Lightsworn: Reclaiming the class fantasy of Protection Paladins
At this year’s DragonCon, Jonathan LeCraft answered a question about class overhauls and revealed that “most” specs will have changes to better align with the “fantasy” of the spec. This follows philosophically from the addition of the specialization-specific quests that lead to collecting artifact weapons in the introduction of the expansion. Blizzard is definitely making a push to make specs feel unique again and to celebrate what differentiates one spec from another.
More than all the new raids and dungeons and other bits of content that Legion will feature, I am most interested in this endeavor to focus on what makes each specialization awesome. I’ve been playing this game for a very long time now and I have grown attached to my Protection Paladin. Anything that helps recapture the magic of my character, which seems to have been leaking away in dribs and drabs over the past few expansions, is a very important and necessary thing for my enjoyment of this game — and I suspect this holds true for many other players out there.
What does it mean to be a Paladin?
When I think about what it means to be a Paladin, I like to look back at the Warcraft 3 incarnation of the class, where the “idea” of the Paladin in the Warcraft universe first reached maturity. In that game, Paladins had four abilities: Holy Light, Devotion Aura, Divine Shield, and Resurrection. While those are only four items, they say volumes about the class.
Based on those four abilities, you can quickly intuit what makes up the Paladin ethos: healing of wounds, buffing defenses to prevent the infliction of wounds, blocking damage all together, and bringing back allies from death’s grim embrace. Each of these is a different facet of the concept of protection. A Paladin wades into the heat of battle, standing firm against all assaults, to protect and nurture their allies; that is what it means to be a Paladin. You know what speaks louder than the four abilities? What isn’t in that list. There isn’t a single special offensive ability there. Paladins are not about inflicting harm or overcoming the enemy. The allies around the Paladin are there to bring down the foe, and the Paladin is there to help them do it.
So then, what does it mean to be a Protection Paladin? Well, the idea of a Protection Paladin seems like a redundancy, does it not? At their core, a Paladin protects — even Holy or Retribution Paladins protect their allies to some degree. Between that and the fact that we share a spec name with warriors, I’m hoping that Protection Paladins are one of the specs that enjoy a rename in Legion.
What makes for a Protection-specialized Paladin is, I suppose, a distillation of the defensive aspects of the class into a purer form. This was especially true in the early days of World of Warcraft when Protection Paladins did very little damage and instead focused on staying alive forever while the enemy dashed itself to pieces against our shields, reflected holy damage, and withered in the consecrated earth under our feet. That class design did not last long, though, as it was deemed far too passive.
Less than a feeling
Over the years as the expansions passed by, Protection Paladins were redesigned over and over to make them more offensive in combat. In Wrath of the Lich King we were given an imitation of the warrior Shield Slam in the form of Shield of the Righteous (well, Shield of Righteousness back then!) to give us something to actually attack with. This was the first major step away from the mold of the Warcraft 3 Paladin, and it would not be the last.
More changes were made and eventually we found ourselves where we are today. Our playstyle is now more about fast attacks (thanks to our love of haste) and generating combo points to unleash a torrent of Light-flavored shield slams. Our auras are gone, our reflected damage is mostly gone outside of a single talent, and we don’t really have much effect on the well-being of our comrades – outside of kindly not dying and letting the boss eat their face. The ability prunes were especially unkind to the Paladin class and removed a lot of the flavor abilities that might have been useless or were deemed to add unnecessary design complications. Sense Undead might have been dead weight, but it was toggle that we could play with to feel like a champion of the Light against the undead. A minor thing, but its loss still hurt all the same.
The bigger crime, obviously, was the removal of auras. I understand why Blizzard thought auras had to go, they were streamlining the buffs that were in the game and they felt auras were one buff too many. However, taking a Paladin’s auras away was akin to ripping out a piece of the class’ soul. Devotion Aura, as it was, was one of those four Warcraft 3 abilities and what remains now with that name is a sad imitator, wearing the name tag of a more venerable ability. Playing a Paladin now, without auras, always feels as if something is missing.
What should be done in Legion
To recapture the fantasy of the Protection Paladins, Blizzard definitely needs to go back to the class’ roots and think hard about undoing some of the harm that was done to it in the past. Paladins as-is do not feel very “Paladin-like”, instead we seem like Warrior impersonators that happen to shine a lot.
For starters, auras definitely need to come back. This is non-negotiable. If I am in a raid, I have a basic, elemental need to exude some kind of defensive buff to those around me. Anything less than this is a non-starter. Further, some kind of change needs to be made to the combat style of a Paladin that harkens back to the idea of passive damage and self-sacrifice, but in a way that doesn’t completely return to the potential yawn-fest of passive tanking in WoW’s early days. Rather than having so many different offensive abilities that generate Holy Power, what if there were passive triggers that generated Holy Power?
I’m going to brainstorm here for a moment, so stick with me. Keeping in mind this idea that a Paladin is a bulwark against overwhelming damage, what if critical strikes were reintroduced in a way that Protection Paladins could be crit? The extra damage would need to be immediately absorbed or negated through some mechanic, obviously, because we wouldn’t be useful tanks if we were eating crits left and right. The important part, though, is just the random trigger of a crit happening, and then that could be tied to an ability. Either the generation of Holy Power (on an internal cooldown to avoid people just constantly sitting in combat) or something else that ties into active mitigation.
What I’m getting at here is that tanking as a Protection Paladin should be more than performing offensive abilities to generate combo points, and then spending those combo points. When you get down to it, that doesn’t feel like a Paladin, does it?
As I’ve said numerous times, the class fantasy of the Paladin is all about standing firm and keeping allies around you in the fight. We’ve moved away from that idea and more towards the idea of a sword-and-board fighter that can throw out a heal once in a while. How a Paladin performs in combat should be steered back towards restoring some degree of that ethos. It’s a delicate line to balance upon, to keep the class feeling unique but not hurt the game with unnecessary buffs or burden the class with boring mechanics.
Active is fun, and that’s the inherent contradiction at the heart of what is wrong with the Paladin class. We are not an active class at heart. How do you square that with how to keep us fun to play? These are tough questions to answer, and I’m really interested in how Blizzard can possibly answer them.
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