Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Problem with Cataclysm's Feral Tree

Several weeks ago, Blizzard announced they would be reducing the size of talent trees in Cataclysm.  Rather than capping at 51 points, the depth of the trees would be reduced to 31 points.  Since at least a 31 point investment investment in a single tree will become mandatory, players have a maximum of 10 points to distribute outside of their primary tree.

These changes were made with the intent of increasing player choice.  Basically, by simplifying the trees and cutting out both fluff and mandatory talents, players should be more free to spread points amongst the remaining talents as they choose.  This attempt at enhanced flexibility has been mixed in its effectiveness across different classes and specs.  Unfortunately, it has failed miserably with respect to one particular talent tree: the Feral Druid tree.  Find out why after the jump.

Once Blood becomes the dedicated Death Knight tanking tree, Feral will return to being the only talent tree in World of Warcraft which contains two entirely different raid roles, tanking and melee dps.  As a result of its dual purpose, the Feral tree has historically contained a number of multi-purpose talents which benefit both Bear Form and Cat Form in distinct ways alongside a few talents which apply only to one form and role.

Looking at the numbers, there currently are 69 Feral talent point slots and 21 Restoration talent slots which could reasonably be said to benefit a Bear tank.  On the flip side of the coin, there are 67 Feral points and 21 Restoration points which could benefit a Cat Form Druid.  Obviously some of these talents confer a much more significant benefit than others.  On the other hand, these numbers do not reflect talents which may confer only an incidental effect on a particular form, such as Cats gaining more armor through Thick Hide.  With 71 points to play with and between 88 and 90 places to spend them, there is certainly some wiggle room Feral Druids on the live realms.

With Cataclysm's shift to 31 point talent trees, the total number of Feral talents point slots available has been reduced from 78 to 44 and the number of Restoration point slots which benefit Feral Druids has been cut from 21 to 12.  The number of talent point available at the level cap has also been reduced from 71 to 41.  The end result is just over a 50% reduction in the "size" of Feral Druid talents and points.

Since the available point slots and the points allocated were decreased by the same percentage, one would imagine that the level of flexibility in the trees has also remained constant.  Unfortunately, that is not the case as the percentage of talents specifically designated to one form or another will dramatically increase in Cataclysm.

Looking at the current Cataclysm Beta build, there are 37 Feral talent point slots which confer a benefit on Cat Form and 38 which befit Bear Form.  Looking to the Restoration tree, 10 talent point slots benefit bears and 9 benefit cats.  Checking Cat Form first, when we add the 37 possible Feral point slots to the 9 Restoration point slots, we get a total of 46 places for a Feral dps to put their points.  Since there are 41 points to use, it seems as though Feral dps will have 5 points of flexibility.  Keep in mind, however, that 6 of the points available to cats come from Natural Shapeshifter and Furor, neither of which are exceptionally valuable.  Also, 1 point Master Shape Shifter requires a full investment in Natural Shapeshifter to reach.  Realistically then, Feral dps's only real choice is which mediocre Restoration talent to plop their last two points into.

When we apply the same math to Bear Form Druids, we end up with 48 talent point slots which looks much better.  Unfortunately, 5 of those 46 simply cause the Enrage effect to increase damage done and generate instant rage.  Considering Enrage substantially reduces armor, no self-respecting Bear tank should be using it in combat.  Sure, it might be okay to do so now with the tier 10 set bonuses canceling out the armor reduction, but something tells me those will be phased out a couple weeks into Cataclysm.  As a result, although those 5 points benefit Bear Form, they do not benefit bear tanks.  That leaves bear tanks, with only 43 places to spend the 41 talent points they are allotted and one of those places is unnecessarily topping off Furor.  The end result is only a single flex point for Bear form Druids.

Though there have always been cookie-cutter Feral talent specs, the Druid talents currently live on the Cataclysm Beta bring things to a whole new level.  The way things are laid out, there is not just an optimum spec for a Cat Form, there is only one substantive spec that makes sense.  For bears, things are only slightly better.  Hopefully Blizzard realizes this problem and either allocates more point slots to the Feral tree or blends additional bear and cat centric talents together.  Otherwise, Feral Druids will be an unintended casualty of Cataclysm's new "streamlined" talents.

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