Ghostcrawler Discusses Patch 5.4 Class Changes in New Dev Watercooler

In the latest “Dev Watercooler” post, Lead Systems Designer Greg “Ghostcrawler” Street explains the thinking behind some of the class changes listed in the Patch 5.4 PTR notes:

 Yeah, I know, long time no watercooler. I’ve been busy.

I wanted to take a moment to provide context for some of the Patch 5.4 class changes that we’ve been making. If you haven’t already, you’ll want to get acquainted with the 5.4 PTR Patch Notes, as this watercooler is going into detail on the changes listed. I’ll discuss the changes to each class, but here are a few things to keep in mind before we get started:

  • The team made a lot of changes to glyphs that weren’t working out well or were just to provide some new choices. There were a lot of changes so to keep this blog manageable, I’m not going to go into them in detail.
  • I’m not going to get into specific damage or healing tuning unless it requires extra explanation for some reason. In general, you can assume that your damage was too low or too high if you see generic buffs or nerfs to abilities.
  • As I write this, Patch 5.4 has not shipped yet, so if there are changes yet to come, I’m obviously not going to be able to cover them!

One final caveat: please don’t consider the number of changes or the size of the paragraphs as an indication of the degree to which we love or hate your class. When players start weighing the number of words we use on each class, the end result is just to make us less likely to want to engage in discussions like this. Paladins and Hunters have a lot of words below because their changes are fairly complex and I felt they required more explanations than other classes.

Druid

We buffed Guardian spec Stamina outright because we felt the spec needed it. Druids have less reliable damage reduction, which isn’t a problem itself, so long as they have the health pool to compensate for it. For Feral Druids, we reverted an earlier nerf to Cyclone’s cooldown but removed Cyclone from Predatory Swiftness. We felt like this ability had become a PvP problem that was too unpredictable to counter. We also lowered the PvP duration of Faerie Fire to make it less of a hard counter to stealthed players. We changed Innervate to scale with Spirit so it would scale with gear better. We also made a few changes to the Restoration healing toolkit. Our change to Efflorescence is an attempt to get Swiftmend back to its original design of being a potent single-target heal. We’re making that change slowly by having the 5.4 Efflorescence glyph move the ground heal from Swiftmend to Wild Mushrooms. We further tweaked Wild Mushrooms for Restoration by limiting it to a single mushroom.

We had several specs whose passive damage reduction we felt was starting to cause balance problems, and Balance’s Moonkin Form was among these. Originally we converted the physical damage reduction to spell damage reduction at a time when the spec needed a PvP buff, but we felt like the fact that Balance required less healing in PvE was causing raids to favor them over other casters.

Most of the changes to Druid talents were because of the situation where certain specs leaned heavily on certain talents in a row and tended to ignore the others—Dream of Cenarius, Force of Nature, Nature’s Vigil, and Soul of the Forest fall into this category. We changed Nature’s Swiftness to be a core Restoration ability because we felt the healers were dependent upon it. We replaced it with a new passive talent, Ysera’s Gift.

Hunter

We had three main issues we wanted to resolve for Hunters this patch: Silencing Shot, Readiness, and Stampede.

The problem with Silencing Shot is it’s just too powerful as a talent. No self-respecting Hunter is going to choose any talent but Silencing Shot, especially in PvP, but in PvE as well. At the same time, we think Hunters, especially Beast Mastery, have proven really powerful in PvP this expansion—and frankly the game has too many blanket silences already, so we didn’t want to just give Silencing Shot to all Hunters. Our decision was to give Silencing Shot to Marksman, who needed a PvP buff anyway. We did give all Hunters a base interrupt with the new Counter Shot, which can interrupt a spell being cast, but can’t pre-silence a caster.

Readiness has been another problematic ability for us to solve. It started as a talent, but was too good compared to the other choices. We ended up giving Readiness to all Hunters, but we were never happy with this implementation. For PvP, it made Hunters really difficult to balance with the ability to reset so many offensive and defensive abilities. For PvE, we felt like Readiness wasn’t doing anything interesting besides making the opening attack sequence twice as complicated as it needed to be. If Readiness was an ability that a clever Hunter would bust out at a clutch moment, then you could argue it would be an interesting ability, but of course it was never actually used that way. Given that Hunters already have a lot of cooldowns, situational abilities, and just buttons in general, we didn’t think Readiness was worth saving. We did make small buffs to Deterrence and Disengage and we will make sure DPS is where it needs to be (which, if I had to guess, will be relatively higher than it was in Patch 5.3).

We felt like Stampede had been nerfed too much in PvE for PvP reasons. It’s the intent that Stampede is a potent cooldown for Hunters, so we increased its damage back to an exciting level and just had it do less damage in PvP. Finally, we made a change that some (though to be fair not all) Survival Hunters had asked for a long time, to remove Explosive Trap from Lock and Load (and therefore from the shared cooldown with Black Arrow) so that they could use Explosive Trap (typically with the knockback glyph) without interfering with Black Arrow/Lock and Load.

Hunter talents were in a pretty good spot overall after a bit of iteration throughout MoP. We did nerf Aspect of the Iron Hawk, because as with Shadow Priests and Balance Druids, we felt like the damage reduction was just too potent. We changed Narrow Escape to be dispellable as a PvP nerf. We buffed Spirit Bond, which has felt particularly weak, and we buffed A Murder of Crows.

