June 19, 2011

WoW Warriors: Talent specializations and abilities

In some ways, we're fortunate that Cataclysm has simplified these for us. There are fewer must-have talents; several passive talents were rolled into the talent specialization bonuses for picking a spec; and there's room for us to choose what we want and don't want. First, we'll look at each spec's talent specializations and then the talents and abilities therein. We covered mastery bonuses for all three specs in this column, so we won't discuss them again here aside from mentioning what they are.

Arms talent specializations are Mortal Strilke for the active attack and for passives, Two-Handed Weapon Specialization and Anger Management. The mastery is Strikes of Opportunity. The fury talent specializations are Bloodthirst (an active attack) and Dual Wield Specialization and Precision for passive bonuses, with Unshackled Fury as the mastery. There's no real choice involved in any of these save for the choice that you make between each tree at level 10, so simply be aware of them and their interaction with your chosen spec.

An arms warrior will be using a priority-based system based around the Mortal Strike ability, applying bleeds with Rend and the Deep Wounds talent and using Overpower and Colossus Smash as they proc. Slam and Heroic Strike are rage dumps, with Execute becoming a powerful attack when your target is below 20 percent health. We'll take a look at arms talents of consequence now.

Tier 1 arms talents are War Academy, Field Dressing, and Blitz. Field Dressing is a talent for leveling and tanking; most arms warriors will probably use it for a while but abandon it in a pure DPS spec. It's also strong for PvP. Blitz is also a good PvP talent for an arms warrior as well as a solid tanking talent, very useful for flag defense and the like. War Academy is simply a DPS boost that all arms warriors will take.
Tier 2 and 3 arms talents include Deep Wounds, Taste for Blood, Sweeping Strikes, and Impale. These are all straightforward DPS increases either through additional damage, allowing procs, or increasing how many targets you hit. Tactical Mastery allows for rage conservation when switching stances (useful for PvP or when trying to use abilities from Defensive or Berserker stance in general); Second Wind provides a little extra survivability when stunned; Drums of War allows you to save rage when interrupting or debuffing; and Improved Hamstring gives you a chance to immobilize someone you've snared. You don't have real CC, but you can provide excellent snaring with this talent.
For the fourth and fifth tier of the arms tree, we have Improved Slam, Deadly Calm, Blood Frenzy, Lambs to the Slaughter, Juggernaut, and Sudden Death. Unless something changes drastically before we reach level 85, Improved Slam is probably the least desirable of these talents. Deadly Calm is an excellent cooldown for either situations where you're low on rage but need to put out damage now, or for when you reach execute territory and want to keep all of your rage for the next execute. Blood Frenzy is still a solid debuff; it helps with rage generation, which is always a plus for arms. Lambs to the Slaughter is a DPS increase for using arms' main attack; Juggernaut is just plain awesome and increases your damage after you use Charge; and Sudden Death makes Colossus Smash a viable part of your rotation, which is awesome due to Colossus Smash's ability to bypass armor.
Finally, we have Wrecking Crew, Bladestorm, and Throwdown. Take all three. Frankly, I'm not even going to bother going over why you should; just do it. If you don't want to take these talents as a DPS warrior, you want to be fury.
Speaking of fury, the fury "rotation" is more fluid and dependent on enrages. You'll use Bloodthirst on cooldown, with Heroic Strike taking up a big part of the rotation up now due to its being off the global cooldown (meaning that you can hit HS and BT at the same time without stepping on, say, a Raging Blow proc) and Raging Blow when it procs. You're intended to use Bloodsurge-procced Slams on cooldown, as well. But with Slam damage being lackluster for the foreseeable future and Colossus Smash, Raging Blow, and HS for the single-target rotation (and Cleave/Whirlwind for adds), Slam may end up sliding down the priority queue. I've done parses at level 80 that indicate it might still be worth using, but we'll have to wait and see. (My level 85 beta parses ended up within 100 DPS between my ignoring Slam runs and my using it on every proc runs, which has me scratching my head.)

