Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Cataclysm Final Grades: The State of the Protection Paladin

Tzufit at Tree Heals Go Woosh has asked for people to compile their opinions on the state of their favorite specs now that the dust is settling on Cataclysm. So let's take a look at how the changes in Cataclysm have impacted my play on Dämmerung.

Do you feel that your class is better (in that it is more fun to play, more effective, etc.) now than it was at the end of Wrath? Do you feel that your class is better now than it was at the beginning of Cataclysm?

I feel that playing a protection paladin has been made more complex, and in large part, more effective at single target tanking than they were at the end of Wrath. While they have taken a bit of a step back from their preeminence at the beginning of Cataclysm, due to the weak scaling on Paladin's mastery, and several nerfs to outlying abilities such as Divine Guardian. Does this translate to more fun? I don't believe so. The most engaging portion of playing any class is the buttons you push, and with the added complexity of the protection paladin priority system came a direct injection of clunk. While many found the old 969 rotation to be boring, I find empty GCDs and off kilter CDs to be irritating and boring.

One place where I feel Blizzard really dropped the ball was on Paladin AoE tanking. During BC, paladins were the defacto AoE tank, and throughout Wrath, despite lacking in snap AoE threat, no tank could match a Paladin's sustained AoE output, with Hammer of the Righteous proccing Seal of Truth across multiple mobs, perma consecrate, Holy Wrath with undead everywhere, and Holy Shield procs. In Cataclysm, I get the distinct feeling that Blizzard gave one aspect of our AoE rotation to a different intern, told them to break it, and then shoved it back together without regard for how destroying each of the individual components would cripple the whole. Holy Shield completely lost its damage component. Consecration was put on a 30 second CD, had the mana cost hiked through the ceiling, and did less damage per tick at 85 than it did at level 80. Holy Wrath had its scaling with AoE removed entirely, and now functions as a gimped version of shockwave. Hammer of the Righteous was rebuild entirely, it no longer procs seals on multiple mobs, and somehow, someone at Blizzard thought it would be a good idea to base the AoE off a single roll. What this means is that if HoR misses its primary target, it misses everything. If you've ever had a paladin tank completely miss the pickup on a trash pull, it's probably because of that move, which Zarhym defended as "Flavor". This left Paladins as the only tank without the ability to spread DoTs across multiple mobs, the only tank who's primary AoE has a facing requirement, and the only tank whose AoE can't chain off bosses with large hitboxes. Can't cleave on Rag, or Magmaw, or Conclave, or Al'akir, or Zon'ozz... Nice job breaking it Blizz.

How much have you enjoyed or found uses for your class’ level 81, 83, and 85 abilities? Given the chance, what would you have changed about them?

Inquisition added some interesting complexity to the single target rotation, although it becomes lackluster when you take into account its position as the only AoE HP finisher available.

Holy Radiance was helpful prior to its overhaul giving it a cast time. On some fights, every bit of healing mattered, and being able to shore up the raid a couple K in the feuds on Chimaeron felt helpful.

Guardian of Ancient Kings... While it was kinda cool for ret and holy, it was honestly kind of insulting to Prot paladins. 50% damage reduction, it's great. But we already had Divine Protection giving us 50% DR in Wrath, and during that odd phase where we were using Cata talents and spells at level 80, it left Paladins as the only tank without a 50% damage reduction when they nerfed DP.

Did you switch mains during Cataclysm? If so, why did you make that choice?

I did not, I did however raid significantly on my Warrior with another guild, because they asked me to help them.

What were your class’/spec’s strengths throughout Cataclysm? What were its weaknesses?

Paladins were a solid middle of the road tank in Cata. We weren't as strong against physical damage as Druids were with their increased armor or warrior with their mastery that scaled much better than our own. Nor were we better against magical damage when compared to DKs with the ridiculously OP AMS, or Druids with their 22% passive magic damage reduction. I guess "I Am Third" would best sum up paladin tanks in cataclysm. Whatever the task was, there were better tanks, but we weren't the worst, which actually gave paladins a strong position in persistent groups that couldn't afford to swap tanks around.

The biggest weakness was the aforementioned abomination that our AoE output became. But then again, when your biggest weakness is trash, I can live with that.

Did you enjoy the addition of the mastery stat? What did you like about it, or, what would you change?

Mastery didn't really change anything. The change to block, converting it from a flat value, generally something like 2.5k, to 30% of the physical hit made block something that became sought after. While other specs got cool tricks like extra lightning bolts and empowered demons, Blizzard followed in the tradition of Guardian of Ancient Kings and our T13 4pc bonus for paladins, and took block away from us, renamed it mastery, and gave it back.

How, if at all, did Cataclysm’s revamp of the talent trees affect your class? Did you feel that these were changes for the better or for worse?

The addition of specializations made Protection the number one tanking spec from level 10 onwards. They gave new tanks the majority of the tools they needed to at least be functional as a tank right off the bat, which was a stark contrast to leveling in Wrath, where all the lowbie tanks in the know were specced ret.

Did your class experience any significant changes or additions to its lore during this expansion? If so, how did you feel about those changes?

Tirion apparently can't be bothered to look from his giant tower to see Scourge 2.0 forming up a block from his house? All sarcasm aside, this was the Shaman/Druid expansion, just like Wrath was the Pally/DK/Mage expansion. I'm ok with that. Taurens got Sunwalkers, which was cool, although my god, there's nothing uglier than a Tauren wearing Paladin tier helmets. I felt like the Horde paladin orders, the Sunwalkers and the Blood Knights could have had their lore fleshed out more with the Azeroth revamp, and as always, the Draenei got heinously neglected. I will say that Eastern Plaguelands was in my opinion the best zone in the revamped world. It showed development, while still maintaining the feel of the previous zone, and the friendly rivalry between Gidwin and Tarenar balanced a fine line between levity and weight.

Is your class easier or harder for a fresh 85 to learn now than it was at the end of Wrath? Is this a good or a bad thing?

There are more buttons, and the rotation is more complex, but at the same time, there weren't any encounters in Cataclysm that taxed the tank in the same way that phase three Yogg and Firefighter pushed me. along with the massive threat boost and taunts and interrupts no longer missing, a lot of the things that all tanks face have been simplified. I would say that the spec has gotten harder, but the role has become easier, so it's kind of a push in that regards.

What aspects of your class’ gameplay do you think the designers really got right in this expansion? What aspects were clear misses?

Once again, the AoE component was a complete failure. The implementation of Holy Power was pretty muddled, and the more the tweaked, the more irritating it was, but I wouldn't write it off as a complete failure. Aside from that, not a whole lot changed.

Overall, do you enjoy the playstyle of your class more now, at the end of Cataclysm, than you did prior to patch 4.0 at the end of Wrath? Why or why not?

I definitely enjoyed Tanking on a paladin in the back half of Wrath more than I did during Cataclysm. However, with that said, prior to patch 3.2, paladin tanks were unambiguously weaker than the other classes, by a margin far wider than anything any of the tank classes have seen in Cataclysm. I have to give credit to the class balance team for bringing the tanks closer to complete parity than ever before. I never felt like my playing a paladin was holding the raid back the way I did when I was tanking OS3D and Ulduar HMs. Which is a huge achievement.

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