Last night, I was enjoying the calm before the storm, flying on my Icebound Frostbrood Vanquisher across the land, and contemplating what was about to come.
Like everone else, I look forward to Cataclysm, albeit not as much as I looked forward to The Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King. For some reason, those previous expansions seemed more exciting to me. Maybe I'm just getting tired of the game?
In both previous expansions, paladins were changed a bit, but that was absolutely nothing compared to what will happen in 4.0.
Very late in the development cycle of Cataclysm, Blizzard introduced a new resource for paladins: Holy Power. It is very obvious they introduced this to make retribution rotations more "involving" and "interesting", so that good paladins would distinguish themselves from bad ones.
The way things look right now, the day before the changes go live, it seems Blizzard has failed. I'm convinced that paladins will get major overhauls in future content patches to make this new design work well. Because now, it looks like Blizzard is trying to push a square peg into a round hole.
Now, you need to take my QQ with a grain of salt. I have not been playing on the beta or the PTR (which almost wouldn't matter, since there has been changes to paladins in every build that affects rotations and spell choices).
I won't go into details describing changes and new spells and so on. That has already been explained by better people than myself all over the blogosphere. I'm just going to make some general comments.
Paladins got a new resource system so that retribution would be "harder" to play well. In their tweeking and nob-turning during the last month, Blizzard has managed to screw that up.
Initially, the idea was that Holy Power would work somewhat like combo points do for rogues and kitties: One uses a spammable ability to build up combo points and then spend them on a finishing move, but with two big differences: The combo points [Holy Power] are bound to the paladin and not its target, and the spammable ability that stacks the combo points has a cooldown (and is thus not truly spammable). Just like a rogue, the paladin is now supposed to
(1) stack combo points [Holy Power],
(2) keep Slice and Dice [Inquisition] up, and
(3) slam-dunk a finishing move like Eviscerate [Templar's Verdict] with as many combo points [Holy Power] as possible.
Blizzard also introduced some more procs to make the rotation more "interesting".
So far, so good.
But in their tweeking they have made the generating of Holy Power almost completely random. There are procs that give more Holy Power, and procs that make the paladin use finishing moves without needing Holy Power. Blizzard has managed to make the retribution rotation a priority list that depends on several procs that are completely random.
In my world "random" means that skill has very little to do with things. If you are lucky, and press the right buttons, good for you. If you are unlucky, too bad. No pew-pew for you.
And therein lies Blizzard's failure with the new retribution rotation.
Mana regen has been nerfed for all healers, and for a historically spamming class like the paladin, that will hurt. Divine Plea has been nerfed so hard it's useless, and suddenly, paladins have the worst mana regen of all healers. Congrats!
Paladins get loads of new healing spells, including a crappy aoe HoT (with a 10 yard radius, yey!), and a situational frontal cone heal.
But Beacon of Light is still imba, right? Well... no. But it is still useful.
I am in no way an expert on holy paladins, but it seems there will be two ways of healing with a paladin in 4.0:
(1) heal the beaconed target directly and quickly get Holy Power that you can spend on a free heal, or
(2) don't heal the beaconed target directly and use Holy Shock as your Holy Power generator to get a free heal.
With low mana regen, free heals are teh sex.
Is Holy Power well implemented for Holy Paladins? Maybe. With mana being valuable, a second resource to use instead of mana for "free" heals will be nice. Is it enough? Well, in any case, paladins will not be mindlessly spamming one single heal all night long anymore, and that is probably a good thing.
Then we come to the redheaded stepchild paladin spec: Protection. Too bad this is the spec I've preferred for several years, eh?
The idea of making tankadins use different abilities for single target and aoe tanking is good, and something that I have missed on my paladin. Being forced to cleave and consecrate all the time to build threat was not a good design.
But.... forcing tanks to tank with combo points is just lame. There. I said it. Holy Power (as it is implemented right now) sucks for tanks.
With this combo points system, I need to first build up three holy power before I can hit anything hard enough to make them notice. And the only way to build up Holy Power is with Crusader Strike (or Hammer if aoe), which, up until last week, was on a 4.5 second cooldown. I also need to cast a finishing move to get my Holy Shield up (should I waste Holy Power early to get my shield up, or can I wait until I can use all three Holy Power?).
This is a big change for tankadins. Before, we had the advantage of always starting with a full "rage bar" (a.k.a. the blue rage bar), and could run into a fight able to hurt stuff right away. Then Blizzard slowly started to nerf paladin burst damage due to PvP QQ. So we needed to wait for some time to build stacks on the target, and our judgement hit like a wet noodle.
With Holy Power, this gets worse. The tankadin runs in, starts building Holy Power, starts stacking debuffs on the target, and after three Holy Power finally can slam a shield in the mob's face. That used to be 3x4.5 = 13.5 seconds into the fight. Not good.
Blizzard has claimed that the tankadin rotation has been too easy. The "969" rotation is mindless and could be performed by a trained monkey (yes, because the bear rotation is soooooo complex, right?). So they decided to introduce Crusader Strike to tankadins, and then, slightly later, the amazing concept of Holy Power.
With the new abilities, the tankadins of the world started to create a new rotation. And the tankadins were not happy. There were holes in the rotation big enough to drive a tauren and his six buddies through. Theorycrafters calculated that there would be 6 empty global cooldowns per minute. Tankadins would not have any buttons free to press at any given time like they did in the golden days (yesterday, that is). It was an uproar on forums. Ghostcrawler was called all kinds of names. And Blizzard caved in, with the brilliant solution of lowering the cooldown on Crusader Strike (and Hammer) to 3 seconds (but only for protection paladins).
Five minutes later, tankadins realized that their rotation with the new change turned into an even easier and more mindless rotation than the old "969". We now have the "939" rotation, where we spam Crusader Strike every other global cooldown and fill in the gaps with Judgement, Avenger's Shield, and Holy Wrath.
This change also made our "signature" proc: Grand Crusader, utterly useless. Since all this proc does is reset the cooldown of Avenger's Shield, and since Avenger's Shield sits so low on our priority list, nobody will care if this procs or not. Bad design is bad design. I expect a change. Hopefully soon (TM).
My last complaint is our so-called "emergency heal". Blizzard expects us to use Word of Glory as a self-heal when needed. They have even introduced talents that boost the spell, and even the potential to create a damage reduction shield from it. The problem is, as always: it requires Holy Power to be used.
We need to sacrifice a truck load of threat to use it, but that is probably a necessary trade-off. For a while, Word of Glory healed for so little is was pathetic. Then Blizzard made the spell scale with attack power and spell power, and the heal was actually noticed on the tank's health bar.
But the big problem is: How can an "emergency heal" be based on the tank having three holy power stacks on him? The Holy Power requirement means that the tankadin needs to plan up to 10 seconds ahead before casting the self-heal. Anyone else than me see a problem with this? How often can you plan an emergency heal 10 seconds in advance?
Anyways.... I will download the patch, install it, and relearn my class. In a week or so, I will know if the concerns listed above still are true when I've had some hands-on experience with the new changes.
Some changes are good, but the mechanics of our rotation and self-heal is poorly designed. I hope that is something that can be fixed without too much fuss, and that we won't have to wait too long for it to be fixed.