Saturday, January 9, 2010

Shifting Perspectives: The druid of 2009

Every week, Shifting Perspectives explores issues affecting druids and those who group with them. This week, Allison Robert has been at the cough syrup again, without the editors realizing in enough time to shut down her access to the blogging software. No good can come of this.

Lines composed more than 3,000 miles from Tintern Abbey, by someone who hated Wordsworth and thought he was a self-obsessed little prick, but managed to conceal this from her professor long enough to book it from the class with an A, and this is a run-on sentence just like the title of the original poem, which is what we call Irony.

One year has past; one year, with the length
Of one long winter! and again I lean
My head -- back, against the perch of chair and post
And snarf the Robitussin down. -- Once again
Do I behold the druid class in all its glory
That with the benefit of dual-specs allows
Me to be incompetent in more ways than simply one.
The day is come when I again repose
Here, in the glow lent by the laptop, and try to keep
My editors from killing me
. The column, it is late.

Yes, folks, it's that time of year again. Allie is sick, druids are thriving, and 2010 is upon us like the rear axel of a pickup truck on an icy road with a "Guns don't kill people, I do" bumper sticker. It's time to revisit the Year That Was, keeping in mind that the author of this article is so blitzed on cold medication that an entertaining afternoon was spent delightedly watching the screensaver.


Balance had a promising beginning as Wrath revved up, helped in no small part by a talented stun from Starfall via Celestial Focus that was utterly amazing in PvP. For once in our miserable little lives, we could actually keep something away from us. This had all the joy of playing a Frost mage without the bothersome rigmarole of actually leveling one and having to devote a portion of one's day to complaining about being a Frost mage. It was Very Fun, and as such, it was nerfed.

You learn to expect these things. Anything too enjoyable should be looked upon sorrowfully, because we know it will not last. Druids in World of Warcraft have an inherently better grasp of the fleeting nature of life and human happiness -- that transitory glimpse, the distant, flickering corner of one's brain possessed by the terrible comprehension that we are as leaves upon the wind. Sic transit gloria m-- f^&# me, is this all the cough syrup we have in the house?

Where was I? Like it matters. At any rate, Balance had a good start out of the gate, so much so that I was surprised at the end of 2008 to think it had the best prospects of any druid spec. Feral was getting yanked around like a kid in the middle of divorce proceedings, and Restos were rerolling paladins en masse after getting fed up with being two-shot by death knights, so perhaps we could all be forgiven for thinking that the world had gone a little crazy.

But then there was Eclipse. Nobody knew quite what to make of it, apart from the fact that it blew the old Burning Crusade rotation to bits -- or at least, it was supposed to. Cool animation? Check. Made the rotation more interesting? Check. A pain in the ass on movement-dependent fights, half of its proc not really worth using at the time, too much of Balance DPS ultimately dependent on something with a looming +haste cap issue? Check, check, check, and check.

No, Mr. Barkeeper, I was not signaling for mine. You leave that there.

Eclipse was undeniably a significant improvement to Balance DPS, but its status as a proc-within-a-proc made it difficult, if not impossible, to get the most out of it when you really needed, except by chance alone. Was it going to be up during Bloodlust/Heroism? Would it proc right before Thaddius switched your charges or you had to run to avoid a Flame Wall? There wasn't an answer to either of these questions, and frustrated Balance players everywhere watched a huge portion of their potential damage vanish down the gullet of something completely beyond their control. Wildly inconsistent performance (as Gray Matter noted at the time) is not something that raid leaders are terribly overfond of accommodating, and players had limited means of regaining lost damage in other ways.

So Eclipse -- the proc, the cooldown, and tier bonuses reliant on it -- has been tinkered with pretty much the length of the year, and Balance is still in an iffy spot. Any dispassionate observer would admit the issues affecting the spec are pretty much immune to a quick fix, more particularly with how +haste interacts with Wrath/Nature's Grace, and the looming +crit cap on Starfire in Tier 10 content. The easiest way to deal with both would be to nerf Balance talents to the point where gear doesn't add a set of increasingly problematic stats to the moonkin arsenal, but I think we can all agree that deliberately making things worse in order to let existing gear solve the problem is an uninspiring solution. Beyond that, the two primary nukes -- Wrath and Starfire -- don't really do different things, as Ghostcrawler himself observed. The former is faster but travels to the target; the latter is slower but hits immediately. They also have different colors. That's it. There is no ancillary benefit to the use of either beyond switching them up for different Eclipse procs now that that the individual cooldowns have been decoupled.

So what does 2010 hold in store for the laserchicken contingent? I wouldn't be surprised to see Balance mechanics get an overhaul in the run-up to Cataclysm, because as things stand now, we will always be among the first victims of stat inflation, and Eclipse -- while more "reliable" in the sense that you can better predict when it's likely to be triggered -- still isn't a controllable damage boost along the lines of Icy Veins or Metamorphosis.

I have grown dangerously coherent. There may have been actual analysis in this portion.

This will not stand.

Neither can I, but that's why I'm writing this from bed with a cold compress now.


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