Every week (sort of), Shifting Perspectives explores issues affecting Druids and those who group with them. This week, in the anticipation of a patch likely to bring many new players into the fold, we descend into the depths of an ancient library in pursuit of Druidic history, lean back in our chair considering the modern form of the class, cast a gimlet eye toward the future, and then wonder how many more clichés we can shove into a sentence before readers start writing angry letters to our editor.
Dear new Druids,
Welcome to the class -- and for some of you, welcome back. I've observed a flood of players rolling premade Druids on the PTR to try out with the new bear and cat forms, and with the promise of new moonkin and tree forms arriving at some point in the future, I think it's reasonable to expect lots of you trying (or rediscovering) the class on the live realms. You are most welcome, and we are glad to have you. This is the best class in the game.
Now, I'll grant I'm prejudiced, because I have loved this class since the first day I started playing. I love it so much that it's difficult for me to remember that there are 5...or 8...or...however many other classes there are. I don't know. I haven't checked lately. I'm told Blizzard added another one, but I can't be expected to keep up with every little thing.
It is possible that we have changed more than any other class between the beginning of the game and July 2009 as I write this. I want you to know what the Druid is all about, why it might be a good choice for you, and why (as much as I find this difficult to write) you may wish to steer clear before we start a series on leveling a Druid.
THE CLASSIC DRUID
The Druid began as an unpopular class saddled with weaknesses that most players found annoying. Bears were not popularly seen as viable endgame tanks, or even utilized frequently as 5-man tanks. Cats were not designed to compete with Rogues or other melee DPS. Balance was not designed to compete with other casters (when it was spared a moment's thought at all). Blizzard did not find it necessary, or perhaps even desirable, to itemize either of these trees in the interests of ensuring the class's function as an endgame secondary healer. Consequently, Restoration was the only viable raiding spec, mostly due to the presence of Innervate (which was then the spec's 31-point talent). To this day many older Druids can relate stories about having to Innervate a Priest in order to prove to raid leadership that they were, in fact, specced "correctly." Said Priest was always located 15 miles uphill in a blinding snowstorm on the coldest day of the year. Those were dark times, my friends. A moment's silence, if you will.
Experienced Druid players may also reference something once known as the Druid Truce, in which Druid players would generally not initiate hostilities against each other in world PvP and battlegrounds, in a sympathetic nod to the small Druidic population that existed on most servers. This was particularly helpful for Tauren, who comprised an even smaller percentage of Hordeside players (something many people attributed to less elegant animal forms), but it was nonetheless a fairly unique social development ingame. I have yet to see an equivalent phenomenon in other classes.
Over the course of the classic game, Blizzard changed the Druid (and, I would estimate, the Warlock) more than any other class in an effort to make them more attractive and compelling. However, for most of WoW classic, players continued to see them as a second-banana healer with dismal offensive capability, little of their much-hyped versatility, and lackluster performance in PvP. Despite Blizzard's many buffs to the class, in the transition to Burning Crusade we still clocked in around the least-played or second least-played class (depending on the data you want to use). As of today, we are either the fourth or third most-played class at 80. How this happened -- well, that's an article for a different day.
While it had something to do with the class, it's my belief that the Druid is the proverbial canary in the coal mine as a harbinger of class balance concerns, and I will explain why I believe this shortly.
So what does this have to do with me, the new Druid?
Much of the Druid leveling experience is still defined by the class' 1-60 design; most of the important class changes occurred in the transition to BC and beyond, and overwhelmingly affected Druids who were already at the level cap. If you choose to begin a baby Druid, I want you to understand that the class is still somewhat plagued by its early (and intentional) design as a weaker version of multiple pure classes. You will always be several steps behind your counterparts in the Rogue, Warrior, and Mage classes, simply because you get the corresponding forms themselves during the levels in which your colleagues are piling up damage or utility skills. From a certain point of view, you will always be behind your counterparts in these classes; your mimicry of their abilities only goes so far.
While this situation is vastly better than it was during the classic game (for instance, it is now possible to level Balance without wanting to kill yourself), I would argue that the Druid as a whole does not truly begin to come into its own until around level 40-50. This is a class that (richly) rewards patience and perseverance, at both the level cap and below, but it is not one that takes a running start out of the gate.
Who will get the most out of playing a Druid?
The Druid is a good class for people who like the idea of mastering each mode of play. Everything in the game is available to a player willing to put the time and effort into learning how to tank, melee DPS, caster DPS, and/or heal. If you get a Druid to the level cap and work hard to gear each spec, you're set for life (or at least until the next expansion). Theoretically, it would never be necessary to level another toon, as you could simply dual-spec or respec into any role you needed or wanted to play. This leaves Druid players resilient to the ebbs and flows of class and role popularity; if they like their character and want to keep playing it, all that's necessary is to jump to a different spec.
As the Druid levels and gets stronger, their soloing capacity is fantastic. They move through the world with grace and speed, with animal forms for the sea, the air, and the earth. Stealth? We have it. A burst of speed to escape danger? Two forms of it. Manaless DPS? Got it. Raid utters a groan at the thought of more melee DPS? Poof, you're a boomkin. Holy priest's car broke down? Gimme a sec while I port to Moonglade. Feel like soloing all of the normal Wrath dungeons, BC heroics and a couple of old-world raids? You do that!
A well-geared, well-played Druid is a PvE powerhouse who will never be heard to utter the blasphemous statement, "Let me log my alt."
Do you have any random, incoherent thoughts to add to this?
Don't I always?
- It's also an extraordinarily good roleplaying class.
- Most of the Druid tier sets look pretty badass.
- Epic flight form is the best thing in the game, particularly if you're an Herbalist.
- The Moonkin dance is the second best thing in the game.
- Balance gets great spell graphics (Starfall, Eclipse, and the still relatively-new Moonfire being the standouts).
- Saving the raid with a clutch Tranquility or battle rez is awesome.
- A Feral Druid is perhaps the only class in the game who could realistically expect to use three entirely different sets of gear while dual-specced (tanking, cat DPS, and the secondary spec).
- Bear and cat art will be vastly improved as of patch 3.2, with improvements to moonkin and tree art on their way (we hope).
- Tree Druids are magnificent (bordering on overpowered) healers for any high-movement raid fight, which these days is close to being all of them.
- On that note, during 5-mans this translates to putting up HoT's then devoting your attention to spinning, /dancing, tabbing out to read WoW.com, or writing raging diatribes on the forums about how badly we need buffs.
- A very ambitious Druid (especially one with a ton of gear packed) could get away with playing all four major roles in a 5-man. If your healer needs help, the group needs an offtank, or ranged or melee are bad on a particular encounter -- no sweat.