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Shaman > WoWJan 29, 2016 1:00 pm CT

Totem Talk: What we’ll have as Enhancement Shaman in Legion

One of the responses that I saw from the last column was a question about what in the world Enhancement Shaman is going to look like post-Legion. I can understand it, too; while I’m really excited about the new direction for the spec, a lot of stuff is being changed, altered, reworked, or just straight-up replaced. And there’s some ambiguity about what our class fantasy is even supposed to be any longer, especially since we’re losing a lot of our overt spellcasting abilities.

Personally, I’m still very excited about what’s being changed for Enhancement — it feels like the spec is keeping true to the original feel of Enhancement while also breaking away from the hole that it’s been stuck in from quite some time. But considering the last column’s questions, I feel this is a fair one to answer. What are we going to be attacking with as Enhancement Shaman in Legion? What are we supposed to be, at the end of the day?

A weapon, that's what.

What is Enhancement’s fantasy?

Let’s start with a quote straight off of the class preview series, because it’s relevant:

Intense communion with fire, earth, air, and water isn’t exclusive to the elemental shaman. In many ways, enhancement shaman similarly bond with nature and leverage its power on the battlefield. What distinguishes them in their training—and in their connection with the elements—is their combat methodology. These shaman favor empowering their physical attacks with elemental energies and facing their adversaries up close. They don’t shy from the frontlines, wielding magically augmented weapons, potent elemental attacks, and totems that shape the tide of battle.

That makes solid enough sense. Enhancement, as a spec, is all about being a very direct conduit for the elemental forces of Azeroth and Draenor. While Elemental abilities focus around calling the elements, Enhancement focuses upon taking the power of the elements upon yourself. Thus, you don’t summon elementals, you are the elemental. You aren’t casting bursts of flame hither and yon, but you are wreathing yourself in flame and wreaking havoc upon everything within arm’s reach.

While an Enhancement Shaman still possesses the usual gifts of a Shaman, like being able to heal others, throw lightning around, and reincarnate when you die in battle (or you don’t feel like bothering to walk back), that fundamental difference should inform Enhancement’s abilities. In some ways it’s a strength, since the net result is being able to channel the full fury of the elements at a target at close range. It does mean, however, that said fury is tied up in a more fragile body.

The “battle-mage” fantasy is something that we still sort of possess, but it’s being explored in a very different way, and it doesn’t contain the mechanical neatness of using the same basic abilities as a casting spec while not actually being a casting spec. Instead, it’s manifesting in the sense that our attacks are inherently magical — and rather than deriving that magic from the Light (Paladins) or just plain “already being dead” (Death Knights), ours derives straight from the force of elementals. You can argue that it’s chiefly just a semantic difference, but it’s still a difference, and it’s one that ties into several of our abilities when we start diving into how Enhancement is going to play according to its current revision.

Some Enhance'd evening.

How do we actually play?

Enhancement centers around, well, enhancing yourself. This is not entirely incidental. Stormlash, a new passive for the spec, can enhance everyone around us when we use our own weapons enhanced with elemental power. It’s not exactly dropping a Windfury Totem, but that ties into our nature as Enhancement — we are the totems.

Rockbiter and Flametongue are our two main resource-building abilities, with the latter on a cooldown and serving as our first weapon enhancement. The core rotation is simply a matter of getting that weapon enhancement and then using Rockbiter for further resource-building, with Rockbiter also having a talented weapon-enhancing effect. Once you’ve built some Maelstrom, you follow up with Lava Lash and Stormstrike; the former serves a cheaper spender with a special Doomhammer ability in the mix, while the latter is our big punch that ties into random procs from Stormfury. That, in turn, ties into our Enhanced Elements Mastery and our Windfury passive.

That’s two new abilities and two old ones with wildly altered functions, but — and this is important — the actual nature of our rotation isn’t as heavily changed as it might seem at a glance. Currently, the “basic” Enhancement attack rotation involves applying Flame Shock, applying Stormstrike, then spamming Lava Lash and Lightning Bolt as much as we are able. In both cases, the core structure is the same: apply your setup moves, start spamming away. The details have changed, but the actual functionality isn’t all that different.

Our biggest practical changes involve no longer looking out for Unleash Elements coming off of cooldown and re-dropping Searing Totem every time we have nothing better to be doing. We’re still summoning our Feral Spirits as before and hitting several of the same cooldowns. Crash Lightning is turning into our main AOE tool, enhancing our weapons (there’s that word again) and turning our two main spenders into AOEs  for a limited amount of time.

The other big functional change is that we’re moving to match most other DPS specs insofar as our resources will no longer be starting off completely full. The shift to Maelstrom as a filling resource bar rather than our existing mana is the part that feels the most different about the way we play our class, since instead of being able to just ignore our resources and manage cooldowns we’re now back to worrying about resources again.

From a gameplay perspective, this is kind of a net positive. Having a resource that is basically permanently full means that it ceases to be a concern, and managing cooldowns alone is kind of an unenjoyable way of handling resources. I would have preferred a resource that did have some mechanical distinction from the many other fill-and-empty options already in the game, but most of the alternatives that I can suggest aren’t so much better as they are different. We’re still going to be managing cooldowns and timing as much as we ever have — more so, if you look at some of our many talents that add additional cooldowns into our setup phase or additional general damage cooldowns for situational use.

Considering that Elemental has the same resource, I suppose it mostly comes down to a matter of bookkeeping.

After changes we are more or less the same.

But is it still Enhancement?

This is one of those questions that is simultaneously super-important and also really hard to answer. Even assuming that no further changes to talents and abilities take place, the question of whether or not Enhancement is still Enhancement is complicated. A lot of our iconic and long-running abilities are gone, and while several of them have workalikes in place (Stormstrike replaces Lightning Bolt as our “big punch” attack, for example) it’s indisputable that we’ve lost several of our straight caster abilities. It’s even understandable why you’d look at the lineup and say that it looks nothing like the spec you started playing.

At the same time, one of the big problems that Enhancement has struggled with from a mechanical perspective is trying to make those mechanically flavorful connections work from both a fictional and gameplay perspective. The new design is an effort to address that. A lot is going to come down on the visuals, the overall similarity of the new design in play, and what it was that made Enhancement particularly resonant for you as a player.

If you can get over the mechanical difference (including the differences in name only) and the changes, I suspect you’ll be happy with the changes. I am from where I’m sitting, although I’m sadly not in the alpha test. But everything I’ve seen and heard has not told me that the heart of Enhancement has been lost; rather, it seems as if the heart of Enhancement has had to have some cosmetic surgery. Which means it looks pretty different, but that core frenetic elemental fury hasn’t gone anywhere.

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