Stop the presses, guys! There's eventually at some point in the distant future going to be a new expansion on the horizon for WoW, and in it, Blizzard is going to completely redesign the ability system again. We saw it happen for The Burning Crusade, and then it happened again for Wrath and once more for Cataclysm. Now, it's going to happen again for MoP.
Every expansion has come with some amount of trimming of useless abilities (hello, Sentry Totem) and even more so, the addition of new abilities to fill in the missing gaps that classes still have. What about optimizing the abilities that we already have first?
Revamping worthless skills
Druids are no strangers to having abilities in their spellbooks that will never see their action bars, and I'm not just talking about off-spec abilities, either. Sure, no balance druid is going to have a full feral bar setup, just like feral druids aren't really going to be concerned with having the full balance kit mapped out to perfection. But how many of you can really say that you have all 64 trained active skills perfectly bound and can name all of their bindings off the top of your head? Probably very few.
Moving into Cata, Blizzard wanted to make sure that every ability had some kind of purpose and that every class could fulfill specific needs such as CC when needed. For druids, our special friend of a skill that was updated was Soothe Beast, now merely Soothe. As Soothe Beast, all it did was reduce the threat radius for, well, beasts, which was useful in all of about one thing -- you could use it to skip two trash packs in ZA bear runs. To make it better, Blizzard changed Soothe to dispel Enrage effects, which to date in Cataclysm has been useful for all of one instance -- a single trash mob in BWD that had an Enrage. (Oh yeah, and annoying warriors in PvP ... I guess it works for some of those too? I dunno.)
To its credit, at the time Blizzard made the change, it was a pretty big deal. Enrages on mobs was fairly frequent on boss encounters and mobs in the Wrath era; it was their thing at the time, their fashion statement, if you will. It just wasn't something that carried over to Cataclysm at all. Mobs don't Enrage anymore, and those few Enrages that do can't be removed. Soothe is very much to all druids what Typhoon is to balance -- completely situational. You will only have a use for Soothe if Blizzard designs it into the game; right now, it hasn't. So maybe it's time to revisit what Soothe should be doing, you know, considering it's still around in Mists.
Looking into Hibernate and CC design
Another similar ability is Hibernate. I know, I know, Hibernate is a great skill. It has tons of uses. You can use it on shifted druids, you can use it on hunter pets ... It's a great spell, but as our CC ability, it is entirely lackluster. Blizzard is constantly flip-flopping on the concept of CC. It wants CC to be a big thing, it doesn't want it to be a big thing, it does, then it doesn't again; it's all really confusing.
Here's what it breaks down to. Aside from warriors and death knights, who are still riding the no-CC train, druids have the least capable CC of all the classes that can provide CC.
Oh, sure, we're special! We can CC two things at once! With Entangling Roots and Hibernate, we can be CC kings on some encounters -- but that's the thing. Both of our CC abilities are extremely specific. When you look at Sap and Polymorph and Fear, there's a reason they work on virtually any type of mob, because mob types come in extreme varieties. Sure, Hibernate is useful in Grim Batol; not so much in, oh, any other instance in all of Cataclysm. In all of the release dungeons, only two had any beasts and/or dragonkin. Since then, only a single dungeon has added any into the game, and it still doesn't get much use there.
If Blizzard wants to keep its notion that CC is important, then Hibernate needs to be updated to actually be usable in any PvE situation. It's cute that we can catch other druids off-guard with Hibernate and have an adorable sleeping bear on our hands, but is that perk really worth it? If it meant the difference between making Hibernate usable on humanoids but having to give up the ability to use it on players, would it really be that bad? I mean, if Blizzard is once again giving up on CC in PvE, then, you know, leave it as is -- but if we still have this notion that CC is important for entry-level heroics and such, then we need to have a talk about making our CC useful. No, Entangling Roots doesn't cut it.
The big change of Cataclysm is the massive reduction in the number of abilities that players are going to have to contend with. Blizzard is going out of its way to trim down on every skill list so that players don't have to deal with so much junk in their lives. Sounds great, to be honest. Like I said before, druids currently have 64 trained abilities. Now, that does include shapeshift abilities, and I didn't cut out any of the duplicates such as Stampeding Roar for both Cat and Bear -- I also think I missed the second listing of Ravage! -- so taking those out might put it more into the 58 to 60 range. I did not count any of the passives, though, as they'll never see your action bar.
Going through the currently listed abilities for Mists of Pandaria as a balance druid, you'll be taken down to a grand total of 48 abilities. The largest portion of those abilities that are falling off your list? Healing and feral skills.
The not-so-great ability purge
Here's how it really breaks down. Right now, there are 17 total trained balance abilities. Really, I would say that Soothe, Teleport: Moonglade, and Thorns might not be on your bars -- but, hey, they could be! I'll give them to you. Then, I'll give you that all 10 restoration abilities are probably on your bars as well. You might have a few feral abilities that you use, but honestly, those should be on a bar that changes only when you shift, so we'll just count the two shifting abilities instead. Now there are talented skills. Balance has five talented abilities: Moonkin Form, Starfall, Force of Nature, Typhoon, and Solar Beam. Are you with me? Right now, your bars should have 34 abilities on them. That's every balance spell, every restoration spell, and two feral forms.
Mists of Pandaria has 22 balance skills. That's everything specific to balance druids only and then anything in the general list that is currently classified under the balance spell tab. Then there are still a few restoration spells on the generic list that you'll need, which is six spells. There's also still the matter of needing two feral forms, since those didn't go anywhere. Plus add in two new abilities from the list. This brings the total of abilities up to 32. Now, there are six talents that you have to pick, four of which have to be abilities and one that might be an ability might be a passive. Congrats -- your new "trimmed" bar is going to have 36 abilities on it.
Somehow, in manging to trim away all of these abilities, Blizzard is still adding skills to our toolkit. The reality is that nothing from the actual balance skill list is being taken away from balance druids except Thorns; we lose Thorns. (I'm crying over that, really.) Most of what we're losing from our bars are healing abilities, which we lose three ofe, and feral skills, which aren't really on ours bars to begin with. So, we lose three healing spells and two balance abilities (Thorns and Typhoon) but gain three new base abilities and up to five new talents! Blizzard's idea of trimming is a little off.
Every week, Shifting Perspectives: Balance brings you druidic truth, beauty and insight ... from a moonkin's perspective. We'll help you level your brand new balance druid, tweak your UI and your endgame gear, analyze balance racials and abilities, and even walk you through PVP as a balance druid.