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WoWDec 17, 2015 7:00 pm CT

Totem Talk: Enhancement Shaman PVP talents in Legion

A weapon, that's what.

Alas, Shaman still isn’t in the current alpha build of Legion, and considering the timetable we’re working with it’s unlikely that it will be in before the holiday break rolls around. Apparently it’s due to our class hall? So it goes. We’re here and this is now. But we do have a PVP talent calculator of sorts available, and…you know, I’m suddenly conflicted.

Not because it looks bad, mind you; quite the opposite. It looks good. And it seems to have a whole lot of our actual enhancing tricks.

It’s not universal, of course; there are several talents in place in that lineup that do work perfectly for PVP and not many other places. As nifty a trick as it is, I’d flag Purifying Waters as an immediate PVP talent if it showed up anywhere else to begin with. But there are other talents that seem useful pretty much anywhere, and that makes me wonder if there’s not a fair bit more wrestling to be done with Enhancement Shaman in the first place.

Neener neener, always.

Sharing the love

Enhancing other players is right there in our spec name. It could be argued that “Enhancement” refers more to what the spec does to the Shaman using it rather than those who happen to be around the Shaman, of course, but we’re also built on a long tradition of boosting other players ever since we dropped our little totem-forts back in the day. So it’s odd that most of our talents and our core abilities don’t really seem oriented toward boosting others. That in and of itself is fine — but our PVP talents tell a different story.

Windfury Totem and Skyfury Totem are both talents for any Shaman, and they’re both pretty useful in any setting whatsoever. That’s a wonderful thing. But then we have talents like Leader of the Clan, which is a picture-perfect Enhancement talent in any setting and environment. It’s tied with what now serves as our big punch ability, so it’s not going to be constantly up, but it does create that nice party-wide boost. More to the point, it creates that boost first and foremost for our immediate melee allies, and it allows everyone to benefit from that randomness we’ve got.

It is, in a nutshell, the closest thing we’ve seen to the old version of Windfury Totem, when we could briefly turn one lucky DPS with a two-hander into a storm of doom.

Thundercharge is also just plain cool. Certainly, it sees more use in PVP situations than anywhere else. You can use it when you and an ally are charging an objective, but you can also use it when you’re retreating and someone else is moving in, or as a stealth buff to a defender before you reach their location. In a pure PVE setting, it just becomes another damage cooldown. Still, it shows the potential of what the spec can do, and it also forces the player to be more adaptive and think about the situation. Where do you place your boost for maximum impact?

These are cool talents. They’re useful in a variety of different situations, and they definitely fit that mold of being boosts to the party around you for an Enhancement player. Which raises the question of why they’re specifically PVP talents when they are, in fact, the sort of thing that would make sense as core abilities. Talents like Forked Lightning are definitely useful in PVP first and almost only; why are these seemingly core abilities limited to PVP progress?

Always cheating with that shamanism.

Focus, balance, and development

There’s one very obvious answer that I want to consider before anything else: the reason these abilities are limited to PVP is about focus. Most of Enhancement’s existing toolkit is currently set up so that the abilities are still fully useful to a lone Enhancement shaman, but the talents I single out above are both meant first and foremost for group play. Leader of the Clan has some boost even if you’re by your lonesome, but Thundercharge is kind of pointless as a self-buff. For that matter, Leader of the Clan could be seen as being too powerful when in a small group, buffing the group into insane speeds; even Windfury Totem could provide a substantial boost during hard burn phases.

I don’t entirely buy that, though. Sure, there are balance concerns that go along with handing out group-wide buffs; that’s always been the case. It’s one of the main reason why buff spells have been so heavily compressed into a small number of different options, so that everyone wasn’t forever chasing a small number of stacking buffs. It’s also the main reason why Enhancement in particular, and Shaman in general, lost all of our stat-boosting totems. But a short-term proc buff that is likely mirrored by other classes isn’t something that absolutely cannot be balanced around, and a bit of tuning or even limitations of power when in smaller groups would put that to balance pretty quickly.

No, I tend to think that a lot more of it comes down to a pair of important points. First and foremost, development is still at a point where lots of things are going back and forth and being iterated upon. These talents may well have started life as PVE abilities, and for all we know they might end their lives there as well. They were moved over to PVP because they provided necessary gap-filling without any negative consequence to PVE selection.

But the other important point is that enhancing the party constantly may not be something that Enhancement is supposed to do by default in PVE any longer.

There’s still quite a bit in Enhancement’s toolkit about enhancing the Shaman, as I mentioned above. There are lots of self-buffs and the like, things that you need to be managing and buffs that you need running. The thing is that it’s just as valid an interpretation of the spec name to say that Enhancement is all about personal improvement, since the name can just as easily refer to using the power of the elements to make the Shaman more powerful. It’s still an enhancing effect.

Of course, those of us who have been playing for some time probably got quite accustomed to more of a part-based boosting effect. I know that’s part of what I always liked about the spec (as I said in my very first column here, even). But times have changed, philosophies have changed, and without our totem effects we’re just not as enhancing as we used to be. The mechanics are different, and pretending that it’s all functionally the same isn’t going to do us any favors.

So perhaps we need to just come to terms with the fact that we’re not going to be quite as buff-happy in PVE content any longer. PVP, though, we still get to be beacons of buffs at the end of the day, since PVP group composition is less about “how do we beat a boss” and more about “how do we manage a variety of potential threats.” It’s not exactly the future I would have hoped for, but it’s a future I can live with.

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