Monday, August 3, 2015

Enhancement - Revisiting Playstyle and Talent Options

 Anyone who has played Enhancement this expansion is well aware of the weird state we've been in. Coming out of Mists of Pandaria where we were the kings and queens of burst damage with excellent healing utility, where stat stacking ruled all, and a simple opening macro could mean the difference between 1-2 million burst and being left in the dust of your raid mates, to now where we are the nearly forgotten children of a game that seems highly distracted by bigger and shinier things.

If you dare to wade into even the shallows of the official WoW forums, you'll hear the screams of how our bandaid buffs to bring us up to par of other dps specs are "uninspired." How our totems are easily countered in PvP and essentially useless in PvE. Naturally there will also always be a smattering of "bring back 2h enchantment shamans!!1!" and some variance of "Hey, I have this excellent idea of how we could either turn Enhancement into a tank spec or add in a 4th tanking spec!"

It seems that the days of stat stacking and where Ascendance, one of our "big" button cooldowns, meant half a hoot are long gone. Today we play like a paladin, with all of the flavor but half the utility. We easily have three times the number of buttons of other dps classes, a much steeper learning curve, and yet we struggle to be recognized outside of the AoE gimmick corner we've been thrust into.

We are in a rather precarious place, my shaman friends.

Those of you who have followed me for a length of time probably have a pretty decent idea of where I stand on any and possibly all of these topics. I also have a pretty decent idea of what I personally would love to see in the continued evolution of this crazy class we call shaman and this ridiculously addicting and frankly, masochistic, spec we call Enhancement.

Strap in folks, this is going to be one hell of a wall of text.


Button Bloat

In a world where homogenization is the name of the game in terms of balance, it's no small feat to bring 11 unique classes and 24 dps specs onto an even playing field while retaining their particular flavor and identity. In the great button culling of Warlords, shaman were relatively over looked in this regard. Instead of button pruning, we mostly only received a few change outs. Frankly, I'm alright with that. If I wanted to play a class/spec that could fit its rotation and utility on two hotbars or less, I'd play those one of those classes/specs. I don't enjoy that particular level of simplicity. I enjoy having a rather large toolkit in which to draw from, a myriad of buttons to mash (provided that they, you know, do something meaningful), and I personally love the quirky and spiritual flavor that shaman has always offered, regardless of its state.

It's one of my deepest fears that we venture into the new expansion with our class' head on the chopping block, so to speak, and we get the treatment warlocks received in Mists. I'd rather not see our class, let alone this spec in particular, stripped down to a 3-4 button rotation. That's not us. It has never been us. I'd personally prefer to keep our high button identity while bringing it into a more manageable state.


While our number of buttons didn't see much of a change in Warlords, our playstyle did. Though, this wouldn't be the first time we've had an interesting change in playstyle. In Cataclysm, we were the turtles that could win races, provided a fight lasted long enough. Slow and steady, we were the masters of consistent damage. We couldn't target swap, burst, or until later on in the expansion, AoE to save our lives, but sometimes slow and steady could win the damage race. Then came Mists where we rose to burst, healing utility, and to some extent, AoE fame. Aside from the obvious fact that we took stat stacking and scaling to an overpowered level and did need to be brought down a notch, this was probably one of the best states we have ever been in. Was it perfect? No. Warlords has brought a few quality of life changes that were sorely needed, namely in the Echo of the Elements redesign (the original design worked exactly how Multistrike does now and the original redesign in Warlords was a proc nightmare, never forget!), the Flurry redesign, and in the form of Lava Spread glyph.

Here's what I like about the playstyle changes and what I think can go into the bin.
- Paladin Playstyle (haste): The Flurry redesign, which mimics how we interact with haste much like how Retribution interacts with haste, has grown on me over this expansion. Initially I had worries that it would make an already button heavy, but dependable, predictable rotation far too chaotic. While that in part is true, it has added a certain zest to the pace of the spec. I'm still not 100% sold on having ridiculously fast button mashing moments during hero/lust or during trinket procs, as that takes a certain smoothness and consistency away from the rotation (two things that are major draws for me), but I will admit I enjoy the overall faster pacing better than I did the older, slower pace. Even if my hands occasionally miss the moments of downtime, especially during AoE encounters.

