Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Serious changes to healing throughput as percentage of total health in Cataclysm

We knew this already, but the Paladin preview that came out today had an interesting tidbit:
Furthermore, the healing environment of Cataclysm is going to be different such that a paladin may not be able to fully heal themselves during the duration of Divine Shield to begin with, so this may not be a problem. 
Divine Shield currently lasts 12 seconds.

Blizzard is contemplating having a Paladin, currently the highest throughput single-target healers, be unable to heal themselves to full over a 12 second time span.  That is a large, large change.  That may be even slower than healing in vanilla was, and it suggests that tanks will either have enormous health or will take very low damage relative to their total health pool.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Excellent post by Big Bear Butt on the loss of tree form

Big Bear Butt points out that we like our tree form, even if it isn't necessary from the standpoint of game design:

I know that Ghostcrawler seems to feel that the Treeform mechanic doesn’t add anything to the game, it doesn’t bring anything special to the Restoration Druid’s table.
It does.
What it brings is Treeform itself. What he just doesn’t seem to grasp is that Treeform, for a Restoration Druid, is a goal in and of itself. Not something to be pity Glyphed, but an outwards symbol of a Druid Healer’s resolve.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Cataclysm: Crowd Management vs. Crowd Control

This isn't a full post yet, but I'll come back and edit it into something real once I get my thoughts in order.

From reading all of the previews, it looks like we're getting a lot of new mechanics to control each encounter.  We get speed buffs, artificial LOS mechanics, landmines, walls of fog, and other stuff.

My takeaway is that the old crowd control ("CC") of vanilla and Burning Crusade isn't coming back.  In the good old days, it was simple.  If you pulled a pack of mobs, you would try to root/sap/hibernate/freeze/sleep/hammer all but one of them, and then focus on them one at a time.  Only one mob (in a perfect world) was allowed to be active at a time.  It was effective, but it was very, very simple.

I think Blizzard may have decided it was too simple.  The Cataclysm picture that's emerging is one of more fluid crowd management ("CM").  Mobs coming in certain directions can be slowed or damage.  Certain casters can be avoided by ducking into clouds of smoke or taking cover under camouflage.  This is more interesting, and will likely require more skill, than simply sapping all the mobs and hitting them one at a time.  It also fits into PvP better, especially the rated battlegrounds (Arenas will be a little too small to see these abilities used to their full effects, I think).

I'll go through the preview abilities I think are related to this in a few days, and explain how I think they all fit together.

Druid Cataclysm Preview: What I Think

...because clearly, you should all care about what I think :)

I've written up a separate entry for each spec, and they're all linked below.

My general thoughts are pretty positive, as you'll see.  The vast majority of the complaints on the forums (and in the rest of the blogosphere, which surprised me a bit) involve the disappearance of the Tree of Life form.  I'll admit, that kept me up late last night, drinking myself into a stupor, but I think it won't necessarily be the end of the world.

To see the full announcement of changes, and the follow-up posts by Ghostcrawler (the lead game designer), check out this compilation over at MMO-Champion.  For the thoughts of others on these changes, check out Graylo's blog entry on the Balance changes here, Lissanna's (or her boyfriend's?) entry here, and Allison Robert's detailed posting on the Feral changes here.

Now, please follow the links below for my thoughts on the upcoming (potential) druid changes:

Rebirth changing back to a 30 minute cooldown in Cataclysm?

In the middle of a thread about Blood Lust and Kings, Ghostcrawler dropped an important factoid for we free Druids:
Obviously things like Rebirth can't just be handed to out to more classes unless we did something like a second exhaustion mechanic for battle rez or whatever. For now we're going to try the cooldown at 30 min again. In Icecrown's world of limited attempts, a 30 min cooldown likely meant you just cooled your heels until the cooldown was available again. In Cataclysm the hope is sometimes you'll have the benefit available but not every time, which scales back on how much of a game-changer it is.
Whoa there.  Rebirth is currently on a 10 minute cooldown.  I'll admit, I've been handing it out since candy thanks to that change, and Blizzard has apparently decided that it should be more like fine wine.  Well, boxed wine, at any rate.  A 10 minute cooldown is up for every attempt.  A 30 minute cooldown means that it will be up every other or every third attempt, and probably every other boss if you're able to one-shot everything.

