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WoWAug 20, 2015 3:00 pm CT

Totem Talk: How Survival in Legion makes me excited for Enhancement’s future

These have been long gone.

While Doomhammer remains an awful artifact weapon for Enhancement, that fact alone doesn’t make me less than excited about Legion. In fact, I’m super excited. I’m more excited than I have been since, well, Wrath of the Lich King. And it’s not just because of Demon Hunters or anything of the sort; it’s because of Hunters.  Yes, normal old Hunters.

Assuming you call the newly melee Survival spec “normal.” And while that makes me happy on its own, it also makes me excited about the future of Enhancement as a spec.

I’ve gone on record before saying that Enhancement is not innately broken, and I still believe that. The spec has its issues, but a lot of those come down to the fact that up through Warlords it’s been not broken enough to need fixing.  But now we’re entering into a bold new era, an era wherein Enhancement isn’t the only melee spec in mail armor. That’s not the biggest element of our class identity at this point, but it’s a part just the same, and it implies revisions that reach a bit further than just giving us an artifact and calling it a day.

World of Warcraft Hunter Totem Talk

The stated reason for Survival heading over into melee is just a matter of differentiating specs, which honestly works out as a pretty solid reason.  There are only so many different ways to theme “shoots something with a bow or a gun” before it starts becoming redundant, after all. But there are also no shortage of melee DPS classes in the game at this point, and thus each of those needs its own identity and its slice of the pie.

As it stands, Enhancement is not the only melee DPS with some magical overtones to its flavor — Retribution Paladins, Frost Death Knights, and Havoc Demon Hunters all fit the bill.  You could argue the case with Feral Druids and Windwalker Monks, even. Narrowing it down only to the dual-wielding options out of the bunch changes the field slightly, but since mana as a resource really isn’t for Enhancement, what’s left in terms of identity is a hodgepodge of magical flavor and, well, being a melee class in mail. We roll on Hunter mail for melee damage, all in service of making sure that every class functions close enough to every other that we don’t wind up needing armor that no one else in the world wants.

Except that’s not an issue any longer, and thus, we find ourselves in a different spot.  And we find ourselves standing next to a Hunter spec that also has a melee weapon and wades into danger right alongside us.  Just being “the one that dual-wields” isn’t enough of a class identity in that context.

One of the statements made at Gamescom was an acknowledgement that class homogenization had gone too far, and that every spec needs more space to spread out and be itself. And that’s true with Hunters, as well — reworking Survival as a melee spec with a pet means that the whole spec needs to be kind of rewritten from the ground up to work as a melee class when Hunters currently don’t use melee weapons at all.  Sure, we’ve been told that other specs will not see their identity change as radically, but there’s a difference between identity and mechanics.

See, Survival doesn’t just need a couple of new spec-specific buttons, it needs to be almost completely rebuilt. It can’t simply share abilities with the other Hunter specs that make perfect sense for fighting at range while making zero sense for melee.  And while Enhancement has long relied upon that weird melee-spellcaster hybrid nature to provide a lot of its flavor, as has been pointed out elsewhere, the net result is that it’s become a bit of a mess.  Pieces yanked from the spec and the pieces not yet yanked being pushed together to work amidst a sea of abilities that have to be shared with other Shaman specs. It’s less than ideal.

Assembled from carpet remnants!

But now the split between specs is becoming explicit. And here’s one class sharing a chunk of our identity pie along with so many others, and that means Enhancement has to be included in the discussion. It means that our talents and our options for play require a look. It means that along with designing our new set of choices for our artifact weapons, a lot of legacy baggage needs to be unpacked and re-examined. The number of buttons on our bars, the utility of totems, the fact that we don’t really have a coherent resource outside of a mana bar that we never pay attention to — all of this stuff can’t just be quietly kept off to one side any longer.  It needs to be looked at.

This also ties into the large-scale PVP ranking overhaul, but that’s a topic for another day.

It’s also a conceptual nod to how far the team is willing to go to change up specs based on the core ideal behind them. Whether or not Survival specifically needed to get the overhaul, there’s always been a certain amount of fascination with the idea of a melee hunter, one that hasn’t gone away from the early days of the class. It’s a differentiation based upon that class idea, not based on the absolute needs of equality or balance — making Survival into a melee DPS actually makes melee DPS a bit lopsided now.

So what am I hoping to see?  Some stuff lost.  I don’t think Lava Lash, Stormstrike, or Lightning Bolt are going anywhere, as those have become iconic parts of the Enhancement rotation and have held that position for a long time. I also don’t believe that we won’t be stacking up Maelstrom Weapon and firing it off in the future. But I think some of our other unwieldy or functionally useless bits will be overhauled or changed to differentiate us from Survival and its pet-and-player style of damage.


Our summoned elementals, for example, may very well be going away; we’re not the pet-user in melee any longer, after all. And the way we use things like Flame Shock may well be changing, too; Survival’s existing ability lineup includes similar tricks, but at range.  Instead, I think we’ll see more of an emphasis on speed of attacks, on summoning up our magical abilities in great bursts, on really delivering the power of storm, earth, and fire in close combat.

I’d love to see something like Windfury return as something other than an Unleash ability, that feel of just hammering on a series of melee strikes in an instant.  And I think there’s space to use Maelstrom Weapon itself as a resource, to have it stack slightly higher and reduce cast times by flat amounts rather than by percentages.  I can see Maelstrom being something you build up to a certain point, only to unleash in certain bursts, with a chance for lucky hits to build it that much faster. Or perhaps we’ll have a totem-style resource of some variety.

But I do think that we’re going to be getting a pretty thorough overhaul and re-examination just the same. Because Survival is stepping into the small slice of the pie we currently occupy, and frankly there isn’t enough space for both of us.  So we’re both going to need to carve some new identities.

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