Detailed Elemental Feedback
March 27, 2016 4 Comments
- Point One: Adding talent spells to the base rotation
- Point Two: Fire & Lightning
- Point Three: Criticals and Overloads
- Point Four: Pets as Cooldowns
- Point Five: Talent Grouping
- Artifact: The Fist of Ra-Den
Point One: Adding talent spells to the base rotation
One of the problems I’ve had with the Warlords design is that the base Elemental rotation feels very tight. There’s no flexibility in how you play as everything needs to be hit ASAP in order to not lose damage due to lower effective time on certain spells. This is both due to the high importance of Lava Burst and the odd way in which Maelstrom resource use works (note that aside from the new spending options for Maelstrom all of the same issues apply to Lightning Shield as a resource in Warlords)
In the case of Lava Burst almost everything takes second priority to it, but because of the fact that it also generates Maelstrom means that we need to dump Ms to avoid over-capping first. This works differently to how most other resource generation specs/classes work, as Elemental has a “avoid waste but also avoid using too frequently” issue vs the more standard “generate then spend” model. If we look back to Mists of Pandaria this was a lot more manageable as there was no lost potential if Lava Burst was prioritized over Earth Shock. This is a problem if there around 4 casts of both of these spells to every 5 Lightning Bolt “fillers” and the conflict between the two has the potential to happen on virtually every Earth Shock cast.
This is one of the reasons why an “early” Earth Shock cast is required, so that your Maelstrom is never high enough that a Lava Burst + Overload cast will put you too far over-cap. The actual point where this has to happen is not easily discernable from in-game and required a lot of simulations to test & confirm. Currently in Warlords this value is 15+ Lightning Shield charges and in Legion I suspect that it will be somewhere in the 65-80 region (will confirm later in Beta as it’s likely to change during balance passes).
Into this mix you then need to add additional cooldown based abilities like Elemental Blast or Ice Fury. With Elemental Blast having a shortish cooldown of 12 seconds coupled with high damage and a stat buff this is another ability that needs to be cast as frequently as possible, making this the third such ability in the rotation. Unfortunately it comes in behind the other two, so that 12 second cooldown becomes somewhere in the range of a 20-24 second frequency depending on what else is going on (like Stormkeeper & Power of the Maelstrom, but more on those later).
Unfortunately, there’s not much of a solution here short of de-coupling Maelstrom generation from Lava Burst so that there’s no direct link between Earth Shock & Lava Burst, as it was in MoP. This way a Lava Surge proc (Lava Burst CD reset + instant cast) can be used even when at 90+ Ms freely without worrying about that potential resource loss.
This sort of design is prevalent for Elemental: the choice between one spell and another where it’s not a question of which deals more damage for me right now but which choice will cost me the least.
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Point Two: Fire & Lightning
The Fist of Ra-Den is supposed to be all about Lightning because of its association with the Throne of Thunder. The problem here is that Elemental isn’t just about Lightning and some of the traits upset the existing rotation in ways that aren’t exactly constructive.
Firstly, it’s worth pointing out that there are two traits (Volcanic Inferno and Elementalist) that have fairly large effects but are most certainly not Lightning based. Then there’s the fact that Maelstrom is generated and spent on Nature, Fire, or even Frost abilities.
So what’s the point behind this? Power of the Maelstrom can expand on the decision conflict issues from Point One and give the player a serious quandary as to whether to use Lava Burst, Earth Shock, or use the buff charges with Lightning Bolt before it expires. With the reduced proc rate and longer duration this will help minimise these situations, but they still exist and will likely cause headaches for players.
As far as I can tell the intention behind this trait is to “change up the rotation” but that’s a bad idea for “less skilled” players (ie: people playing the spec as an alt or playing “casually”). Part of this is because it’ll require additional thought overhead to look out for as well as addons, while the most effective use will probably be to ignore it.