What does that mean?  Well, my guild almost always loses someone, often two someones, doing Putricide and Sindragosa.  Yes, we're a little sloppy.  But there is a lot of damage flying around in all directions in that sort of fight.  We're used to battle res'ing one to two people per fight.  We have two druids and it tends to work out.

However, that does allow us to be a bit sloppy.  So does this mean Blizzard is aiming to go back to something more like Burning Crusade and to require perfect execution of raid encounters?  No, almost certainly not.  I'm guessing that this will fit in with the overall changes to health, damage taken, and healing in Cataclysm.  It sounds like people will be in less imminent danger of death for most encounters, and this should mean fewer actual deaths.  Right now, it's easy to die in many ICC encounters if there's a lag spike or you're outside the healers' range for more than a second or two.  If Cataclysm changes that to a 10 second window instead, for example, deaths will only occur due to actual errors, and a 30 minute Rebirth should fit in well.

I'll admit, I love feeling like a hero whenever I cast the thing, so I will miss it a bit.  But I don't think it's the end of the world.

UPDATE:  Hah!  Ghostcrawler confirmed my premise:
Also keep in mind that Rebirth is much more useful in today's game where people tend to die from massive damage. In a world where people sometimes die because the healers have run out of mana, then Rebirth doesn't buy you quite as much. 
He also indicated that they were considering other options, including leaving the 10 minute cooldown as is but having each Rebirth trip the cooldown for all other druids in the raid.  Sounds like they just don't want it used all that often, and only when people died due to honest mistakes.

In the same thread, he suggested that we may see a merger of Kings and Gift...interesting.  Ever since vanilla, I've thought of Mark of the Wild as the iconic Druid spell.  I'd be sorry to see it go.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Druid Cataclysm Preview: Feral

Feral Druids get two (count them) brand new abilities in the preview:
Thrash (Level 81): Thrash deals damage and causes all targets within 10 yards to bleed every 2 seconds for 6 seconds. The intent here is to give bears another button to hit while tanking. Talents will affect the bleed, such as causing Swipe to deal more damage to bleeding targets. 5-second cooldown. 25 Rage.

Stampeding Roar (Level 83): The druid roars, increasing the movement of all allies within 10 yards by 40% for 8 seconds. Stampeding Roar can be used in cat or bear form, but bears might have a talent to drop the cooldown. The goal of this ability is to give both bears and cats a little more situational group utility. 3-minute cooldown. No cost. 
I'll admit, I'm not entirely sure what to make of this one.  It's a bit like Swipe, but has an extra 2 yards of range and is a 6 second DoT rather than a direct damage ability.  It also has a slightly higher rage cost (25 compared to 20), but all rage costs will be adjusted in Cataclysm so we can't read too much into that.

This would be a great ability to have right now, when the DPS is used to opening up with AoE as soon as the tank has pulled.  It allows us to keep building threat for a few seconds, even on targets that are out of range.  This would be great for the trash packs of casters as one goes up the hill in the Pits of Saron.  It also have some nice synergy with Rend and Tear, especially since, assuming you have enough rage, the bleed from Thrash can have a 100% uptime.

Overall, though, it's something you'll hit in addition to Swipe and Maul.  If we hit Maul that much Cataclysm.

Stampeding Roar:
The addition of a new roar is a good move in fitting with the portrait of the bear.  I'm a giant bear.  What do I do?  I tank with my face.  And I ROAR.  However, I'll admit I'm skeptical about the utility of an 8 second speed boost with a 180 second cooldown.  When will we actually use it?  Probably only when things go wrong.  Given the cooldown, it's doubtful it will be available each time a boss mechanic is used.  However, if everyone is slow switching sides in something like the Putricide encounter, and the next ooze/gas is spawning in the middle of the group, then this would be useful.

