing you, you also heal yourself for 20% of the healing you do to the target, and the rate of damage transferred to you is capped because if the target takes a larger hit than 30% of the target’s HP the effect is broken. What’s not clear to me is whether the hit is transferred anyway and then the transfer ends, or if too large a hit simply doesn’t transfer.
The other option you have for saving someone’s bacon is Void Shift, where you swap HP with a friendly player. Again, it’s not clear is if this is temporary or permanent. If it’s temporary, then if, say, your tank is near-death and you can’t get heals in quickly enough, you can loan her your health bar for a while, buying time for the other healers to switch in or for the enrage or whatever caused the problem to dissipate. You will still need to heal the damage up before the bars swap back though, so that’s something that might catch people out.
If it’s permanent, you just give your tank whatever health you had last, while you inherit their near-empty health bar, although you get a quick free heal for yourself to keep you out of the danger zone.
I rather hope the second case is what we’ll get, but at this point it’s not clear. The confusion comes from the words “when the effect ends”.
Picking between the two is going to end up being one part personal preference to one part damage profile. Vow of Unity seems like it’s positioned as a more conventional tank cooldown for when a tank (or other player) is going to take a lot of damage, probably over a sustained period like when picking up a few extra adds or when a boss gains a temporary enrage. Void Shift will probably be more useful after a single larger hit or when a healer is taken out of commission, because it’s more of a quick “buying time” ability than a proper damage-reduction ability. That 30% figure is one to bear in mind though, to make sure you’re not losing the benefit earlier than necessary.
Finally, we have Vampiric Dominance, which lets 15% of your damage and healing “splash” to up to three nearby targets, chosen smartly. Those who remember the old Paladin Glyph of Holy Light will find this talent familiar. A great talent when there’s players grouped up, how useful it is when we’re spread out will depend on the radius, really. Which way you go at level 90 is a choice between AoE-heavy and tank-heavy fights.
Looking at the abilities in the tree, it’s clear that the developers have tried to play up the “choice” angle and play down the “buff” angle. Although you have abilities that will buff you, they’re interesting mechanics, procs and abilities rather than stat boosts. At each tier you have options that may be more or less useful depending on your playstyle and the demands of the encounter, such as the choice between Body and Soul that can be used on anyone or a get-out-of-roots-free-card for yourself, or between a mass root or mass fear.
As a player I can see this giving me stronger customisation and greater choice, and another avenue for me to adapt myself to be the best I can be. These choices aren’t always clear-cut and they are meaningful; there’s no change-the-colour-of-my-spells style talents here. There are a few which I can see being tweaked and improved as development continues, but if the talents went live now I think we would get along with them just fine.
Taking a different perspective, as someone who ends up reading a few healer applications I can see the interview process being a lot more interesting, as people get to really explore their choice of talents and preferences rather than “EJ told me to spec this way”. For a guild raiding heroic modes, I think that with fewer options and easier talent changes we’re going to expect people to really be in command of all of their talents and know when each talent will be best used, and that’s a good thing. Depth is always preferable to breadth, in my opinion.
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