Ok. So Paladins rock in Beta. There are a whole slew of abilities and talents that make life a whole lot easier and a lot more fun. One popular request on the comments has been to test drive the new Wrath Shockadin, with improvements like a 6 second Holy Shock and ranged judgements from Enlightened Judgements, it really does seem like the spec has finally come into its own.
Of course, what looks good on paper doesn't necessarily translate into actual gameplay. With the reshuffle of talents and the consolidation of spell and melee crit, what used to be a fringe off-spec with a loyal following might actually turn into the spec of choice... for healing Paladins. Before anything, though, let's make one thing clear -- this is Beta, so everything we'll be taking a look at today might (and is likely to) change by the time Wrath of the Lich King is live.
Paladins fighting at range
One of the two biggest changes that shake up the Shockadin spec is Enlightened Judgements, which allows ranged Judgements. This is huge. Gahzrilla-huge. King Mukla-huge. This ninth tier Holy talent finally gives Paladins a ranged attack, extending the reach of Judgements to 30 yards. Combined with the tenth tier Judgements of the Pure, it also allows healing Paladins to insert Judgements into their spell cycle for a permanent haste buff. This means healers can toss in token damage even while healing at the back, making for more involved gameplay.
The other big change that has given all die-hard Shockadins a shot in the vein is the reduced cooldown of Holy Shock, cut to a respectable 6 seconds down from a glacial 15. The shortened cooldown makes it a truly viable healing and offensive spell. Combined with the eighth tier Holy talent Infusion of Light, a critical Holy Shock can translate to a near-instant balance shift in offensive encounters. Imagine critting with a Holy Shock for 3.5k and instantly healing yourself for 6k. This is the kind of spell synergy that makes Shockadins need a change of underwear. On the other hand, the downranking nerf no longer makes inserting Rank 1 Holy Shocks in order to proc the instant Holy Light buff a viable option.
Whereas most Holy, or healing Paladins took points into Protection in the current game, the move of Improved Concentration Aura into the Holy tree makes it a less attractive support tree. Furthermore, because Conviction applies to all spells and attacks, it's virtually required for all Holy Paladins to spec for this third tier talent in order to keep Illumination going. This works well for Shockadins because all the talents leading to Conviction contribute towards Shock DPS -- Benediction, Improved Judgements, and the newly reworked and renamed Heart of the Crusader, which further adds to crit and Illumnination.
Great on paper...
Now, all this looks great on paper but in actuality faces a few hitches. First and foremost, Shockadins still suffer from a lack of a true snare. Ranged judgements amount to little more than another way to chase down runners or -- thankfully -- pull from afar. But enemies able to kite the Paladin will have a considerably easy time reducing a Shockadin's output. Ranged judgements and Holy Shock don't have the same range, either, with judgements extending to 30 yards while Holy Shocks are at 20. Of course, melee attacks are at 5 yards, limiting the Shockadin's effective attack range at 5 yards with ranged attacks as mere options. Conceptually, this should be fine as Paladins are truly a melee-based class. The ranged attacks simply expand the Shockadin's arsenal. In fact, with Hammer of Wrath usable on targets below 35%, this gives a Shockadin considerable flexibility on offense.
The problem with a Shockadin in Beta is that to fully appreciate the changes, one has to reach Level 71 and 75 for Divine Plea and Shield of Righteousness, respectively. Divine Plea allows a Shockadin to keep on going, as Illumination will only extend mana longevity. Paladins in dire straits can channel this spell within Divine Shield, too, making it a quick and sure way to regenerate mana even during combat. Because a Shockadin will be using a spell power one-hander and shield, Shield of Righteousness adds to the offensive spell cycle, increasing DPS significantly.
One drawback is that Shield of Righteousness doesn't proc seals. For some reason, it isn't considered a melee attack the way unarmed punches are. Currently, the 41-point talent Divine Storm procs seals on Beta even though it doesn't even require a target to cast. This might be changed at some point in the future, but I'd also like a change to Shield of Righteousness to allow it to proc seals. That simple change alone will give it a massive DPS and utility boost to Paladins of all specs, particularly the Shockadin.
How does this translate to Shockadin DPS? Even with a lower cooldown to Holy Shock and the addition of Shield of RIghteousness, Shockadin DPS will still not match Retribution's, which was buffed significantly in Beta to the point where players felt the pain. Particularly with a talent that reduces Avenging Wrath's cooldown, Retribution DPS jumps far ahead. This is just proper, though, because the truth is, there is no longer a pure Holy healing build. All Holy Paladins will have the power of a 6-second Holy Shock and the option -- actually almost the requirement -- to take critical points (pun intended) in the Retribution tree.
This means that all Paladin healers will be capable of respectable DPS. In Beta, Paladin Ornamented healing sets have been converted to Spell Power from Healing, making them nearly identical to the Spell Damage-oriented Lamellar sets. Gear and spec-wise, Shockadins and Holy healbots are virtually one and the same... which is a phenomenal change because it gives healers the satisfaction of being able to dish out a bit of damage, too -- sometimes, even a lot of damage -- without having to have a different set of gear.
There must be a few sacrifices made, however, as a "Shockadin" will necessarily forego Beacon of Light in order to get Sanctified Retribution for a 50/0/21 build. Sometimes, even less points in Holy in order to get Sheath of Light. Furthermore, Level 80 is required to take advantage of the best in both Holy and Retribution trees but the level cap in Beta is currently at Level 77. Until Paladins get another pass and all 80 level (and 71 talent points become available), it will be impossible to tell if this sacrifice will be worth it as the developers promised to tweak the already amazing Beacon of Light. And because we have yet to determine itemization and balance at Level 80, everything we're looking at is speculative. That said, if most of these changes make it intact onto the live realms, it seems that the future is looking shockingly bright for Paladins.