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Shifting Perspectives: So you're thinking of playing a Druid

Every Tuesday, Shifting Perspectives explores issues affecting druids and those who group with them. This week brings John Patricelli, sometimes known as the Big Bear Butt Blogger, to begin looking at leveling the class from the ground up.

So, you've been thinking of rolling a Druid. You've seen Druids in your guild tanking Heroics or Prince Malchezaar with their Big Bear Butt, you've seen them flying overhead in Flight form, before dropping from the sky in the middle of a pack of mobs and clawing faces and chewing limbs as a Ferocious Cat, or maybe you've seen the incredibly smooth and powerful healing of your favorite Golden Tree. Or maybe the last thing you saw in PvP was a Feathered Owlbear bringing down the Wrath of the Starfire on your head, or holding you immobile and helpless with their Whirlwind.

Or maybe you just want to look like another hunter pet.

Whatever the reason, something about the Druid class interests you, and maybe you'd like to know a bit more before making the plunge.

Well my friends, with the changes to experience brought in Patch 2.3, leveling a new alt or creating a main character has never been more attractive.

This article is to get you acquainted with the Druid class and give you an idea of what playing one is like, both early on and in later levels. In later articles, we'll go over the specifics about what you can expect as you level.

Before we get started, there are a few things you should know about the Druid class.

Druids are a multi-role class, what are known as Hybrid classes. The Druid has many of the same capabilities of other dedicated classes. Depending upon how Talent points are spent and what gear is equipped, a Druid can choose a play style that focuses on ranged casting damage similar to a Mage, melee DPS with stealth similar to a Rogue, melee Threat generation, high hit points and armor similar to a protection-specialized Warrior or Paladin, or healing similar to a Priest.

Where the 'Hybrid' part comes into play is that all of those capabilities are present within the Druid; it is in the choice of the player in distributing Talent points and choosing equipment that one role comes to be emphasized over the others. The Druid is truly a class that is what the player chooses to make of it.

Of course, while the Druid can approach the abilities of a Mage, Rogue, Warrior or Priest, each one of those dedicated classes posses their own special abilities that the Druid will lack.

Druids in Cat form can stealth and excel in melee DPS... but lack the crowd controlling abilities of the Rogues' Sap, the inherent ability to get in places or items that are locked through Lockpicking, or the ability to Vanish from sight and threat lists when in trouble.

Druids in Bear/Dire Bear form have increased armor, hit points and threat generation to help them achieve a role as a melee tank. However, they lack a viable defense against magical-based attacks, and also lack much of the ability of drawing and holding threat on multiple targets that protection-specialized Paladins and Warriors possess.

Druids in Moonkin form have a wealth of ranged damage spells and abilities available to them, including a nice mix of damage-over-time spells, direct damage spells, a root (Entangling Roots) and a pair of crowd controlling abilities (Whirlwind, Hibernate). However, Entangling Roots is only usable outdoors, and Whirlwind lasts for only 6 seconds on one target. While extremely handy in PvP, these do not approach the usefulness of the Mages' Sheep abilities for crowd control in groups and raids.

Druids in Tree of Life form are excellent healers, desired in raids due to their low threat generating heal-over-time (HoT) spells, their mana-returning Innervation, and the uniqueness of their combat-resurrection, which can bring a party or raid member back from death in the middle of a battle with mana and hit points renewed. However, Druids lack an effective out of combat resurrection, having a 20 minute cooldown on their only resurrection ability. This is not a critical problem in raids, where there will often be other healers that can resurrect fallen compatriots, but in small groups it can cause tension and extra time spent returning to the battle from the nearest graveyard if the party encounters problems.

Of course, the key to any Hybrid class is not in knowing what abilities of a dedicated class they lack, but in learning to use all of your abilities to their best advantage.

As a Druid, no matter what your choice of specification, you can learn to open combat with an opponent by casting a ranged damage spell such as Wrath or Starfire, followed by the damage-over-time spell called Moonfire. As the target approaches, you can cast a heal-over-time spell such as Lifebloom or Rejuvenation on yourself to have a continuous stream of self-healing during the course of the coming battle. You can continue to cast ranged spells on your target as it approaches, including Entangling Roots to hold it in place to give you more time to attack it at range. As it finally enters melee range, you can instantly shift into cat form to meet the enemy claw to claw, using melee DPS attacks and finishing blows to bring their health down quickly. If you get into trouble, or suddenly find yourself facing additional enemies, you can shift your form directly into bear for added armor and hit points, use a Frenzied Regeneration heal-over-time spell in bear form to regain some of your health back, and when you're ready Bash the opponent to temporarily stun them, giving you a few seconds to shift back to caster form, rapidly cast direct healing and heal-over-time spells on yourself, and then shift back into cat or bear to continue the fight.

