In the spirit of Cataclysm, which someone so appropriately has dubbed WoW 4.0, talent trees are the latest game element to see some of the effects of new-but-old-but new redesign philosophy (which by the way, as a fan of continual improvement, I actually applaud). Cut down from today’s 51-point trees, these new talent systems are intended to encourage players to identify with their spec early on in character progression, and to offer both meaningful and progressive changes in game play with the opportunity for a little bit of personal preference. But the question of the hour is: are they delivering?
Because I’ve been in an audit mindframe for the last several weeks (a joy if there ever was one), it should be no surprise that at the announcement of the “new” talent trees, I jumped at the chance to provide some detailed commentary on the status of the resto spec and the relevance of its revised talents. For the sake of the review, I’m only going to only be addressing Resto talents, because although I will likely be taking Enhancement as a sub-spec, I see the value in developing Enhancement talents to suit Enhancement players first, and Restos/Elementals second.
Tier 1: 0 – 5 points (levels 10-17)
As a starting tier, designated by characters just getting into the Resto spec, these talents should provide some very basic healing buffs which aid these low level toons through questing and dungeons like RFC, WC, and Deadmines. Play at this level is very simple and talents should encourage players to explore their class and not overly punish them for making a “bad” choice.
- Ancestral Resolve – Although it features some interesting wording (“damage taken WHILE CASTING”) which would lead one to believe this talent would go hand-in-hand with pushback protection, which is now a base Resto skill, as a starter talent I think this is one most Restos will skip over until there’s a demonstrated need for the additional protection. At 10% damage reduction, this talent actually fares better than Elemental Warding’s 6% reduction, (which in my Ulduar days was almost a required talent for any raiding Elemental because of shamans’ comparatively low base HP.) However, with Shamans within reasonable range of other classes these days, I don’t see this talent holding much interest for raiders or for new players.
- Tidal Focus – In the mana conservation environment that Blizzard has been preaching about for Cataclysm raiding, I cannot imagine this talent being anything other than necessary for Resto shaman everywhere. And, given that I’ve recently been leveling another resto shaman (via LFD), I can say this easily-accessible reduction in mana cost will be a boon to healers just getting their bearings. In all, I think this is good placement for the talent and one that will be well-used by both new and veteran players alike.
- Spark of Life – When compared with its damage-reduction counterpart Ancestral Resolve, Spark of Life strikes me as an interesting approach to Resto Shaman survivability, which has been an issue on Shamans’ radars for almost the entire xpac. Keeping ourselves alive has always been particularly challenging given our single insta-cast and lack of personal survivability CD. So while I don’t think this talent will make or break any pressure situation, much in the way to Divinity doesn’t make or break a Paladin’s survival, I certainly won’t turn down an extra 1k direct healing on a Riptide or Unleash Weapon crit cast as I’m running out of fire. (It’s worth noting that this sort of easy “Increases Healing by X” talent exists in every healing tree, presumably so that healer output can be easily adjusted in the future).
Tier 2: 6 – 10 points (levels 18-27)
A second tier of points, these talents should aid players as they finish up the first quarter of levels. At this point, low level Restos will be encountering mana issues and will have very low levels of all supplemental stats (like crit and haste). Players at this level will be doing SFK, RFK, Gnomer and BFD
- Improved Water Shield – A must-have for any Resto Shaman, the value of Improved Water Shield has been irrefutable since the changes brought on with patch 3.2. And while we will be switching to a Spirit-based regen table in Cataclysm, I would be shocked to see anything take Water Shield’s place as our primary source of regen. The one thing left out of this talent revision is its relation to Greater Healing Wave and Unleash Weapon, but I would hope that both would fall under the “100% mana restore” rule. It’s also worth noting here that this talent, which is seemingly placed low in the tree because of its comparative value to other talents, is of almost no use to low-level Restos, who at this point have somewhere in the neighborhood of 5-10% crit. This talent might be better placed at a higher tier and replaced with Restorative Totems (because Call of Water is available at level 20).
- Totemic Focus – While the reduced mana cost of totem placement is a must-have for any Resto Shaman leveling in dungeons (since you have to redrop almost every pull), in end-game raiding this is largely a waste of points. As I mentioned in the Shaman Roundtable segment, PVE shamans rarely switch up their totems mid-fight as most crucial buffs/debuffs are constantly present through the encounter, so reduced mana cost at the onset of the pull is a non-issue. In PVP however, this talent proves its worth, allowing for some very involved totem-swapping without adversely affecting the Shaman’s mana bar. So while this may be a personal preference at end-game, this talent is at precisely the right location for leveling players.
