Sadly, I do not have a cool poem for this past year. 2011 was not a particularly poetic experience, and not just because I spent like two weeks of it without power or with trees on my house or with a new Maine Coon kitten that literally bit through my headphone wires, occasioning a small crisis on my end before I realized they were the cheap ones I got for like five bucks on sale somewhere. But still. If you're new to this tradition (four years running!), I spend the last few weeks of every year catching various illnesses from my relatives, mainlining cough syrup, and then stumbling to a computer to write a year in review column that the editors have to publish because they don't have anything else in the site queue.
So now, dear readers, I will take you on a small tour through the year that was. The other alternative is I take everyone on a run through Zul'Aman, but you'd be safer next to a Cub Scout with matches and poor impulse control, so we're not going to do that.
Oh, and if you care about this sort of thing:
- The druid of 2008 The first year I got sick and unwisely decided that a surfeit of cough syrup would allow me to finish a column on time.
- The druid of 2009 "The ridiculously-popular death knight was, in many ways, designed to counter the restoration druid, although I am hedging this somewhat by saying in many ways instead of definitely, and counter instead of annihilate."
- The druid of 2010 Letitia, the official fashion consultant and Snark Passenger to the Shifting Perspectives column, makes her second appearance to remind me that I am not a shirtless Christian Bale.
Whatever! I'm too blitzed to care.
Moonkin and cats
Every time I publish a druid article I get complaints about not covering these folks, so here they are. I am reliably informed that moonkin and cats did damage this year. I don't know or care how they did it (well, I do care, I just don't know), and if they're alive at the end of a fight, so much the better. Revive is 10 seconds of my life I don't get back, and it's certainly more than you deserve, you mangy little curs. Thanks for getting me nerfed this year.
"I didn't get you nerfed, Allison," say a legion of hurt cats. "Blizzard nerfed you. I'm just an easy target."
Well, now that you can't shift out of roots, you sure are.
Oh God, even typing that hurts. Chug!
True story: Even Chase Christian, our rogue columnist, was not in favor of the feral nerf. "Not because it's not balanced," he said. "But because right now feral druids are the only ones that have a shot of wrecking our frost mage overlords." Scumbag mages. It's not enough that they've spent the entire expansion at the top of the damage meters -- they're also in their millionth consecutive year of never dying to melee.
The bear of 2011
Most of this year was ... I dunno how to finish that. For me, 2011 largely disappeared down the wrappings of an Ace bandage on both wrists and cream on the various blisters accrued from shoveling two houses out from under a relentless series of snow storms. I don't remember very much about the early part of the year as a result, but I do remember getting a lot of complaints from people trying to level bears and discovering that they sucked like a vacuum cleaner. Swipe at level 36 on a 6-second cooldown and crap survivability early on wasn't a good combination.
I started something called the Low-Level Tank Project as a way to monitor the population of bear tanks in the pre-80 Dungeon Finder. Perhaps the biggest irony of 2011 for me is that so much observational work on the state of the bear tank was actually done from the perspective of a goblin priest.
Or not. He didn't observe many bears. He's level 70 right now, and these are the tanks he's gotten so far in 5-mans:
- Druid 8.4%
- Paladin 60.2%
- Warrior 31.3%
- Death knight 31.3%
- Druid 10.4%
- Paladin 33.3%
- Warrior 25%
Disclaimer: As the priest is (again) only 70 right now, I think I'm still riding a wave of leveling death knights from Outland, but I won't know for sure until 80.
Otherwise, you can see that leveling tank class populations seem a bit lopsided at best if (and that's a big if) my little priest's experiences are representative. They might not be. We'll revisit the Low-Level Tank Project eventually when I sober up and stop having to make random guesses as to where the hell I hotkeyed Renew.
Not that I had a leg to stand on when it came to bear tank representation at level 85. I was among the many tanks who left the Dungeon Finder in droves, mostly because the effort required to arrange crowd control and then wait while everyone interpreted the phrase, "OK, ready to pull" at their own pace just wasn't worth it. And the thing is -- I like most groups. Most of the time I think they like me too (or are at least able to conceal the extent of their dislike, which is sweet of them). But running a group through Cataclysm heroics at early gear levels is like herding dyslexic cats through an obstacle course full of punji sticks and Jehovah's Witnesses. Sure, there's a point to it, but do you care?
But patch 4.3 has been fun. Now that Vengeance explodes like a drunk freshman at a frat party, you can curb stomp every trash pack in sight -- and oh honey, I do, and then Nina Simone comes up on iTunes and it's so very, very appropriate because you are blowing through mobs like cheap Kleenex and it's too bad Blizzard never programmed an emote into the game for /existential despair because your DPSers are all crying off in a corner and you're laughing your furry ass off because Berserk has just come off cooldown and you smash that hotkey like it ain't no thang and land 45,000 Mangle crits on three mobs simultaneously and you are --
But I'm waiting for the penny to drop.
Guardian druids. Um. How is that going to work? I really don't know what to expect. It's not that I disagree with the decision -- I mean, the bear can only progress as a spec so far without running into a legion of balance issues because it currently shares living space with the cat. And, in my heart of hearts, I have to admit I don't care as long as I can still grind and do dailies efficiently.
But mother of sweet things, they could have announced it without committing one of the gravest sins any developer can make -- admitting that they are in fact mortals like the rest of us. One developer's reasoning at BlizzCon was something to the tune of, "My protection warrior can't do the DPS of a cat while he's off-tanking, so why should a bear?" ... and that sound you heard echoing from the depths of the North American continent was that of my dying soul. Dude, don't start that fight. For one, there's a reason that comments like that get ban-hammered off the forums with extreme prejudice. For two, if we're going to start talking about what warriors can do that bears can't, bears are going to lose every time.
You ever notice how the developers only talk about the protection warriors they've got? I mean, Ghostcrawler's mentioned having a bear a few years ago, but he's the only one, and I've usually got a very good memory for this stuff that -- bang -- appears occasionally and -- bang -- I can't get the last little drop out of this bottle. God, viscosity is such a bitch.
See, what creeped me out most about the statement is that it's a totally understandable thing for a player to say, and the last thing you want is actual players calling the shots. I think the usual contents of the forums have sufficed to demonstrate that the aggregate will of the player base is wayward and stupid, particularly when directed by people who add a small bit of water to the remaining dregs of cough syrup and then agitate the bottle in order to get the rest of it out. But I don't want a player thinking through game balance. I want a developer who ponders tanks and tanking in the coldest and most clinical fashion possible. Finding out that a developer bears a grudge against your tanking spec for its most appealing quality -- all the stuff you can do while you're not actually tanking -- is like finding out that your parents have been lying to you for years and there really is a monster in residence under your bed.
That said, I'm actually pretty optimistic about bears, at least in the sense that we'll be a lot easier to design and balance without the cat albatross around our necks. The only thing that worries me is the legion of monks (and you know they'll be popular) we'll be rolling against, in addition to continuing to roll against every other agility-sucking scumbag in the raid. Apparently Blizzard's solution to both an underplayed class (the rogue) and an underplayed spec (the bear) is to give both of them a hugely popular new class to fight against for gear. I'm on my fifth bottle of the purple stuff now, and it's actually starting to make sense.
I am not, however, at all opposed to the new Mists of Pandaria talent system, not least because the idea of a bear that can create a localized black hole is the stuff of my dreams and Yellowstone park rangers' nightmares. Or possibly just Australia, where I am told that many animals are armed with lasers, sniper rifles, and angry advocacy groups.