Note that it has a short range, however.  At 10 yards, it will probably only effect the melee group.  In that case, it seems like the biggest use would be helping people avoid a whirlwind.  Once every three minutes.

Overall, I'm not sure how this will function in practice.  It seems to be another "crowd management" ability, letting the melee move into position quickly when necessary without actually stopping any of the mobs themselves.  There could definitely be some nice synergy with this of some of the other preview abilities we've seen.  Mages are getting a wall of fog that roots enemies that cross it.  Rogues are getting smoke bombs.  This Roar could help the melee group dart across the fog or into the smoke in an emergency.

Maul and Rage Normalization:
Before going any further, remember that rage will function differently in Cataclysm.  It won't be as dependent on how much damage you take.  Maul is also changing pretty drastically.  It will no longer replace your next white attack, so it won't need to be spammed at all time (my ring finger on my left hand it grateful).  Instead, it will be a rage dump, taking anywhere from 10 to 30 rage, depending on how much you have at the time.  This may have an impact on our threat generation as well, since Maul is a big component of that.  Overall, tanking is going to be a different experience, so keep that in mind as we try to figure out how everything else will fit into our playstyle.

Other Changes:
We want to make the Feral cat damage rotation slightly more forgiving. We do not want to remove what druids like about their gameplay, but we do want to make it less punishing to miss, say, a Savage Roar or Rake. The changes here will be on par with increasing the duration of Mangle like we did for patch 3.3.3. 
We plan on giving Feral cats and bears a Kick/Pummel equivalent -- an interrupt that is off the global cooldown and does no damage. We feel like they need this utility to be able to fill the melee role in a dungeon or raid group, and to give them more PvP utility. 
Bleed Damage and Savage Defense: Feral druids will receive two sets of passive bonuses depending on whether the druid is in cat or bear form. Bleed Damage will be improved for cats. Savage Defense is the current bear mechanic for converting crits into damage absorption and will be improved for bears. 
Kitty DPS is getting an overhaul, though probably not at the highest levels.  It sounds like they are planning to make some of the bleeds and buffs last long or have less of an impact, and may increase the damage of mangle so that positioning (getting behind the target) has a smaller effect.  Overall, this means that the vast majority of us who have not mastered the Madden aspect of being a kitty will see a decent DPS increase.  We still won't be on par with the Madden-level experts, though.

Cats (and bears!) are also getting a real interrupt with a short cooldown like Kick.  This is a welcome change, and a bit of a relief.  It has been a gaping hole in our utility as compared to many other classes, and the hoops that cats had to leap through to interrupt using Maim dropped our DPS by around 75%.

The bleed damage improvement is pretty simple but should amount to some decent DPS and fits in nicely with the kitty's trademark strategy of death-of-a-thousand-cuts.  Each one of them bleeding...

But wait a minute, Rogues got some major changes to their UI, allowing them to maintain "floating combo points" of some sort in order to switch more easily between targets.  Being a kitty is a bit like being a rogue.  Do we get any of that?  Ghostcrawler says "most likely."  This will be a good change.  We'll be able to keep Savage Roar up much more easily, is the first thing that comes to mind.  And besides, it never made much sense that Savage Roar was based off the combo points on your target.  It buffs you, after all, not the poor sap you've got in your cross hairs.

Overall should make kitty a bit more forgiving and accessible, and give us a bit more utility as well.  Nothing huge, but I'm happy with it.

Finally, we get an interrupt like other tanks.  About time.  I dare Kel'Thuzad to get another frost bolt volley past me.  Just try it, you undead floaty-thing.  Other than that, these "other changes" don't have much of an impact.  Savage Defense is turning into a core class mechanic, but everyone takes it with talents already if you're tanking.  The big changes have already been discussed above.  Rage normalization, Maul, and Thrash. We'll have to wait and see how it all works out.

