- 2009/06/10 08:42:25 PM
This week we’re starting our class Q&A series with Greg “Ghostcrawler" Street and the development team. We’ll be taking a look at each class and answering some of the top questions brought forward by their communities. First up, we take a look at the most asked questions from the shaman class and find out more about the design philosophy behind the class, the expectations for the class, and what may lie in store for it in the future.
Shaman Q&A with Ghostcrawler and the World of Warcraft Development Team
We’d like to start things off by asking a question that players often ask in regard to the very purpose of each class. In this case, we’re looking specifically at the shaman, which has seen a variety of changes since the start of World of Warcraft and perhaps doesn’t fit into the original description quite the way they used to.
Where do shamans fit into the larger scope of things currently and where do you see them going from this point forward?
The shaman class has a pretty dynamic history. In classic World of Warcraft there was a period where everyone viewed shamans as overpowered. I remember one of my earliest experiences in the Barrens trying to group with a shaman to do a group quest. But he just told me was an overpowered shaman (Frost Shock!) and didn’t need the help.
In vanilla World of Warcraft, shamans at the end-game were healers. Period. By The Burning Crusade, we decided that all three of their trees should have viable roles in the end-game. We also decided that hybrid classes (those that can fill more than one role, such as damage and healing) should do less damage than the classes that could only fill the damage role. This philosophy generally worked, in some cases too well, because Sunwell raids were infamous for stacking lots of shamans.
In Lich King, a primary goal for raiding was to give players far more flexibility in which classes they brought and try to de-emphasize “raid stacking” as much as possible. This meant we needed to share the unique, mandatory buffs among more classes and specs so that, for example, a raid wasn’t gimped if they happened to lack a +spellpower or +crit buff. However, we didn’t want say shamans to no longer be attractive for raiding so we brought up their damage a lot. It might still not be as high as rogues or warlocks, but it’s close, and if you have the right gear and really know how to play, you can even beat those classes on some bosses. No raid worth its salt would turn down an Enhancement, Elemental or Restoration shaman for fear of bringing down the raid.
In PvP, especially Arenas, shamans have never really been a powerhouse class and we view this as a problem. Shamans have always had a place in the 5 vs. 5 bracket, where their buffs are most meaningful spread out among multiple characters. Elemental has sometimes had a niche as the “kill the wounded guy” spec. Currently, however, much of the PvP community is very focused on the 2 vs. 2 bracket, where teams that pack a lot of abilities into a single class tend to dominate. This is something we need to improve for the shaman class.
Shamans have three really distinct roles. Enhancement is melee DPS. Elemental is ranged DPS. Restoration is healing. Once upon a time there was a potential tanking role for shamans as well, but we have pretty much phased that out.
What is it that makes them unique compared to all other classes?
Totems, totems, totems!
Okay, that’s the obvious answer, but it goes deeper than that. The weapon enchants are an unusual part of the shaman class, as are mechanics like the shield spells (Earth Shield, Lightning Shield) and Frost Shock. Shaman buffs and utility spells are quite powerful, including the infamous Heroism / Bloodlust, but also their self-rez ability, Reincarnation. As envisioned from the start, shamans were also the “offensive” hybrid. Things have inevitably blurred a bit since then, but they are still a counterpart and complement to paladins – paladins have cleanse, shamans have purge; paladins will let an ally move freely to escape or catch an opponent, shamans will snare an enemy to let their ally escape or catch him or her; paladins will make sure their allies’ casts aren’t interrupted, shamans will interrupt enemy casts; and so forth.
Don’t underestimate the gear either. Shamans are only one of two mail-using classes in the game, and the only non-plate wearer that can use shields. Shaman shields provide a lot of defense and stats for the Restoration and Elemental shaman.
One of the other unusual things about the class is their degree of hybridization. An Elemental shaman can easily throw out heals if a group needs a little extra help. A druid, by contrast, would need to shift forms first, possibly giving up other abilities to do so.
There is a unique quality to shaman due to their use of totems as a means of protection, healing, and even as an offensive tool. At the same time, there is a strategic element to being able to place the right totems to do the best job and even more important to place them in the optimum possible spot.
For some players, totems’ lack of mobility and range limitations seem to be more of a liability than an element of strategy, and some shamans in PvP encounters often choose not to place any totems at all.
Are there plans to look at totems in general, the way they are managed, their uses, and their benefits in the future?
Absolutely. One of the features we have been working on is a way for shamans to drop all four totems at once (on one global cooldown). This will hopefully make the totems more attractive while soloing and will let the shaman in a group environment quickly get his or her totems down again if the group has to move or they get destroyed. We’d like to get this feature in soon, but we want to make sure the user-interface works well and feels integrated to the rest of the game, so we can’t yet announce a date. And of course, this is still in the planning stage, and so subject to change.
In PvP, we want to make sure we end the use of “totem stomping macros” where a pet class essentially programs their pet to automatically kill any totem they see. It’s perfectly acceptable for pets to kill totems, but the player should at least have to make a decision and spend some of their attention to do so.
We want to look at the range of the buff totems and make sure you don’t regularly get out of range on say large boss fights.
Finally, as a small quality-of-life improvement, we are going to let low-level shamans trade in the four elemental totems that clutter their bags for a single totem they can equip in their totem slot. Since the four “clutter” totems can’t be destroyed or sold, currently there is no way to get rid of them. This change will essentially give shamans their four bag slots back.
And, what are the possible impacts of considering changes to a system like this?
Sometimes you will see the community suggest ideas that basically write totems out of the game. That’s not what we want. A shaman player should care about totems and use them often.
Obviously being able to drop four totems on one global cooldown is a pretty decent buff to the class as a whole, which will require some balance attention.
We have talked a few times about improving the health of individual totems, but if we did, we don’t want to do it by much. One of our Restoration shamans said he still wanted to be able to whack down enemy totems with his healing mace at the end of the day. The balance for totems being able to cause damage or other effects while the shaman also does is the fact that they can’t move and are relatively fragile.
One longer-term change we are considering is removing the buff totems (replacing them with normal spells) and making all of the totems do something more active, like the current damage or healing totems. We’ve even discussed letting shamans carry a totem on their back (the tauren do it already) but that may be too far out there.
To continue down the path of totem questions, there are many different types of totems available, and at times the amount seems to be overwhelming. In some cases, there seem to be some totems that don’t have a clear, obvious use to players, such as the Sentry Totem.
Is there any plan to look at the way totems are being used and either update little-used totems or consolidate totems that don’t seem to be of a particularly great strategic value individually?
There are still some totems that just aren’t cutting it anymore, and we want to continue to consolidate those so that shamans don’t have any totems that they just never, ever use. Sentry Totem is a possible candidate for the chopping block. It’s hard to really carve off unique niches for Magma Totem and Fire Nova Totem, so those may get merged. Stoneskin is not a terribly exciting totem, so maybe there is a way to just tack that benefit onto another Earth totem. Finally, we are exploring the possibility of the elementals coming out of any Fire or Earth totem respectively rather than to have to drop a new totem just for their temporary benefit.
We combined or cut some totems for Lich King, and you should expect another round of that at some point in the future. As always, we’re unsure of how many of these changes we will get in for the 3.2 patch. We’re trying to keep the list of class changes down compared to 3.1, where some players felt whiplash from so many frequent and sometimes substantial changes to their class.