- Focused Insight – When details of this spell were first released, I was excited to hear that Blizzard was working another dependency-based healing talent into the shaman arsenal to address some of the longevity problems we have when tank healing. So when I hopped into Beta and set up my Resto spec, I happily dropped points into it and went about my business. Until I realized that Unleash Weapon, the new Shaman judgement-esque talent, doesn’t count as a shock and therefore doesn’t proc Focused Insight; the only spells that will proc the effect are Frost Shock, Flame Shock and Earth Shock (I’m unsure if Wind Shear does, because *bashful* I forgot to test it.) I’m not so much disappointed about the loss of a mana CD, but rather the loss of another supplement to the Shaman’s arsenal. I had forseen an environment where you would turn to Unleash Weapon instead of Riptide when mana was tight, and then switch back to Riptide when you needed the additional healing and/or hot effect. Similarly, with Spiritwalker’s Grace on a 3-min CD, using Unleash Weapon while moving out of fire would help balance out your need to move with a buff to your next healing spell. Instead, I think I’m largely going to discount this talent as PVP only, since the loss of a GCD prior to casting a necessary heal isn’t a gamble that I’ll be willing to take on progression encounters (which is when the mana cost reduction would be most welcome).
Tier 3: 11 – 15 points (levels 28-37)
By these levels, players have received a basic introduction to their spec of choice and identify either as a tank, healer or dps. So, this third tier is where players should start seeing talents which indicate the underlying stat characteristics of their spec and their class. This is where you should start to feel like you’re a Resto Shaman and not just a healer.
- Ancestral Awakening – Although my first Resto builds in Wrath excluded this talent, I’ve since come to appreciate the supplemental heal provided by AA. Although it proves a great deal more effective at high levels of crit (naturally, it didn’t perform too well in the early days of Naxx, when Shaman were ~20-25%), it consistently provides about 8-10% overall healing on fights where RT/LHW/HW factor heavily into my rotation. However, I see two main issues going forward with AA: first is that in the great purge, shaman lost two talents (Tidal Mastery and Thundering Strikes) which provided a 10% crit to boost AA’s performance. Thus, unless these crit values are made up elsewhere, Shaman will effectively be back at Naxx levels of crit and thus see significantly reduced contributions from AA healing. Secondarily, and this is more of a design critique, I have a major issue with healing talent existing in a world of “triage” where the healer cannot control the target of the heal. As we’ve seen with trinket procs like Althor’s Abacus, the benefits of this type of heal are greatly situational and can result in a complete waste of the proc if your initial cast does not align with incoming damage. Instead, I would highly advocate changing AA to an effect similar to Reign of the Dead, where a crit direct heal will proc a stacking buff on the Resto, which could then either be accumulated or instantly cast on a target of the Healer’s choosing. Yes, it would require more management, but would provide a supplemental and variable mini-CD for shamans to insert into their rotation (similar to the variability introduced with Elemental’s Lava Surge or Paladins’ Holy Power).
- Nature’s Swiftness – I’m actually surprised that this talent made the cut when Blizzard went through with their sweeping renovation of trees, because if ever there was a talent aside from Mana Tide that the absolute majority of shamans feel obliged to spec into, it’s Nature’s Swiftness. Prior to Riptide it was our only way to gain an instant-cast, and currently it is relegated to many Shamans’ macro pages, to be used in case of an Emergency which never develops. It is the essence of a begrudgingly-taken mandatory talent, one that sees so little play time as to render it almost useless but which Restos largely take because popular perception holds it to be necessary. Much as Swfitmend was moved to a base Resto druid talent, or Paladins’ LoH is a trainable ability, so too do I think it’s time to retire Nature’s Swiftness from the Resto Shaman tree and make it something that we don’t have to waste a point in any more.
