Last week, I broke down the new druid talents that were released at BlizzCon with lots of discussion about how this may lead ferals in a new direction. I've had a week to think about things more, and I'm still blown away by the magnitude of the changes Blizzard is making to the specializations. Much of the fundamental assumptions about what drives our characters is being reworked, and we're not discussing the implications because OMG pandas! (For the record, I have a 3-year-old. Team Pandaren > Team Worgen.)
To quickly review, the traditional model of abilities has always been strongly tied to classes. If you were a druid, you got all the druid abilities as you leveled, regardless of what talent points you invested. There were a few key abilities for each spec that were unlocked via talents, but that was it.
With Cataclysm, Blizzard took its first swipe at reducing talent trees by introducing specializations. This served two purposes. First, it let specs have "cool" abilities earlier, instead of waiting until they were near max level to unlock them. And second, it once and for all eliminated the ability to have hybrid specs, such as the Dreamstate resto druid from The Burning Crusade. Previously, you were merely limited by your talent points; now, if the ability you wanted existed in another specialization, or below tier 2 in an off-spec tree, it was completely inaccessible.
With Mists of Pandaria, Blizzard is continuing the trend. Talent points have finally lost all their power to "make" you the specialization you choose to be. Instead of gradually determining what your character is good at as you progress through the game, you now make an initial class choice, play through a basic and advanced tutorial (levels 1 through 5 and 6 through 10) and then make a final class choice. We may as well make it official; with Mists, we will stop having 11 classes and now have 34.
As I stressed last week, though, the power conferred by the old talents have to be made up somewhere. Join me after the break for some completely speculatory thoughts on what's happening to our old feral tree. Let me stress that, one more time: These are educated deductions (read: crazy guesses) about what things might look like in a year, not gospel truth, so feel free to come back and post a comment next year telling me how wrong I was.
I don't see the feral rotation changing much, if at all. (For the moment, I'm discounting something out of left field, like Master Shapeshifter.) We have two DOTs, a self-buff, two nukes, and two cooldowns to pop at will. If anything, I could see us losing Mangle. To me, it fits better as a Guardian ability. To compensate, all Blizzard would have to do is remove the positioning requirement from Shred, which is something I'd advocated before. The Mangle debuff can be baked into Shred or just dropped entirely; it was rather marginal anyway and didn't really add anything to the DPS rotation except annoyance.
Utility-wise, several survivability abilities that were designed for bears will likely become guardian-only, which is fine; DPS warriors/paladins/DKs will likely lose survivability as well. I also expect Stampeding Roar to be dropped or significantly reworked. I still like the idea -- the developers just weren't able to find a way to make it useful yet balanced. Ferals will still be able to talent into a double dash if they choose.
Tier 1: Feral Swiftness, Furor, Predatory Strikes
Feral Swiftness, of course, is one of the first choices you can make from the new talents.
Furor will hopefully become baseline to the class. As any feral who's tried to emergency tank without Furor can attest to, it sucks to go bear and slam on your attack keys, only to realize you have no rage. Thankfully, the change to Enrage made this much less of an annoyance, but it's still not very fun to essentially have a cooldown before you can use the abilities of your new form. I'm OK if my off-spec abilities aren't very powerful, but don't make me wait before I can use them.
Predatory Strikes is gone. Finito. Too difficult to balance for PVP, too difficult for the majority of players to apply correctly in PVE. Of course, the forum trolls will rejoice wildly for .02 seconds and then start to whine about Nature's Swiftness, the replacement from talent tier 2.
Tier 2: Infected Wounds, Fury Swipes, Primal Fury, Feral Aggression
Infected Wounds is gone. The slowing component is baked into Faerie Swarm, the new tier 3 talent, and the attack speed reduction will either become part of the guardian specialization or just disappear from all the tanks.
Fury Swipes could become part of the specialization, but I doubt it. It's not a very interesting ability at present, since it's just random extra damage for both specs. I expect it to be cut, though it might get reintroduced as a bandage fix if guardians or ferals are looking low on DPS.
Primal Fury ... is interesting. As it stands now, the talent is essential to the feral rotation. Our finishing moves' energy costs are tuned with the assumption that we won't actually need five Shreds/Rakes to max our combo points, though it does happen from time to time. I think it probably ends up part of the specialization, since it's one of those things you can clearly see working when you crit at low levels. "Hey, I hit for double damage and got an extra CP. Cool!" Blizzard will rework rage generation again (as it always does), so the rage part will disappear.
Feral Aggression is likely gone, as the three-stack model was confusing for ferals who didn't pick up the talent, and it strikes me as one of the abilities that no longer makes sense if it works differently for different specs. The full armor reduction will go back to being part of baseline Faerie Fire, which can be upgraded with a slow via Faerie Swarm. Bear FF doubles as ranged damage and thus has a CD, though I'd also not be surprised if Blizzard made FF be a debuff only for all specs and gave bears some other way of doing ranged damage. Simple is good.
