A familiar necrotic stench fills the air as sights and sounds fade into a fog of Fear. You tremble at the searing touch of flame that has enveloped those around you. Your hope is not that the warlock considers you a friend among foes, but that he has a use for you -- for that is the only way to survive this hell and receive his hallowed Blood Pact.
Finally, it has happened. The alpha has met its omega, the nondisclosure agreement is no more, and a freshly patched beta has released a swarm of much-anticipated Cataclysm information onto an unsurprisingly anxious and open-mouthed crowd. Standing before us are the revamped talent trees, relieved of the rot that has infested them for so long and ready for us to dissect and devour. I hope you're hungry.
Many talent changes have already been covered here at WoW.com, but what is missing is most important, not only because it pertains to what may become the most-shaken and altered class of patch 4.0, but also because their presence alone keeps the population of mages at bay. And too many mages means too much Lady Gaga, apple martinis and glittery body sprays. Ugh.
So, let's not waste a moment on pleasantries or poems, warlocks, for the time of our new arrival is nigh.
The new talent system outlined by Zarhym about a week ago (ingeniously pre-empting the giant, messy nerdgasm that would have otherwise erupted on patch day -- you're welcome for that visual) introduced 31-point trees and the concept of specialization.
When you reach level 10 or reset your talent point selections through a class trainer, you will be asked to choose a specialty, that is, a talent tree that will define your playstyle. You make your selection simply by selecting your primary tree from a menu similar to the image below and then spending your first talent point. You will then be required to spend another 30 points within it (31 points total at level 70) before the other two talent trees become available to you. That sounds extremely limiting and linear, I know, but I don't think it will be nearly as bad as it seems, because this change also comes with some very interesting perks.
Upon choosing your specialty, you will receive a powerful, role-defining primary ability and passive bonus(es) associated with your tree of choice, on the spot, and ready to use immediately. These are not your average spells, either; the primary abilities are the 41-point talents that fueled our deviousness in The Burning Crusade expansion. If your main is not a warlock and you are slow to recall details from the near-distant past, here's a quick summary of what the dark masters of DoTs, demons and direct damage can expect from in the patch, for now:
- Primary ability: Unstable Affliction
- Passive bonuses: Affliction Warlock Reduces global cooldown of banes and curses to 1 second, increases chance to hit by 3%, and reduces pushback by 70%.
- Primary ability: Summon Felguard
- Passive bonuses: Demonology Warlock Increases chance to hit by 3%, and reduces spell casting pushback by 70%.
- Primary ability: Conflagrate
- Passive bonuses: Destruction Warlock Increases chance to hit by 3%, and reduces spell casting pushback by 70%.
Shadow-based affliction warlocks get an extra damage-over-time spell added to their arsenal at low levels, and it just happens to be one of the best offensive damage and defensive silencing abilities in the game. I had a sneaking suspicion that the tree's bonus would be another DoT, thinking that maybe, just maybe we'd see Siphon Life return as a damage-producing, castable spell. I even hoped that Immolate would be peeking its fiery head back into the rotation -- I miss that spell and the masochistic rush that it brought to affliction. That said, I am still pleased, because there is no better spell to represent the affliction specialty than Unstable Affliction. And with the added versatility that Soulburn will bring to the spell, it will be even better -- though, with all of the changes still incoming, perhaps we will see it with an instant cast time? Nightmare big, I say.
A demonology warlock is nothing without his demon, and that is especially true when his minion is far larger than he is and can take a beating, too. Blizzard agrees, so unless things change dramatically, we will be seeing many more leveling warlocks cursing and flipping the bird at their enemies while standing within the shadow of our former 41-point demonology talent. The felguard is the strongest and arguably best minion to serve his master in both PvE and PvP environments, offering hard-hitting single and AoE attacks, crowd control and survivability, so it comes as no surprise that he is the talent to come packaged with the demonology tree. However, I can't help but be a little let down -- for a nonsensical and even maniacal reason, of course.
In the recesses of my mind, I was hoping for a new minion, or even something as simple as making the Doomguard (who is apparently a ranged-based
Masters of all things combustible and the source of cackling laughter near Berserking spawn points, fire-based destruction warlocks receive a former 31-point talent and some much needed low-level burst damage. While the other trees are receiving former 41-point talents, don't feel too screwed on this one. Conflagrate is far better suited to represent the destruction tree than Shadowfury. That is especially the case when considering how well Conflagrate is going to scale with talents. Yes, those talents are changing, but I think we can be pretty confident that, at the very minimum, we'll see a very familiar spell once we come into our own in Cataclysm. And considering that Conflagrate is the highest damage per execute time (amount of damage done in relation to the time it takes to perform the ability) fire spell we've got, that is a very good thing. There will be explosions. Bring a towel.
The passive bonuses of each tree are currently very similar and, for the sake of developing a clear identity between each specialization, will likely see some form of adjustment in an upcoming patch. At least, that is my guess. Currently, all increase a warlock's chance to hit with spells by 3% and reduce spell pushback by 70%. Affliction is the odd one out, also providing a decrease to the global cooldown of banes and curses.
Personally, I'd really like to see the passives changed up a bit. The pushback reduction bonus is too specific for PvP encounters. Maybe it'd be best suited as a glyph? Also, while the increased chance to hit with spells is always nice and offers some much-needed flexibility when itemizing gear, I would rather French kiss a dirty mage frostitute than give up a potentially amazing passive bonus for something I can gem slots and apply enchants to achieve if I must. If we're going to need that much hit as we progress through Cataclysm to warrant a constant 3% buff, fine. Otherwise, here's hoping for something more.
