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Shaman > WoWMar 3, 2016 3:00 pm CT

Totem Talk: Latest Enhancement Shaman changes and Old Enhancement

Through the ghosts.

The Legion alpha is rolling along, and the good news is that the changes to Enhancement Shaman seem to be just a wee bit less severe than they were the last time around. This is a good thing insofar as it means that we’re getting closer to what the spec is probably going to look like. Still, there’s space to play around with the spec — the tail end of February saw some noteworthy changes to what we had too short a season to grow accustomed to.

Some of the changes are a bit on the odd side, but then, that’s the nature of testing, isn’t it? This time around, there are fewer unambiguously good bits and some really major losses — though the biggest loss is one that more or less stopped mattering back when Wrath ended. But let’s take a look at what’s changed as well as what we can do as Enhancement now, including a look at a playstyle I had proposed but not actually tried out with my last column.

It's really not that I mean to have all of one sort of shaman here, it just winds up happening. Here's an orc!

February’s shifts

Earthen Spike: Before, this provided a debuff to anyone who took a swing at the target; now, it’s just for the Shaman using the ability. This definitely had the potential to be abused as it was, since a functional raid-wide buff to physical damage definitely creeps into “mandatory” territory depending on group size, so I understand why the change was made. Still, one of the reasons I rather liked this talent in its original incarnation was that it cast back to the time when buffing the entire raid was part of the point of Enhancement, and I’m not entirely happy to lose it. On that note…

Stormlash: The current wording on this ability is that it enhances up to 0 allies or yourself, which makes me think that it’s somewhere in the midst of testing weirdness; that would be shutting it down altogether, really. I’m hoping this one doesn’t go anywhere. The change to make it a random trigger with enhanced weapons rather than simply a matter of enhancing your weapons is probably a good one. The original version placed a high emphasis on finding more ways to trigger that enhancing effect while this makes it far more of a random beneficial proc. But I worry that it might be slipping away even from that, which would be unpleasant.

Stormbringer: The Lava Lash component has been removed from this talent and Lightning Bolt has been somewhat improved, both of which continue to make me happy. While it won’t remove Stormstrike’s position of prominence if you select this talent, it certainly feels like a real throwback, and I like the resultant interplay with spec options. I’ve mentioned that all before, but it bears repeating.

Shamanistic Rage: Gone. Will it stay gone? Hard to say, but safe money says yes. I’m not going to miss it now, but I am going to miss what it was when it formed the core of mana recovery for Enhancement back when it was first introduced. The ability has slowly turned from being a core part of the spec to being a PVP survival tool, and now that it’s being removed I’m not exactly sad about its loss — it hasn’t been core for a while. But it was a core part of what made us feel like Enhancement, so seeing it go away does trigger a little pang of loss.

Sure, it’s a sensible loss, but it isn’t exactly a happy one.

Astral Shift: And now here’s something to fill the same role in a more general sense, I suppose. It makes more sense as a general skill for everyone than Shamanistic Rage would have, so there’s that. Functionally, it’s not much of a loss; emotionally, it feels like one. Worth noting is that your timing has to be a bit better for Astral Shift to be useful, so it’s more useful in PVE than PVP. Which is kind of the point, obviously.

Maybe we're friends again. MAYBE.

Old Enhancement: What’s it like?

One of the things I mentioned in my last column was that the changes to Lightning Shield as a talent and the very nature of Stormbringer meant that you could, if you wanted, bring back some of the feel of “old” Enhancement. Back in the day, our playstyle was less frantic but still focused on a bit of proc-and-randomness circuit. You’d drop your totems, Flame Shock the target, Stormstrike nature vulnerability, and let Lightning Shield charges roll onto the enemy while waiting for a full Maelstrom stack to hit Lightning Bolt. It felt like we still kind of needed a big melee finisher, but it was a better overall feel than I think the spec has had subsequently.

At this point in the Legion alpha, we’ve got plenty of melee strikes, but by default you’re not really doing that whole Lightning Shield/Bolt thing. So I decided to tweak my existing build in the alpha a bit and try out “Old Enhancement,” to see if it played like the throwback that I was hoping for.

In short: not really. It does have familiar aspects, but it doesn’t really have that atmosphere for several reasons, the first being that there’s nothing to anchor us in place the way that we used to.

Back in Wrath, dropping a little circle of totems meant that we were anchored to that spot for at least a little while. Totems lasted five minutes, on a whole, and they weren’t so cheap to put down that you could just abandon them. So you would pick a spot, drop totems, and pull back. There’s nothing that replicates that feeling. Nor does Lightning Shield still have the same gameplay of carefully waiting as your charges deplete, then refilling them — it’s just a flat buff that deals damage as you hit something.

What is cool about it is that it makes Lighting Bolt feel like a more versatile spell with a more substantial punch to it. In theory, there’s a cooldown to worry about, but I found that I got more mass out of using it after Stormfury had gone off — with a full bar of Maelstrom I could easily swing then follow up with more lightning to the target’s face. It also made for an excellent opener, perhaps more than it ever has. Rather than just casting it to pull, I could open off with a major strike and an empty resource bar.

It’s too early to make any definitive statements about builds, but if you’re going to get the most out of Stormbringer you want to be bringing as much Maelstrom generation to the party as possible. Spiritual Resonance definitely gets my pick out of the first tier of talents for exactly that reason. Using Earthen Spike and Lightning Bolt with a full bar does very satisfying numbers; being able to build that bar back up faster is just icing on the cake.

I’m not convinced, however, that Stormbringer is actually a better option than Tempest in terms of raw DPS, nor am I sure that Lightning Shield actually beats out Ancestral Swiftness in the numbers race. This does have elements of the older Enhancement playstyle, but after testing it out for a bit, that’s all they are — elements. You don’t really get access to the same sort of tools that made the playstyle work before, and elements like focusing on Lightning Shield charges or carefully timing your Lightning Bolts are largely gone. The feel is nice, but it isn’t as satisfyingly different as I had hoped.

I do like that it’s there, though. While it won’t bring back a previous incarnation of Enhancement, it does feel nice that there’s a version of Lightning Shield we can use again. Not having that around feels a bit wrong, in some ways. I know, I was more than willing to wave goodbye to it before, but maybe we can start seeing one another again after all.

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