- Paladin Playstyle (procs): My biggest beef with our paladin redesign (I'm sorry, I see too many parallels to call it anything else!) is the fact that the Lava Lash reset from our tier 13 set became baseline. While yes, at the time it helped us keep up in those situations where mobs didn't live long enough to get proper spreads of Flame Shock off, or to take the sting out of a bad Flame Shock set up in general, it was a thing that never felt good to me. To me Enhancement has always been that predictable, steady as she goes, fluid spec. Suddenly, there's a Lava Lash proc. It's awkward, knee jerking, and demands your attention like a screaming toddler. With lower GCDs, improved initial spread of Flame Shocks, Glyph of Lava Spread, Glyph of Fire Nova, and the redesign of Echo of the Elements, I'd be incredibly happy to see this proc be removed. It only adds chaos, undependable chaos at that, to an already crazy queue.

If I wanted to play with procs, I'd play Retribution. Unfortunately, this little Enhancement shaman never enjoyed her pally much!

Buttons, Revisited

Alright, so now that we have what I do and do not like out in the open, let's start addressing things that I'd change, starting with our buttons.

- Chain Lightning, remove it!
I'm speaking specifically for Enhancement in this point, it can stay in for Elemental and Restoration.

For a while during the Warlords Beta, Chain Lightning was actually removed, and it was a strange feeling to me to have this button gone. It was reimplemented, but if this expansion has taught me anything, it's how useless this button is to us in a world where Fire Nova is our overlord. At best, it's a spell cleave. At worst, it's a spell that has an excruciatingly small jump range due to the weird hitbox sizings of most bosses. For example, Twin Ogron in Highmaul. Unless both bosses were 100% on top of each other, perfectly, Chain Lightning would not jump. Two massive creatures that I'm sure could conduct a good bit of electricity between them couldn't get Chain Lightning to, well, chain. Similar issues arise with smaller mobs that aren't stacked perfectly as well. More often than not we'll try to gauge whether or not mobs are close enough together, take a gamble, and a good chunk of the time we'll get a glorious Multistrike proc...on a single target. Please, just chuck this spell for Enhance. There are more interesting ideas out there to address!

- Lava Lash
I believe it was Wordup (if it actually was Purge, I'm sorry!) on the latest Enhancement Episode of Finalboss who suggested adding a proper cleave onto Lava Lash. Personally? I absolutely love this idea. He was spot on in saying that we already have the visual, why not roll it onto the ability. It already semi acts like a cleave in regards to the spread of Flame Shock, and since we're removing our only "cleave" spell, aka Chain Lightning anyways, why not roll a proper frontal cleave into Lava Lash? It'd bolster us in an area we're struggling in greatly, shouldn't help nor hinder our single target, and best of all, it doesn't add another button to our rotation. This is assuming multi target tuning would be more aimed in Fire Nova's direction than Lava Lash's, though we could have simply have reduced damage to secondary targets based on number of targets present as well. Meaning, target A (primary) receives 100% damage always, but target B only receives 85%. If a target C is present, targets B and C receive 80% damage each. Something a bit easier to adjust while not making our already potent AoE more so, doesn't affect our single target, but does help to bolster us in cleave and low mob health AoE situations. Numbers are of course factitious, but you get the idea.

All of my love for this change! All of it.

- Ascendance
Hey, remember when it felt really cool to hit this button? I'd like to bring that back. Maybe not to the level of crazy that it was back in Siege of Orgrimmer, but I'd personally really love that level of oomph feeling to resurface.

We can no longer stack stats like crazy since reforging is gone, sockets have been severely reduced, and enchants likewise reduced, so we in theory shouldn't skyrocket like crazy, unless of course the gear bloat continues to spiral out of hand. Therefor I think we're safe with bringing mastery scaling back to Ascendance, if only on a much more mild manner than we saw in the past. Yes, I know, this would be another number to jiggle around, but it'd hopefully help alleviate some of our scaling issues. You know, that thing that we currently need continual buffs to address?

I'd love to see Ascendance also bumped down to a 2 minute cooldown. This was a wonderful quality of life thing to have back in Siege of Orgrimmar which came from having the Assurance of Consequence Trinket (cooldown reduction time approximately 2 minutes, fuzzy memory is fuzzy and it was slightly different for each version of the trinket you had). If we're to continue to have low damage lulls as a spec, bosses with small windows that need high burst (Gorefiend says hello!), and if we want cooldowns that actually matter, it'd be really beneficial to have a shorter cooldown on this ability. Not to mention, as other shaman who are much better with numbers than I have pointed out, other classes have shorter, more and yet much more potent cooldowns than us shaman. Elemental has seen the Ascendance cooldown reduction and us Enhancement folk would love to see this as well change. While we don't need to behave like other classes or our sibling spec, we do need our cooldowns to be meaningful. Addressing both the cooldown length and mastery scaling would address this issue.

Oh, and please give us our awesome graphic back. Yes, it was noisy, but it was absolutely epic. I'm tired of fanning my enemies to death.

