August 29, 2010

Shadow Priests: The four best things about Cataclysm

In between the fevered dreams, cough syrup benders and The Golden Girls marathons associated with my most recent cold this week, I resolved to pen the greatest Spiritual Guidance article of all time. After all, Hemingway's genius came from the bottom of a bottle. Perhaps then it would stand to reason that the true genius of Fox Van Allen would come from the bottom of a bottle of CVS Nighttime Cold and Flu.

Alas, that was not to be the case. In my hastily written Twitter screed, "The best things about Cata for spriets (sic)," I praised Blizzard for the way it made quests smell in Hyjal. The third best thing about Cataclysm was, "wait hold on no no no wait." Cold medication is serious business, kids. That's why they keep the good stuff behind the counter.

Thankfully, the cold has finally lifted (mostly). Thinking with a more sober mind, I've come to the realization that the idea of a "favorite things" list is a decent one (sup, Oprah?); it's just that my execution was a bit off earlier in the week. After the break: My real picks for the "best" changes to shadow priests (so far) in Cataclysm and a chance for you to chime in on your favorites as well.

Inner Will

While it's not technically a shadow priest talent, Inner Will is something that every shadow priest should be excited about. Not necessarily for situations where you're in battle, but for every single moment you spend outside of it.

A huge chunk of our time in World of Warcraft is spent meandering around the big cities -- buying reagents, traveling between the auction house and the mailbox, picking up trade goods and hunting down Wild Mustard. The idea that less of my time will be wasted doing the least fun thing known to man in game -- traveling -- is a blessing worthy of inclusion here.

Shadowy Apparition

Let's be honest: No list of favorite shadow priest changes in Cataclysm would be complete without a hat tip to Shadowy Apparition (also known as ghostly aspects of our shadowy hatepower). It's absolutely overloaded with "cool factor."

There are a few minor issues holding me back from proclaiming this to be the best thing about Cataclysm, at least for now. Shadowy Apparition seems to be something of a technical nightmare for Blizzard to implement. Each new beta build comes with a fix or change to the ability, but it still remains pretty bugged. The apparitions tend to chase down the wrong target, and they still hit for the wrong amount of damage (at least, I think they still do -- it's awfully hard to tell with the damage numbers turned off). That's forgivable, though. The concept behind Shadowy Apparition is sound, even if it isn't correctly implemented yet.

A few weeks ago, the talent underwent a pretty major artisitic change. The old "floating skull" Shadowy Apparition is gone; instead, the ability now procs clones of yourself (as Blizzard had originally intended). It looked a bit glitchy the first time I saw it in action on the battlefield, but when I played around with training dummies, the animation seemed to go much more smoothly. I can't help but wish my ghostly aspects of shadowy hatepower were in Shadowform, but that's a minor concern.

The more pressing concern is the tax these extra shadow priests could have on your graphics card. I play on a fairly modern desktop, but I have plenty of friends who play on more dated machines and laptops. If you're the type of player who prefers 10-man raiding to 25-man raiding simply because the former gives you better frame rates and performance, then Shadowy Apparition could severely bog down your computer on a movement-heavy fight, even if you're only running a 5-man instance. Seriously, the proc rate on these things is just that generous. We could fill a whole raid with these things.

There's still plenty of work for Blizzard to do with the talent, but what I've seen so far in the beta is promising.


Seriously. I'm excited about Paralysis.

When I play World of Warcraft, I try my best to be a team player. And really, when you're taking on 5-man, 10-man or 25-man content as a shadow priest, that's supposed to be your primary focus -- working as part of a team. DPS players tend to fade into the crowd as the least important aspect of any raid encounter, so anything I can do to add some more value to the team, I do. When I play my elemental shaman, I use Wind Shear every chance I get. On my shadow priest, putting two points into Improved Vampiric Embrace was an easy call.

That talent is going extinct in Cataclysm, and I've been keeping an eye out for a new talent or ability that might take its place. For a time, I figured that ability could be one we already have, Silence. But we're pretty deep into beta already, and developers are still keeping it gated behind a two-point investment in Improved Psychic Scream.

I won't give up hope that we'll someday be able to use Silence in PvE as well as PvP, but just this month, Cataclysm gifted shadow priests with an ability that I'm quite intrigued by: Paralysis. The downsides are obvious -- it's a stun snare that puts you at the total mercy of the random number generator. It's not really an interrupt, like that beautiful Silence talent Blizzard insists on us never being able to take. And of course, we have no idea how effective this will be on non-player characters -- Blizzard has a habit of making bosses totally immune to stuff like this.

But here's the upside: It's a new concept and a new ability that doesn't require me to give up a mapped keyboard key to use. As I play Cataclysm more and more, I'm starting to get button fatigue by the sheer number of choices I have. Between Mind Spike, Dark Archangel and a rekindled interest in Shadow Word: Death, managing the new abilities along with the old standards seems clunkier than ever. I can see Paralysis bringing a nice benefit to my time soloing and to my 5-man groups, and the idea that I don't even need to waste a global cooldown to use it just feels like icing on an already sweetened cake.

An understanding of how shadow priests work

Back in Ulduar and Trial of the Crusader, hybrid classes were poor, abused step children. Elemental shaman had to deal with gear loaded with useless MP5. Shadow priests had gear loaded with sub-optimal spirit. Why was that?

Um ... well, you see, cause resto needs MP5, you know, and ... uh ... and holy, holy and disc are two ... uh ... spirit ... um ...

OK, so I'm not really sure what Blizzard was thinking back in ye olden days of World of Warcraft 3.2. But you can't take a look at the way shadow priests are being designed for Cataclysm without getting a sense that shadow priests -- and in fact, most hybrids -- are finally getting an appropriate level of commonsense design. Shadow priests are the kings of the damage over time spell. It only makes sense that haste should be a powerful stat for us, right?

When Vampiric Touch and Devouring Plague became haste-affected spells in Patch 3.3.0, the wall started to crumble. In 4.0, Shadow Word: Pain gets affected by haste, too. The piece that I truly appreciate, though, is the continuity of thought in the design process. Blizzard gave us something to benefit from haste, while simultaneously reworking our talent tree to highlight the stat. If you'll recall, a few weeks ago, Shadowform was changed from a 5 percent crit buff to a 5 percent haste buff. And just this past week, we saw the developers retool Darkness. What was once a static increase to shadow damage is now a 1/2/3 percent increase to spell haste.

That may not seem like a big deal to the casual observer, but this kind of coherent thinking was largely absent from the design of shadow priests throughout Wrath. It's refreshingly welcome to see it turn up in Cataclysm.

No one cares what you think, Fox

That's what my mom used to tell me, anyway. Good ol' mom.

Seriously, though, now that you know what I think about what's coming for shadow priests in Cataclysm, I'd like to hear everyone else's impressions on the beta so far. What's your favorite part about shadow priesting 4.0? Are you loving Dark Archangel? Do those silly little shadow orbs excite you way more than they excite me? Maybe you're just so darn excited about tauren priests that you can't think about anything else.

Now's your chance to sound off. As for me, I'm going to go finish off that bottle of cough medicine and watch some TV until next Wednesday. I hear Match Game's on.

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