Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
Off-spec talent builds

My new Alliance guild has one other level 60 priest, who refuses to heal. Not only does he not want to be the main healer in a group, he doesn't heal *at all*, staying in shadow form all the time. Besides that, he is constantly complaining: Priest gear only gives good bonuses for healing, not for shadow damage. He isn't invited to groups as often as he would like. And so on. At this point half of you, my readers, probably think "what an idiot to make a shadow priest", while the other half thinks "right, why doesn't Blizzard support off-spec talent builds better?".

The issue is a complicated one. World of Warcraft not only has specialist and hybrid classes. But each class also has different talent builds: Some that make a specialist even more specialized in what he does best. And others which turn him a lot more hybrid. And attitudes toward non-standard off-spec talent builds vary a lot. Obviously as long as you solo, going towards hybrid might even be the better option. Many a holy priest has leveled up to 60 being shadow, and will switch back to shadow the day the Burning Crusade comes out, and he has to level to 70. Off-spec talent builds are also often better for PvP. But groups, and especially raids, nearly always prefer the standard talent build that turns a character into a highly specialized expert in his field.

Of course that also depends on how many of each class are in a guild or a raid. Especially warriors in raiding guilds often can get away easily with being specialized to deal damage instead of tanking, because a raid only needs a limited number of tanks, and warriors are plentiful. If a guild had far too many priests, some of them dealing shadow damage instead of healing wouldn't be much of a problem. But as priests are generally in short supply, they are all needed for healing duties. The one guy who refuses to heal often just isn't welcome.

Yesterday's paladin thread suggested that the same is true for retribution paladins. I only have a warrior and two priests at 60, so I really can't say about other classes. Is destruction spec considered acceptable for warlocks? It always appeared to me as emulating a bad mage. But then, in a raid warlocks are needed for very specialized tasks, like banishing, which aren't influenced a lot by talents. It appears that feral druids are about as popular as shadow priests, that is to say highly annoying to a raid group.

Blizzard supports those off-spec talent builds only half-heartedly. For example my priest is running around in mostly prophecy gear, the epic tier 1 set from Molten Core, like many raiding priests. And a prophecy set gives a lot of nice bonuses to healing, improves your Flash Heal casting time, the critical chance of your holy spell, etc., but doesn't really do much for shadow priests. A shadow priest would be better off in a set of warlock tier 1 armor, but of course he can't wear that. It appears that in AQ40 a lot of gear drops which is good for off-spec talent builds, but AQ40 is a lot harder than Molten Core, and not as frequented.

But the main problem of off-spec talent builds is a social one. The more strict hardcore raiding guilds won't even invite shadow priests and other people with non-standard talent builds. It is the classical conflict between individual freedom and the greater good of the group. Most guilds face a shortage of healers, and a shadow priest refusing to heal is a slap in the face of the other guild members. He could be useful by a simple respec, but refuses to do so, and insists on being a mediocre damage dealer instead of a great healer. That has obvious advantages for him, when he wants to solo or do PvP, but comes at the detriment of the guild, and thus causes friction.

Part of the problem is the decision of Blizzard to put a brake on switching between talent builds, by making it more and more expensive. Compare that to a game like Final Fantasy XI, where at any time you can go back to the city and switch from one class to another without cost. Off-spec talent builds would be a lot more acceptable if you would for example go shadow for PvP, switch to holy on raid night, and go back to shadow afterwards. By making that hardly possible Blizzard is trying to artificially increase the number of character classes. But that comes at a cost of creating character classes that are just not welcome in many guilds.
Off-spec talent builds would be a lot more acceptable if you would for example go shadow for PvP, switch to holy on raid night, and go back to shadow afterwards.

Let´s ressurect the beaten horse here. There are players who like to raid and ones who like to pvp. Everyone gets its spec and to work in a pve/pvp environment, specs need penalties. No one would give a crap if paladins would do rogue dps if only PvE would exists, but there is PvP too and any class wich works with one specc in both scenarios is overpowered and gets nerfed: "say hello to the tactical mastery move".