Once you reach level 70, you will find that, regardless of your chosen specialization, skilled players that have mastered shifting and adapting play to suit the needs of the party are in fairly high demand. As of patch 2.3, Feral Druids are very popular as off tanks and even main tanks in Heroic instances and raids. Restoration Druids make excellent raid healers, and Balance Druids can often be seen both in raids and on the PvP Arena floor.

All this fun awaits the Druid, but that's not all.

The Druid has a small handful of special abilities unique to the class, mostly centered around the forms you can shift into. Besides the Cat, Bear, Moonkin and Tree forms we've already mentioned, there are what are called 'travel' forms.

At level 16 there is a form you can learn through a Druid-only quest chain called the Aquatic form, which increases your swim speed by 50% and allows you to breathe underwater. Shifting into Aquatic form causes you to look much like a manatee... but with great big fangs.

At level 30, you can learn the Travel form directly from the trainer. The Travel form causes you to shift into the shape of a cheetah, with +40% land speed. Coming ten levels before Apprentice Riding (75) and your first mount are available, this is a very welcome form.

At level 68 you can learn Flight form from the trainer, increasing your movement speed by +60%, and allowing you to fly. Just like all forms of flight, it is only usable in Outlands, but Druids are the only class that can learn to fly prior to level 70. Among other things, it can be a great convenience, especially when questing in Netherstorm. Better yet, Flight form is instant cast. Best of all, especially if this is your alt, the cost of learning your Flight form from the trainer is only 7 gold 29 silver, and you gain the Expert Riding (225) Skill along with it for free, saving you 800 gold when it comes to training your flying skills.

Finally, at level 70, if you purchase Artisan Riding (300), you will have the option of following a fairly lengthy quest chain that leads you to fight a special boss in Heroic Sethekk Halls, where you can learn Swift Flight form. Swift Flight form, like Flight form, is instant cast, and increases your airborne speed to the same rate as Epic Flying mounts; 280% of traveling speed. You must have Artisan Riding skill (300) to complete this chain, so you will have to pay for the training (5000 gold at the time of this writing) to be able to complete the chain. But Swift Flight form, in some ways, can be considered the culmination of your journey towards level 70. Requiring skill in your class and reasonably decent gear to complete a Heroic Sethekk Halls run, and yes, the money to have acquired Artisan Riding, Swift Flight form is very nice icing to top off a rich and multi-layered cake of a class.

Does this sound like fun? Have I enticed you yet? The ability to shape change into various forms, to assume different roles based on how you want to play the game at the time, special travel forms and all sorts of other goodies sound wonderful... and to many players, perhaps a bit complicated, especially for a first class.

Take heart! When you first create your Druid, you will not have so many options to choose from. This can be both good and bad. When you begin at level 1, you will have no forms at all to choose from, starting as a simple caster of ranged magics. Your earliest leveling, all the way to level 9, will be done as a caster, using Wrath, Moonfire, Entangling Roots, and your trusty staff to defeat your opponents. It is only at level 10 that you will have access to your first form, the Bear form.

Even then, you will not have that first form handed to you. You will need to complete a nice chain of quests unique to the Druid that will lead you to the Moonglade, an area of peace and contemplation for Druids of both Alliance and Horde. It is here that you will eventually learn your Bear form. You will also learn your only Teleport spell, Teleport: Moonglade, that will allow you to return to the moonglade whenever you desire, much as a Mage can Teleport him (or her) self across the land at will.

You will continue to have the Bear as your other combat form for another 9 levels, giving you plenty of time to get used to casting damage spells, healing, and shifting into bear form for in-your-face combat. It can seem quite difficult in these early levels to defeat your enemies swiftly, because the bear form, while very durable, is fairly weak in melee damage output.

It is at level 20 that the true fun for most Druid players begins. At level 20, you will learn directly from the trainer the Cat form, your melee DPS form that allows you stealthing abilities similar to the Rogue class, and greatly increases your damage output in melee.

This staged level of progression, from caster, to bear, and finally to cat, allows you plenty of time to get used to the basics of each form so that you never feel overwhelmed. It can also have the drawback, especially for the experienced player, of feeling too slow while you wait for the chance to begin clawing faces of your very own.

As you begin playing the class, I suggest you keep in mind the future... and the wonders that yet await you. The Druid is a marvelous class, full of choices and opportunities. How much fun you will have, and how effective you may eventually become, is dependent not only on how well you play each aspect of the class, but also in how well you weave them all together into a cohesive whole.

Whether you prefer to be a sleek Cat, a feathered Moonkin, a golden Tree or a big old Bear, I hope you take the time to try on a Druid. It is a dynamic class that has an amazing amount to offer.

Take your first steps as a Druid ->

Filed under: (Druid) Shifting Perspectives, Night Elves, Tauren, Druid, Analysis / Opinion, Features, Leveling, Classes, Alts

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