Tier 1 fury talents are Blood Craze, Battle Trance, and Cruelty. Blood Craze was heavily nerfed in recent weeks and is now a leveling curiosity at best until/unless you combine it with Field Dressing; even then, it's lackluster. The Battle Trance/Cruelty combo will get you to Tier 2 and are both excellent talents.
Tier 2 is Executioner, Booming Voice, Rude Interruption, and Piercing Howl. These are all fairly solid talents, with Executioner being good solid DPS in that 20 percent execute phase. Booming Voice is more and better rage generation; Rude Interruption gives you a nice DPS boost for doing what you should do anyway and interrupting spell casts; and Piercing Howl is good for PvP and PvE situations. It's a fairly well-loaded tier.
Tier 3 is Flurry, Death Wish, and Enrage. Let me just say it now: You'll max all of these. Just take them and move on.
Tier 4 is Die by the Sword, Raging Blow, Rampage, and Heroic Fury. Die by the Sword is a nice concept but does not do enough for the points, in my opinion. I get that it is intended to save a fury warrior who steals some aggro from horrible death, but even so, I have a hard time imagining putting points there with Raging Blow, Rampage and Heroic Fury in the same level.
Tier 5 is Furious Attacks, Meat Cleaver, and Intensify Rage. Furious Attacks is pretty useless now for PvP since it can only reduce healing by 10 percent and it can only be applied by an autoattack; it's not reliable. Meat Cleaver and Intensify Rage are excellent talents.
Tier 6 and 7 are Bloodsurge, Skirmisher, Titan's Grip, and Single-Minded Fury. TG and SMF are what you choose if you want to dual wield two-handed or one-handed weapons, respectively. Bloodsurge will be good at 85 if Slam damage scales reasonably and not if not. Skirmisher is excellent for high-mobility fights and PvP.
In addition to all this, there are several new abilities to consider for DPS warriors. These are Inner Rage, Colossus Smash, and Heroic Leap. Inner Rage will serve you as a DPS cooldown in cases of high rage (and arms warriors, you can't use Inner Rage during Deadly Calm), while Colossus Smash will be used on cooldown by both specs (arms will get Colossus Smash reset procs from Sudden Death, getting more use out of it). Heroic Leap is both more freedom to move around (basically a targetable Charge, it could serve to evacuate an area quickly) and an added attack. One could imagine Intervening to an ally, then using Heroic Leap to get back into the fray and add some extra damage at the same time.

What stats do I want as a DPS warrior?

What stats do I want as a DPS warrior?

Each DPS spec uses the same stats but has different targets for each. One of the nice changes Cataclysm has in store for you as a warrior is that the game automatically does the math for rating conversion on your character pane as you level, so you won't need to worry about exactly how much hit rating you'll need; it will tell you.

Hit Rating Arms has an easier time hitting its target than fury, but for either spec, hit is possibly the best DPS stat until you hit the cap. When looking at your character panel, you'll see exactly what your chance to miss an attack is with your current hit. You can adjust it via gemming, enchanting and gearing. In general, you should at least aim for the minimum amount of hit necessary to not miss special attacks, which is 8 percent. As we level to 85, boss-level mobs will go from level 83 to level 88, but the percentage of hit we'll need to hit them will remain fixed at 8 percent, unmodified by talents or racial abilities. The rating needed to get that much hit will increase with every level. As you can see in the screenshot above, hitting the 8 percent hit you'd need to be completely hit-capped on an arms warrior will be doable by the first tier of Cataclysm raiding. Fury hit capping will be much, much more difficult.

Strength With the removal of ArP, strength is your go-to red gem of choice when socketing your gear; it is the main source of raw damage output for a warrior. While you definitely want to make sure your attacks hit, you also want to make sure they do some damage.
Expertise You need exactly 26 expertise to push a raid boss' chance to dodge your attacks off of the table. The parry cap is not worth considering, since it's fairly high and you aren't supposed to be attacking your target from in front, where it does all those nasty cleaves and special horrible attacks that we let the tanks soak up. Frankly, hitting the 26 expertise cap is not going to be much of a problem by the time you're in the first raid tier of gear. You may even have to start reforging it off at that point. I suggest hit, if you're a fury warrior. Arms will most likely move it to crit.

Haste With the changes to the rage mechanic (as discussed here and in numerous other places), haste, expertise and hit rating are now the only stats that increase a DPS warrior's rage generation. Expertise and hit work by reducing dodges and misses, since an attack that doesn't connect doesn't generate rage. Haste works by increasing the speed of your white swings, thus getting more swings in to generate more rage with. Since haste doesn't work on arms warrior's DoT damage, it's still a fairly lackluster stat for arms, but in tests I've run as fury, it can provide a fairly significant DPS boost. I'd rate it below the "must cap" stats and strength, but it is surprisingly close to critical strike rating in some situations for fury.
Critical strike rating Even in raid gear, your critical strike chance is going to plummet in Cataclysm. With stats that just have to be capped and agility almost useless for us (while it generates both attack power and crit for agility classes), you're going to most likely end up with much lower crit at 85 than at 80 for a good long while. Gear has to scale somehow. I'd prioritize crit below hit and around the same as haste or expertise, depending on your spec.
Mastery We've recently discussed mastery in detail. It's the "do whatever you do better" stat added just for Cataclysm. While it's a very good stat, it will probably benefit arms faster than fury, due to arms' having less punishing hit caps to reach.

