I often wonder how many people still remember beta. I mean, people will sometime reference beta now and again, but I often wonder how many people really remember everything that even just their own class or spec went through. For balance, one of the larger issues that we had was one of talent choices. The talent spec then was excessively bland. There was no choice, no variation, only the single option.
Balance has changed since then -- quite a great deal, in fact -- yet how much of a choice is there within our talent choices? How much of a difference does choosing the "right" or "wrong" talents really make in our performance? There are lots of variables to choose from, but how much of them are actually a choice and how much of them aren't truly an option?
Talents that help mana regeneration
The core of our talents really focuses on one thing: mana regeneration. To a certain degree, we have 13 talents that influence our mana regeneration. Some of them double as DPS talents that simply aren't a choice: Euphoria and Heart of the Wild. The remaining options are all just that -- options. Furor, Moonglow, and Dreamstate are all optional; you don't have to have them in order to be viable (at least, to a certain degree).
While leveling and first gearing yourself at 85, you will need nearly all of the mana regeneration talents in order to sustain yourself for an encounter. After you've gotten a bit of raiding gear, you can start to drop points from different spots.
First, you can start by switching out points from Furor and/or Moonglow into Blessing of the Grove to increase your Moonfire damage. The increase isn't all that much and certainly isn't noticeable during a single-target encounter, but it really adds up when you are doing the Moonfire AoE spam dance.
After that is where things get tricky. There are no additional real DPS talents for you to choose from. At this point, the only things you can drop mana regeneration for are Perseverance, Gale Winds, or Owlkin Frenzy. Perseverance is a great talent for reducing incoming damage, and I would strongly suggest taking it should you be able to afford the loss. Neither Gale Winds nor Owlkin Frenzy provide any tangible benefit.
Balance druids do not use Hurricane, and Typhoon isn't used for damage but mostly for the knockback on adds. The increased Cyclone range is useful but again not very PvE-centric, given that Cyclone is more of an "OH NOES" CC than a standard one. Owlkin Frenzy is rather hit or miss. As with every case in which someone tried to prove the talent useful in Wrath, it can all depend on the encounter in question.
Owlkin Frenzy only procs from attacks that specifically target you, not AoE-based abilities, which is actually very misleading wording. As an example, Chim's Slime ability hits multiple targets, but each individual bolt is targeted to a specific player so it will proc OF. That being said, I've used OF for that encounter, even on heroic when you get hit by each and every volley, and not gotten any procs. I also used OF on what's currently my highest heroic Chim parse but only had it proc once the entire encounter; the second highest didn't have any OF procs. It simply isn't a reliable source of damage.
Owlkin Frenzy, Perseverance, Gale Winds ... all of these sound like choice. They're not. Aside from Perseverance, neither of the other talents have any significant impact on the druid. If there's no statistical difference between having a talent and not, then what's the point of it?
There's limited variation between balance specs now simply due to the disparity in gearing levels. Come next raiding tier, these won't exist. Every balance druid will have to run 31/0/10. You could argue that some balance druids might favor two points in Owlkin Frenzy over Moonglow, and that indicates choices -- but when there's no discernible difference between the performance of either spec, those two talent points are meaningless.
Why choice matters
I am certain that some people will take this entire rant the wrong way. I am not advocating that balance druids need additional DPS talent options for their talent points; I am saying that our talent choices actually need to make a clear and noticeable difference in our characters.
While playing my warlock, I actually end up having a wide array of choice in how I will spend several of my talent points. When going affliction, the first nine talent points are all spent on DPS-improving talents, while that next talent can go toward some form of utility. Within the next tier, only three of the five talent points can be used to increase DPS; again, I must pick up some functional utility. In total, affliction ends up spending around 8 talent points on utility.
It's not that balance doesn't have utility to pick up; it is more that what limited utility we have isn't worth anything. What's the point of having Gale Winds in a PvE spec? How often are you really going to find yourself using Cyclone? And how many of those times do you need to have the additional range? What does Owlkin Frenzy do? A vast majority of PvE encounters cannot even proc the effect, and the few that can don't offer enough procs to make the talent by any means "useful."
Our "utility" choices come in a different sort and do not really seem that functional. After investing 18 points in the balance tree, druids are first faced with having to choose a non-DPS talent. Usually, these default to Solar Beam and Typhoon. After that, at 23 points invested, you have two additional "free" talents to pick up; then, again you have another two points to invest into utility, after picking up Lunar Shower. Finally, after putting the required eight points into restoration to get all of the DPS talent, we have another two free talents. So what's the problem?