Lower Levels:
We also get word of one more welcome change.  Ghostcrawler indicated that we might get cat form at level 10 and bear form at level 20.  This isn't a huge change, in my opinion, given how quickly those levels go (I still remember going through them in vanilla by whacking things with my staff), but it certainly is a welcome one.  Hunters will start with pets, and Druids will at least hit 20 a little faster.

The changes for Feral Druids are less flashy than those for Balance and less extreme than those for Restoration (we'll miss you, tree form).  At the same time, I fully expect that the change in our rotations and playstyle will be just as drastic in all three trees.

Feral is getting a bit more accessible on the kitty side and a bit more interesting (hurrah, a new button to press!) on the bear side.  If rage normalization works, it will be a relief in 5-man content.  And the extra utility of a reliable interrupt will make a huge difference in terms of my paranoia.  I hate relying on others for critical interrupts, if I can avoid it.  On a more personal note, soloing old content like Kara will get much, much easier with a reliable interrupt.

It's hard to say exactly where the Feral changes will lead us, but I'm smiling, and we'll just have to wait and see.

Druid Cataclysm Preview: Balance

Ladies and Gentlefolk, children of all ages, I bring you the new, the improved, the even more shiny:  SHROOMKIN!

Magical Mushrooms:
Wild Mushroom (Level 85): Grows a magical mushroom at the target location. After 4 seconds the mushroom becomes invisible. Enemies who cross the mushroom detonate it, causing it to deal area-of-effect damage, though its damage component will remain very effective against single targets. The druid can also choose to detonate the mushroom ahead of time. This is primarily a tool for the Balance druid, and there will be talents that play off of it. No cooldown. 40-yard range. Instant cast.
The Cenarion Circle has been investigating other revenue sources, I see...  Seriously though, this is an interesting spell for a variety of reasons.  First, there's no cooldown and it's instant cast.  Can we only have one up?  Or can we set up a wall of mushrooms?  The latter would seem a bit overpowered, I think, but the former would be a bit dull.  Hunters can have multiple traps up at a time (though no more than one per category), so perhaps we'll be able to grow up to three mushrooms?  Something like that would be perfect.  It may, however, be a bit overpowered in PvP, but perhaps it would be possible to simply only permit one at a time in arenas and battlegrounds?  I'm a bit sick of the war going on (largely in Ghostcrawler's head, poor crab) between PvE balance and PvP balance.

Can this mushroom detonate during the first 4 seconds, before it goes invisible, or is it still growing at that point? For boss fights, I'd really prefer that it be able to detonate as soon as you cast it, but I'm guessing it will be benign for the first 4 seconds.  However, it seems like it's there (as an instant cast) to help with the current problem is mobility in raid boss fights.  Boomkins can't do much more than hit Typhoon once and reapply DoTs in large portions of fights like Putricide.  Shroomkins, on the other hand, could also put down a mushroom (or three).  However, it sounds like this will need to be targeted on the ground, much like Force of Nature.  From experience, I can say that it's a pain to do that sort of targeting whilst running.  Still, better than nothing.  We'll have to wait and see how much damage it deals and whatnot.  One thing is for certain: a new part of being a skilled boomshroomkin will be learning where to place mushrooms in each encounter.

I'm also eager to see what talents will "play off it" and how that will work.  It would be interesting if we got various buffs for having an un-exploded mushroom down, or if we got buffs by being near it, or a monster got debuffs for being near it or could get movement and DoT debuffs by exploding one of them.  Mushrooms as a form of crowd control would be pretty neat, though I imagine we'd pick up aggro fairly often.

Speaking of which, we still don't have an aggro dump, and there wasn't one mentioned in the preview notes.  Given our relatively high armor, I can see why Blizzard wouldn't give us one.  But at the same time, that will make mushroom placement all the more interesting.  Unlike a hunter, we can Feign if a pack of mobs hits the mushroom before hitting the tank.  On the other hand, feral tanks might be able to use this as a tripwire to pull patrols, if they put down their own mushrooms.