It wouldn’t be hard to get thematic effects that are balanced for most abilities rather than focusing on one half of the elemental school divide. One such thing could be extending the 2 second cast times for spells to 2.5 seconds, increase damage to compensate, then create a trait that grants haste based on Maelstrom spent (each 5 maelstrom spent gives a 1% haste buff charge, stacks up to 20 or 20%, loses one charge every 5 seconds). Throw in a cool lightning effect on the player and it’s done. Similarly, the weapon proc effect once it’s reintroduced should hopefully be a direct damage lightning spell. With both it keeps the general theme of the weapon without descending into making Nature better than Fire.
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Point Three: Criticals and Overloads
There are a lot of extra effects related to both Crit and Mastery. These involve things like Elemental Fury & Elemental Focus for Crit or the Master of the Elements trait for Master. The problem is that both stats don’t affect certain sections of the spellbook which can potentially cause some issues down the track in a couple of ways. The big issue of “scaling” should be less of an issue thanks to the way that secondary stats will scale slower but there’s still the potential to fall behind in later raid tiers should it not be properly balanced.
The first part of this is the obvious one about how Critical Strike Chance doesn’t affect Lava Burst with its auto-crit effect. Given that Lava Burst can easily be 25-35% of the total damage this can be slightly worrying but it will be indirectly affected by Elemental Focus procs off previous crits, and other crits do get that bonus damage. Still, it does mean that a crit buff proc trinket is fairly worthless if it happens during Ascendance so I’m not confident that it won’t be an issue in the future. Lava Burst is also the only spell that I’m aware of that has an auto crit function (this reliable) that doesn’t have some extra effect like damage scaling with crit (Chaos Bolt) or other mechanics (Inferno Blast).
On the other hand, Overload (our Mastery effect) only affects 3 spells: Chain Lightning, Lava Burst & Lightning Bolt (Elemental Blast is also affected if talented). This means there’s a lot of spells that aren’t affected, like Earth Shock, Flame Shock, Frost Shock and Earthquake, not to mention Fire/Storm Elemental or talents like Liquid Magma or Icy Fury. The only trait that influences Overload in any way is one that increases the damage by 5% (which currently is a % modifier so Overloads increase to 78.75% damage rather than 75%). There are also many artifact traits that don’t affect Mastery either, like Volcanic Inferno, Fury of the Storms or Power of the Maelstrom. Outside of traits directly affecting the three primary spells (6 of them) and Stormkeeper, the rest don’t interact with Mastery in any way, while pretty much all of them interact with Crit and Haste.
This means that depending on talents, rotation priorities, etc one player may have a completely different ideal gear set. Of the 15 output talents available 8 do not interact with Mastery in any way, 4 don’t interact with Crit while the remaining 3 can affect both. There’s a pretty even split too, where at least 2 talents in every row affect Crit and at least 1 affects Mastery.
L100: M /C/C
If you decide to go with a Mastery heavy build there’s really only one option for 4 talent rows and this build will lean towards single target more, whereas the Crit heavy build will be more for either AoE or Elemental pet use.
The issue here is that talents being mostly Crit or Mastery will further exacerbate the problem to the point where Elemental will either be perfectly balanced at a certain gear level, and thus overpowered under it and underpowered over it as we saw in Warlords, or to the extreme of one end of that scale to forever fall behind as a DPS spec or be powerful enough to break into the “Flavour of the Month” ranks for a while and potentially nerfed later.
As a comparison, there are very few chance based Masteries like Overload, and very few Masteries that only affect specific sections of the rotation. One example is Main Gauche for Outlaw Rogues but this feeds into passives like Combat Potency which is important for the resource throttled rotation. With the other side of the situation there are many mastery effects that only apply to specific spells which usually make up the majority of the damage, like Madness or Potent Afflictions, but these are all fixed values and don’t have any secondary interactions.