The primary issue that balance faces is the lack of distinction among choices. We can get Typhoon. We can get Solar Beam. And those are great things to have. After that ... we have nothing of consequence. We have four points of "utility" that must be spent in the balance tree and two points that can be spent anywhere, yet there's just not much to spend them on.
Starting balance druids have to spend four "free" balance talents in mana regeneration to get Dreamstate and Moonglow, but once you reach a high enough level of gear, you simply don't have a use for those talents anymore. Euphoria provides all the mana regeneration that you need.
Of our utility talents, the only one which any argument could be made for is Fungal Growth, yet it is still considered to be an abysmal talent. The issue with Fungal Growth is that it provides a clunkier version of the baseline abilities brought by two other classes. If you don't have a hunter or a shaman, then yes, Fungal Growth is fantastic; with either of those classes present -- note that's classes, not specs -- then Fungal Growth has virtually no use at all.
What needs to change
The largest issue that balance druids have in this regards is twofold. First, too many of our secondary talents focus on mana regeneration. We have Euphoria, Moonglow, and Dreamstate all in the balance tree -- seven points worth of talents. While great for leveling, possibly PvP, and early gearing levels, Moonglow and Dreamstate quickly become outdated with gear. We saw this in Wrath with Moonkin Form, and everyone was saying that we'd see it again this expansion. You cannot balance a spec around scaling mana regeneration and expect it to need to same amount of investment at early levels as later levels.
When mana regeneration is no longer needed in order to sustain the DPS cycle required for an encounter, then what is the point of having it? So that we can have spare mana to "waste" on healing? I'm not saying that these talents need to be removed nor changed; they are still useful for the time in which you need them, after all. What I am saying is that these talents cannot be considered as choices. Either you need the mana regeneration -- and thus, they are not "optional" talents -- or you don't need the mana, and they are worthless talents. There is no middle ground.
The second issue is that balance still has a few outdated talents from Wrath that were never updated to work in the current expansion. Owlkin Frenzy and Gale Winds don't have a point any more -- and frankly, Owlkin Frenzy never had a point to begin with.
Gale Winds does so little for balance druids. The only reason to take the talent is to increase Cyclone's range, and even in PvP, the 4-yard extension isn't that amazing. If feral and restoration druids are working fine without 4 measly yards, why would you think that balance would suddenly find Cyclone to be phenomenally better with it? The damage increase to Hurricane is simply laughable at this point. Hurricane is far too expensive and the damage was never balanced around other AoE spells for this to be worth it.
Hurricane was balanced around the factor of Solar Eclipse, which is simply absurd to begin with. In essence, the spell is utterly dead -- there just isn't a point to it anymore -- so tacking on a damage increase to our talents is just silly. No druid was using Hurricane in beta; why did Blizzard keep this talent?
Balance druids don't need additional DPS talents; they need additional utility talents. We don't have awesome defensive talents that other specs see in their utility, things like Siphon Life, Nether Ward/Protection, Selfless Healer, and many more -- dual talents that can function to increase our survivability in both PvP and PvE. Survivability is still balance's weakest point right now; we are simply crushed by other players.
A large factor in this is that we have so few talented defensive abilities. The only things we actually have in the balance tree are Typhoon and Solar Beam -- interestingly enough, the two things that nearly every balance druids takes. Instead, balance has to rely entirely on the base druid tool kit, and that's hurting us. It hurts us in PvP, and it gives a significant lack of choice in PvE talents.
Utility is not about trading damage for nifty little bonuses anymore; it's about the neat things that you can pick up alongside your damage increases. Balance just doesn't have any of that, and we need it. We are given talents to play around with in our talent spec, yet it makes absolutely no difference where we put these points. We can get additional mana regeneration when we're already finishing encounters with 75% mana ... We can get a damage-increasing proc that never actually procs -- and doesn't function as its supposed to in PvP anyway ... Or we can get a damage increase on a spell we never use. What's the point in all of these talents?
Why do we have so many talents that either become outdated with gear or don't actually do anything at all? The balance tree is still the same mess that it has always been. We have a few scattered, ridiculously powerful talents with utterly worthless talents providing filler. Can we find a compromise between the two? Can all of our talents actually provide something useful to us for a change?
Every week, Shifting Perspectives: Balance treks across Azeroth in pursuit of druidic truth, beauty and insight ... from a moonkin's perspective. We'll help you level your brand new balance druid, analyze balance racials and abilities, and walk you through PvP as a balance druid.