- Ancestral Healing – In line with the issues that Ancestral Awakening will see in light of reduced crit values, Ancestral Awakening is also in line to suffer a slight setback. In my current gear healing LK25 HM, I can generally maintain about 80-90% buff uptime on the tank, even when he isn’t my primary healing assignment. This sort of uptime wasn’t possible in Ulduar or Naxx, because again, general crit levels were simply too low. Moving forward into Cataclysm, I’m not sure I understand why it would be acceptable for a 15% damage reduction to be at anything less than 90% uptime, especially if the lack of the buff would equate to an additional 6k damage on a 40k hit, because that’s not a paltry difference. In terms of placement in the tree, I think it could be swapped with Nature’s Blessing, because the latter talent would provide more of a benefit to low-level players and encourage new Restos to start keeping ES up on tanks.
Tier 4: 16 – 20 points (levels 38 – 47)
By level 40, players are really starting to come into their own in terms of class mechanics. If they managed to survive the drudgery of SM Graveyard over and over again in LFD, and they’re still interested in playing at all, chances are they see some potential in the spec they’ve chosen.
- Improved Chain Heal – As so many other trees had their talents pruned of bonuses like Improved Chain Heal, I’m ashamed to say that the distinction of this talent’s inclusion didn’t make much sense to me until I ranted about it to a friend. This sage player pointed out to me that with elemental and resto sharing the same stat preferences, Improved Chain Heal was the only talent which made a Resto’s CH better than an Elemental’s CH. And after I picked myself up off the floor, I realized that he was right, and the question became more—why is this the only talent which separates offspec and mainspec Chain Heals? While I might have once acknowledged the need for hybrid classes to be somewhat viable when tossing out a heal or two, today’s specialization I think further emphasizes the need for distinction between specs. That the difference between a Resto CH and an Elemental CH boils down to one talent, seems a bit too narrow of a margin. It additionally seems disjointed to me to be able to pick up Improved Chain Heal before you can even train Chain Heal at level 40, thus making the “Improved” version baseline for every Resto who chooses it at that level.
- Restorative Totems – Back in early 2009, if memory serves, there was some discussion about the merging of Mana Spring and Healing Stream into one Restorative Totem. While the implementation of the concept never came to pass, I think the Resto community was almost overwhelmingly behind the merge, because although it eliminates the complicated evaluation of whether or not the group has Imp Wisdom, what it did was reinforce the idea that Healing Stream (like Judgement of Light) was a viable part of a Resto’s healing arsenal and should be a constant buff. When the subject came up recently during RaidWarning’s Shaman Roundtable, Healing Stream was one of those spells that I brought up as needing serious attention, if for no other reason than this: right now HS is stuck in an odd limbo of being a heal that you don’t quite need but which *should* be contributing to your healing numbers. As a hot, it’s underwhelming (which maybe won’t be the case in Cataclysm) but the loss of a HS totem is never a big deal unless you’re doing Heroic Anub in ToGC. The 5% buff that HS received in the recent tree revisions does nothing to either reinforce the fact that HS is a spell that Restos shouldn’t count on or suggest that it is something that provides a viable benefit to the party.
- Blessing of the Eternals – Another spell which contributed to Shamans’ increased crit chance, I was a little surprised to see Blessing of the Eternals’ description remain intact despite the loss of both Tidal Mastery and Thundering Strikes. As a straight crit modifier, it would seem the ideal place to roll in some of the crit lost through the tree cleansing, and provide a boost to lower level shamans still suffering from depressed stat values. As a buff to low-health targets, I would in fact argue that the threshold of 35% is too low to benefit from the increased chance to proc Earthliving, because the benefit of Earthliving is the hot that’s applied and allowed to tick. However, at <35% HP, a player moves in most healers’ eyes, from the secondary list to a priority position, a move that generally results in the play receiving an influx of heals, which makes the Earthliving hot almost complete overhealing. Thus, most players often take this talent for the pure stat value, and largely ignore its effect on Earthliving. In terms of placement in the Resto tree, it seems an ideal place to give shaman a stat boost prior to the big jump they receive when they enter into Outlands.
- Nature’s Guardian – Since I rolled Resto, I have always regarded Nature’s Guardian as a talent that with a split personality—the first half of the description alluding to PVP and the second half of the description addressing PVE. While the HP boost and threat dump were my saving grace a number of times in TK, with healer threat now a non-issue in raiding, the talent seems more suited to a PVP environment. And yet threat reduction is lost in Battleground or Arena play, and thus, Nature’s Guardian remains an odd talent which attempts to provide both PVP and PVE benefits without actually providing benefits to either.