What are the WoW warrior DPS specs? And their benefits\drawbacks?

What are the warrior DPS specs?

This one's fairly easy. When you hit level 10 or selected your talent points after the Shattering, did you choose protection as your primary spec? Yes? Then you're not a DPS warrior. You're a tank. Thank you for your interest in DPS warriors; please do not show up for an instance with a sword and board and 31 points in protection and try to DPS in defensive stance. You'll give the tank fits, generate little to no DPS, and confuse everyone.

If you chose arms or fury, however, congratulations. You're a DPS warrior. That's right, two out of the three warrior specs are all about hurting things. Whether you like hitting things with a big two-hander, two smaller one-handers, or two big two-handers, it all comes back to hitting things.

Arms is, in a nutshell, the finesse spec. You're still interested in picking up a colossal sword, axe, mace or polearm and ruining someone's day, but you do so with an eye towards efficiency and precise, debilitating strikes. Arms warriors deal their enemies small wounds to cause them to bleed and crippling wounds that inhibit magical healing. They take advantage of their opponent's tendency to duck out of the way to deal strikes that overpower their defenses entirely. Arms warriors are specialists, tacticians on the battleground. They can even weave their weapon into a storm of strikes at higher levels.

At its heart, fury is about grabbing a couple of weapons and smashing everything hostile with them until everything is dead ... and then probably hitting them a few more times. In the words of Théoden, "Fell deeds awake, fire and slaughter! Spear shall be shaken, shield be splintered, a sword-day, a red day, ere the sun rises! Ride now, ride now! Ride to ruin, and the world's ending!" Or as that notable fury warrior the Incredible Hulk might put it, "Hulk smash." Leveling fury warriors will use two weapons that are designed to be used in one hand, but the talent Titan's Grip will allow a fury warrior to dual wield two-handers if desired. (If you'd rather not, Single-Minded Fury allows you to continue using one-handers while boosting damage to compensate for losing the higher damage of two-handers.)

What are their benefits?

If you prefer offense to defense, these are the specs for you. Either DPS spec can generally produce much higher damage output than a tanking warrior. If you want to dual wield, fury is required (it's one of the specialization bonuses for fury), while arms gets significant bonuses to two-handed weapon use. Most PvP (player vs. player) warriors are arms warriors, due to the talent spec's combination of debuffs, offensive power and mobility. Fury warriors are generally more popular for PvE (player vs. environment) content such as dungeons and raids, but each spec sees use in each context.

If you want to be one of the ones doing the direct killing, these are the specs for you.

What are their drawbacks?

Warriors are intended to be a hybrid class, one that can fulfill more than one role in the game. The roles are defined as tanking, DPS and healing. Since warriors can specialize their talents to either tank or DPS, they are designed to be inferior DPSers than classes that can only DPS. (Crowd control abilities, such as are possessed by most pure DPS classes, are not considered a role in this case.) Warriors do not have any significant CC (not counting the Glyph of Intimidating Shout) and so cannot fulfill that role in an instance group or raid. In essence, if a warrior is there to deal damage, that's all he's going to be able to do, save for perhaps emergency tanking for a few seconds.

WoW Warriors: How to level in Cataclysm

One of the things I get asked to do is explain not how talents and abilities work, but rather how best to level a warrior. I'm always taken aback by these kinds of questions, because I feel that leveling (whether it be a warrior or another class) in WoW has never been easier than it is in Cataclysm. But, since the question comes up a lot between emails and Twitter, I feel like I should spend some time discussing it. I expect to be doing a lot of discussion of wow patch 4.2 in the weeks ahead, so now is probably as good timing as it gets to cover the leveling game.

Let's discuss leveling. For purposes of the discussion I went and rolled a tauren warrior on Sisters of Elune. Yes, I have a problem. Still, I managed to level out of the tauren starting area without any heirlooms in one night, so it should serve as a useful tool for discussion.