Eclipse: We are moving Eclipse from a talent into a core mechanic of the class and making it less random. Balance druids will have a new UI element that shows a sun and a moon. Whenever they cast an Arcane spell, it will move the UI closer to the sun, and buff their Nature damage. Whenever they cast a Nature spell, it will move the UI closer to the moon, and buff their Arcane damage. The gameplay intention is to alternate Arcane and Nature spells (largely Starfire and Wrath) to maintain the balance.
This is a huge change.  Of course, we knew something was coming, since Blizzard has acknowledged several times that the current version of Eclipse is too much of an RNG factor and causes some odd scaling and mobility problems.  First, the new UI element.  I like that.  I don't know why, exactly, but I think it's because any UI changes make me feel a little bit more like a unique, feathered snowflake.  I have a sun and moon chart on my UI.  Non-druids don't.  They have other things (like pet bars...).  We're all special in our own special ways.

We'll need to see how this plays out.  It sounds a little like our base rotation will be Starfire-Wrath-Starfire-Wrath-Starfire...  That's cool....I can macro that.  In practice, though, I imagine this will give us a lot of much needed control.  If we're about to enter a burn phase, or about to cast heroism, we can spend 15 seconds or so just casting Wrath and Insect Swarm.  Then unload with an overpowered Starfall followed by Starfire spam.

For PvP and target changes, I'm guessing we'll be using Nature's Torrent (below) to rapidly move the bar in one direction or other, but we still need to wait for details.

This is a change I'm certainly happy about.  It will have a huge impact on the class, but still let us keep the "in touch with nature" feel that we have now.  The big thing I'm worried about is that the eclipse graphics will no longer appear over my feathered head.  I'm in love with those graphics.  Hopefully they'll keep them and use them when you manage to move entirely in favor of the moon or sun.

Nature's Torrent:
Balance druids will have a new talent ability called Nature’s Torrent, which strikes for either Nature or Arcane damage depending on which will do the most damage (or possibly both), and moves the Eclipse meter more (details below). The improved version of Nature’s Torrent also reduces the target's movement speed. 10-second cooldown.
I like us having a new ability.  Our rotation is a little skimpy right now (especially compared to Feral cats, but I don't think I'd want it to get quite that complex).  I'm assuming that this will be instant-cast, since it's on a 10-second cooldown.  If so, it will give us another button to hit during movement phases.  I don't really care if it even deals damage worth mentioning, I'm up for anything that gives me something to do during a movement phase.  I just want to feel like I'm more than a spectator.

This will clearly be involved in managing our "Eclipse meter," but we'll have to wait and see how it works.  I'm hoping that it will move the meter in the direction it was already going.  From the description of the spell (doing whichever type of damage would hit harder), I worry that it may be made to actually keep us centered on the meter, rather than to exaggerate anything.  We'll have to wait and see.  Hopefully, at the least, it would function as a good opener to give us a bit of a buff in one school or the other by moving the meter a significant amount.

I'm also excited about the target speed reduction, sort of like a Frost Bolt I assume.  From all of these previews, it looks like Cataclysm will focus on "crowd management" more than "crowd control," and that CM will be a lot more important than CC has been in Wrath of the Lich King.  I'm glad to see Druids jumping on the bandwagon and getting a slow.  We still have (as far as we know) roots...and hibernate....and  we should be good to go.

Other Changes:
All heal-over-time spells (HoTs) will benefit from crit and haste innately in Cataclysm. Hasted HoTs do not reduce their duration, but instead add additional HoT ticks.
Barkskin will be innately undispellable.
Druids will lose Abolish Poison with the dispel mechanics change, but Restoration druids will gain Dispel Magic (on friendly targets) as a talent. All druids can still remove poisons with Cure Poison and remove curses with Remove Curse.
First, the minor stuff.  The Barkskin change is pretty much a pure PvP change.  It's a good one, for us, but PvP will probably be really different in Cataclysm, so it's impossible to say how it'll work in context.  We'll wait and see.  The loss of Abolish Poison is a bit of a pain, but we can still cure it.  In certain encounters like the opening of Halls of Reflection, it's quite useful to currently spend a single global cooldown and get 8 seconds worth of cures.  However, most of the time this won't have all that much impact on we free feathered folk.

