Just a little bit Shadow: Flexibility in the Talent Trees

August 20, 2009 at 7:05 pm (Talents)

If you look at the Death Knight talent tree it reminds me very much of a delicatessen. That’s to say, all the talents look quite tasty. They might not be quite what you want, perhaps you don’t really like Olives, but you have to admit, they do look like very good Olives… and all those tasty Sun-dried Tomatoes… If you’re speccing into the blood tree you can still see a lot of nice options in the other talent trees. There is a enough overlap between Blood and Unholy, or Frost tanking and the tanking talents in Unholy or Blood to give you some nice options. There’s so many good things to pick and choose from.

When I look at the priest class I really see a set menu. The starter is 13 points in Discipline, and no, you can’t take the side salad instead.

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I’ve talked about it several times before, but it’s so true it’s worth repeating, the reason those 13 points go into Discipline are two fold.

  1. You need the mana from Meditation, it really is non negotiable.

  2. Those 13 points are the only place that all priests can put point without wasting them because the talents themselves are so generic.

Healer choices in the Shadow Tree

For example, imagine you’re a holy priest. You’ve picked up the talents you want from the Holy Tree and you’ve got 10-15 points left to spend. Lets look at the Shadow Tree. Really, open up Wowhead in another window and lets look at it:

Darkness buffs your shadow damage, you don’t want that. Spirit Tap returns mana on killing blows, as a PvE healer you don’t want that. Improved Spirit tap will buff your spirit, but only when you cast DPS spells, not Holy spells, so no benefit.

Improved Shadow Word: Pain? No

Shadow Affinity? No

Shadow Focus? No

Improved Mind Blast, Mind Flay, Improved Psychic Scream these are all wasted points.

Veiled Shadow? Ah, now that might be good. A lower cooldown on Shadowfiend could be substantial, that could be some good mana return. Oh but wait, to get that we’ve missed out of Meditation in the Discipline Tree. Not just Meditation either, the 10 points we spend to get to Meditation also give us a better raid buff, more spell power and more healing on our instant casts. Furthermore, to get Veiled Shadow we have to spend 17 points in the Shadow tree so we need to drop some talents from the Holy tree. Things like Test of Faith and Empowered Healing. It isn’t worth it.

Shadow choices in the Holy Tree

Lets reverse things, imagine you’re a shadow priest. You’ve picked up the DPS talents you want from the Shadow Tree and you’ve got 20 talent points left. Rather than the Discipline tree lets look at the Holy Tree:

Healing Focus, Improved Renew, Holy Specialisation. All these things require you to come out of Shadowform. Spell Warding is not a DPS buff and it’s a lot of talent points to invest. Divine Fury gives you no benefit if you want to stay in Shadow Form. Inspiration is no benefit if you are DPS. Blessed Recovery is a PvP Talent. Desperate Prayer is not a bad talent, but it’s not an attractive DPS talent.

Holy Reach, no.

Improved Healing, no.

Spiritual Guidance, now this is a nice talent. 25% of out spirit converted to Spell Power. That could be a good DPS bump, that could easily be 250 spell power, and if we stacked spirit then perhaps even more.

Ah but wait, to get this we have to spend 25 points in the tree. So we need to pull 5 extra points from the Shadow Tree. Is that so bad? Dispersion is not fantastic. We could drop that. We’d also need to drop 4 points from Twisted Faith. Now that is a problem. We lose 8% damage from Mind Flay and Mind Blast. We also lose 8% of our spirit converted to Spell Power. So we’ve spent 25 points in the Holy tree for 25% spirit to spell, and in the process had to give up 8% we already had. Still, lets be positive, that 17% extra spirit to spell could be 200 more spell power.

Wait a moment though. In spending 25 points in the Holy tree we haven’t got anything from the Discipline Tree. So no Twin Disciplines. We’ve lost Improved Inner Fire so we lose out on some extra spell power here. We lose meditation so we might have mana issues, and without Dispersion mana is even more of an issue.

For what amounts to 17% extra spirit converted to spell power we lose:

  • All regeneration from Spirit – So suddenly spirit is not so attractive even though we want to stack it for spell power.
  • 5% damage on instant cast spells.
  • 8% damage on Mind Flay and Mind Blast
  • Perhaps we lose Improved Power Word Fortitude on all our raid members.
  • Spell power bonus from Improved Inner Fire.
  • Dispersion.

Now you may disagree but I think that’s far from worth it.

What does it all mean!?

Personally I think Priests are very well balanced at the moment. I think Shadow Priests do good damage, whilst Discipline and Holy Priests do very good and varied healing and for the most part all three are fun to play. What I think is missing is any kind of flexibility in spec. Shadow and Holy Priests have effectively 1 place to put their extra talent points and that’s the Discipline tree.

Discipline priests might be tempted to pick up Veiled Shadows, but it would be at the expense of Inspiration, Holy Specialisation, and probably Focused Will.

There are very very few talents in other trees which are attractive to other specs, and those which are nice are for the most part ruined by how many points have to be wasted to reach them.

What’s the solution then? Well there are essentially three that I can see Blizzard might do:

  1. The first is to move talents around. Drop Spiritual Guidance down the tree to where Shadow Priests can easily pick it up. Make Veiled Shadow a tier one ability and then expect all priests to get it. Unfortunately the downside is you’d have to do some rebalancing. It wouldn’t necessarily overpower any spec, because you still have to spend points to get these “new” talents and so that’s points not going elsewhere. Still, there would need to be some tweaking to balance.
  2. The second option is new talents low in the trees attractive to other specs. Put some Shadow focused talents in the Holy Tree to help Shadow Priests reach Spiritual Guidance if that’s what they want. Perhaps with a Meditation replacement to ease mana issues. Unfortunately the downside is both balance issues and bloating the talent trees.
  3. The third option is to double up on certain talents. Make Holy Specialisation give 5% spell crit instead of Holy spells only, then it’s attractive to Shadow. Make Improved Spirit tap proc off of all spell crits. Fold the Discipline talent Grace into the Shadow Weaving talent. Again, the downside is balance and bloat.

Ultimately the solution is radical and it makes me wonder whether Blizzard would ever see the problem as serious enough to warrant it. What is really needed is a redesign of the Priest spell book because until Shadow, Holy and Discipline have more spell overlap it is never going to be simple to make Talents which appeal to everybody.

Not that you want all talents to appeal to everybody, but until there is some radical change you are not going to have any talents which appeal to everybody unless they are entirely generic and boring – see Meditation and Twin Discipline. While the different specs use such different spells the only thing which you can really do is make talents which buff Fade, class buffs, and passive effects.

So ultimately it’s going to come down to Blizzard’s motivation. If they like the priest balance how it is, they will let us tick along as we are with no real changes. On the other hand, if they are motivated to make the trees more interesting, flexible and allow more choice, we might see some changes. I would think that at this point in the game the former is more likely than the latter, but perhaps I’m being unfair to a very committed group of game designers who will do whatever it takes to get it right. Or perhaps there emphasis is different and they don’t see it as a problem.

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