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WoWApr 30, 2016 4:00 pm CT

Totem Talk: Enhancement Shaman before Legion and previous expansions

Going down?

Well, it’s happened now — Legion has been dated and we know exactly when we’re going to be getting our Burning Legion invasion. This is kind of a good thing, since it means a bit less speculating, but it also means that we’re pretty well settled on the near-final version of Enhancement Shaman. Things are still going to be tweaked, elements are still going to be changed, but the spec we have is close to the spec that we’re going to have other than numeric passes.

I’m pretty happy with the spec in its current state, but there are people who are worried about the changes to the spec and how much is going to be unfamiliar. While I’ll be the first to say that the feeling hasn’t changed that much — Enhancement in Legion testing feels much like the spec used to feel, albeit with different names and animations — the tone of the class has changed a fair bit. So I thought it would be interesting to look back at the state of Enhancement as we saw it heading into the expansions of the past and offer some concurrent observations.

What can I say? It's the oldest school I can consider.

The Burning Crusade: Here comes dual-wield and legitimacy

Prior to The Burning Crusade, Enhancement occupied the same space as Retribution Paladins, Feral Druids, and Fury Warriors as a spec that the game didn’t really support. It was fun to play around with it, you could make it work while leveling or in PVP, but you wouldn’t make it your main spec. Our sojourn into Outland brought with it Alliance Shaman, dual-wielding, and a general intent of making the spec into something that would actually be desirable in parties as a melee DPS. Or at least something similar to that — we still had lots of abilities from other specs and we were a long way from the game’s current strict funneling into specs.

Lots of stuff could be done with Enhancement in BC, really, up to and including tanking if you had an indulgent group and a good amount of patience. The spec was definitely heavier DPS than ever, but you could and would frequently switch your focus in battle as necessary. It also lagged behind as a DPS with no crowd control options, since BC heroics especially demanded some crowd control to make trash packs reasonable. It was a first pass of a spec that would go on to be better.

Wrath of the Lich King: Party utility for all

Anyone who gets salty about “bring the player, not the class” would do well to remember that it started back in Wrath, and it was a fine principle then. Every spec required something to be of particular use, and Enhancement doubled down on having hordes of stat-improving totems alongside solid single-target damage. Going in, we looked to be in a very solid place, and the one complaint you could mount was that Enhancement didn’t get a big new attack like several other DPS specs. We did get a renewed focus on several of the things we already did well, however, along with a few new tricks to make us more effective and shore up areas of weakness from BC.

Ultimately, our biggest drawbacks in Wrath came down to totems. Managing them was kind of annoying, there was no easy way to drop a big cluster of totems, and they weren’t fun on movement-heavy fights. Our lack of AOE didn’t make for good times, either; we had some options, but it was a long walk to being the same sort of AOE machines that some of the other DPS specs could manage. But we still had our utility, and that was our compensation for our slightly lower damage.

Cataclysm: The best of all possible Enhancements

Not many people will argue that Cataclysm was not among the worst expansions to World of Warcraft, but ironically, it provided us with one of the best version of Enhancement. We lost a little bit of our utility but in turn we gained much easier totem drops, better single-target damage, and Unleash Elements in an interesting form. We even still had our weapon enchantments that made Unleash such fun.

If there were problems, they largely came down to the fact that we were starting to feel a pinch of staying a bit too uniform. I know that at the time I was wondering why Enhancement wasn’t getting anything new, even though I accepted our utility as kind of a necessary trade. Also, there was the simple problem of the expansion in question being Cataclysm.

Where am I, and also I hate it.

Mists of Pandaria: Waving farewell to totems

The major talent overhaul in Mists was significant, but it also underscored several big changes for Shaman… that mostly came down to losing things. Gone were our totems having any of their persistence, and when Enhancement had relied so much upon totems to provide definition, it felt kind of aimless. There were other changes and losses, more drops to our utility, and an overall sense that we had lost more than we’d gained on average.

The reality was that if there was ever a time in the game’s history when being an Enhancement Shaman was arguably pointless, this would be it. There was nothing to really define the spec any longer, nothing that we did with any unique aplomb, and there was a distinct lack of anything to make up for the utility we had lost. Our totems were gone and we were less useful than ever, but we also didn’t have much in the way of actual damage to make up for it. In exchange for our complicated totems, we had gained… nothing.

Warlords of Draenor: A spec assembled from carpet remnants

Something that I’ve said more than once about Enhancement in Warlords is that it doesn’t feel like it has any sort of distinct identity. Our abilities have all been centered around what we didn’t lose rather than what we gained, as highlighted by the similarities between the spec’s play in Mists and here. What we have gained, indisputably, is something to make up for all of the things that we’ve lost, chiefly by being highly efficient AOE machines almost by accident.

I don’t really consider this in the same boat, though; useful, yes, but not really related to what made the spec appealing in the first place. It seems that the designers agreed, at least in part, which is how we’ve wound up here…

Legion: More melee, more elements, and less fluff

Our cross-spec utility is all but gone in Legion, which is sad. In its place, though, we have self-enhancement again at the very least. There’s a whole lot of offensive power tied directly to the functionality of our melee damage. And in actual battle, Enhancement doesn’t feel a whole lot different other than being smoother; we’re still managing priorities and keeping as many things running as we possibly can in a flurry of elemental attacks.

It’s jarring if you were hoping that the big rework of Legion would also bring us back to the days of late Warth to early Cataclysm. But the feeling that we have now is a good one, and honestly, I’m happy with where we are. Not as happy as I would be if we still had our totems, but that wasn’t happening regardless. What is happening is still positive enough, on the level.

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