Starting Out

For starters, having recently leveled a druid, a rogue, a shaman and a hunter past level 20 (the druid is level 77, the shaman max level, the rogue level 32 and the hunter level 19) I can tell you that leveling a warrior is no longer harder than leveling any other class. Between level 1 and 10, you lack the power of picking a talent specialization, but you still have all the tools you need as the 1 to 10 content is designed around your character and his slowly growing toolkit. Really, what's most important to keep in mind for a leveling warrior is how to focus on one target when questing. With Victory Rush as powerful as it is for soloing and questing, you simply need to maximize your one-at-a-time killing rate so as to pop up another Victory Rush in order to heal you while fighting more than one mob.

Your best bet as a warrior of those levels is to quest. Do not grind unless there's a quest that rewards grinding. Pick up as many quests as you can, especially ones that can be completed in close proximity to each other. Once you get access to Victory Rush at level five, you now have an ability that counteracts the greatest of warrior leveling weaknesses from the first four years of the game -- namely that warriors couldn't survive more than one mob adding on them. VR means that you, as a low level warrior, now have even odds of surviving when more than one quest mob adds. It makes it possible to grind quest mobs with little to no downtime. I can't praise VR enough as a leveling tool. The only ability that has more of an effect is Charge at level 3 because it gives you an opening move that guarantees you'll have some rage to hit Strike with. Strike is actually a fairly lackluster ability and you'll happily replace it with whatever your talent specialization attack is at level 10.

Once you reach level 13 or so, instances open up. Running an instance or two a day while questing in zones between them is probably the fastest way to level up, especially if you have heirlooms. Even if you don't (this article is written assuming you don't need them, because frankly, you do not) you can easily clear a zone in a few hours. As it stands right now, you can successfully level in any talent specialization, can level via tanking, can level through PVP, or mix in all these types of activity. I personally prefer to run one instance and do a few battlegrounds during a play session, then focus on clearing out a zone's quests. This usually nets me between five and seven levels for a few hours of play, depending on what level I am and how abundant the zones are in quests. PVP is probably slower than either questing or instancing, but it's still quite possible to gain four or five levels in three or four hours of PVP.

Try everything

As a warrior, you can tank in instances. Dual Talent Specialization is available at level 30 for a mere 10 gold, and if you have any interest in leveling more quickly and growing to understand the tank role, I recommend getting a second spec and speccing protection. At least until level 50, however, it's not necessary to spec prot to tank in the leveling instances. Any warrior can equip a shield and use Sunder Armor (gained at level 18) and their main attacks to hold threat in most situations. I myself have tanked up to Sunken Temple (an early 50's instance) as arms with a shield and one-hander. There's no reason not to try out protection as early as possible to gain access to talents and abilities that help with both threat and survival, but keep it in mind. Tanking is probably the fastest way to level a warrior right now, as you can queue pretty much instantly from the moment instances become available all the way to level 85.

After tanking, clearing a zone's quests is probably the fastest way to level, and is quite possible in any spec for a warrior. Gone are the days where tank specs couldn't kill anything, or fury simply didn't have the oomph under max level. Arms remains one of my favorite leveling specs simply because leveling as arms helps you grow into an understanding of one of the games more complicated melee DPS priority systems. Arms also works well as a tanking spec at lower levels and is, of course, a solid PVP spec pretty much from level 20 on. Fury really comes into its own at level 69 when you gain Titan's Grip or Single-Minded Fury, but arms and protection are always good from 10 to 85, and can easily be used to level through any zone, run instances, and PVP in battlegrounds. I found that PVP is very strong for buying gear at level 60 and 70 that will surpass what you could get in same level instances. The 60 PVP set and epic weapon will last you almost through to the next expansion's content, so if you're not using heirlooms please keep PVP purchases in mind. Frankly, even though I admit I'm hardly the best PVP warrior around (not even close) I found the rewards definitely worth running a few battlegrounds a day, and I even had fun doing it.

To sum it all up, I spent a little over week working on this toon, running instances, questing, and doing PVP between them. I got in maybe two to three hours a day, more on weekends, and without heirlooms I'm well into level 64. I'm wearing a full set of level 60 PVP epics simply because I could (I gathered the honor fairly easily). It's on par with Outland gear, although I expect I'll be replacing all of it soon with Northrend instance gear. It doesn't take long at all to level with the improved questing in the 1-60 zones, tanking is easy in any spec up to level 50, and I keep a prot offspec handy for when I feel like tanking now that I'm into more complicated content. Leveling a warrior has absolutely never been easier, and if you're one of the people asking me about it, I recommend giving it a try.