Every week, Shifting Perspectives explores issues affecting druids and those who group with them. This week, we are dusting off those moldy tomes we have stuffed away in our forgotten bookcases. Mold can be deadly, you know! Plus, you know, we might actually read those someday.
To start randomly off topic, is anyone else a fan of the show Greek? I was for the first few seasons, but, like most things, I eventually lost interest in the story arcs and characters. As much as I do love some shows, I am exactly like a cat with string and shiny objects. Anyway, if you did ever watch the show Greek, then I'm sure you remember the character Cappie. My college life was quite similar to his. Not at all really. I wasn't in a fraternity, I didn't binge drink every single night and I didn't have horribly complex, awkward and pissy relationship strings. We did have one thing in common, sorta. Cappie was notorious for his line of "I was an X major once" after any insightful comment he actually made. Though I didn't change majors at the drop of a hat, only switched once actually, I did coin a similar phrase during my time. "I dated an X major once" was something I was often heard saying when I made any reference to something outside of my own field; and let's face it, the depths of literary content don't often come up in normal conversation.
A brief repose into my past may seeming meaningless, but I swear I have a point to this story. You see, I dated a history major once, so I picked up a few things about the subject. Perhaps that's a lie, given that I don't actually recall any deep form of discourse occurring between us. What I do know is the history of balance druids, though. That's a subject I'm well versed in. As history majors are often noted for saying, at least I've been told they are noted for saying it since I don't recall my history major ever making the comment, "We must understand our past in order to create a better future." Normally I'd call rubbish, but there is a note of wisdom there. It is important to know something past. Even though knowing and the application of knowledge are two entirely different points, I did date a philosophy major after all so I should know, the one thing that history can give us is perspective.
With little fanfare, I would like to present to you a CliffsNotes version of the history of balance druids.
When the World of Warcraft was first released back in 2004, the game design was heavily centered around an Everquest layout. Everquest had been immensely popular during its days, and WoW sought to expand upon that success. To that end, the game focused heavily on the grinding aspect of MMOs. Leveling was a grind to the point that just reaching level 60 was considered a noteworthy accomplishment. End-game raiding itself was also overtly grindy. Often times, it required killing the first few bosses of a raid instance for several weeks, if not months, before players were geared enough to be capable of downing the rest of a single instance.
Along with this sense that gamers wanted to grind came the notion that hybrid classes should be intentionally weaker than pure classes. Whether or not you buy into the conspiracies surrounding Jeffery Kaplan and Tom Chilton during this time is your own matter. I really don't care to discuss it. There are certain undeniable facts that cannot be ignored, however. First of which was that any class capable of healing should heal in end-game content. Period. The end. No debate, no discussion. This was the design intent as stated then and as was stated again most recently by Ghostcrawler himself. Druids, priests, paladins and shamans were healing classes. Warriors were a tanking class, although they were also considered to be DPS classes which is something of an issue for some players. Warlocks, mages, rogues and hunters were there to DPS. That was the way of it.
What then, of the balance tree? During this time in the history of WoW, the balance tree was considered to be nothing more than a leveling tree for druids. It was designed to increase damage, but only to the extent of easing the solo leveling experience of the player. Balance druids were not created to do damage, they were made to heal. Even the talents themselves were not exactly built to sustain the whole caster feel of the tree. It was more akin to shaman by oddly mixing melee and casting talents in a hodgepodge of mismatched talents that can only be related, I'm sorry to say, to developer vomit.
Omen of Clarity was in the balance tree during this period, but it only procced from melee attacks. We also had Naturalist -- rather, we had a talent called Weapon Balance (or was it renamed to Natural Weapons?) that essentially increased all melee damage by 10% and was eventually folded into Naturalist. To support our healing powers, Nature's Grace originally only worked for Regrowth and Healing Touch, though it was still procced from our damaging spells. That portion, at least, was quickly rectified.
Playing as balance was excessively confusing. Were we casters or melee? In the end, I'm not entirely sure that even the development team knew the answer to that question, and frankly I doubt they really cared. I do not say that with any form of contempt, I do not fault Blizzard, nor accuse them of some hateful crime against balance druids. I am merely stating what I observe. It is clear that balance druids were not supported in any DPS capacity at this point in the game, so clear in fact that GC has flat out said it in plain text, so I seriously doubt any real consideration was given to what those talents actually did.
Raiding for a balance druid during this time was almost completely out of the question. I was there, I was raiding, and, yes, I was a balance druid. That being said, during that time I could probably count all of the other raiding balance druids that I knew playing in any guild of 'worth' on a single hand. (Another sour tasting word, but, apologies to the fact. I'm sure there were many more balance druids raiding, but raiding and actually killing things are different matters. Not many people filled into the latter) The job of a vast majority of druids was to be regulated into speccing restoration so that they could use Innervate on the priests. What else the druid did never really mattered. So long as the druid knew where their Innervate button was and how to properly use it on the right priest, then that was all most guild cared about. It was another sad fact that, during this time, Blizzard considered some hybrids even more hybrid than others even when it came to healing. Priests healed, the rest of us? Well, the rest of us were just there to support that.
More balance druids finally got a nod towards DPS when patch 1.8 hit, entailing the druid class review. Ahh, the days of Caydiem, how I miss them from time to time. I digress, it was with 1.8 that druids were introduced to the newly invented concept of Moonkin Form. The party buff was only 3% crit at the time, but it was enough back in those days. I really don't want to call it a surge, but there were certainly more druids that were finally able to raid as balance once we gained Moonkin Form. Sadly, our damage was still laughable. Oh sure, we could outperform a lazy pure class if we played our best, farmed mats like mad, and basically played flawlessly, but we were certainly not a powerhouse. Yet now, we had a buff, we had a reason to be brought into the group. It was annoying, but it was a niche some of us were willing to subscribe ourselves to if only to not be a priest-bot for another raid.
Oh, how things would change.