~*This post contains pictures and information relating to the Battle for Azeroth Alpha. If you don’t want to know or see anything relating to Alpha, please turn away now~*
EDIT: MArch 16 – a new build went up last night with a couple of changes that will hopefully address some points below, so expect a follow up post in the future! Also, had a lovely reader remind me of the existence of Frost Shock, so I need to look at how I’m incorporating that into the rotation, as that might help with somethings, too.
Battle for Azeroth Alpha has been out for a little while now. I’ve been super lucky to get an invitation to the Alpha, so have been spending the past few weekends slowly making my way through the content, giving feedback and comments and reporting bugs and what not, to try and find all the little things that might need fixing before the game goes live. I’ve been streaming my adventures (you can check out some of the videos over on my twitch channel twitch.tv/cinder_streams). All I can say is BfA is going to kick BUTT. It’s flippin’ STUNNING.
So, of course I’ve been doing all of this initial levelling as a pandaren shaman on the Alliance side. I’ve been trying out elemental and a little of restoration. I wanted to write a little bit about the elemental side of things first, because that’s what I’ve been doing most of all.
NOTE: I am absolutely not a theorycrafter. I don’t sim anything, I go by gut, and am not at all an expert on elemental shamans in any way, shape or form. And obviously as this is Alpha, everything I write here today may be completely different tomorrow.
For the most part, elemental shamans haven’t changed an awful lot. A lot of the same spells and talents are there, just shifted around a bit. (You can see all the spell/talent changes on wowhead here.) There are some spells we have back (welcome back Tremor Totem and Earth Shield!!!), but the overall approach is the same:
Cast spells to generate maelstrom
Cast spells to spend maelstrom
But whilst the approach is the same, getting there is a little different, and it’s lead to a very different, much slower elemental shaman, with very little variance and choice in game play.
Firstly, Flame Shock is back to having a cooldown of 6 seconds, and is a baseline of 15 seconds on the target with no maelstrom cost. (i.e. It no longer increases duration based on maelstrom spent, as Flame Shock no longer costs maelstrom to cast. It’s worth noting that wowhead currently says that it does change the duration of the dot based on maelstrom, however in game this is not the case.). On the plus side you can cast Flame Shock on the pull (though you could do this in Legion too). The down side is that you can’t multi-dot more than 2 targets anymore. Unfortunately this has sometimes meant that Lava Surge procs have gone to waste on a non-Flame Shocked target, as the target with Flame Shock on them has died before the cooldown on the spell came up again to cast it on a new target, followed by the proc. This might not sound like a big deal, but Lava Burst does almost the same amount of damage as Lightning Bolt does without a crit and only generates 2 more maelstrom for its trouble, so you really want it to crit to make it worth your while.
Essentially this just means that we need to more careful about which targets get Flame Shock on them, making sure they’re going to stay alive for the duration of the spell so that we have a debuffed target to push Lave Surge procs into. The cooldown on Flame Shock also means that we’re getting fewer Lava Surge procs overall, which means getting those crit-buffed hits even more important.
So far, I miss being able to multi-dot adds for the multiple procs of Lava Surge… which is probably the reason they took that ability away. It’s just something I’m going to have to adjust to. I will say, though, that I do miss the ability to control the length of the dot on a target by choosing to spend extra maelstrom on a longer dot. It made me feel like I had some control over my spell choices.
Earth Shock has also been reverted to an earlier version of itself, with the scaled damage based on maelstrom spent affect no longer in place. Instead, Earth Shock costs 60 maelstrom, and does a flat rate of damage. This has been the hardest adjustment for me. Two things that bother me with this reversion.
Firstly, a personal preference – when a mob is about to die, I would rather cast an instant 10 maelstrom cost earth shock than spend almost 2 seconds casting Lightning Bolt. Lightning Bolt is overkill at that point, and feels like a waste of time. So for me it makes killing mobs slower (especially if they manage to interrupt your cast.)
Secondly, tying in to the set maelstrom cost, sometimes it feels like it takes a REALLY long time to get enough maelstrom generated to use Earth Shock. And what’s worse- it’s extremely underwhelming. When you’re standing there not getting Lava Surge procs and just casting Lightning Bolt for ages, it’s a real slap in the face when you finally get that moment to cast Earth Shock and it hits like a wet noodle. Damage aside, it doesn’t have a satisfying animation or anything associated with it. (This animation has been true for Legion, but at least on live Earth Shock can hit like a truck, so it still feels satisfying).
Overall, Earth Shock is my biggest gripe for the class at the moment, and where I would really like to see some changes made, if possible.
As I mentioned in the Earth Shock section, it can take a long time to generate maelstrom. I find the vast majority of my time is spent casting Lightning Bolt (in between Healing Surges to keep myself alive!) which, to be honest, just gets a bit boring. Part of the issue with lack of Flame Shocks giving Lava Surge procs is that it contributes to this slower maelstrom generation… it’s a vicious cycle. And again, once you spent all this time and effort building your maelstrom, to have the “finisher” be underwhelming just doesn’t make it feel worth it.
The talent Aftershock helps with this – Your spells refund 30% of all Maelstrom spent on them – but it does come at the cost of being in place of Storm Elemental and Liquid Magma Totem, and if we were in a single target fight, we’d be choosing Storm Elemental, because building up to a weak Earth Shock isn’t going to be as strong (though of course this would need to be simmed- getting out a few more Earth Shocks may end up being a damage increase over the damage
Another new talent that has come in, Molten Fury (Lava Surge now also causes Lava Burst to generate 50% more Maelstrom) may also be a nice help, though it would rely on being able to get lots of Lava Surge procs to be useful. Going against this talent most of all, though, is that it’s on the same line now as Elemental Blast, which is so embedded in elemental shaman gameplay it should just be baseline now. (side note: Elemental Blast is still very satisfying, and at the moment does some nice damage. If this is reduced, however, this talent line will need some thought).