HoTs will scale with crit and haste...what about DoTs?  Everyone else got scaling DoTs in their previews, why are they so special?  Aha, Ghostcrawler came to the rescue and confirmed that our DoTs will probably scale.  Crisis averted.   This is a GOOD THING(tm).  At current end-game gear levels, our DoTs are just barely worth the GCD is takes to cast them, since they scale horribly.  This change should fix that, and let us feel good about keeping our DoTs up throughout Cataclysm.  I don't think there's really anything else to say about this one.  It's a much needed change, Blizzard admitted it was a much needed change, and now it's finally happening.

We'll have to see how the change to Eclipse works out, but overall I'm quite happy.  The Eclipse meter sounds like it will be interesting enough to make our rotation fun (instead of boring) and should give us control to really up our dps during burn phases.  Like I said above, I'm a little unhappy that we didn't get an aggro dump, but we do have high armor for a ranged class, so we'll live for now (though at least one or two hits, and it helps to keep the healers on their toes).

Druid Cataclysm Preview: Restoration

Tree of Life:
Lets start with the big one:
Tree of Life is changing from a passive talent to a cooldown-based talent, similar to Metamorphosis. Mechanically, it feels unfair for a druid to have to give up so much offense and utility in order to be just as good at healing as the other classes who are not asked to make that trade. We are exploring the exact benefit the druid gets from Tree of Life. It could strictly be better healing, or it could be that each heal behaves slightly different. You also will not be able to be banished in Tree of Life form (this will probably be true of Metamorphosis as well). Additionally, we would like to update the Tree of Life model so that it feels more exciting when you do decide to go into that form. Our feeling is that druids rarely actually get to show off their armor, so it would be nice to have at least one spec that looked like a night elf or tauren (and soon troll or worgen) for most of the time. 
First, some history.  Druids were a healing class in vanilla.  We couldn't effectively fill any other role, and people would have laughed (hard) at hearing that we wanted to tank (except for the rare 40-man boss fight that a big guild exploited by using a druid to avoid the boss's response to a block or a parry).  Our DPS was never competitive, and vanished altogether when the introduction of the global cooldown did away with moonfire spam.  Cat form existed solely to allow us to stealth in with rogues and heal them in BRD and LBRS stealth runs.  We were a healing class, and we didn't have tree form.  We stood there, cows (or elves) in robes, in front of the line of priests in Molten Core runs.  We'd heal a little, and then cast innervate on the priests.

The point is, it's not like Tree of Life was originally part of our class.  I'll be sorry to see it go, because I really do play druids for the forms, not for the armor.  I love the fact that you can tell what role a druid is filling based purely on what form they're in, and I don't mind being locked into certain roles in that form.  Powershifting is part of playing the class, and I'm willing to take the hit since we're the only class that can fill all four roles.

Ghostcrawler did relent and say that they might consider a minor glyph that would let us keep our leafy appearance in Cata.  I doubt they'll actually implement said glyph, but we'll see how it goes.

In the meantime, lets look at the current plan.  Tree of Life will become a new high level talent much like the Metamorphosis of our dark lock cousins.  So, how does Metamorphosis work?  It lasts for 30 seconds, with a 3 minute cooldown, and gives the warlock a strong AoE, a mass taunt, a 3 target cleave, a massive (600%) armor increase, and some incoming damage reductions and resistance to crowd control.  In other words, they turn into monsters, literally.  They can also talent it to reduce the cooldown by 30%, and glyph it to increase the uptime to 36 seconds.

Now compare that to the druid version, which "could strictly [grant] better healing."  That would be pretty boring, in my opinion.  What would be awesome, and would justify getting rid of the passive Tree of Life, would be if it modified each spell.  Perhaps rejuv would now do two ticks worth of healing instantly upon cast.  Wild growth could hit up to 10 people.  Something of that sort.  Ghostcrawler indicated that a cooldown of this sort would have some "pretty significant" effect on our healing, and I'm hoping they come through with that.

