ANAHEIM, California--Class diversity plays a major role in World of Warcraft. Whether you rolled a druid and ended up becoming your guild's primary HoT (Heal over Time) healer, clawing your way up the threat meter in cat, or keeping the squishies down back alive in bear form, yesterday's class panel showed just how much thought and testing goes into all aspects of WOW's class balancing act. Tom Chilton and Greg Street chaired the panel and did a class-by-class walkthrough of all currently planned changes in the upcoming Wrath of the Lich King expansion, which we've summarized below.
The session opened with a look at the death knight, the first new class to be added since the game went live in late 2004. Not surprisingly the class went through quite a few iterations of progression in the lead-up to its introduction to the game. Both Chilton and Street commented on the evolution of the rune system and explained the development team's desire to use runes as a resource rather than inject another class into the gameworld with a formulaic series of button presses. Having six runes split across three trees--blood, frost, and unholy--means that you need to manage three separate cooldown (CD) timers rather than a single global cooldown timer (GCD). The two hosts also stressed the importance of context-specific diseases for the DK class, with some 12 afflictions originally on the cards but being reduced to three or four essential abilities. These debuffs serve to deal additional damage when the target is struck with melee weapons, heal the player, or spread disease between multiple enemies. Though the class still forces you to pick your path and spend talent points according to whether you'd prefer additional melee damage and healing, burst damage and target control, or additional proficiency in diseases and minions, each tree will still let you fill the role of a tank, or if you wish, a melee-damage class such as a fury warrior or rogue.
Hunters are due to receive a complete pet overhaul in WOTLK to address confusion about which pets are best, where to find them, and to stop you from needing to tame pets for skills and temporarily house them in your stables. Rather than need to look up a guide on which pet has claw rank nine, you'll now be able to train the skill as your pet levels. Hunters will also receive additional pet slots at their stables to keep their beasts when not in use. Shot rotations are a huge part of maximizing hunter damage, but until now it has been quite complex to avoid clipping your shots--timing shots so they don't overlap. Blizzard doesn't expect hunters to have to resort to user-interface mods to do this, and so the company's working to clean up the shot system and make it a more natural system for players. Hunters will also receive a new ability at level 80 called freezing shot, which is a projectile-based version of the current freezing trap. It's being introduced to speed up trapping, particularly in instances (which we didn't think was that hard before), given that there's no need to pull the intended mob to your placed trap to freeze them in place.
Priests seem to play a huge role in the class overhauls. The big focus is on making all healing classes a little stronger on the DPS side and DPS classes a little better on the healing side. That's not to say that rogues or mages are going to replace priests in raids, but the move to a unified gear system under "spell power" rather than bonus damage or healing should level the playing field and make talent specialisation more important. Blizzard also wants priests to step out of the support role in shadow form and become viable damage-dealers alongside mages and locks. Considering that, particularly at the higher levels of gear, priests aren't constantly spamming their highest rank of heal, there are times when no one needs much more than a quick top-up. For times like this, Blizzard is giving priests a new ability called mind seer to help deal damage. Though it wasn't discussed, this could also be a useful PVP ability.
Blizzard is concerned that mages are turning into food table and portal machines, despite the class's strong legacy as a high direct-damage dealing class. For this reason, the developers are looking into introducing either three or four viable DPS specs alongside the new abilities at level 80. To help mix up the static fire and frost tree combos, the team is adding frostfire bolt, a combination attack that draws bonuses from multiple talents and gives those playing the class a new damage skill in their repertoire. Another new inclusion is mirror image, a (currently in beta) three-minute cooldown spell that will let your mage create three physically identical copies of that character and deal damage for 30 seconds before they die. Apparently the ability confuses the heck out of the healers, so this one should be fun in raids.