Lastly there is High Voltage, which is most likely the best choice to help generate more maelstrom – Lightning Bolt and Chain Lightning can now cause a second Elemental Overload. The downside to this talent is that it’s not consistent, it’s RNG based, so the proc rate will determine how effective this will be (Elemental Overload helping to generate additional maelstrom through the extra hit it does).
It comes down to this: there are now only 2 spells for the spec that cost maelstrom – Earth Shock and Earthquake – there is no variance in their strength based on the maelstrom spent, and it takes a long time to be able to cast them at all, so they really need to be worth it.
Chain Lightning is everyone’s favourite spell in game (right?), and it’s still beautiful in BfA. But the damage reduction done to it is striking. Currently on live Chain Lightning hits for just a little less than Lightning Bolt. On Alpha, it hits for half the damage of Lightning Bolt, and generates less maelstrom per target hit. What I’ve noticed so far is that if you’ve got 5 mobs or more, this is fine. However anything less and you wonder why you’re there at all, and start cursing your fat panda butt for pulling those extra mobs. (Also, you’re probably dead because you’re so damn squishy).
Then there’s earthquake. Earthquake has had its cost increased to 75 maelstrom, making it pretty expensive to cast. Thankfully (at the moment) it seems to be worth it. But again, because of the high cost, you’re going to want a decent number of mobs (assuming Earth Shock gets some better damage going on).
For the most part, I found it difficult to AoE effectively during levelling unless there were about 5 “normal” health mobs. Chain Lightning + Earthquake was usually enough to get them down reasonably well. However anything from 2-4 mobs, or if there was an elite thrown in there at all, it was actually quite difficult to deal with, and would generally kill me. The maelstrom would take too long to generate so earthquake would take longer to get down, by which time I was pretty damaged myself. (Tell you what, I’ve never used my stun totem so much before!!!). Liquid Magma Totem is still available as a talent, which is nice. Again, though, it’s going to be better with large mob sizes rather than small. So we fine ourselves in this weird place with mobs of 2-4.
I’ve griped a lot in the past about how much movement really impacts being an elemental shaman. In fights with movement in them, our dps is punished pretty badly. In the past Blizz have done things to help deal with this: we’ve been able to cast Lightning Bolt on the move, or, as in the case of Legion, our Shocks not having cooldowns or maelstrom cost limitations; it wasn’t always ideal to reapply a flame shock dot on a target if it were a lower maelstrom, but it still felt like you were able to do something as you were moving from point A to point B so that was nice.
In Alpha, we have nothing that can be cast on the move unless Earth Shock has been charged up or Flame Shock is off cooldown. Relying on Lava Surge procs is also down given how much harder it is to multi-dot mobs. And to rub salt into the wound, Gust of Wind has been removed as a talent (zomg not my fart talent!!), so we can’t even quickly dash to get to Point B so we can start casting again. For me personally, I can deal with one or two of these things being in place, but it does feel quite punishing having all of these things combined.
There are talents that can help with this a bit, but it does lock us in to them if there’s a big chunk of movement. You could take Spirit Wolf (While transformed into a Ghost Wolf, you gain 5% increased movement speed and 5% damage reduction every 1 sec, stacking up to 4 times). There’s also Stormkeeper, which is the watered down Elemental Shaman artifact replacement talent – Charge yourself with lightning, causing your next 2 Lightning Bolts or Chain Lightnings to be instant cast and trigger an Elemental Overload on every target. If you know damage is coming, Stormkeeper can be pre-cast to assist with this. And whilst this does sound very good and reasonable, the kicker is that it’s on the same talent line as Ascendance, so you loose a big CD to gain essentially 2 casts on the run.
Something has to give here, though. Having to choose movement talents over CDs is a bit of a blow, really.
On being squishy
Oh my goodness the squishiness! To be fair, this is usually an issue when levelling as elemental shamans at the best of times. Except at the moment, because damage is underwhelming, it feels worse because things have the time to actually kill you. It’s extremely frustrating. It does feel like I spend more of my time healing myself than damaging enemies, which makes for very depressing game play. It doesn’t feel satisfying when you defeat a boss; you just feel bloody relieved that it didn’t kill you first. Like I mentioned above, having stun totems are very helpful, for sure, and having Earth Shield is nice, too! But I still die a lot.
At the moment, I’m not thrilled. The changes (minor as they may seem) when added together have made the spec feel extremely slow, and very punishing if we need to move. The slow maelstrom generation, and the lack of ability to just ping off the last bit of health on a mob makes the overall gameplay quite stilted- I’m spending far too much of my time casting Lightning Bolt before I’m able to do anything else. And that just gets boring.
When it boils down to it, the changes have made it so that the class no longer has choices to make when playing. I don’t get to choose between, for example, putting a longer dot on a target or doing a big Earth Shock; I don’t get to choose if I’m going to earthquake these 3 mobs or dot them up with Flame Shocks first to try and force some Lava Surge procs; I don’t get to choose if I’m going to drop a little Flame Shock on my target as I move- I’m either going to do nothing at all while we move, or I’m going to stand still and piss my healers off by finishing a cast before moving at all.
What I would to see is some flexibility put back into the spec. I want to think a bit about what I’m doing while I’m playing. I don’t want to feel like I’m spamming ‘1’ all the time for Lightning Bolt. I want to feel strong; I want to feel like my spell choices matter.
Don’t get me wrong, none of this is the end of the world… but it does have me looking at other dps classes kinda seriously for the first time since becoming a shaman, and I really don’t like that.
So those are my thoughts at the moment on Elemental Shamans. What do you think of the changes? Do they suit you? Or would you like to see some different changes made?