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Priest > WoWAug 13, 2015 7:00 pm CT

Shadow Word: Three changes to Shadow Priests I want to see in Legion

By now, I’m sure you’ve all heard that a new World of Warcraft expansion is on its way. And while Priests didn’t really get much (any?) info released, we do have a general idea of the major elements that will be in play in Legion. Major class changes, Class Halls, artifact weapons, and more are all on their way and will affect Shadow in big ways. What I want to talk about today are all my hopes for Shadow when 7.0 launches. After all, if there’s any time for change, it’s with the release of an expansion.

Halo All Priest Raid

Better spell animations

First on my list are better spell animations. Take a quick look above at the header image and tell me if you can identify any of those spells. Maybe a few of them will look familiar, but by and large they don’t exactly stand out. Now go ask a non-Priest to identify the spells and see what kind of answers you get. I’m sure the results are even worse than the first time. (For those curious, from left to right: Devouring Plague, Mind Blast, Mind Spike, Shadow Word: Pain, Vampiric Touch.)

Now, don’t get me wrong, Shadow does have some pretty cool-looking abilities. The level-90 talents (Halo, Cascade, and Divine Star) all are impressive, especially when more than one is used at once, and Mind Sear is at least more noticeable than most of our other spells but those are all shared with the other Priest specs, which makes them feel slightly less distinctive. Visually impressive spells specific to Shadow include Mind Flay, which might be a stretch to call “impressive,” and Shadow Apparitions, which… okay, they’re pretty cool.

The problem I have with the above abilities being the only visually distinctive ones is that they don’t feel like iconic Shadow abilities. I understand the need to reduce visual clutter, but Mind Blast is a spell Priests have had since the beginning. It’s our heavy hitter. It should be the spell enemies see coming and think, “Uh oh, I’m in trouble.” Instead, it only sometimes seems to have any animation whatsoever. On top of that, our level-100 talents — which define us almost as much as choosing Shadow does — only brought one new spell graphic and that happened to be with Void Entropy (which could definitely use some work).

What I would love to see with our spells more often is something involving an actual shadow. Imagine this: as you cast a spell, a shadow begins to form beneath you, growing bigger and bigger as the cast nears completion, and then moving toward your target only to pop out of the ground and engulf the enemy when it inevitably reaches its destination. Or what if our DOTs cast some sort of shadow over the enemy? If not for the entire duration, at least some sort of occasional silhouette change to indicate, “Hey, something is causing you intense amounts of pain right now!” instead of a quick cloud of purple on the cast and then nothing until it needs to be cast again.


Equal representation in the Priest Class Hall

Moving away from spells to something a little more free-form, I’d be remiss if I didn’t discuss our future Class Hall. Now, I’m already getting myself used to the idea of sharing the space with non-Shadow Priests — it’s not ideal, but I suppose the only way to win the other side over is exposure, right? What my biggest concern is, however, is Shadow getting an even share of the real estate.

We damage-dealing Priests have always felt slightly underrepresented in comparison to our healing counterparts. I worry that Priests as a whole will get a space largely dedicated to the Light and a small corner for Shadow Priests to convene. What I want is an even split: either half the space dedicated to healers (of any variety) and half dedicated to Shadow or one-third of the space reserved for each spec.

In my mind, there are a few ways to envision the Priest Class Hall. The first is akin to Heroes of the Storm’s Battlefield of Eternity map, where the two sides meet in the middle, one slowly transitioning into the other. The other I’m envisioning is a cross between the Skyreach architecture and the Shadowmoon Burial Grounds aesthetic. What I mean by that is a sort of winding spire that gets closer and closer to the Light as you climb to the top but instead of ending at the ground, it goes equally as far underground into the shadows. It’s similar to the first idea, only slightly more vertical. In either case, the middle area could be given to Discipline Priests (who are likely to be more focused around damage-dealing in Legion) as a sort of transition between outright healing and outright damage-dealing.