Now, would this be useful?  Yes.  It's like our own little pocket heroism.  If there's one period of massive damage in a fight (say, if you're boss-healing in Festergut, though that would be a strange role for a druid at the moment), or if you're just dealing with a soft enrage mechanic (phase 3 of Putricide, anyone?), you can hit your cooldown, sprout some leaves, and laugh in the face of danger.  It'll take some work to make it interesting and balanced, but I'm looking forward to it.

Other Changes:
Now, for the less emotional changes...
Unlike the other healers, Restoration druids will not be receiving any new spells. They have plenty to work with already, and our challenge instead is to make sure all of them have a well-defined niche. A druid should be able to tank-heal with stacks of Lifebloom, spot-heal a group with Nourish and Regrowth, and top off lightly wounded targets with Rejuvenation.
All heal-over-time spells (HoTs) will benefit from crit and haste innately in Cataclysm. Hasted HoTs do not reduce their duration, but instead add additional HoT ticks.
Barkskin will be innately undispellable 
Druids will lose Abolish Poison with the dispel mechanics change, but Restoration druids will gain Dispel Magic (on friendly targets) as a talent. All druids can still remove poisons with Cure Poison and remove curses with Remove Curse.
Restoration druids will have a new talent called Efflorescence, which causes a bed of healing flora to sprout beneath targets that are critically healed by Regrowth.
HoT Scale Healing: HoTs will do increased healing on more wounded targets. The mechanic is similar to that of the Restoration shaman, but with HoTs instead of direct heals. In Cataclysm, we anticipate druids using a greater variety of their spells so there is a distinction between healing and HoT healing. 
Healing Touch and Tranquility:
So, first things first, I'm fine with us not getting any new spells.  I've been really happy with our toolbox in Wrath, and as a 5- and 10-man healer, I use most of what we have at the moment (I think 25-man druids tend to stick primarily with Rejuv and Wildgrowth).  Well, except Tranquility and Healing Touch, of course.  In fact, Blizzard has acknowledged that these two spells are largely unused, so it surprised me not to see them discussed in the notes.  Ghostcrawler came to the rescue, though, indicating that they plan to give us more reason to cast Healing Touch (possibly letting it refresh Lifebloom stacks) and that Tranquility would be modified to make it a useful emergency heal along the lines of Divine Hymn.  Actually, he said "Diving Hymn," but I'm hoping he didn't really mean that Druids will be sinking in the next expansion...

So, Healing Touch as a useful tank heal?  I think this makes sense, especially since we know that tanks will be taking a little less spikey damage in Cataclysm, meaning we have time to charge up our big heal.  This is double true if we get some synergy between Healing Touch and Lifebloom, since Lifebloom can help moderate any serious damage in between Healing Touch casts.  Similarly, I like the change to Tranquility.  Divine Hymn is a smart-targeting, raid-wide channeled heal.  It's actually useful.  Tranquility is generally useless in raids, since it can only heal your own party.  Any change is a good change, and something like Hymn is great.  I personally would like to see it as a 5 second channel that also leaves a HoT on the targets, since HoTs are still our trademark, but I'll take what I can get.

External Cooldowns, or lack there of:
The big thing that a lot of us were expecting, or at least hoping for, was something akin to Pain Suppression, Guardian Spirit, etc.  Druid healers don't have any way to moderate incoming damage on another target.  However, I'm forced to admit that our HoT healing style has a bit of moderation built into it already, since something is always ticking on whoever has aggro, so I can see why Blizz decided we didn't need it.  However, that may have a long term impact on our ability to tank heal in certain encounters.  Festergut again comes to mind...

So, what else?  Barkskin!  No longer dispellable!  That's a PvP change and a welcome one.  However, given how radically PvP will be changing (and the fact that we won't have tree form any more...will we still have an armor buff like our current talented barkskin?), I really can't say what the impact will be.  We'll have to wait and see.

