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The Heart of the Wild controversy: Should players be allowed to change specs in combat?

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In a recent Mists of Pandaria beta build, the tooltip for one of the currently inaccessible druid talents, Heart of the Wild, was significantly rewritten and updated. The full tooltip is long, but the key assumption is that every six minutes, a druid of any spec can click a button and automatically be able change to another combat role for 45 seconds, with little drop-off in effectiveness. Restoration druids can start dealing damage, DPSers of either persuasion can throw around some heals or tank an add, and guardian tanks can even spread around a few HoTs without having to leave Bear Form and turn into paste. That's the theory, anyway.

As you can imagine, this idea generated some heated debate in the druid blogger community. The noted Lissanna of Restokin called it "(likely) the the least used talent out of any talent tree in the history of the game" Murmurs also agreed, saying "HotW has a pure functionality problem. It can never truly fulfill the position that it is attempting to grasp."

In opposition, Tangedyn, the co-creator of the Mew feral druid simulator and frequent contributor to The Inconspicuous Bear, wrote "... there's no reason to deny druids that want the versatility the capability to perform to their best of their abilities."

So who's right? Well, let's take a closer look at both sides of the argument, since this debate brings up several important issues to any WoW raider.

Imbalanced is Ineffective

By far the most common argument against Heart of the Wild is that it's unbalanced. It's possible the talent will end up extremely strong and allow well-played druids to flip to whatever role is most needed at the current time. For certain encounters such as heroic Spine, such an advantage would be significant. Of course, it's also possible the talent could end up extremely weak (or start strong and get nerfed) and not confer much benefit at all, making it a wasted talent choice. Balancing such an outlandish idea is near-impossible, so why not replace it now with something more sensible?

Another strong argument, however, is the one against hybridization itself. Many restoration druids have painful memories of being brought to a raid solely for their Innervate. Now that they've achieved parity as a healing class, why go back? As one reader emailed me, "I pick a specialization at level 10, just like everyone else. Why should I have to be the one who's forced to be flexible, if all I want to do is heal, tank, or DPS?"

In style, it's very similar to the debates over bearcatting we had last year or the woes of paladin tanks in The Burning Crusade who always got stuck on add duty regardless of their ability to main tank. Raid leaders are always going to push every edge, and forcing players into playing multiple roles is an edge that's too far for many. Add to this the general meter love that characterizes the game today, and many just don't want to have to explain (or have raid leaders who won't recognize) that "their DPS was low because they went heals to save the tank."

Pushing the limits

On the other hand, many of the ferals who enjoyed playing as a hybrid would like to see some semblance of that playstyle stick around. Yes, it was overpowered in Cataclysm, but the long cooldown on Heart of the Wild prevents it from being used more than once, which greatly limits its effectiveness. As for questions of raid stacking, or forced usage -- well, progression guilds already stack rogues and mages now, so how does that change the game significantly if there are a few fights that druids are OP for?

Also, the vast majority of guilds don't use any type of raid stacking or min-max pressure on their raiders. They're just in it for a good time. (The average raiding guild is somewhere between 1/8 and 3/8 in heroic Dragon Soul right now.) If my raid is struggling and I have a tool that I can use to help, why would you deny me access to it? It doesn't hurt you if you choose not to use it or choose to talent something else that provides a different benefit.

My take? Personally, even though I've never been at the forefront of progression, I've participated in several raid encounters where I had the opportunity and capability to go herobear and save the raid. Honestly, most of those attempts failed. That said, the few times it's succeeded, the feeling it engenders is my Crowning Moment of Awesome. While I greatly respect those who disagree, I'm going to fight to keep this ability around in whatever form it takes. I agree that the druid talents need another look (we have far too many CC talents, for one), and there are many other fixes the class needs -- but please don't take my bearcat away.

It's open warfare between Alliance and Horde in Mists of Pandaria, World of Warcraft's next expansion. Jump into five new levels with new talents and class mechanics, try the new monk class, and create a pandaren character to ally with either Horde or Alliance. Look for expansion basics in our Mists FAQ, or dig into our spring press event coverage for more details!

Filed under: Druid, Mists of Pandaria

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