The trees are tiny. They especially seem so after staring at the behemoths we've been toying with for the last year plus. Soon, we'll carry no more than 20 talents capable of holding roughly 40 points in each tree. To give you a sense of how much has been gutted in preparation for the upcoming fiery barbecue from below, consider that not even a few months ago, we believed that Cataclysm would offer us 76 to 81 talent points. Like a wiener on the grill, my, how things have shriveled.
The developers have said that our talent trees need a lot more work. (Some has apparently already been done and will be released in an upcoming patch, again, according to the Twitter developer chat.) So until the new beta patch lands, delivering updated and accurate warlock goodness to the masses, we're simply speculating on potential highlights of what is to come. I'm okay with that if you are. Hell, I'm OK with that, period.
- Suppression, Fel Concentration, Amplify Curse converted into passive tree bonuses.
- Improved Life Tap is now in first tier and easily accessible as a secondary tree talent. If the Glyph of Life Tap still exists and is competitive, this may not be a bad way to go, since some idiot told on us and we are no longer allowed to downrank taps anymore.
- Very surprised to see that Dark Pact made the cut, and especially without the banished Improved Felhunter talent, which makes Dark Pact only slightly less pointless. And if you are still one of those warlocks who believes that we should keep our Imp phased throughout an encounter to serve as a Dark Pact "mana battery," you need therapy, son.
- No new talents, no supremely interesting changes and quite boring as a result. But change is coming, and soon!
- Soul Link and Master Summoner are in easy range for those 10 extra talent points we'll all have once we've spent 31 points in our primary tree. The developers have said that they want to move away from separating PvE and PvP specs -- I don't know how that will impact the position of these two PVP-centric talents. Master Summoner seems especially useless to the PvE crowd, considering Soulburn and all.
- Demonic Aegis has moved up a tier and seems to have subsequently lost 10% of its buff along the way. Depending upon how it and Fel Armor is tweaked to adjust for the lack of spirit on warlock gear, this may or may not matter. Carry on.
- Molten Core and Decimation are still enjoying a love affair deep within the demonology tree, but it's about to get complicated. Enter Improved Soul Fire, the sexy Brazilian from the destruction tree. There is some potential with this threesome, which can be brought together with this build. Shooting damage and speed-buffed Soul Fires during 55% of an encounter sounds fun. It will be interesting to see what happens next.
- New talent: Impending Doom. This will be a definite must for demonology warlocks. It reduces the cooldown of Bane of Doom and has the potential to decrease the cooldown of Metamorphosis too? Yes, please.
- New talent: Ancient Grimoire. This talent is a damage increase so long as you know what you are doing with your guardian. It doesn't feel like it should be that deep within the tree, though, because it's competing with too many hellishly cool talents. It is useful, though, so hopefully the talent tree tweaks will make it easier to pick up.
- New talents: Hand of Gul'dan, Improved Hellfire and Cremation. I'm listing these three talents together because it would be such an injustice to discuss them apart. Read the tooltips of each talent carefully. The Hand of Gul'dan is a falling meteor that does AoE direct damage and immediately afterward produces an AoE DoT. Improved Hellfire allows you to cast our Hellfire while moving. Passed out yet? Still with me? Good. Cremation gives the DoT portion of the Hand of Gul'dan spell the ability to refresh Immolate on all targets standing on the impact point of the meteor. Now, breath a little. Read it all again. Now, ask yourself this: will it work with Metamorphasis and Immolation Aura? Go clean up.
- Emberstorm no longer buffs fire spell damage, but has been redesigned to reduce the cast time of Soul Fire, along with Incinerate. Together with Bane, the new Emberstorm reduces the cast time of Soul Fire to 2 seconds, and it will drop even further when under the effect of the new Improved Soul Fire talent that I linked to earlier (it gets around, apparently) and Backdraft. It looks like Soul Fire may end up a regular in the Destruction rotation and provide some battleground hilarity as well. Hopefully this synergy doesn't change too much. I'm liking it.
- New talent: Improved Soul Fire. If you skipped the Demonology section above, go back and read it. If you skilled the Emberstorm portion directly above, read that as well. This has the potential to be a very important talent, and I'll be very happy to be throwing Soul Fires again. Hopefully this talent won't move too far along after the developers make another pass.
- New talent: Afterburn. I'm having a difficult time gauging this one, because in all honesty, I have no idea what the hell the tooltip is trying to tell me. So, Soul Fire and the Imp's Firebolt place a DoT on the target, equal to 30% of the damage done lasting 10 seconds. If the imp is continuously firing at the enemy, is the DoT getting refreshed. And if it is getting refreshed, is it to 30% of the Firebolt's whimpy damage? This is one of those talents that is in obvious need of clarification. I'm sure we'll hear some clarification about it over the next many days or so.
- New talent: Bane of Havoc. This talent is either incredibly overpowered or just overpowered. No one is quite sure yet, because the ability, like so many others, has not been available for testing yet. But if the tooltip is any indication, this may be the best new warlock talent of the expansion. And that is saying a lot, considering what's new in demonology. The way it works is simple. Bane of Havok is placed on a secondary target, and when a warlock damages other targets, the baned target also takes damage, equal to 15% of the overall damage done. In a current context, think placing Bane of Havok one one of the twin val'kyr in Trial of the Crusader. Or better still, imagine placing the bane on the Lich King and then attacking his Vile Spirits with Seed of Corruption. And I wonder if it is possible to place on multiple targets, like Bane of Agony? There is lots of potential win here -- hopefully we will get to see it in action soon.
World of Warcraft: Cataclysm will destroy Azeroth as we know it. Nothing will be the same. In WoW.com's Guide to Cataclysm, you can find out everything you need to know about WoW's third expansion. From goblins and worgens to mastery and guild changes, it's all there for your cataclysmic enjoyment. And if you are fixing for some gooey warlock goodness, check out Blood Pact every week. Bring a friend, and a fork. You'll need both.