Tier 5: 21 – 25 points (levels 48 – 57)
The last levels spent in the Old World, this segment will find players approaching the second half of their talents. They’ll be making their way through a number of the revamped level 50+ dungeons while preparing for the foray into Outlands.
- Improved Cleanse Spirit – I think the dispel debate raged on for long enough when announced, so in atypical fashion, I’m going to leave this talent along and say that I hope old world dungeons are being retuned to address the proliferation of magic-removing talents and the loss of poison- and disease-cleansing, because there are a good number of lowbie instances with some very rough diseases and poisons.
- Mana Tide – Similar to Nature’s Swiftness, this is another talent in the Resto tree which I’m surprised survived the talent tree edits. As a mandatory Resto talent—since we have no other source of on-demand regen or mana-cost reduction CD—Mana Tide was almost the only viable reason why progression guilds took Shaman to Ulduar hard modes. (Yes, those were some dark days for us). To date, I have not met or spoken with a Resto Shaman who skips this talent on the basis that “mana isn’t an issue”. Like NS, I see no reason that Mana Tide remains a talent that Restos are obliged to spec into, when all other healing classes are awarded their regen sources via class trainers. Maintaining the epic feel of “Ooooooh Mana Tide” could easily be accomplished through yet another totem quest. (Wait, did I really just suggest that? Ugh >.<)
- Nature’s Blessing – I must admit, I was equal parts excited and disappointed to see this remake of Glyph of Lesser Healing Wave find its way into the Resto talent tree. My excitement stemmed from the idea that it seems Shamans are being boosted on their single-target healing output, which furthers our position as viable alternates to Paladin tank-healers. However, what I found disappointing about this talent was that it was so high up in the tree that it felt isolated from Earth Shield, which is now being made available to Shamans at level 10. As I mentioned previously, I think there’s a wonderful opportunity to be had by switching the placement of Nature’s Blessing and Ancestral Healing and thus making this talent available sooner to Restos without impacting overall choices within the tier.
Tier 5: 26 – 30 points (levels 58 – 67)
The level before the final tier, these talents should introduce core talents and emphasize the general healing approach of the class. By this time, a seasoned healer will have developed a good understanding of basic mechanics and should be moving on to fine tuning their various healing “rotations”.
- Tidal Waves – Arguably, one of the greatest buffs to shaman’s ability to tank heal was the inclusion of Tidal Waves into the talent tree. By providing us with a way to segregate our heals into a low end, middle, and high end spectrum by way of the Tidal Waves buff, Restos had a more diverse array of choices. In addition, the distinction of a crit buff to LHW meant that Shaman had a very mana-efficient go-to tank heal that they could depend on, unlike the mana sink that HW continues to be. It’s worth noting that the design of Tidal Waves is such that it buffs only one side of shaman healing, while neglecting to address raid healing (which at the time of development of WotLK talents, Shaman needed absolutely no boost to doing). Regardless, Tidal Waves provides a solid boost where one was decidedly needed, and its placement in the talent tree assures that up-and-coming shamans gain exposure to its effects long before they’re asked to master its uptime. (One minor note is that in the absence of Improved Healing Wave, Healing Wave and Greater Healing Wave will be 3sec base casts, 2.1sec with Tidal Waves up. As a healer starting out in dungeons, you’d better start casting that heal when the tank pulls, because by the time it lands, the tank will likely be at 20% HP.)
- Telluric Currents – Being so deep in the Resto tree (available at a minimum level of 59), I think it’s safe to assume that this talent is intended to be more geared towards high level and end-game players, than it is the Resto attempting to level through questing. On that basis, it strikes me as odd that the problem that this talent addresses is not a resto shaman’s ability to cause damage, which suffers incredibly from our lack of hit and lack of modifiers, but rather the mana impacts of a dpsing Resto. So, while this talent might provide some benefit to the Resto who outgears an instance and is looking to pass the time, the value of the 2 point investment to anyone else seems to be almost zero.
(What confuses me further is the incorporation of these healer-as-dps talents in only 2 of the 5 viable healing trees—weren’t all healers supposed to have the option of dpsing when bored?)L2 look at trees more closely, Vixsin.