Signed, a good chunk of the Enhancement community.

- Feral Spirits
This point is going to be a bit of a spitball. Personally, I like how Feral Spirits is both a dps and self healing button. The cooldown is in a decent place, better if you have/had the 2pc bonus from Blackrock Foundry and use Echo (especially for soloing!), and it's not overly powered. Okay, maybe opinions will differ on that last point, depending on which aspect of the game you're playing.

Our wolves/raptors present an interesting problem. The damage they give us is minimal at best. It's another thing to balance, another button to press, another damage source that is both not coming from the shaman directly (which many shaman players seem to have an issue with) nor is it 100% controllable by us via pet bars. On the healing side of things, they can potentially give us a lot of self healing when glyphed, making us extremely self sufficient in most scenarios for that period of time, but much like the issue with Shamanistic Rage being tied to a dps increase with our old t10 set bonus, we're unable to use this wonderful self heal when we need it. Instead we're stuck using Feral Spirits on cooldown for their dps component.

So, what do we do with this ability? It's been a staple in our spec for the longest time and it's not something I'd ever like to see go, but it does need addressing. Do we turn it into a talent, increasing their damage output and allowing us the ability to control our wolves once again via a pet bar? Do we remove the damage component, allowing them to be healing guardians of sorts? Or do we leave them as is?

For the sake of brain storming, I'm going to roll all these ideas into one weird conglomeration that may or may not work in practice. Baseline, I'd like to see Feral Spirits become a personal (or maybe even raid wide!) healing cooldown. Yes, damage component 100% removed. They attack our enemies as they always have, no visual change needed, but they only grant us healing from it. Scales with our AP and secondary stats, naturally. Improved Feral Spirits can be a talent, perhaps replacing Unleashed Fury, which in itself can become baseline (more on this later). Being on the same tier as Primal Elementalist, there would be no interference of pet bars. Improved Feral Spirits would of course have a substantial dps aspect to it, as well as self healing for the shaman, the return of Twin Howl (taunt), and perhaps some minor passive splash healing for the group/raid.

- Shocks
Separate cooldowns, damage component of Frost Shock removed, done. Universal for all shaman specs. Enhancement's rotation is busy enough to often not even need Frost Shock as a filler (especially during cleave/AoE scenarios and more so with higher amounts of haste on one's gear), therefor adding Earth Shock back in is pointless. Frost Shock can stay as a slow ability, can still use a GCD, can still interact with the Frozen Power talent for PvP, but otherwise for PvE it can be more or less another free button slot.

- Totemic Recall
Relatively useless, but something I wouldn't want to remove. While totems may no longer draw aggro by simply existing, it still feels right to be able to withdraw you totems as well as summon them.

- Tremor Totem
For the love of every puppy to have ever existed, please either 1) allow us to drop this while under Fear, Sleep, and Charm effects once again, even if this totem needs a longer cooldown as a result or 2) make all Fear, Sleep, Charm effects have a cast time (this is for both PvP AND PvE, looking at you UBRS and Highmaul) so proper counter measures can be made. Currently everyone with these abilities has their cake and are eating it merrily, while shaman everywhere are munching on rocks over in the corner with a confused look on their face. Makes me wonder why I still have this totem on my bars. I'd love to see it have a proper place there once more.

Talents, Reworked

This is a bit of a hot topic section, as balance between our respective specs and overall flavor of class resides within our talent choices. We have some good tiers, we have some bad tiers, and while we've also had some traditionally unbalanced tiers, those have at least been addressed or adjusted in one form or another. Let's dive into what I'd like to see for each talent tier.

Level 15 - Defensive
Overall, this tier is in a decent place. Could use some minor adjustments though.

- Nature's Guardian is fine as a reactive, oh crap I should have died there, fail safe.

- Stone Bulwark Totem I'd like to see scale a bit better, preferably with mastery as well as AP, or barring that, scale percentage wise with the shaman's health pool.

- Astral Shift isn't a particular favorite of mine, being only 10% stronger than Shamanistic Rage, on a 1.5 minute cooldown, and only lasting 6 seconds, versus the 15 seconds of SRage. As a talent, I think it's a bit weak, even though in PvE situations it is often numerically the superior talent in this tier. If SBT gets the scaling I think it deserves, I'd also like to see Astral Shift's duration and/or damage reduction increased.

Level 30 - Crowd Control
All three talents fine as is. Perhaps make the roots on Earthgrab Totem a little harder to break, but otherwise I see no need to adjust this tier.