The idea of talents is not to change your characters playstyle but to switch between pvp and pve. Talents are pure pve-pvp balancing, or just trying to achieve that. When pvp speccs for core classes work in pve endgame, WoW will start to die. Talents already offer a lot of diversity to play your class. I mean you make a choice when rolling a character and people choose priest for a reason. The reason is not to wear dresses and deal rogue like dps, there is separate class for that.

To go back to the yesterdays paladin topic. Many people chose paladin to be a hybrid, and according to the WoW's 1st paladin class description, to be "tanks" and to be a "melee hybrid". The reason why this class's grief is more evident than others, is the fact that only after 2 years the class gets a solid design, other classes had since release. The hybrids will stay the redheaded stepchilds of WoW, cause things like talent specs allow core classes hybrid like mechanics. The hybrid in this game is defined by its buff monopoly (totems, blessings, mark of the wild) rather than actual mixes of core skills. Core skill mixes are possible with talent specs.

The paladin class was advertised as a sub-warrior with a little healing added and its not acceptable to expect players to grind to 60 to realize they were tricked into a non-working hybrid-design. 60 warriors can do rogue like dps or be aggro machines. Paladins up to now are miles away from the parent class in any of this areas. The only warrior characteristic paladins have is are plate gear and we all know the kind of gear you can wear makes 60% of a class definition right?

Why do alternate specs do not work everywhere? Cause the game needs more classes than warriors and hunters.
You were dead right when you said that the sets don't support versatility of the class. Our tiny little five-manning guild has no warriors on horde. Our shaman tanks.

Have you ever tried to gear a shaman to tank? The class was built with likely the best aggro holders in the game (taunt is still the best aggro grab). Between earth-shock and rockbiter, Miew (our shaman) does approximately doubled aggro for her damage and she can hold aggro over even a full-BWL mage if she really pushes it (until her mana runs out). However, any late-game material requires high defense to tank.

There is one, only ONE piece of rare/epic mail at a high level that has defense on it. That's invulnerable mail. So, Miew is geared with about 6 greens 'of defense' and can tank any 5-man content in the game.

But why did they give a shaman amazing aggro grabs and then refuse to give the shaman any gear to take hits with? As an off-tank? For what? 5-man content rarely needs an off-tank, and no amount of defense mail would let a shaman tank any raid content (maybe some of ZG).

From what I've seen (horde only here, so not too much) the exact reverse is true of paladins. They gave them everything they needed to be able to tank except an aggro grab. Why do they need the shield-block talents, the platemail, everything else, if they can't hold aggro on anything? They have the gear to tank, but not the talents.

In the end, Blizzard's attempts to make hybrid classes resulted in a very annoying flaw: warriors are essential. Every other class is replaceable to some degree. Priests can be replaced by other healers, if imperfectly. Rogues, mages, hunters, the whole mess of DPSers are interchangeable. But warrior was the only tank.

If they made gear to support the off-spec characters, there might be some diversity in these matters. Instead, they are left with one tank, 4 DPSers, and 4 healers.

It takes a lot of fun out of the game to not have options open.
::looks at above comments::
Goodness, Tobold, you've certainly been a firebrand lately. :p

My only comment would be that if you off-spec to the degree that's been talked about (priests doing nothing but dealing damage, shamans tanking), then you're trying to do something that another class does better (warlocks and warriors, respectively). The same thing applies to paladins who get upset that they can't tank - they don't need to, warriors can do it. If the ideal degree of versatility is to make it possible for classes to fill the roles intended for other classes, then what does it matter? You pick tank, healer, or dps. Congratulations; you just went from 7 class choices to 3. I don't consider that versatility :)
Also, chrismue, it's playstyle, not PvP vs. PvE. If you don't believe me go read a Hunter, Rogue, Mage, or Warrior forum and see how many people have different PvP builds.
I agree that it has to do with a matter of perception of what is "best". My very first dungeon group in WoW was a group of 5 shamans going to Ragefire Chasm. Worked like a charm, because each member could fulfil all of the functions, tanking, healing, dealing damage, to some extent. And the wonderful thing was that whoever happened to get the aggro was by definition "the tank", with the others healing or dealing damage as needed, and no separation of functions necessary. I also remember an early group where I was one of 3 druids killing some elite mob, and that worked the same way.

