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.
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.
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.
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.