Expectations for Shadowpriest design in 5.0

The class Q&A which unfolded last night shone in the relative absence of any Shadowpriest information. This is to be expected, considering that we are the odd one out as a DPS spec for a primarily healing-oriented class. Still, they give a bit of insight in the direction that Blizzard wants to take the game (and us) as well as some glaring holes in our basic design if this comes to pass.

Shadow Orbs

Currently, Shadow Orbs are generated by SW:Pain ticks and Mind Flay. You can store up to 3, and when you cast Mind Spike or Mind Blast, the orbs are consumed for additional damage. It also triggers Empowered Shadows when Mind Blast is cast with at least one orb.

According to the Q&A, Shadow Orbs will become a resource (probably more akin to the Monk’s Dark Force) with no cap. Casting Mind Blast will cost one Shadow Orb, and it will have no cooldown of its own. This indicates that the damage boost to MB and MS will have to be baked into those spells to keep us competitive, and that something is likely to be changed in Empowered Shadows.

My initial guess would be that it is removed entirely – Blizzard originally wanted to give us original gameplay, but juggling both Evangelism and Empowered Shadows at the same time might have been too much for the average player, as well as cause too much ramp-up time. Battle-rezzing a Shadowpriest currently is a sub-optimal choice because it takes us half a minute to get up to speed again, versus a lot of other classes who can just put up one or two buffs and be at full efficiency.

If it isn’t removed, then it would need to be procced by something else – an interesting choice for that would be Mind Spike. If the dot-removal effect of Mind Spike was removed (since to be honest Mind Spike sees use today mostly on Ragnaros adds and PvP which is hardly a good basis for keeping the spell in the game) and casting it on a boss would cause Empowered Shadows, the gameplay would be a bit more manageable and less prone to randomness.

Replenishment

After the severe reduction in efficiency of Vampiric Embrace (putting us well below the Warlocks in terms of self-healing through damage – let alone Affliction) it was only a matter of time when Replenishment got the boot. Blizzard wants us all to manage our own resources, and not be shackled to outside help (for healers especially). Instead of a team of 25, a raid should be 25 individuals who just happen to work together. But, you know, if they don’t that’s also fine (queue LFRaid Finder jokes).

What isn’t fine is that this reduces our utility yet again – and we bring very little PvE utility to begin with. Our fear is mediocre as add control, and if the talents shown are anything to go by, the old vanilla Psychic Scream is a talent choice next to more interesting but niche-based fear spells. Of course, most people will take Psychic Scream since it’s the most generally useable one. As long as people don’t finger it as a reason to say that “our fear is fine” it’s acceptable I guess.

So what do we bring in 5.0 – without tremendous loss of DPS?

  • One (1) root or fear effect
  • Vampiric Embrace
  • Fortitude Buff
  • Possibly Vampiric Dominance at level 90
  • Offensive and self-dispel of Magic and Disease
  • Mass Dispel
  • Mind Control (also a self-CC)

I say ” possibly” at Vampiric Dominance because it’s not only a level 90 talent (meaning a choice), but also because I wouldn’t put it past Blizzard to remove Vampiric Embrace entirely and force us to buy Vampiric Dominance to get back a similar, but less useful ability. If it is in addition to/stacks with VE – then huzzah.

Compare this to Warlocks:

  • One single-target Fear
  • One AoE Fear, single-target Horror or Stun
  • Battle Rez through Soulstone
  • Healthstones
  • Self-healing or a healing received boost through self-buff as well as a tier-1 DPS talent
  • Self-dispel of Magic, Offensive Dispel or Fascinate through Pet
  • Mobility through Demonic Circle
  • Summoning raid members (depreciated in most cases through guild perks)
  • Dark Intent

Or Mages:

  • Arcane Brilliance
  • Polymorph
  • Spellsteal
  • Dispelling Curses
  • One (1) root
  • One (1) Stun
  • Counterspell
  • One (1) Slow/Knockback/Disorient
  • Focus Magic

It is quite likely that quite a few of these abilities are going to be changed, limited or removed. But still you will find that the Mage and the Warlock not only have more utility and encounter-interaction, but also more interesting ones. Sure we can heal by dropping Shadowform – at the cost of DPS, mana lost returning to Shadowform and building up our DPS again. And when we do heal, we go OoM very quickly.

Current Design Philosophy

It is obvious that Shadowpriests currently do not occupy the minds of the developers much. The talent trees revealed so far give our goodies to the healing priests but give nothing back. In fact, the very statement made during the Q&A revealed all:

“Leap of Faith will continue to have a facing requirement because healers should not just be staring at health bars but should also be paying attention to the raid environment.”