Druids as a hybrid class have always been both spec- and gear-dependent, but the upcoming planned changes only amplify this concept further. Each tree will receive specific revamping with what looks to be some tempting talents to avoid point splits. That's not to say that as a tank you won't be able to put points into improving your resto tree, but expect to do it at the expense of specific bear skills. Balance will finally receive real crowd control because the dev team plan to allow for tangling roots to be used indoors. Resto druids receive both a new flash heal in nourish, and a group heal in wild growth. Feral is split down the middle and will require you to spend either more on cat or bear depending on which role you envisage yourself filling more regularly. Both panelists confirmed that bear tanks will be able to handle all WOTLK raid content as main tanks, but they'll have to do so at the loss of some of the more fun DPS abilities that cats will have at their disposal.
Shaman seem to have too many totems, and Blizz is working hard to consolidate them. What form that will take remains to be seen. The team is also interested in mixing up the casting rotations for those playing elemental shammies with the introduction of a new lava burst spell as an alternative to lightning bolt. Resto will see a new instant direct heal with a small HoT component that increases the effect of the next chain heal and consumes the HoT. The big new addition for Shaman is hex, a legitimate form of crowd control that will transform the target into a random creature for a short period of time.
Rogues have always been a single-target class (with the obvious exception of blade flurry), and as a result, they've had a hard time dealing with groups of targets. Fan of knives is a new area effect (AE) skill that will throw out daggers and damage multiple targets simultaneously. Sap is also getting a buff and will soon be able to be used against a wider variety of targets than just humanoids, and will better aid rogue crowd control in five-man dungeons. Blizzard is also keen to get rogues back into daggers and poisons, and may possibly let the latter be used for boss encounters.
Some would say warriors have fallen out of favour as the tanks of choice over time, given the flexibility of druids and protection paladins in a raiding situation. The devs are committed to putting some of the fun back in tanking and are juggling talents for core prot abilities to free up points for some more of the fun toys. Arms warriors should start seeing more battle-stance-focused abilities, and both rend and overpower have been upped considerably. New talents bladestorm and sudden death (executed when the target is over 10% HP) should both add some fun and burn a little rage. Fury warriors will receive titan's grip, a beefy new skill that allows for dual-wielding two-handed weapons, but comes with associated penalties including reducing your chance to hit to keep DPS in line with other classes.
Warlocks are due to get some love in the destruction talent tree by having their shadow bolt spam reduced and a more interesting rotation put in its place. The dev team is also working hard to reintroduce affliction as a viable talent spec for high-end raiding. Pet diversity is another issue on the table, and though no specific examples were given on how Blizzard plans to help with the range of available demons, work is apparently being done to avoid relying on just the imp or succubus for PVE and the felpup in PVP. New skill demonic circle will be used as a quick location-change mechanic not unlike a mini-, instant hearthstone. Metamorphosis will let you shift into demon form and control not only your normal spells, but also the specific ones that come with the talent: shooting shadow bolts in multiple directions and pulling aggro long enough to regain control when a tank goes down and it all goes to pot.
Paladins were last, but certainly won't be receiving less attention than their fellow classes. Seals and judgements will be receiving overhauls, and Blizzard would like to see pallies stop rolling on DPS caster swords for tanking and will be implementing tanking weapons more tailored to tanking needs. On the holy front, work is being done around the sedentary nature of pally healing. Holy shock, beacon of light, and retribution of light are being tweaked to help with mobility and for use in PVP. The retribution tree is working as intended, and though there will be ongoing monitoring and perhaps a nerf or two to manage DPS, don't expect too much reduction if it does happen because the team is happy with how the class is tracking on the damage meters.
The last part of the panel session dealt with changing raid dynamics. The key message here focused on downplaying the need for consumable and buff stacking to succeed in PVE, instead relying more on player skill and raid utility for all classes. Dual talent spec was also touched on briefly, and though the mechanics are yet to be finalised at this early stage, they may work by flipping a switch and changing roles. The move would allow classes to cycle jobs as required and switch from a protection tank to a damage-dealing class from boss to boss if an encounter had no threat table. Blizzard devs are also looking at dynamic glyphs and action bars that would reflect the abilities related to your spec to stop players from having to rearrange icons between fights.