Shifting Perspectives: Have balance druids outgrown Eclipse?

Welcome to Shifting Perspectives, Blizzard Watch’s regular column for druids of all vocations. This week, Chase Hasbrouck (@alarondruid) is pondering the ecliptic.

So Patch 6.2 is coming and all, but we’ll have a year to talk about that. (Kidding! Hopefully…) In the meantime, let’s talk about a subject that’s close to my heart: Eclipse. Frankly, it stinks. I’d like to take a quick look back to see how Eclipse ended up in its current state, then propose an alternative.

The history of Eclipse

Eclipse was first introduced in the Wrath of the Lich King expansion as a talent. (Balance druids effectively didn’t exist except for leveling back in classic WoW, and they were mostly brought to raids for their buffs in The Burning Crusade.) Back then, there was no such thing as an energy bar; this was what it did:

Eclipse (Wrath of the Lich King): When you critically hit with Starfire, you have a (33%, 66%, 100%) chance of increasing damage done by Wrath by 20%. When you critically hit with Wrath, you have a (20%, 40%, 60%) chance of increasing your critical strike chance with Starfire by 30%. Effect lasts 15 sec and has a 30 sec cooldown.

Yes, that’s a 30% crit buff, which was gigantic. This mechanic was one of the primary complaints of balance druids then, which eventually led to these two Ghostcrawler posts that encapsulates what the fundamental problem is:

Originally Posted by Ghostcrawler (Blue Tracker / Official Post)

The basic design problem for Balance, as I know you know, comes down to Wrath and Starfire just being very similar spells. One is always going to win out by virtue of damage or cast time. Eclipse was our attempt to make which one wins more dynamic. I think it accomplishes that, but I think it’s also fair to say that there aren’t a ton of druids who are in love with the talent. Or maybe it’s more fair to say that there are druids who just can’t stand it. It’s also not swell that the talent has driven many druids to mods to help manage it.

Originally Posted by Ghostcrawler (Blue Tracker / Official Post)

As I’ve said before, the goal isn’t merely to get you to use Starfire and Wrath. The goal is to have a rotation that is more than just 12121212 or even 111222111222. RNG is something we actually want. The best players should be the ones who can pay attention and react to situations, not the ones who can mash their keys the fastest (or download the most recent macros).
The biggest problems with Eclipse are:
1) It’s too much of a damage increase. Here we see the problem with overbudgeted talents. The RNG wouldn’t be an issue if the magnitude of those random rolls wasn’t so huge.
2) It suffers too much from movement. Losing an Eclipse proc when you have to run is a problem, particularly given point 1. Now we have no problem with classes taking a dps hit when they have to move and we don’t even mind of some specs pay a heavier penalty than others. But it’s a problem when the delta between dps when moving and dps when not moving is so great.

Yes, that was written back in 2009-2010. Unfortunately, instead of admitting that maybe the mechanic was flawed and just needed to be dialed back some, they made it the core of the Balance rotation for Cataclysm. The Eclipse energy bar was introduced (with Starfire, Wrath, and Starsurge as the energy generators) and Balance’s new mastery increased the potency of the Eclipse buff. Furthermore, the buff was no longer timed; you simply received it at max energy, and kept it until your energy bar was emptied.

It was a good plan; unfortunately, the developers didn’t plan around mana becoming irrelevant.  They allowed the Eclipse bonuses to affect DoT’s and AoE abilities, instead of just single-target spells, figuring the effect would be limited since Eclipse was your primary source of mana regeneration. Later in the expansion, though, gear grew to the point where the “solarcleave” strategy was popular, where a balance druid would just sit in Solar Eclipse and cast DoTs/AoE for the whole fight. In general, the spec was in a pretty good place, with just some minor issues that needed tweaking.

So, they redesigned things again for Mists of Pandaria. Solarcleave was broken by removing the buffs and adding a Lunar variant of Hurricane, along with other tweaks to make neither Eclipse particularly desirable. Unfortunately, this was where the spec seriously started going downhill. With neither Eclipse desirable, Wrath/Sunfire automatically refreshing DoTs, and Insect Swarm removed, Balance became a spec that was fairly difficult to learn, and not very rewarding to master.

That leads us to Warlords of Draenor, and another redesign. Once again, the decision was made to try to “fix” Eclipse, and that has left us with our current abomination: an automatically cycling Eclipse bar that is even harder for new players to learn then previously, combined with an even simpler rotation. Balance druids now have essentially three buttons: slow-cast nuke (Starfire/Wrath), DoT (Moonfire/Sunfire), and short-cooldowns big hitter (Starsurge/Starfall). Toss your big cooldowns on Shift-button, and you’re set.

Fixing the problem

Playing armchair designer is hard. Every class (and make no mistake, Balance is effectively its own class at this point) needs to keep the four player archetypes happy:

  • Timmy wants to see awesome things. Starfall blowing up the whole room! Massive Starfire crits! Pew pew!
  • Johnny wants versatility and complexity. “If I hit this switch, dodge the first lightning ball, drop my treants here to engage the add, then use Dash and Displacer Beast to run the gauntlet, I can pull Thorim off his balcony.” Hates when things are “too easy.”
  • Spike wants to win meters, no matter what. If he could push a button to skip the fight and put him at the top of the meters (coughStarfallcough), he’d do it.
  • Finally, Jake just leveled a druid to max level, and what buttons does he push again? If it’s too hard to figure out, no big deal, he’ll start his 6th alt.

With that in mind…I’d still like to see Eclipse gone. Timmy hates the boring bar, Johnny has realized  that the flat damage bonus provided by Eclipse make it not particularly interesting to analyze; and Jake is completely lost.  Go back to those blue posts. Remember, the whole point of it originally was to differentiate Starfire and Wrath, right? Well, there’s lots of other ways we can do that. It took me a while to think of something that wasn’t just ripping off another two-nuke class (Fire mages, Demonology warlocks, etc.) but I finally came up with something.

Make Starfire channeled. 

I know, everyone hates channeled spells, but hear me out. In this scenario, Wrath becomes a filler spell that adds a Lunar Charge; Starfire consumes your Lunar Charges and blasts down from the sky for damage that increases rapidly over time. Think of it like forcing your target to stand in the fire of an Independence Day-style death ray. Timmy likes it because it hits for massive damage, Johnny likes that he gets to theorycraft all the edge cases, Jake gets a glyph that enables a similar effect passively for a reduced price. Everybody wins. Even Spike, if he’s good enough at winning meters without Starfall.


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I know, there’s a lot more redesigning that would have to happen from the mastery on down, so I’m going to stop right there and open the floor to discussion. Have you ever liked Eclipse? If so, what was your favorite version of the talent — the initial version in Wrath, the controlled charge one of Cataclysm/Mists, or today’s version? If not, what changes would your recommend?

 

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