Level 45 - Totem Control
Ah yes, the tier no one really cares about or utilizes. All three of these talents should be baseline. Yes, that would potentially add in 1-2 more buttons to our already bursting bars. This is how I see things playing out.

- Call of the Elements, baseline. No change to the current workings of this ability, aside from perhaps making it on the GCD to prevent any sort of chain cc'ing abuse.

- Totemic Persistence, baseline. No change, even for Fire Totems (I agree with Blizzard about not having two fire totems up at once, sorry!). It's fairly rare that we have two utility totems of the same school up at the same time, assuming we even have two or more utility totems of the same school (water for Elemental and Enhancement), so being able to double up on them without worry of overriding one should be minor at worst.

- Totemic Projection, baseline. This is a quality of life change for all three specs. Instead of adding in a button, perhaps this talent can have some sort of double tap interface. Click once, totem is placed. Double click in quick succession, target indicator comes up. Move target indicator where desired, click again, totem is instantly placed. Ideally this would work in one smooth motion, interface willing. If the interface can't be made to function in this way this is another button for us, as it'd remain as it is now, just a given now instead of a talent.

Alright, everything is baseline. What are we replacing these abilities with?

Why, improved Crowd Control of course! "But Saaaz," you may say. "We already have a CC tier!" I can feel those who counter shaman in PvP grinding their teeth already, as well as the devs who have to balance these talents. Any PvP shaman knows the feeling of not having solid control during a skirmish and any PvE shaman not specced into Totemic Projection knows the frustration of having a tank move a bunch of mobs out of Capacitor Totem before it pops, or having someone use a knock back and again having mobs out of range of your already placed Cap Totem, or someone breaking your Hex. Some of these things have been cried for by players to make certain adjustments baseline, but personally I'd like to see a bit more choice. Yes, implementing these talents would remove a few glyphs, but I think ultimately that's okay.

Fret not, I'll try to keep these talents relatively in focus.

- Improved Capacitor Totem. Takes the existing glyph and makes it baseline. Glyph of Capacitor Totem is removed. Totem's base health is increased.

- Improved Hex. Removes the cooldown of Hex. Reduces the cast time of Hex by 10 seconds. Enemies affected by Hex can no longer control their characters. Glyph of Hex is removed.

- Lightning Whip (new). 15 yards. Instant cast. 45 second cooldown. Frontal cone attack that stuns enemies for 4 seconds and leaves behind a trail of forked lightning on the ground, lasting for 15 seconds. Area of effect slows enemies standing within it for 6 seconds.

Level 60 - DPS (Minor)
I have only two main wishes for this particular tier.

- Elemental Mastery remain on a 2 minute cooldown, no change UNLESS Ascendance remains on a 3 minute cooldown. In that event, I'd like to see EM reverted back to a 1.5 minute cooldown. Yes, it's boring that you can macro everything together. I don't care if a macro sets the good Enhancement shaman apart from the great. Save our sanity, please let us properly line up our cooldowns again.

- Ancestral Swiftness. Please either make the instant cast ability once again scale with Maelstrom Weapon (at the end of the day the boost was incredibly minor at best because of the 1.5 minute CD), or remove it all together and instead give a minor bump to the haste given by this otherwise passive talent.

- Echo of the Elements. I hated you at the start of this expansion, but you have evolved wonderfully. Don't change you glorious bastard.

Level 75 - Healing
Frankly, scrap the whole damn tier.

- Rushing Streams, removed. Instead Healing Stream Totem's healing has been buffed for all specs, more so for Restoration.

- Ancestral Guidance, removed. AG, I loved you so, but you and your lag have gotta go. I'm so sorry, but it's not me, it's definitely you. It was fun while it lasted.

- Conductivity, removed. This was one of those abilities that was really cool on paper, but no good in practice. In a world where stand still patchwerk fights simply don't exist, this talent no longer has a place in our talent tree.

I do like the idea of a purely offensive healing tier, so we're going to be sticking to that theme.

- Water Elemental (new), instant. 5 minute cooldown. Summons a Water Totem at the feet of the caster, summoning a Greater Water Elemental to help aid the shaman and his/her allies, casting Rip Tide once every x seconds in on those in the most need. Lasts 60 seconds. (This would be a slightly more potent version of the shaman's Rip Tide)

- Thunder Cloud (new), instant. 40 yard range. 2 minute cooldown. The skies break open in a torrent of rain and lightning, healing allies for the next 8 seconds. (visual: clouds somewhat like what Moonkins have for Hurricane, light on the lightning effects, rain in the AoE but not heavy enough to be visually impairing or lag inducing)

- Ancestral Infusion (new), instant. 40 yard range. 3 minute cooldown. Call upon the ancestors, bolstering the resolve of the shaman and his/her allies. Damage reduction is increased by 30%, healing taken is increased by 10%. Will not stack with other Ancestral Infusions. Lasts 10 seconds. (visual: everyone becomes spectral, minus spells to avoid the visual blinding issues we ran into during Mists with the Darkmoon Fair card trinket)

Level 90 - DPS Major (1)
There are a few tweaks I'd like to see made for this tier. Keep in mind that some of these play back to other ideas I have mentioned earlier in this post!