Paladin

Most of our core changes were to Holy Paladins. Specifically, we felt like the healing style of blanketing a group with Eternal Flame to proc absorbs from Illuminate Healing had become too widespread, and didn’t fit the healing style we wanted for Paladins. When some Paladins choose to use a heal-over-time spell, that’s the kind of diversity we want the talent tree to deliver. However, when every Paladin uses heal over time spells, then it’s just the way Paladins work.

In this case, we didn’t want to make Eternal Flame a core ability. Unlike Restoration Druids, Mistweaver Monks, and to a lesser extent Holy Priests, we don’t think every Paladin should be extensively using heal-over-time spells. The only change we made was to have Eternal Flame’s periodic heal not proc the Illuminated Healing absorb. It can still be used the way any HoT is used, to provide a buffer that can be layered with other heals, but it will no longer be an efficient way to blanket many targets with long-lasting absorbs. We made significant changes to Sacred Shield and Selfless Healer as well to help offset this nerf, which I’ll discuss below.

We also felt like Seal of Insight had a design problem. When Holy Paladins could melee targets, they had no mana problems at all, but when they had to heal at range (which we wanted to at least be an option, if not the default healing style), they suffered for mana. We thought it best to unshackle Holy Paladins from the pressure of having to stand in melee, so we removed the mana return from Seal of Insight and buffed Divine Plea. We had to provide more mana to Protection Paladins as well, since they typically tank using Seal of Insight. We also buffed Guardian of Ancient Kings for Holy, because we felt like it was too focused on single-target healing at a time when most healers are required to do a lot of area healing. Finally, we allowed the Sanctity of Battle passive to also affect Holy Shock, with the intent of making Haste slightly better for Holy.

Aside from the mana buff mentioned above, we changed Crusader Strike to also provide Weakened Blows as a quality of life improvement. We also changed Grand Crusader to proc from avoidance instead of attacks. We aren’t trying to make Dodge or Parry a Paladin’s best tanking stats, but those stats are going to appear on tanking gear, so we want to make sure they can tie into active mitigation. We’re happy with how active mitigation is working out overall and we want to put even more emphasis on it, for all tanks, in the future.

Retribution didn’t need much attention overall in our minds, but we did make Inquisition require less maintenance overall, and we reduced the cooldown and strength of Guardian of Ancient Kings, so that Retribution could use the cooldown more frequently. Retribution players had concerns that their damage was too tied to long cooldowns.

For Paladin talents, we tried to improve Selfless Healer for Holy by allowing Judgment to provide Holy Power, and we tried to improve Sacred Shield by removing the target cap and having a cooldown and charges instead. We’ve come to the conclusion that the same talent choices for healers and other specs just won’t always work, which is why you increasingly see talents work slightly different for healers in the case of Paladins, Priests, and Druids in particular. We replaced Burden of Guilt as a talent (and made it a slightly weaker glyph) with the ability to use Turn Evil on players. We hope that this will open up some PvP comp choices for Paladins, since fears are not always easy to get. We buffed Hand of Purity so that it will still have some benefit on boss abilities that can’t be prevented from immunities. We buffed Sanctified Wrath for Holy and Protection. We also simplified Unbreakable Spirit by just having it apply the cooldown all the time rather than having to be “driven down.”

Warlock

Because Warlocks had so many changes coming into Mists of Pandaria, we had to iterate on a lot of these new mechanics throughout the expansion and tried to not change things too much for Patch 5.4. We did nerf Fel Armor for the same reasons we lowered the passive damage reduction of Balance Druids, Shadow Priests, and Hunters. We increased Fel Flame’s damage but removed its DoT extension, which had become a liability for Fel Flame in PvE rather than letting it provide damage on the move as it was intended. For Affliction, we shifted more damage to DoTs and away from Malefic Grasp. Malefic Grasp is a cool spell, and we like channeling it to increase DoT damage, but we felt like too much damage had been shifted away from DoTs, which hurt Affliction in PvP and made all Affliction locks have difficulty moving. We also simplified the Soul Swap mechanic slightly by removing the glyph and the initial damage component. For Destruction, we changed Rain of Fire to not be so essential to the single-target rotation by reducing its Ember generation. We made Howl of Terror baseline for all Warlocks because we thought they had lost too much of their fear-based control package.

Our biggest challenge with Warlock talents was the level-90 tier, where most Warlocks chose Kil’jaeden’s Cunning (often to the frustration of raid leaders forced to deal with slow-moving Warlocks). We removed the snare from KJC but reduced the number of spells it affected. The talent should help with movement but not guarantee characters never need to stop moving. We buffed Mannoroth’s Fury by allowing it to increase the damage as well as radius of area-effect spells, but on a cooldown so the Warlock has more control over the effect and so it’ll feel more potent when active. We decided we could not safely balance Archimonde’s Vengeance in its “damage reflection” kit, so we redesigned and renamed the talent to emphasize the Dark Soul cooldowns (with the intent that one talent needed to be attractive in fights with no movement or area damage).

In addition to these substantial changes to the level-90 row, we wanted to buff several unattractive talents. Harvest Life never had a strong niche, so we made it improve Drain Life rather than act as an area-effect Drain Life. We replaced Howl of Terror (now baseline) with a talent inspired by the Cataclysm version of Shadowflame that many players asked for. Demonic Breath is a cone-based snare. Soul Link was also returned to an older design which is easier to use and more powerful.

 

Visit Ghostcrawler’s original post for additional information and insight on class changes in the Patch 5.4 PTR.

Tomas Hernandez is owner of Blizzplanet.com since 2003. I post news about World of Warcraft, StarCraft II, Diablo III, Hearthstone, Overwatch, Heroes of the Storm, Blizzard Careers, and the Warcraft film.

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