Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Talent Choices for Warlocks: 75 and 90

I've tried to make some sort of talent guide on several occasions, but the old talent tree format meant that an in depth analysis of each talent would make for something more akin to a text book or stereo instruction manual than a guide, so I've been putting it off for like three years. Now that the old 31 Point system is going away and being replaced with a total of 18 talents, it's much easier than it was before. It also means that I can wrap up this little series on the third post rather then the 24th and less of me talking is something we can all be happy about!

Let's look at the fifth and sixth tiers, the homes of the most interesting talents in our arsenal this time through. 

 On a side note, I love that doing my research for these posts has helped me uncover and report several bugs in the beta, some of which are fairly bizarre. So, to everyone reading this, thank you. Both of you. You're helping Blizzard make a better game.

Tier 4 - Level 75

This is the tier that has attracted the most attention, primarily due to Grimoire of Supremacy, but old school Destro Locks will recognize a familiar mechanic. In general, this tier deals with your demons and different ways of making them cooler. Even though the intent is that each of these will be equal over the course of a 6-10 minute fight, there are some hiccups that are preventing that from being the case. If there is a tier where we'll have a "best" choice then it's going to be this one (and testing in the beta is indicating that to be the case). Hopefully, Blizzard will nail the tuning so that, like other talents, there is a situational "best" rather than an all around "best". It's still a bit too early in the beta to make that call so I'll be looking at these under the assumption that they've gotten it right and that you're free to pick whichever fits your play style more. 

But, as a warning, expect to pick the "best" one as I don't see how they're going to reconcile the imbalance issues here without reworking several abilities and talents.

Pro: New, cooler demons with expanded abilities
Con: Does little to change your gameplay. 

The idea behind this talent is fairly straightforward, when you pick it your demons will be replaced with one of a similar type, but the new demon will have a new model, hit harder and have enhanced abilities. For example, the Imp has had Singe Magic for some time now, but the Fel Imp's Sear Magic doesn't just dispel the Warlock, also dispels up to three other people nearby. Likewise, the Voidlord's Void Shield reduces all damage taken, as opposed to the Voidwalker's Shadow Shield that only reduces physical damage. The Wrathguard's healing debuff is stronger than the Felguard's, the Observer steals spells from the target rather than simply purging them and the Shivarra's Mesmerize is more versatile than Seduction, working on a wider range of mob types.

This is likely to be the default choice for a lot of warlocks, if only because the allure of shiny new minions is going to be quite attractive. It's also much lower maintenance than the other two options so the more casual Warlocks will enjoy the passive DPS boost. Personally, I'm excited that the Fel Imp is being voiced by Richard Steven Horvitz, the voice actor behind Invader Zim (and I love that show), so I'll be grabbing this in my Destro spec at every opportunity. 

Pro: Heavier burst for phases of increased damage or when you're focusing down an opponent in PvP. 
Cons: Another cooldown to monitor, little control over the second demon.

This is a fairly interesting one for those who love having their own little demonic army.

In theory, the damage done by the second pet for it's duration should be equal to the extra damage done by the stronger Supremacy demon over the course of Service's two minute cooldown, but this one will shine when there is a point in the fight where the boss takes extra damage or, like Heroic Spine, you need to pour as much damage into a single burst as possible. 

Pro: Handy for fights when pets don't act properly or for people who just hate managing a pet.
Cons: To get the most out of it, you'll need to hard summon a pet every two minutes and the only spec that can summon instantly doesn't really benefit from it.

Blizzard is throwing a bone to the community with this one, as it's the resurrection of an old mechanic from Burning Crusade. Back then, Warlocks had the ability to sacrifice their pet and gain a buff specific to the pet being sacrificed. For Destruction Warlocks whose "rotation" involved "Spam Shadowbolt, Life Tap when you need mana", the boost to Shadow damage from the Succubus was a clear winner. People apparently liked the mechanic and have been asking for it's return. There are also people who just hate having a pet (go roll a Shadow Priest, you hippies) and would rather trade the pet's damage for a boost to their own damage.

The problem here is that Demonology's Mastery directly increases the damage your pet deals, so this talent makes one a Demo Lock's best secondary stats significantly less potent. Both Demonology and Destruction have to spend time hard summoning a new pet every two minutes in order to take advantage of the extra damage after a fresh Sacrifice, which is a cumbersome mechanic that almost cancels itself out. Affliction can use Soulburn to summon a pet instantly, but doing so spends a shard that could otherwise be spent on Haunt. On top of that, Sacrifice only boosts direct damage and Affliction does almost none of that anymore now that it uses a channeled filler instead of Shadowbolt. 

If you really hate having a pet or find yourself in some sort of fight where your pet is just completely worthless, then go ahead and grab this one. Otherwise, don't bother. 

For what it's worth, the best choice as of the latest build is for Demonology to use Service (too much synergy between the second pet, Demo's Mastery and Dark Soul: Knowledge) while Affliction and Destruction both take Supremacy. Sacrifice is a loss in all specs. 

Tier 6 - Level 90

Maybe it's because of my excitement over Invader Zimp, but I haven't been able to get as passionate about our level 90 talents so far. It could also be that I hate the "This effect is disabled while on cooldown" language they use for two of them. They tend to be the most game changing of our abilities and will certainly be switched around regularly on a fight-by-fight basis, but I'm just not looking forward to Kil'jaeden's Cunning as much as, for instance, Burning Rush.

