All right, this past Wednesday, there was an extremely awesome Live Developer Q&A about class and system design that pretty much rocked house any way you look at it. While there were some good questions fielded about the next patch, a majority of it focused in on things to come in the next expansion; with the changes that we'll be seeing, this isn't surprising. In perfect form, Xelnath handled everything warlock like a beast. Respects, hats tipped, and similar jazz of the sort out to Blizzard.
Without wanting to waste much time, let's jump right into all of what we have learned from the chat. It's certainly worth waiting for.
A few clarifications
To start with, there are are a few clarification on abilities/talents that we'll have access to in the next expansion. It seems that, no, we won't be getting any new demons. (I, personally, booed, but I guess we really didn't need one anyway.) However, there was a demon missing from the list on the Grimoire of Supremecy talent. Felguards will be transformed into a Wrathguard, which is totally different from a Terrorguard. Wrathguards are the giant, dual-wielding demons that you can find in Hellfire Peninsula; Terrorguards are the giant demons that have a flaming mouth thing in their stomach/chest area. The latter are a replacement for the Doomguard, as several people have mentioned.
The second clarification is that, yes, Malefic Grasp will be the filler spell for affliction warlocks. As of right now, the spell stands to be a long channel -- rather funny, considering how much effort Blizzard put into making sure that Drain Life wasn't affliction's filler this expansion because aff's having a channeled filler made them too much like shadow -- and it currently stands to increase the tick time of your DoTs by 100% while active. Demonology, too, will get an additional filler as well. While in their demon form, warlocks will have access to a new spell called Demonic Slash. We'll see how that works out; I'm betting it will be an attack possibly similar to what Illidan used in his demon form in Warcraft III, but you never know.
Oh look, another Soul Shard revamp!
One of the rather significant changes that warlocks will be seeing is that every spec will now have a different secondary resource system that they'll play off of. No, your mana isn't going anywhere, but unless you play as affliction, your Soul Shards will be. The current plan is to leave affliction with an updated Soul Shard system and to give destruction a new Burning Embers resource. Demonology will use a currently unnamed resource that becomes their new Metamorphosis. All in all, it sounds really cool.
In particular, I am more intrigued by the comments made about the newest Soul Shard system. Soulburn has certainly been an interesting experiment for warlocks overall. The entire spell has been extremely hit or miss for the whole expansion, mostly because it's an ability that tries to be everything at once and in so doing, ends up really just being nothing. That was the largest flaw of the current Soulburn design. That is has both utility and damage options gives players the same measure of choice as pitting damage talents against utility-based talents; there is no choice because players feel as though they must always choose damage.
This is the same flaw that I am rather hesitant about going into the next expansion as well. Blizzard did name one major change that should fix a majority of these problems, but it may not really fix everything as a whole. Soulburn now should only come with a 15-second cooldown, but each spell that you have can only benefit from it once every minute. This means that you have the choice to spend it on utility options in between damage cooldowns. The plan is rather brilliant on its face but still comes with some problems -- namely, the DPS loss involved in having to Drain Soul back for the spent shard.
Another part that worries me is what DPS options we will actually end up seeing. Soulburn wasn't exactly all that creative in this expansion, and while the one new suggestion that we saw from the Q&A -- to Soulburn curses in order to apply them as an AoE -- sounds really neat, it's one of those situational abilities that sounds really, really cool but only ends up being "ehh" in practice.
The other apprehension that I have is just the variety inherent in the system. Essentially Soulburn is just as grab-bag of 1-minute cooldowns, so what we're going to end up, no one really knows at this point. How we'll even end up using it seems rather sketchy at this point. My only fear is that Blizzard will actively focus on providing nothing but utility. There's nothing wrong with added utility -- I love utility -- but Soul Shards and Soulburn have a chance to be sometime cool and interesting. I'd hate to end up where it's just kind of there and we like it when we can use it but otherwise just don't notice that we even have Soul Shards.
To brush upon the new Infernal Embers system, it currently sounds wicked-awesome. While the system itself hasn't been entirely hashed out as of yet, the current idea that was floated around was having Incinerate generate stacks of Infernal Embers whenever you hit a target with Immolate up. These stacks would then increase your Conflagration or Soul Fire damage by 10% per and be consumed all at once when either ability is used. If nothing else, I'm thrilled by the built-in haste scaling of the system.
Xelnath did offhandedly mention that Infernal Embers currently doesn't have a cap, but as was added after, it probably will have one before it hits live. That shouldn't be surprising to anyone; damage increasing abilities that don't have caps just won't work out. For those who were around back in the day, we tried such a system before -- not warlocks specifically, but protection paladins. The old Reckoning produced a buff that granted an extra attack on your next swing and stacked infinitely. Numerous were the abuses of this system, the least of which was using it to one-shot a large number of bosses.
Funny side note: Did you know that if you manage to one-shot a boss that it will instantly respawn? Only applicable to raid bosses, and Blizzard might have changed this, but the game used to get confused when things were one-shot and classified it as a reset instead of a kill. The old corpse, however, still remained.
Epic pet battles! ... or not
Last and certainly not least, Blizzard is planning on following through with the design intention of making all warlock pets do equal amounts of damage, with the difference between them being the utility that they provide. If you've been an avid reader, then at this point you'd know that this is a system that I fully support; however, there are two small hiccups that I feel Blizzard needs to smooth out when going ahead with this design.
First has to deal with, oddly enough, destruction. We all know that talents are being nuked into orbit, but that spec-important talents will be baked into the specialization as trained abilities instead. One key aspect of Cataclysm design was to have at least a small measure of RNG for every spec. While the other two specs have the same debate, you could add those in as abilities; destruction's, though, can't. As much as people hate Empowered Imp (and with good reason), it is the only variation that destruction really has in its rotation.
While not everyone loves RNG (and I'm certainly not always its biggest fan), I actually do like for every spec that I play to have a little bit of RNG involved. Following a highly rote rotation is excessively boring. It isn't the same level as the old balance or warlock rotation -- both only spammed a single nuke with nothing else at one point -- but when I can break a rotation down into a spell list instead of a priority tree, that's no good. For every pet to have equal DPS, Empowered Imp can't remain, or at least it has to be renamed and made to work with every pet instead. I'm sure it will be scrapped entirely with a new RNG mechanic thrown in, but it's worth bringing up.
Second, there the matter of the Felguard. Now, Xelnath said that the Felguard's primary utility is going to be AoE, much as it is now. This is fine -- honestly, it's great! I think that AoE is unique niche to give to a pet, and I like that. What concerns me, though, is how such a thing will be balanced. Affliction and destruction don't have access to the Felguard, which means they don't have this AoE option. This can be OK, but Blizzard has forced itself into making a choice: Either demonology is going to have higher AoE than the other two specs, or demonology is going to be forced to use the Felguard to keep up in AoE, in which case the pet isn't a choice on those encounters.
Neither choice is really all that great. Giving demonology higher AoE than the other two specs wouldn't be the end of the world, so it's certainly possible, yet the latter could happen as well. It's a tough position to be in, and it makes me glad that I don't have to decide.
Blood Pact is a weekly column detailing DoTs, demons and all the dastardly deeds done by warlocks. We'll coach you in the fine art of staying alive, help pick the best target for Dark Intent, and steer you through encounters such as Blackwing Descent and The Bastion of Twilight.