They don’t even consider us using this spell, since it drops Shadowform. Obviously only healers use it. Shadowpriests are generally more suited for using Leap of Faith because we are in the fight, but we lose tons of DPS while using it. So we don’t, on the whole, if another priest can do it instead. A prime example of a wasted opportunity.

What we need

It is not just that we’d need more utility – for one, without a hybrid tax we can only hope that the DPS can now be homogenized enough that it’s easier to divide the utility around the various classes and specs. What we need is something exciting, something new. We’ve been clamoring for it for ages, and got nothing.

  • We got an “exciting” Archangel/Evangelism + Empowered Shadows combo to replace the old – equally unexciting – Shadow Weaving
  • Shadow Orbs rangs from floor-scrapingly bad RNG faillure to practically overpowered – all within the same minute
  • Mind Spike’s introduction was a faillure – it’s a PvP spell and used in a limited fashion on adds (hint: 3+ adds means Mind Sear, which is the rule in Firelands today)
  • Raid utility was reduced as abilities were removed – other classes got more utility (and in a few cases, our utility was given to them instead)

I think the problem lies with our theme. We are shadowy punishers, who bring pain and misery on our enemies as we bring power to our allies. But if it’s anywhere near cool, it is given to Warlocks instead. And if it’s shadowy, the Rogues have first dibs. This leaves us in a lot of cases with nothing more than “not the healing priest”  as theme or using ” the mind”  as part of the theme, which just is not going to give us exciting visuals.

What I think we need is a redesign in philosophy – going back to the basics. Even just a few minutes of thought provides some ideas:

  • Shadowpriests don’t heal – in fact, you could permanently transform all our healing spells to damaging effects while Shadow-specced. Smite equals Mind Blast already, so no problems there. Holy Fire would make an interesting Direct-Damage spell that leaves a DoT. Leap of Faith could be reversed into a single-target knockback and Divine Hymn could become an Channeled AoE effect.
  • Our powers deal with the mind (Mind Vision, Mind Control, Fear) – since we seem to lack CC/control, one more effect along these lines in the talent spec abilities might do wonders. If the information at Blizzcon is any indication, we might get Psychic Horror and Silence as baseline Shadow abilities. That would solve all of this.
  • The very Shadows are part of our theme – and a lot of things can be hung on this theme, including a mobility effect allowing us to move closer to our allies through the shadows.
  • And finally, we bring pain and misery – creatures of vengeance. If Monks can balance Light and Dark, why can’t we balance Agony and Mercy, for instance? Increasing agony would increase our damage done, while mercy would increase our defenses or bolster our utility effects. This is not dissimilar to how a Demon Hunter works in Diablo III, for instance. I don’t think it’s a coincedence that the new Monk class’  abilities seem quite close to systems used in Blizzard’s new game either.
  • Since they are planning not to directly base mana off Intellect anymore, I can see us either needing even more mana regain abilities, cheaper spells or indeed more use of a secondary resource. It would be quite a stretch of technology, but I wouldn’t mind being a Shadowpriest meaning we’d lose Mana and instead gain the aforementioned Agony as resource (like a Monk who gains or loses Mana as a resource based on spec).

There are plenty of ideas to pick from, and the imagination hasn’t been stretched at all yet. Granted, the above is very unlikely, but it shows that there is plenty you can do without borrowing from the Rogue, Mage or Warlock toolkit directly. It pays to make abilities that are fun and useful, while still remaining unique. I hope we can look forward to positive changes in the beta for Mists of Pandaria, quality input by Shadowpriests and a listening ear on the part of the developers.

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4 Responses to “Expectations for Shadowpriest design in 5.0”

  1. […] I started writing a very long comment in reply to Natarumah’s very interesting analysis on the Priest Class Q&A and Expectations for Shadowpriest design in 5.0. […]

  2. I was writing a ridiculously long comment so I blogged it instead :)

    http://www.hotsdots.com/2011/11/shadow-priest-design-never-broken/

    I don’t think we’ll see much creative direction with Shadow Priests until there are significantly less of us. I think the number of Shadow Priests around in the game reinforce Blizzard’s opinion that: if it’s not broken, so don’t fix it.

    Don’t think we get enough love though. Other than Mind Spike most of our new “cool” abilities are really tailored for healers and just don’t make much sense once implemented for Shadow Priests.

  3. BTW where do I read the original Q&A? The transcript up at battle.net/wow only briefly mentions priests.

    Wondering if I’ve missed something?

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