But after some time people discovered that if they used a team of specialists, a holy priest, a protection warrior, a mage etc., they could tackle the same dungeon or elite mob a few levels earlier, thus getting the same rewards earlier, when their relative worth is higher. And the endgame is designed in a way that a group of 5 level 60 shamans would have difficulties beating Scholomance or Stratholme. There is probably a video on YouTube showing 40 shamans take down Ragnaros, but in general these encounters are designed for mixed groups of specialists. The theoretical variety of classes and talent builds you have is reduced to a much smaller number under the pressure of raid dungeons.
This discussion has been going on a lot in my guild as well. Hybrids seem to be getting the biggest buffs in the expansion which many in my guild (myself included) think is going to encourage the "off spec" mentality. Without seeing the numbers it's hard to tell how viable a paladin tank is going to be vs. a warrior but seeing as how warriors are in short supply on my current server, we're willing to give bear tanks and tankadins a shot.
I have a shadowpriest , but I think that guy is crazy. I made a priest because I like healing, it's one of my jobs.

I stay shadow because the tradeoff for about 15% extra healing was not worth the decreased in soloability and other useful things like vampiric embrace, silence, shadow weaving, that can also help the guild. If they need me to heal, i heal. But if we have more healers, i'll DPS. I've spent a lot of time getting dps gear, so I do a good job, and VE makes other healer's jobs easier, and i help with shields and dispells.

It's dps + utility that we do and make us useful.

I laugh at those that think shadowpriests can't do DPS or contribute, they have known bad ones, pvp specced ones (yes there are different shadowpriest specs for group pve vs pvp) or tried it only once or never tried it at all.

In life, the organizations that provide individual freedom, also find that that is the path to the greater good of the group.

Some guilds are now trying it, saying "oh yeah, shadowpriests DO contribute a lot, why did we never try it before" When the expansion comes out, we may see that even more. Some say the lower number of raiders in the new dungeon means spec is even more important, others say that skill will be more important, esp. when Blizzard has even specifically stated they are designing them with an eye towards hybrids.

skill > spec, always
oh and the pve vs pvp argument is complete hogwsh.

because it ignores one very important part: grinding and farming for mats and money.

we can't ALL play the auction house to raise money to buy mats, because of the efficient market theory, the more of us that play the AH, the less money we can each make.

so we have to farm. I can't farm in a healbot build, I have some +damage/healing gear (my dps gear right now is mainly +shadow) But to farm efficiently enough to get the mats I need I'll have to raise another character to 60. I DO plan on doing this once the expansion comes out. but for now, i just don't have the time to raise yet another character to 60.

So it's not just a question of dedication or selfishness, it never was. It's also a question of time.
Most guilds face a shortage of healers, and a shadow priest refusing to heal is a slap in the face of the other guild members. He could be useful by a simple respec, but refuses to do so, and insists on being a mediocre damage dealer instead of a great healer. That has obvious advantages for him, when he wants to solo or do PvP, but comes at the detriment of the guild, and thus causes friction.

And the cycle begins. The shadow priest heals (unhappily) because that is what the guild wants/needs. Imagine spending hours doing something you don't really care to do. Imagine how long you'll keep doing it.

So that player shelves his priest and rerolls a dps class where no one seems to care what you spec.