Another approach I wouldn’t mind seeing is Priests moving into an old dungeon. Maybe the Scarlet Monastery has been cleared out and we discovered catacombs beneath it — healing specs practice their magic in the cathedral, Shadow Priests practice theirs underground. Or perhaps Stratholme is closer than ever to being reclaimed, but still needs the help of Priests who know both the combative ways of the Light and the more evil know-your-enemies ways of shadows.

The reason even distribution is so important to me is because it would give Shadow Priests a real chance to showcase what already makes Shadow so great and improve on areas where Shadow is lacking. Off the top of your head, who’s the most prominent Shadow Priest figure in lore? Okay, now when’s the last time you saw a Shadow Priest NPC? Class Halls are a way to build Shadow lore that has been missing. Heck, it’s hard to even begin to theorize about our artifact because I have no idea what named Shadow Priest’s weapon we’d be inheriting. Don’t just give us one named Shadow Priest, give us a dozen. Let us have an entire space with nothing but Shadow Priests walking around. Have mounts in Shadowform wandering around to really showcase what a cool mount in Shadowform looks like.

A talent redesign

And finally, talents. I talked last time about some of the troubles with Void Entropy, but there are other problems with our talents that make them more confusing than they need to be. Our biggest major talent choice comes with the level-100 talents. From there, we have the level-45, level-75, and level-90 talent rows to consider and how picking any one of them will affect all the others. That’s a lot of combinations to consider and a lot of decisions to make on a fight-by-fight basis if you want to maximize your DPS. Sure, a full-time Shadow Priest may be able to figure out what works best for a particular fight relatively quickly. Someone new to Shadow or who just plays it as an alt, though? It’s incredibly daunting.

Part of this isn’t just because there are lot of combinations to choose from but because, inherently, having so many combinations means Blizzard needs to consider each and every combination when balancing different talents. The designers are stuck in a corner: either design each of the three main rows (45, 75, and 90) to have one specific interaction with the level-100 talents or design those rows to be viable with at least a majority of the other options. The former runs counter to the design philosophy of Blizzard’s current talent trees, while the latter puts us in the complicated balancing state we have today.

So, what can be done to simplify this?

Bear with me on this, but I think Shadow could use a good ol’ Feral-style spec splitting. Give Priests four specs, two of which are dedicated to Shadow. One of the specs could be focus on single-target damage (similar to Clarity of Power) while the other would be focused on multi-target damage. Since the current iterations of Void Entropy and Auspicious Spirits play much more similarly to each other than they do to Clarity of Power, it would be easy enough to lump them into one tree rather than break Shadow into three specs.

Priest Spells

Splitting Shadow into two specs would alleviate a lot of the balancing issues that come into play when every single playstyle is under the same talent tree. In the same way Blizzard has chosen to give Demon Hunters two specs instead of three for the sake of not watering either of those down, two Shadow trees would allow a single-target build to truly feel like a single-target build, rather than a single-target option amidst a multi-target tree. It would allow multi-target builds to be able to focus more closely on DOTs without worrying about those DOTs becoming so powerful that they become part of the single-target spec (I’m looking at you, COP Lite). In short, the two concepts could co-exist without the need for counterbalancing.

I understand how radical a change this may sound, but Blizzard has always hinted at Shadow Orbs going away in the future. Seeing as all of our level-100 talents revolve around Shadow Orbs in some way or another, this would be a perfect time to reevaluate the talents themselves. A fourth spec may be rare, but back when Feral Druids had to differentiate between tanking and damage-dealing through a single talent tree, Blizzard decided it would be easier to split the two options into their own build. Shadow is more diverse than ever – and that’s a good thing! – but it’s running into the same problem Feral had as a result. Shadow is already essentially its own class with three different talent trees. Splitting our 100-talents across two unique specs would only make that more official. Legion is our chance to change for the better — hopefully Blizzard leaves no option off the table.

Until next time, never forget: you’re never truly alone as long as you’ve got a Shadow. <3

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