Lightsworn: Fixing two lackluster Retribution talents
Welcome to Lightsworn, Blizzard Watch’s regular paladin column. Today, Dan Desmond (@Antigen_) is here to speak retribution in your general direction.
Just a week ago I finally snagged the last piece of gear I needed to cobble together my 4-piece tier 17 set. It was an exhilarating moment of triumph, followed closely by a very confusing Raid Finder run in an attempt to adapt to the new proc. Roughly halfway through the run I remembered that I should be running Divine Purpose instead of Sanctified Wrath now that I had access to that beautiful bonus, and after opening my talent pane to rectify this mistake I realized something — I haven’t changed a talent for a long, long time. Well, to be fair I did try out Light’s Hammer when we were initially working on Operator Thogar, but we ended up needing more single target damage (namely on the Men-at-Arms) so I switched back to Execution Sentence and promptly forgot the other options existed.
This episode was a microcosm of my entire experience with talents this expansion. Often times I’ll get a notion that an encounter might call for a change in my setup — more AoE for this boss, a stronger sprint for that boss. Nine times out of ten, however, I find myself falling back to the same set of Retribution talents. I’m not saying that there’s only one viable “cookie cutter” build for PVE Retribution Paladins, or that some of the less popular talents are utterly useless. What I am saying, however, is that I’ve noticed trends in both the Ret community at large and my own personal experience in determining the value of our talents, trends that have highlighted a couple problem areas for me whenever I pressed my N key.
In Mists of Pandaria, when all the other classes were hitting level 87 and getting amazing new cooldowns or unique abilities, Paladins everywhere collectively sighed at the sudden appearance of Blinding Light in our spellbooks. Blinding Light didn’t offer increased throughput on damage or healing, it didn’t provide a (significant) buff to survivability, it didn’t add a new facet to our gameplay — it was simply another spell to toss in the dust-covered CC bin. Of course, Blinding Light’s true value shone true in PVP as a kind of AoE Blind (as its name would suggest), and I do recall the spell coming in handy during challenge mode dungeons. But these niche uses simply weren’t enough to lift the ability out of the muck it landed in.
Amazingly the developers thought that a better way to approach Blinding Light in Warlords of Draenor was to make it an optional talent. I can appreciate wanting to cut down on “ability bloat” and getting it out of our spellbook, but by putting it on the same tier as Fist of Justice and, to a lesser degree, Repentance, they have actually made the ability worse than it was in Mists, as you can obviously no longer have your cake and blind it too.
To make Blinding Light more competitive, I think they really just need to make the now-defunct Glyph of Blinding Light part of the baseline talent. This glyph changed Blinding Light so that it knocked down targets for 3 seconds instead of Blinding them. Without a significant power boost like that, I’m afraid it will be hard to compete with Fist of Justice.
While Blinding Light is a poor talent because of how weak it is relative to the rest of its talent group, Unbreakable Spirit is a poor talent because of how ridiculously good it is. Divine Protection on a 30-second cooldown? Divine Shield on a 2.5-minute cooldown? Forget about it. As much as I love this talent and never want to give it up, I have to admit that it sticks out like a sore thumb. Granted, most Holy Paladins I’ve interacted with seem to prefer Clemency due to the additional cooldowns it provides, so Unbreakable Spirit only seems to have a hold on two out of the three flavors of Paladin — it just so happens that it has its hooks in the two best flavors, but that’s getting a little off topic.
No matter how powerful this talent may seem, I would be fairly reluctant to swoop in and nerf it if I were Blizzard. Having our damage mitigating abilities up twice as often allows us to take more risks, sneak some more damage in, and cheese more mechanics. And to be fair to Clemency, two-charge Hands are a great option to have in our back pocket. What really bothers me about this tier isn’t so much the talents we’re offered, it’s how it reminds us that a Ret Paladin is essentially an inferior Holy Paladin when it comes to group utility.
One of the selling points of Retribution is that we can deal respectable damage while providing some powerful support for our raid or party. But when it comes right down to it there’s nothing we can do utility-wise that a holy paladin can’t do better. If we are going to make support part of our identity as a spec, we need something unique. Holy has sole possession of Devotion Aura/Aura Mastery after a six year custody battle, and in the end I think the judge made the right decision. Holy Paladins are monitoring the health of the raid, they know better than anyone when a raid cooldown is necessary. In turn, I think Ret should get exclusive rights to Hand of Purity.
This may seem like a crazy, outlandish proposition, and to your credit, it absolutely is. I’m not going to pretend that I know enough about Blizzard’s talent use statistics to justify limiting Hand of Purity to a single spec; all I have are my experience and intuition, and those are telling me that it likely sees less use than Turn Evil. Purity was designed for such a specific purpose that when a situation calls for it most players forget it’s even there. Giving Retribution this mediocre Hand won’t suddenly make the spell better but, the way I see it, it could kill two birds with one stone:
- It will give Retribution Paladins some sort of utility niche. Even if our special ability goes unused 95% of the time, it plants the idea that we should have some sort of characteristic other than our role as DPS to define us.
- Taking Hand of Purity out of our level 60 talents opens the door for a more competitive, creative talent to be put in its place. That might be a tad optimistic, but if I were them I’d take it as a challenge to create something that shakes Paladins out of their Unbreakable Spirit/Clemency complacency.
As our shiny level 100 talents have demonstrated, the developers are growing more comfortable with spec-specific talent options, hopefully opening the door for more progressive changes in future patches and expansions. At this point, balancing a tier of three talents to work equally well for three very different specs seems a bit like they’re trying to do something the hard way because it’ll seem “cleaner.” I’d rather have all of my talents be viable, but that could just be me.
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