Abolish Poison:
We're losing Abolish Poison (our curing HoT...or CoT, if you prefer).  That's too bad because I hate to see any "over time" spells go away, given that I really do feel like they are our trademark, and the thing that makes us a unique snowflake in the healing blizzard.  However, we knew it was happening and at least we can still cure poisons one at a time (sorry, Shamans, we feel your pain, but we're just as happy it's you and not us).

Our HoTs will benefit from crit and haste, while maintaining their full durations, AND will be more effective on targets with lower health.  The first was expected after we saw the earlier previews, and the latter was hoped for after we saw the Shaman's "Deep Healing," but it's still great to see these in the preview.  As I keep saying, a resto druid is defined by its HoTs.  Our HoTs are better, and so are we.  The big thing about this is that we'll finally start to scale better.  Glyph of Rapid Rejuv is good in some circumstances (and certainly helps with haste scaling), but the fact that it reduces the overall duration means we need to spend more GCD's recasting it, and makes it hard to balance (and hard for us to figure out if it's helping or hurting!).  The Cataclysm method of allowing more ticks to occur over the full duration instead is a much better solution, and one that is an undeniable improvement in healing output, rather than the current mixed bag.  Also, don't panic too much about needing to stack crit.  If haste gives us more ticks, and each tick is still full strength (which may not be the case, we'll have to wait and see), then more haste will mean more overall healing, regardless of our crit percentage.

Finally, Efflorescence.  Not the easiest talent to spell, I'll grant you, but it opens up some cool possibilities and new ways for players to show their skills.  From the description, it looks our Regrowth crits will result in an AoE HoT centered around the Regrowth target.  This may dramatically increase the desireability of Regrowth in encounters where the raid (or least the melee) is stacked up on one spot.  And part of our skill as a healer will be in remembering to use Regrowths more often on players who are stacked (much like learning how to target Wildgrowth).  This also opens up the interesting possibility of functioning a bit like a more useful Light Well, since a player with low health can run onto a nearby bed of flowers to get healed up a bit.  However, we need a lot more details -- how big is the "bed of flora" that spawns, how long does it last, how much healing does it do, is there a limit to the number of players it can heal? -- before we can figure out how this one will work in practice.

Magical Mushrooms?
My big remaining question: will resto druids get any benefits or synergy from the magic mushroom?  Because I'm sure we just won't be able to get enough from that shroom...

I'm pretty happy.  Color me optimistic, but I like the fact they Blizzard is committed to making all of our spells (even Healing Touch and Tranquility!) useful, and I'm excited about the possibilities of a Tree of Life cooldown.  It gives us a bit of control, and I'm a sucker for anything that makes me feel like a god for 30 seconds.  The HoT scaling with haste and crit will also be divine, after our current setup.  I will, however, be sorry to the see the old tree form go.  Hopefully that minor glyph will make it into the release.

Druid Cataclysm Preview: What I Think

...because clearly, you should all care about what I think :)

I'm planning to write up a separate entry for each spec, but they'll all be linked from here.

My general thoughts are pretty positive, as you'll see.  The vast majority of the complaints on the forums (and in the rest of the blogosphere, which surprised me a bit) involve the disappearance of the Tree of Life form.  I'll admit, that kept me up late last night, drinking myself into a stupor, but I think it won't necessarily be the end of the world.

To see the full announcement of changes, and the follow-up posts by Ghostcrawler (the lead game designer), check out this compilation over at MMO-Champion.  For the thoughts of others on these changes, check out Graylo's blog entry on the Balance changes here, Lissanna's (or her boyfriend's?) entry here, and Allison Robert's detailed posting on the Feral changes here.

Now, please follow the links below for my thoughts on the upcoming (potential) druid changes:

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Cataclysm class changes for Druids are up

Remember, these are still early.  I'm digesting them now, but I'll write up a full review tonight or tomorrow.  I think people are a little bit heavy on the qq in the official forums, and I'm actually rather pleased. 

However, I do like our current forms, and I'll miss not being a Tree of Life when healing.  It brings me back to the good old days of vanilla when druids were good for...err....

Anyways, watch this space (or rather, the space soon to be above it)!