Pro: Great for fights with large, predictable amounts of incoming damage.
Con: Large amounts of incoming damage tend to kill people wearing dresses and we already have enough ways to piss off healers without finding an excuse to stand in fire.

This one is a single target debuff that transfers a portion of all damage taken to the target, similar to how Bane of Havoc transfers a portion of all damage done to the target. If the ability is sitting unused and off cooldown, then it acts more like the current Retribution Aura, hurting anything that attacks you. If you've used the ability and are waiting for it to recharge, then it does nothing.

While other talents on this tier have certain niches that they excel in, AV is probably going to be the default choice for most warlocks, most of the time. It's a powerful tool in PvP (though I don't know if I would give up the ability to cast on the run for it), will transfer a fair amount of pain during fights with a lot of raid damage, and help kill things a little bit faster when leveling should you opt for a DPS pet instead of something with a taunt. That said, 10/50% of the damage you take is typically going to be very little transferred back and can safely be skipped if there's any reason to take one of the other two.

Pro: More mobility is always good.
Con: Not all fights or situations have any sort of mobility requirement, slowed casting and movement under the passive effect.

Being able to quickly move, reposition, stack or collapse while maintaining optimal DPS has become a requirement for any serious raider or PvP competitor these days. While fights in Blackwing Lair or Molten Core largely allowed you to stand and cast until the boss fell over, much more common now are fights like Shannox or Atramedes that force you to constantly be on the move and being able to cast while running out of fire or while kiting an add can be an invaluable thing. That said, there are still fights today that do not require huge amounts of movement (if any) and, for those situations, this talent will do very little to help you.

The downside is that movement phases generally revolve around needing to get out of or away from something that could hurt or kill you and the stacking movement debuff from this talent's passive effect is directly detrimental to that. You can make use of the activated effect to get 6 seconds of unhindered casting under movement, but while the ability is on cooldown it may as well not even exist. Correct usage will make or break this talent. In addition, the increased cast time may push whatever spell you're casting down below Fel Flame and instants for DPET, making the talent an overall loss. However, this possibility has not yet been fully explored by people smarter than myself.

Pro: Any experienced DPS knows how annoying it is to lay down an AoE only for the tank to kite mobs out of it. 
Con: Any experienced tank knows how annoying it is for some idiot DPS to pull the next pack over with stray AoE.

As bosses get more complex and mechanics become more exotic, we're starting to see more and more fights that have some sort of AoE component to them. Heroic Maloriak, for instance, had that nasty Black Phase with extended periods of large scale AoE. Madness, Magmaw, Yorsahj, Ragnaros, Beth'tilac, and many others have some sort of need for AoE and, well . . . that can be really annoying if your primary AoE doesn't quite do the job. Channeled AoE's like Rain of Fire can be especially troublesome as it requires that everything sit in a nice little pile for the entire duration. Those situations are where a talent like this is going to be incredibly useful.

I wouldn't recommend this one for leveling. Stray AoE has a tendency to pull extra packs or mobs and get you or your group into trouble. It's also really unlikely that you'll ever have a need for the increased radius in dungeons anyway.

At first glance it also seems a fairly poor choice for PvP. However, I can see a few situations where it might be handy, primarily in battlegrounds. It could give you extra protection while defending a capture point and trying to prevent stealthed Rogues from stabbing you in the back. Destro may get some use out of it since Rain of Fire is instant cast for us and stuns anyone who stays under it long enough, so you could lay down one or two Rains before heading into a skirmish and give your team an edge. That said, Arena teams will likely see much more use out of the mobility or damage from the other talents.

At one point the tooltip for for this ability was more specific, stating that it only affected "non-talented" spells. That wording was changed, but the functionality has stayed the same. Spells like Harvest Life and Shadowfury are not affected by it, while spec specific or baseline abilities are. It also does not affect any AoE abilities that your pets may have, like Felstorm or Whiplash. However, Fire and Brimstone, Hellfire, Seed of Corruption and Rain of Fire all have their area increased. To give you an idea of how much larger it is, this is the standard range of Rain of Fire:

And this is its range under Mannoroth's Fury:

Summing up

As a whole, I feel like our talents do a good job of fitting in with the new system's design paradigm. Which one you pick will be heavily dependent on what you're fighting. AoE fights will prefer Mannoroth's Fury while heavy movement fights will probably opt for Kil'jaeden's Cunning leaving Archimonde's Vengeance as a standby for everything else. The survivability and crowd control options from other tiers will be a choice based on play style but can be optimized for the situation.

My only concern is that the options in the level 75 tier are too prone to always having a "best" choice. Sacrifice is generally underwhelming as it has too many drawbacks to justify it's strengths. Meanwhile, Service's synergy with Dark Soul makes it too strong for Demonology and too weak for Affliction or Destruction. Perhaps the answer to that lies in reducing the amount of Mastery that the second demon summoned from Grimoire of Service inherits from the Warlock, but I don't know if that's possible under the current code or if it will even solve the problem. I suppose it also wouldn't hurt if the Grimoire Felguard didn't automatically blow a DPS cooldown as soon as it came out.

7 weeks left. Here's to hoping that they get it all worked out.

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