- Unleased Fury, removed (baseline). I like this talent. I'd like to see this talent be part of what defines a well practice shaman from a not as practiced shaman. I think UF as a baseline, under the hood mechanic will help to provide that high management, high reward aspect that so many of us Enhancement players would love to see. Not to mention, it'd open up space for its potential replacement.

- Improved Feral Spirits (new), instant. 1 minute cooldown. You summon a pair of empowered Feral Spirits to protect you, with additional abilities, and acting directly under your control.  Lasts 30 seconds. (Would deal damage, unlike baseline Feral Spirits. Increased healing given to the shaman caster. Twin Howl (taunt, does not taunt off of people in tank spec) reintroduced via the pet bar. Call of the Wolf, increases the speed of all party/raid members by 50%, 25 yard radius)

- Primal Elementalist, no change. New addition, Primal Water Elemental. The Elemental's Rip Tide is increased by x%. In addition to casting Rip Tide on allies every x seconds, it will alternate casting Tidal Waves every x seconds in the direction of those in greatest need. (Tidal Waves can be intercepted as they travel. I see two scenarios for healing behavior. 1) potentially do a finite amount of healing which can be divided among those it hits.  Say one Tidal Wave heals for 100k max. Person A jumps in and intercepts the wave, for top off of 20k. Wave has 80k left to split between Persons B, C, and D that are in its path next. 2) Alternatively, remove the finite aspect and simply have Tidal Wave hit for x amount done to each target it hits)

- Elemental Blast. Now replaces Lightning Bolt. Cooldown removed.

Level 100 - DPS Major (2)
For now, I'd like to leave this line of talents relatively untouched.

- Elemental Infusion. An interesting talent in theory, but is an absolute nightmare to track by default. If Frost Shock was to be removed as a dps spell though, this talent would potentially no longer have a place on our talent tree. Mixed, non-definitive feelings about this one!

- Storm Elemental. I like this guy, despite his flaws. I'd like to see a bit more lightning action from both his forms, which I'd gladly sacrifice his wimpy healing component for. I'd also like to see him cast on the move. The movement speed this elemental grants either needs an increase in range or removed all together and maybe replaced with something else neat. Perhaps his special bonus thing (like Empower/Reinforce) can be a tornadic well of sorts, a bit like Ursol's Vortex mixed with Gorefiend's Grasp.

- Liquid Magma. The only change I'd like to see with this ability is for it to mind its manners properly. No more breaking CC, no more aggroing mobs that aren't already in the fight. Yes, I know you can't control where lava will flow in real life, so from an immersion standpoint it's true to its self. From a usability and mechanical standpoint though, this guy is a butt. I'm a shaman, I should be able to bend magma away from things I don't want it to attack!


*deep breath* Whew, almost done!

Please realize that these talent changes were made mainly with Enhancement in mind. I'm also well aware that there are hundreds of variations of this post on the official forums and that not all of my ideas are original or all that novel, and I'm pretty certain not all of them are that great! However, I do believe that it's important to keep these discussions kicking around in hopes that we land in a better place come the next expansion.

Ideally we'd see a divide between specs and talent choices, meaning if you spec differently you'll actually be presented with slightly different talent choices, much like what priests and druids have now. I'll leave the variations of the Elemental and Restoration specs up to the players who spend much more quality time with those roles than I ever do however.

On top of all these changes, because there certainly wasn't enough, I'd like to shuffle some of the tiers around for the sake of getting certain goodies are certain times while leveling up. For the most part, everything remains where it was, save for the Healing Tier which I'd like to see moved from the level 75 slot down to the level 30 slot, the CC tier moved from the level 30 slot up to 45, and the new stun tier (formerly totem control) to be moved into the level 75 slot. Completely personal preference, of course!

I really wanted to tackle glyphs in this post, both major and minor, but I think I'll save that project for a later date. There's also the can of worms to tackle about possibly tacking on yet another tier coming in the new expansion, assuming they go that route. Likewise, this speculation and wish-listing can be saved for another post. For now, enough words are enough.

Until the next post, keep swingin'.

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