The guild recruits another healer and hopes they enjoy healing. Chances are they do at first, but will get burnt out, quit playing or reroll. The cycle continues.
OK last post i just wanted to clarify: :)

I think my point was hybrids need to do multiple things. And, Tobold made the point about min maxing, min maxing hybrids just doesn't work, since someone can to it better. But people need to give the hybrid a chance to perform those multiple roles. As always good players, who are also people you like to be with, are more important than any spec or gear.

My point regarding myself is that shadowpriests are effectively hybrids, NOT a dps class. We should heal, we should dps, we should dispel, we should ALWAYS have vamipiric embrace up for a free aoe renew. etc. I see nothing wrong with speccing shadow, or feral, but I do see seomthing wrong when people refuse to play mutliple roles when necessary to help out.
I'd argue one of the most maligned hybrid/off-speccing class is the druid. They are the ultimate utilitarian class in the game, yet the sought after gear is largely centered on healing. I'm feral. I recently took a group through Scholo with zero wipes and hardly any aggro loss as a furry bear. This included a few instances of rapid shapeshifting, healing, decursing, whatever to get things done.

When asked what gear I was using to be so effective, many were amazed to find a cobbled together set of green and blues that get the job done. Perhaps the expansion will yield some improved talents/spells/itemization which would encourage a more successful hybrid approach. Instead, I lug around mounds of gear based on what duty I'll be performing...

With that said, I also have partial raid tier and +healing leather I put on whenever duty calls. Being a druid means doing many things at a moments notice. It comes with the territory. To hear that players just outright refuse to perform their other class functions when needed is insane. Being so inflexible will not make you many friends or provide many raiding opportunities.

Oh, feral druids are very popular. Just depends on who you talk to. Ask my rogues and DPS warriors. They absolutely love me.
My only comment would be that if you off-spec to the degree that's been talked about (priests doing nothing but dealing damage, shamans tanking), then you're trying to do something that another class does better (warlocks and warriors, respectively). The same thing applies to paladins who get upset that they can't tank - they don't need to, warriors can do it.

The argument that they are trying to do something that another class can do better is rather specious. By that reasoning, you usually just shouldn't exist as a shaman. After all, you're trying to heal, which a priest can do better. Or if you're trying to DPS, you're doing something that mage/rogue/hunter/warrior/shadow priest/warlock can do better. Sure, in a raid, someone has to drop the totems, but in a five-man you're just wasting space. However, the only class that can tank is a warrior.

Also, even if the gear were there for the shamans and the abilities were there for the paladins, they would still be doing something that other classes can do better, because even with defense and stamina on mail, Shamans would be short on HP and armor compared to a warrior, and even with some better aggro grabs paladins would be short of taunt/intimidating shout/shield wall/shield block/etcetera of a warrior.

It looks like, in BC, paladins may get some of these needed buffs for tanking (with mana regen from healing, they should have sufficient mana pools to nearly spam all the aggro grabs they have). Even then, a paladin will be a worse tank than a fury specced warrior, not even to mention a defiance specced warrior.

It's not an issue of another class trying to do something that another class can do better, it's a matter of having some versatility in party construction and play style.
The crazy thing about the talents is that there are more hybidish skills in the offtrees of the core classes than in the trees of the hybridclasses... VE, Light Surge, more or less the arms and fury tree... etc.

Giving the talentwise hybrid-like parentclasses even the hybrid skills makes the real hybrids even more pointless.

Hey everyone, I currently play as an orc warrior and I started the game 2 years ago as a paladin for alliance but got bored once I hit lvl 60. The other day I was killing a named mob in Terrakor forest and I noticed he was immune to my sunders. It may not seem like much to anyone else but what this says to me is that there are going to be boss fights in the game where one tank might be a better choice over another such as Pallies for undead and demon bosses that are immune to a warriors sunders. Granted I still have revenge which is way more important than sunder. Might be something to think about for getting far into those end game for BC. I dont know for sure because I am only lvl 68 and have never been to that stuff.
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