Tier 6: 31 points (level 68+)
At this point in the leveling experience, healers are faced with a crossroads of sorts as they finally acquire their spec’s ultimate talent and are then faced with deciding if their investment of time was worth it. Now that trees are locked until the 31-point investment, players are set to be looking forward to this level of play for the 67 preceding levels; this talent should convince them that they made the right choice and that playing a Resto Shaman is the best thing since cake. And so they can finally get:
Brace yourself; I have a lot to say about this one …
By design, Resto Shaman are one of the only caster classes in game where throughput is limited by cast time and not by any other supplemental issues like GCD management, Spell CDs, AOE caps, etc. Healing Wave was our only spell which saw its cast time reduced through talents. Thus, as we saw at the end of ICC, haste stacking became the approach most shaman took to increase their HPS and prove themselves as viable healers in an instant-cast dominated raid healing environment or in a long-bomb tank-healing scenario. It was for this reason that 2pc T10 became an incredible boost for Resto Shaman, its haste contribution finally allowing us to drop CH down below 1.6sec and have HW approach a 1sec cast. In fact, despite previous tiers’ attempts to bolster the use of RT, it was really only when the additional haste component was added that you saw Shaman start talking about RT’s increased value in a healing rotation.
Thus, at its most powerful, RT is a lead-in, a spell used to keep up Tidal Waves, boost our sinlge-target healing numbers, and in some cases, provide that extra bit of oomph to Chain Heal. But its blessing is also a curse (as Holy Paladins will attest to with Holy Shock); a 1-sec lead in is oftentimes too great a cost for the fast response time necessary in progression encounters and PVP. Thus, at its best (in a spot- or tank-healing encounter), RT is your lead-off spell, and at its worst (in a raid-focused environment), RT is near useless. (Upon first acquiring my t10 4pc bonus, I made this spreadsheet showing the comparative value of spells in a variety of encounters. Bearing in mind that this was before the 10% buff, the max sampled EHPS of RT was ~480 in BQ, when compared with ~600 of Chained Heal and ~5000 of Chain Heal, in the same encounter.)
As much as I hate to provide class-to-class comparisons, when it comes to our “penultimate Resto” talent, I feel it’s slightly justified. Historically speaking, looking at the contributions of other healers’ top-tier talents–including: Divine Illumination, Tree of Life, Power Word Barrier, and Guardian Spirit, and formerly Wild Growth and Beacon of Light—you’re looking at very powerful HPS or CD-focused spells. And while I still think Divine Illumination falls short of the “defining” healing talent we see with other classes, Riptide falls even shorter as a situational, low-throughput, commensalistic talent.
This 31-point talent was an excellent place for Spirit Link—be it a constant buff like Beacon or a powerful CD like Divine Sacrifice—and when it was scrapped late into WotLK beta, I understood that another easy stand-in was needed. I don’t doubt that Riptide was given serious consideration and a lot of design attention, and I think it was worth the effort. But now, after an entire xpac of testing, with development time in hand, I think it’s time to finally acknowledge that Resto Shaman are in need of a helping hand, a way to handle those “oh shyte” moments that can make or break healers. Resto druids actually suffered from a similar problem through this xpac, not having any CDs to provide them with a way to burst during intense healing environments. And while they may not appreciate the loss of an iconic tree form, the revamped Tree of Life fills a solid hole in their ability to address stressful healing periods. With Spirit Link back again on the “highly unlikely” list, I fear my pessimism is starting to get the better of me, as I look at an expac where Shaman once again are the odd healer out. Because as of this point, when the stuff hits the fan, I have absolutely nothing to offer a tank or teammate aside from my condolences. And that is a very unfun situation to be in.
As a first pass, I think the Resto talent tree addresses some of the necessary talents that make it possible for Restos to serve as the swing hitter they’ve been for the latter portion of Wrath. But, aside from the continued lack of any Resto healing CD, what concerns me most of all is the absence of talents which support our raid healing role, save the inclusion of Improved Chain Heal. (I’ve not been able to test Healing Rain in a raid environment, so I’m undecided about its potential). Resto Shaman, at least from my biased perspective, came into their own this xpac, transitioning from the days of Chain Heal spam into a more nuanced class, capable of filling the holes in any healing team from the perspective of one single spec. But I wonder in this new role, if we’re suffering unduely for being a jack-of-all-trades. And while I always relish the challenge to earn and keep a raid spot, there is a certain amount of frustration (and a genuine lack of comfort) that comes from having to deal with the perception of a class as “unnecessary”. Because the unfortunate thing is, when you can cover every role, you generally excel at none.