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The Art of War(Craft): Low level PvP in Cataclysm

Zach sees everything through the PvP perspective of The Art of War(craft), including homemade banoffee pies made by his supremely awesome and sexy baker wife. He sees the banoffee pies as opponents that need to be devoured in a methodical, strategic and soul-crushing manner. He advises everyone to look at all things (especially food) as adversaries that must be defeated and guarantees that success in life will follow. Probably.

I've said it before, but low level PvP is going to be insanely fun come Cataclysm. It will be so much fun, in fact, that it will almost be worth rolling alts for and maybe even turning off XP gains to stay in the lower brackets just a while longer. The big change is because of the bonus abilities players gain when choosing a tree to specialize in. Although every character gets one big, signature spell, they are bundled with complementary abilities or skills that define the spec.

When I first reviewed the initial talent overhaul, the developers hadn't settled on exactly what abilities to give to classes at level 10. Several builds into the beta, we have a better picture of how the various specs will look, and it's not very likely that these will change much when the game goes live, considering that each spec basically revolves around these core abilities. For the purposes of this post, we'll take a look at the first two battleground brackets -- 10-19 and 20-29 -- mostly because characters get talent points every other level now, so these two brackets should cover the first two tiers of each tree. We'll try to be general for now because everything is in such flux, so expect a few errors as abilities get moved around from one beta iteration to the next.

Power to the 10th

One of the big changes in Cataclysm is how players will gain access to scaled-down versions of what used to be high level spells. Right off the bat, the leveling experience will feel powerful. PvP will be more dynamic and exciting at low levels because every class, every spec will have some sort of signature move. Because of the specializations, each spec will feel distinct as opposed to how most classes work in the game now, where specs only start to differentiate themselves from each other at higher levels. Because of these special, bonus abilities, every spec is pretty much a viable option, virtually guaranteeing a battlefield almost as diverse as the endgame (with the notable absence of death knights).

Having this kind of power is good, especially for those only getting their first taste of PvP. Hopefully, there'll be an influx of new players when the expansion hits -- the whole game is greatly improved and the leveling experience is very pleasant and intuitive. Battleground PvP should hopefully provide an equally enjoyable experience for everyone. Let's examine the different specs and see what players can look forward to once they hit the big one-oh.

Druid

Balance - For once, balance druids can feel like balance druids right out the gate without resorting to Moonfire spam. Instead, they get a big Lava Burst-style nuke in the form of Starsurge. At its current 15-second cooldown, it's not something that will be spammed ... but balance druids won't have to: Starsurge also has an awesome-for-PvP knockdown effect. Druids also look to get Nature's Focus, Vengeance, and Dream State as baseline abilities from level 10, although there aren't any other terribly exciting abilities in the first two tiers of the tree. Expect balance druids to alternate between nature and arcane spells in order to get the most out of Eclipse. Unfortunately, Moonkin Form becomes available on tier three, just as soon as players exit the 20-29 bracket. (EDIT: Reader Nirva points out that talent points are currently distributed at odd levels after the 10th, so Moonkin Form should be available at level 29)

Feral - Feral druids get Mangle at level 10, helping out those cat Rakes and bear Mauls. Speaking of cats and bears, expect to see both forms as early as the first battleground bracket as Cat Form and Bear Form being available early on. Stealthed cats in the first bracket of Warsong Gulch? Imagine the mayhem. Notable talents in the first two tiers of the tree include Feral Swiftness and Infected Wounds, which allow druids to move faster and slow their opponents down, respectively. That bit about druids being the class with the best mobility? It starts early in Cataclysm.

Restoration - How would you like Swiftmend at level 10? Restoration druids get the level 40 spell as soon as they choose to go resto, along with some pushback defense and passive mana regen. Essentially, druids look to be healing powerhouses at lower brackets, with better options when they shapeshift considering most of the first two tiers of talents appear to be complementary to forms typically used by other specs.

Hunter

Hunters get a big change in that they use focus as a resource now instead of mana. This makes them less vulnerable to spells that target mana early on -- hunters also appear to get Scatter Shot as a baseline ability so far in the beta.

Beast Mastery - This gets fun. Beast masters get Intimidation as a baseline skill -- that means a three-second stun every minute on top of whatever crowd control abilities their pets may have on shorter cooldowns. That's pretty scary. Even at lower levels (hunters get pets at character creation in Cataclysm), beast masters get much more potent and resilient pets with their talent choices on the first two tiers. With the right pet, Intimidation, and traps beast masters can exert rather powerful crowd control.

Marksmanship - Marksmen may feel a little cheated upon getting a Mortal Strike-less Aimed Shot, but it brings the spec back to its roots. It's all about sniping away. Talents in the first two tiers help crit and there's a good synergy between Careful Aim and Sic 'Em. Did I mention that hunters get Kill Command at level 10 now? That should make hunters a lot more interesting to meet on the battlefield.

Survival - The bad news is that hunters don't get a lot of traps early enough. The good news is that survival hunters get Explosive Shot as a baseline skill. Their current tier two talents are useless at lower levels because they are related to traps, even with the latest beta build moving Survival Tactics up from tier three. The good news is that Improved Serpent Sting is a survival hunter exclusive for a good while. At lower brackets, survival hunters will be more about burst damage than control, with the almost full complement of trap utility coming in at the upper levels of the 20-29 bracket.

Mage

Arcane - As with balance druids, arcane mages have very little character at lower levels despite the fact that many low level offensive spells are arcane. In Cataclysm, arcane mages get Arcane Barrage at level 10. Yep, that sparkly mage spell that hurts a lot. They also get the supremely awesome for PvP Improved Counterspell which can silence opponents for four seconds. At lower levels, getting silenced for four seconds can pretty much mean a trip to the Spirit Healer. Furthermore, arcane mages also get PvP talents such as Torment the Weak, Invocation, and especially Improved Blink, all on the second tier.

Fire - Cataclysm changes a couple of things ... for one, POM-Pyro is dead. Pyroblast becomes the exclusive domain of fire mages, along with the Molten Armor skill. Pyroblast also gets its cast time reduced to 3.5 seconds, down from 5. Overall, fire remains a spec with poor mobility, especially compared with arcane. The good news is that fire mages get Blazing Speed early on to compensate somewhat for the persistent need to keep still while casting big nukes.

Frost - Frost mages get their Water Elemental pets early on and as expected get some of the cooler (pun intended) PvP talents such as Shatter, Improved Cone of Cold, and Permafrost. At lower levels, frost mages won't have the same kind of survivability players are used to in the endgame. On the other hand, much of their ability to kite is available early on, with the added utility of a pet with its own root spell.


Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, PvP, The Art of War(craft) (PvP)

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