Totem Talk: How Enhancement Shamans got their groove back (probably)
I feel it’s kind of important at this point to note that we don’t actually know what’s going to happen in the wake of Shamans’ ability previews. A preview is just that — a preview. It could be all sorts of things in the long run. It could deliver on what was promised. It could fail badly. It could do both at the same time. We have a list of abilities, a single preview talent, and a series of buzzwords about what the design goals for Enhancement will be for Legion.
And oh, all of those words are so wonderful.
I’ve been writing about Enhancement here for a while and I’ve said more than once that I really love Enhancement, but literally all of the changes being put forth are things that I’ve also been saying that Enhancement has needed for a while. Not only do the changes manage to give Enhancement things that the spec has needed for quite some time, they also manage to hit almost all of the major issues that the spec has had kicking around for years. It’s a bit of a teardown to rebuild, but the look of it right now is brilliant.
When I wrote about whether or not Enhancement was just not quite broken enough to fix, one of the big things that I noted was that the spec would need a major reassembly to be what it had once been. As it stands right now, on live, Enhancement has a couple of things that it can call its own and a bunch of broken pieces that sort of make a functional spec. It doesn’t feel, on the live servers, as if Enhancement has an identity of its own.
Legion has given us an identity. And I can understand some consternation over it, because we have had several identities, and one of them is going to be near and dear to your heart no matter what. I see that as both a blessing and a curse. It is really cool that Enhancement has bits of melee support and battle mage and modular caster and all of that, and I praised its continued hybrid strength with my very first column. If you were hoping to bring back the days of dropping totem forts in melee and boosting everyone, yeah, this preview didn’t give you what you wanted.
But those days have been gone for a long while. We needed a big sea change, and we got it, and what we have now looks like it’s going to be a lot better for several reasons.
The first is randomness. Enhancement has always had a weird relationship with randomness, because Windfury is both an iconic ability and also hell to balance around. On the one hand, a good sequence of Windfury hits, even at the height of its power, could demolish things with aplomb. It was almost unfair. On the other hand, random is random; you could have huge fights wherein it barely triggered and short fights rendered trivially swift by good procs. Enhancement needs a random element, but it can’t live and die by randomness.
Windfury and Stormfury as passive effects both preserve this sense of randomness, but — and this is important — neither one is vital to making Enhancement work. The redesigned big punch of Stormstrike still works without ever getting a Stormfury proc. More to the point, our Mastery rework actually gives us some measure of control over the randomness. Yes, it’s not a whole lot of control, and we’re still reliant on chance for the abilities to go off, but the same is true of anything that has some amount of randomness baked in. Gearing for Mastery makes your damage more reliable, gearing for Haste makes it more reliable by increasing your chances for things to trigger. That’s good.
The second improvement is something I’ve discussed on several occasions — impact. Our plethora of buttons is being reduced, from this preview, down to four core buttons, each of which has a solid basic function. Rockbiter and Flametongue are builders, Lava Lash and Stormstrike are spenders, and in both cases the latter is more powerful but has a cooldown to keep you from spamming it. Stormstrike’s possible cooldown resets makes it even more of a punchy skill, and it drives home the idea that Enhancement has a tool to really break down the damage when it needs to. I imagine that a lot of the new rotation will involve keeping just enough Maelstrom in reserve to blast out back-to-back Stormstrikes when possible.
Of course, that naturally leads into the third major improvement, speed. Windfury, philosophically, is at the heart of Enhancement. That sense of a barrage of blows is crucial, and everything on display feeds back into that central idea. Stormfury is all about a sudden burst of Stormstrike damage, Maelstrom Weapon and Windfury both keep our generation and our onslaught running at high speed. It’s the joy of having big buttons to push combined with our existing death-of-a-thousand-wind-empowered-weapon-strikes playstyle. The best of both worlds, if you will.
There’s not much to say about Sundering at this point — I think it needs a bit more time in the oven to be really useful, since right now it doesn’t seem terribly appealing for a Shaman in melee range to be knocking targets out of melee. It looks thematically interesting, at least.
All of this is not to say that the preview is everything we need to know — we have holes in our understanding, and some of them aren’t going to be answered until the beta comes out. For one thing, we don’t know if Searing Totem is still in our arsenal, and I dearly hope it isn’t any longer. Dropping Searing Totem is functional as a DPS increase but completely uninteresting from a gameplay perspective, and the idea of continuing to drop that pointless addition to keep our DPS competitive isn’t appealing. I’d be happy with Enhancement losing mandatory totems altogether — the fun version of totems has long since left the building.
We still have several plank spaces in terms of iconic abilities like Feral Spirits, Lightning Bolt, and Healing Surge. Our instant spellcasts seem to be going away altogether, from what little we’ve seen this far, and whilst I’d argue that’s probably for the best at this point I’m curious what will fill those gaps. That was part of what contributed to the “battle mage” flavor of Enhancement — I can understand yanking them for mechanical reasons, but having spells that cast faster based on Maelstrom would still be nice. It’d also be nice to have some form of casting cooldown in place for spells which could, in turn, be circumvented with a Maelstrom ability, shades of the long-extant version of Maelstrom Weapon in reverse.
Ultimately, all of that is less about a spec preview and more about an in-depth examination of the spec, and we’ll get that as the Legion beta fires up. I’m looking forward to it just the same. After a long history of Enhancement keeping itself together and functional by what it hasn’t lost, Enhancement is getting its own thing once again, and I couldn’t be happier about it. It might not be perfect — I’m almost certain it won’t be, at least at first — but it’ll be a sight better than what we have now.
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