Tier 3: King of the Jungle, Feral Charge, Stampede, Thick Hide
Tiger's Fury was mostly useless without the King of the Jungle talent, so I'd expect the energy gain to just become part of the ability. Tiger's Fury itself will almost definitely be feral-only, to prevent guardians from pulling good feral DPS.
Feral Charge becomes Wild Charge, the new tier 4 talent. As I said last week, I'm very sad I only get one choice in this tier, though that means Blizzard has done a good job of selecting talents there.
Stampede will stick around in some form, likely baked into Wild Charge to make it a more appealing DPS option vs. Incarnation. I definitely don't see it going away; this was, by far, the most popular new feral capability added in Cataclysm (unless you really liked interrupts).
Thick Hide will get built into guardian spec, just like all the other Bear talents in the tree.
Tier 4: Leader of the Pack, Brutal Impact, Nurturing Instinct
Leader of the Pack's 5% crit is the primary buff we provide to a group. Since we don't have any other significant raid buffs, I'm guessing cats will hang on to this. The healing component has been nerfed to mostly irrelevance; it may stay, it may go, but my money would be on it being split out and becoming a guardian thing.
Brutal Impact will go away; duration increases will be baked into the abilities (which will then be rebalanced for PVP, so who knows where they'll end up). If I'm reading the tea leaves correctly, the developers weren't too happy with 10-second interrupt cooldowns, so that may increase a bit.
Nurturing Instinct is likely gone as well, though it's an open question as to how well ferals will be able to off-heal. I speculated some on this last week; I expect that off-healing will remain largely a waste of time, except under the influence of Heart of the Wild. That talent will be very difficult to balance; if it's too weak, it's a waste of a talent point, but too strong and guilds will stack feral DPS who can rotate through off-healing tough boss segments.
Primal Madness was always sort of an experimental talent. It's only of very marginal value as it currently stands; if anything, I could see it coming back as a glyph or another talent.
Endless Carnage will disappear, with the duration increases built into the abilities.
Survival Instincts will almost certainly become a guardian-only ability (though all specs will likely retain Barkskin), as well as Natural Reaction.
Tier 6: Blood in the Water, Rend and Tear, Pulverize
Despite the terrible name (Nom*3, we hardly knew ye), I see Blood in the Water sticking around in some fashion, though the tier 13 set bonus will obviously have to be reworked once the talent disappears. It's an interesting change-up to the rotation and provides an execute mechanic. It's too powerful to be baseline, though, so it'll likely be feral-only.
Rend and Tear will be built into Shred (which will only be available to cats) though likely not Ferocious Bite (which will be baseline).
Pulverize, of course, will become guardian-only. Good riddance. Not a fan.
Tier 7: Berserk
Our favorite ability, Berserk. I'm going to go way out on a limb here. I'll predict that not only will this stick around, it will only be available to ferals and will be the new specialization marquee ability, available at level 10 once you choose the spec.
Before you call me crazy, consider this. Now that guardians and ferals are separate, something has to happen to Mangle. As I mentioned above, I think Mangle fits much better for guardians than ferals, seeing as it's a core part of the bear rotation and only a marginal part of the cat rotation. Of course, if we lose Mangle, then something has to take its place. This will likely be Shred, which will lose its positioning requirement; however, Shred by itself isn't really attractive. Drop in Berserk, though, and you have a much cooler option on par with the rogue specs. DOT, nuke, or nuke fast -- all you need at level 10. From there, they can add things like Rip and Tiger's Fury to add depth, but so much for our DPS revolves around Berserk that I'd like to see the class get it early.
What about Omen?
Finally, even though it's not in the feral tree, it's been picked up by every feral spec for years now, so I'd be remiss if I didn't discuss Omen of Clarity. Omen is a very iconic druid talent that was surprisingly MIA at BlizzCon. For restoration druids, it's a key part of their healing/mana-conservation strategy; for ferals, however, it's always been rather frustrating. Getting free Shreds or Rakes is great, of course, but having the spec built around a random proc can be horribly frustrating. Especially at low gear/crit levels, bad luck with Omen procs can leave you significantly energy-starved and kill your bleed uptimes. I've had fights where the other feral and I (with similar gear) would have remarkably similar ability usage and bleed uptimes and still differ by 10% in DPS based solely on Omen procs. I won't shed any tears if it becomes a baseline resto talent.
Thus ends my wild speculation. Of course, things may turn out very different, but I'm hopeful that we won't be forgotten in the rush to monks, that Blizzard will craft an engaging spec that features the risk/reward style of DPS used in Wrath of the Lich King. If not ... there's always Pet Battles.
What do you think? Am I off base, or right on? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!
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