I'll be honest with you, I wasn't expecting this. With the release of the new 31-point talent trees in the latest beta build of Cataclysm, I immediately realized that the paladin trees were woefully out of date. It was simply another cycle of news without any real information about what was in store for holy paladins. We were promised a major redesign, but it felt like Ghostcrawler, lead systems designer, was simply playing as the Wizard of Oz. We were told that big things were happening but that we shouldn't look behind the curtain.
A seemingly innocuous developer chat on Twitter changed all of that. While their informal Q&A sessions on Twitter often provide unique pieces of insight into the minds of the developers, they very rarely served as a source for any sort of serious information. Last week's BlizzChat broke that mold, and some revolutionary paladin information was shared with the world. Paladins are gaining a new resource in addition to mana: Holy Power. While my fellow paladins argued between the names "Holy Powah" and my submission of "HoPo," the fact is that this is the most major change to paladin design since we were introduced into the game.
Holy Power charges as "combo points"
My first thought upon reading about the upcoming Holy Power system was that I would now be playing two classes with combo points. The way that I read it, we'll be gaining targetless combo points every time we use a particular ability, and then we get to release those combo points in the form of a finisher. In order to standardize my nomenclature, I'm going to start referring to the charges as holy power generators (HPG), holy power points (HPP), and a holy power release (HPR). This may change as the community decides on a better set of acronyms, but it should be enough to get us through for now.
The first two moves that we know of that will be HPGs are Crusader Strike and Holy Shock. Remember that making Holy Shock baseline to all paladins was reverted, so holy will be the only tree with access to it. With Holy Shock's dramatically reduced cost and massively increased potency, it was going to be used on cooldown anyway. I've been asking for Blizzard to make us want to use Holy Shock, and they very clearly have done just that.
What makes the situation interesting is that Crusader Strike appears to still be available to all paladin specs, including holy. Right now, when we're trying to do DPS, we just use Holy Shock, Judgement and Shield of Righteousness. Now, we can not only add Crusader Strike to that rotation, it will actually help us build up our HPP. With a HS every 6 seconds and a CS fairly often as well, we'll be able to build up HPP incredibly quickly if we're in melee range. With the Inquisition HPR technique that increases our holy damage done, the goal is clearly for us to be fighting mobs up close and personal.
Encouraging healing from melee range
The holy power mechanic further cements paladins as the "melee healer," especially when we look at restoration shaman. Shaman have traditionally been our closest parallel in terms of a healing class, largely due to the original Horde/Alliance class split. Resto shaman are receiving a talent that encourages them to cast Lightning Bolt at their targets, setting them into the "ranged healer" niche. Paladins, on the other hand, are loaded with melee-only abilities and seals that work only on melee attacks.
It's not just holy power that's forcing us into melee range either. Two of the newly announced heals, Healing Hands and Light of Dawn, both favor very specific positioning situations. Healing Hands performs its best when we're near a lot of targets, which typically only occurs in the melee stack. If we want Healing Hands to actually get more than two to three targets, we should be stacking up with the rogues and warriors to maximize the effect. Light of Dawn, which is our new cone-shaped heal, is again at its best when used on targets further away. The closer they are to the 30-yard end of the cone, the broader spread of healing it can do. We could easily use Healing Hands to handle keeping the melee alive after a powerful AoE, and then use a Light of Dawn cone to hit both the tanks and the ranged classes standing behind them.
A brand new feel for Holy paladins
Blizzard didn't just buff Holy Shock so hard that it became our best heal; they've also now augmented it with the new heal Word of Glory. It's instant and has no mana cost, which is going to change our healing strategy immensely. Instead of focusing on a casting-only style of healing, we've got two instant heals in our toolbox that complement each other, and Healing Hands, which continues to work while moving. Add in our new Light of Dawn heal and we've literally got a completely redesigned set of spells to work with. I was wary when I first saw the direction we were headed in the Cataclysm leaks and beta information, but clearly Blizzard has been hard at work figuring out exactly what holy paladins needed.
It's not as if we're not going to have Flash of Light, Holy Light and Divine Light to fall back on, either. We've got the same standard healing toolbox as any other healer would have, but now we've got several additional active heals that are going to give us the AoE healing power and on-the-run healing capacity that we've desperately needed. We've been lucky that encounters like Firefighter didn't put massive amounts of damage on the tank, because Doomfire pretty much wrecks paladin healers in Wrath.
More than just tank healers
With our newly diversified toolbox, I think that Cataclysm will see an explosion in the paladin healer population. We're done with the Beacon plus Holy Light spam that made up 90% of Wrath encounters for us, and we're done with bowing out of raids so that our guilds can bring in priests or druids to handle raid healing. I can't wait to test some of these heals in action, as they're clearly the first of their kind in WoW. We're back to being the battle healers on the front line, dealing damage to our foes and keeping our allies alive as we do it. There's a reason our class wears plate. What sounds better than that?
Looks like we may have some learning ahead of us... Whack-a-mole might be gone soon and time to get in the the mosh pit.
Illuminated Healing (Mastery) has been adjusted slightly so that if a paladin refreshes an existing copy of his or her own Illuminated Healing on a target, the new absorption amount will be added into the old absorption amount and the duration will be reset. The total absorption created can never exceed 1/3 of the casting paladin's health.
So, with the mana cost increase on DL, FoL, and HL might it be worth experimenting with using Int/Stam gems to beef up your stamina to exploit the stacking shield... hmmm
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