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Shaman > WoWJun 18, 2015 7:00 pm CT

Totem Talk: Do Enhancement Shaman need fixing?

I'm not sick, but I'm not well.

One of the reasons I got into writing about games that you play online was the writings of a particular dude you’re probably familiar with — Matthew Rossi.  So even though his heart and soul belong to Warriors, who are only fifth on the list of classes that I care about strongly, I still follow the stuff he writes religiously.  And his most recent column had a line that struck me as particularly interesting when seen through a framework of Enhancement Shaman.

Perhaps it’s as simple as it not being broken enough for anyone to feel the need to fix it.

I don’t think Enhancement is broken.  Heck, I’ve gone on the record multiple times as saying that I still think it’s the coolest single spec in the game, and there’s a reason why I’ve stuck by it so long. But there is a sort of discontent lying at the heart of Enhancement.  Yes, the spec makes up a small percentage at the top end, but Shaman has always lagged behind in class representation.  What’s far more telling to me isn’t the fact that the class is still not super popular, but the fact that veteran Enhancement players seem to feel like there’s something wrong with the spec.

The 6.2 Q&A followup even addressed this, noting that totems and individual presses for Enhancement are currently, to put it bluntly, utterly pointless.  We’ve got way too many buttons to push without enough impact and not a strong sense of class identity remaining. But as I noted a while back, we’re also a class that has solid DPS and utility all through the game. So the question becomes: is Enhancement just not broken enough to be fixed?  Does it need to be fixed?  And what would a fix even look like?

Obviously, even the designers think that there’s something not quite right at the heart of Enhancement, that the spec does have some issues. At the same time, there’s also tacit acknowledgement that the spec doesn’t need a complete rework, and there’s good reason for it. As it stands now, Enhancement works. It’s fiddly and it has some real pacing issues, but every part of it functions and there are no procs-that-aren’t or parts of our rotation that just make no logical sense.  Our biggest weaknesses are an overabundance of buttons to press on a regular basis and a lack of significant impact from each of them, coupled with a whole lot of reliance on procs and randomness.

When things were perfect.

From a design standpoint, that’s a really great place to be.  It means that the spec could use some work, but the secret heart of World of Warcraft is that every spec could always use work.  Even the most powerful spec at a given point in progression will have issues, parts of it that aren’t fun to play, and weirdly janky bits of itemization.  I assure you that if you traveled back in time to the heyday of Warlocks, you could find a litany of complaints from Warlock players about the broken parts of their class.

Certainly, Enhancement isn’t broken enough to require major middle-of-expansion reworks and huge upheaval.  But I think it still feels a little bit broken for players, and that’s the result of several incremental shifts over time that speak to a few underlying Shaman issues.

Enhancement, as I’ve noted elsewhere, kind of started in one place from a design perspective and went somewhere else. Our various improvements, over the years, have been done with an eye toward improving our overall toolkit and utility.  The changes to totems that hit all Shamans, for example, was meant as a way to consolidate buffs and make it easier to be certain that the “right” buffs were available to pretty much every group of sufficient size.  But as Watcher himself notes, at this point the functionality and “cool” of totems has eroded to the point that they either need to start feeling cool again or there’s just no point in having them around.

We’ve shed what our identity used to be.  “Hybrid spellcasters in melee with healing and tanking capabilities” was way too big a slice of the identity pie.  Where things get iffy is that while we’ve had things pruned and removed and consolidated, we haven’t actually gotten something that helps us build a new identity at any point.  It’s sort of the level 45 talent problem writ large, where there’s nothing wrong with it but it feels like something is just plain missing.

By contrast, I look at Retribution, which is another longtime love of mine.  The spec’s previous role of support-oriented DPS got eroded over time, yes, but the core feel of it remained intact, and it got replaced with new pieces of a distinct identity.  Stuff like Templar’s Verdict and Inquisition kept the feel of the spec intact — action, reaction, and triggering improved states wherein you lay down the law.  I won’t say the spec is perfect, I’m sure Retribution players can point to its broken or odd elements, but it does feel like it lost its old niche and gained a new one, partly by getting new tools and abilities along the way.

Also, gorgeous outfits never hurt.

Enhancement is still trying to build a house out of bits that we haven’t lost.  That’s always going to lead to problems, because while that keeps the spec functional — which we are — it doesn’t give the feeling of transition and having something new we bring to the table. I mentioned back in my second column that being good at AOE damage doesn’t exactly feel like our niche, but part of that is because we never gained tools to be good at it, we just… didn’t lose the ones we already had.

Thus, it isn’t that we’re not broken enough to fix, it’s that we’re not broken and no one wants to break the spec.  And who can blame them?  There are lots of weird moving parts to Enhancement, and when we’ve spent the past two expansions not really getting big new tools it’s hard to make the path feel like an organic one.

The key, then, is as simple as giving us a showstopper and lifting up some abilities to support that.  I would love to see, for example, Ascendance get a big buff into a longer but more impressive cooldown, with bigger effects.  Or something similar.  Give Enhancement a big buff with a length cast time and cooldown, then have us strive to build up our Maelstrom stacks to get it off instantly and use other abilities to try and extend its duration or reduce the cooldown.

The spec is random, yes, but that’s always been a component to it.  Let us feel like those spikes are things we can set up and react to.  Sure, Windfury procs that hit for huge damage out of nowhere are a thing of the past, as they should be, but give us something big and let us maximize it when it happens.  Because that’s fun, that’s impressive, that’s neat.  Even if we can’t have totems be big buff sticks any more, we can still get the sense of being elementally empowered, the idea that we become the totem instead of simply benefiting from it.

We aren’t broken in the least, and Enhancement is still lots of fun to play.  But we feel like we’ve lost parts of our identity along the way, and we need something to replace what we’ve lost instead of just filling in with the functional-but-bland stuff that hasn’t slipped away from us. That’d be something else.

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