The problem with having additional resources via Overload is that Elemental isn’t a resource limited spec but rather a cooldown & time limited one, so the extra resource generation actually has a negative feedback effect on the overall performance of Mastery due to the increased Maelstrom spending and increased frequency of that Lava Burst vs Earth Shock choice I mentioned earlier.
Back when Overload was our Mastery effect in previous expansions I was of the opinion that it should be a % damage effect with a fixed proc chance (ideally 100%) but unfortunately even with this sort of change it wouldn’t resolve both of these issues, which I consider to be core mechanic flaws. While the spec could potentially be balanced without making changes here, I am of the opinion that this outcome is more likely if these two points are addressed. However, there are a couple of existing mechanics in the game right now which could potentially solve both of them.
Overload is a cool visual effect and was kept in Warlords even though it was effectively replaced by Multistrike. My thought is that if Overload were to apply to more spells, or at the very least apply to Elemental Pet attacks, then this would go some way towards broadening the effect of the stat. Making it apply to anything that doesn’t use Maelstrom as a resource would be a good way to go, which is mostly Elemental pets and a few talents.
As for Crit, there needs to be some form of interaction between it and Lava Burst. There is a little bit to some extent with the return of Elemental Focus but given that a mid Warlords patch introduced the “third multistrike chance” for Lava Burst based on the crit chance I believe something similar is still required. This could come in the form of the Chaos Bolt treatment or with the previously mooted idea of linking the Lava Surge proc chance to the crit rate.
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Point Four: Pets as Cooldowns
With the shift of Ascendance into talents the only cooldown type ability available to Elemental is the Fire Elemental itself. There are a bunch of talents and artifact traits that feed into it to make it more powerful, but at the end of the day the Fire Ele can essentially be described as a powered up version of Searing Totem on a cooldown: you hit the button and then basically have no interaction with it after that point. Pets are fine, either as cooldowns or permanent pets, but when the cooldown pet is your primary cooldown then it raises a few red flags.
The big one is that there’s no interaction between what you do after the cooldown is used and the cooldown effect itself, outside of a minor maelstrom generation increase (currently 1%). This is a big difference from cooldowns for other specs like Arcane Mages who just get a flat 30% damage bonus from Arcane Power which means that the actions taken during their cooldown affect damage output. The impact of such design differences are already apparent in Hellfire Citadel, where the burstier, cooldown stacking classes are outperforming the other specs, and that’s even after Ascendance had a full minute taken off the cooldown (going from 3 to 2) so that Elemental could stack cooldowns too (Ascendance + Elemental Mastery + Legendary Ring).
Combine this with the lengthy cooldown & duration (although there is the Elementalist artifact trait that reduces the cooldown by 2 seconds on every Lava Burst cast, but that will reduce it to 3-4 minutes depending on how frequently it’s cast) and it’s easy to see that Fire Elemental isn’t a great burst cooldown. Doing some rough calculations & considering artifact traits that directly affect the two cooldowns, Fire Elemental needs to be a 30% damage gain over its duration to match Arcane Power.
The other big issue here is that Mastery, as well as many artifact traits & talents, does not affect the Fire Elemental directly. It does appear to trigger the Elementalist trait and reduce the cooldown by an additional 2 seconds per overload, but even with this it will further skew gearing priorities as mentioned in Point Three and will most likely see anyone taking Elemental pet talents ignoring Mastery as much as possible.
It will still be possible to have a burst cooldown as Ascendance has moved into the L100 talent row, but that means that if you need to take one of the other two options you’ll be left without a decent cooldown to use.
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Point Five: Talent Grouping
The Legion talent tree has more unique talents for Elemental as well as 5 out of the 7 rows being output related. The issue I have with the talent selections at the moment is that most rows have multiple different role functions rather than variations within the same function.
A good example of what I consider a “good” talent row is the current Warlords L60 row of Elemental Mastery, Ancestral Swiftness & Echo of the Elements. These talents are primarily focused on single target output and doing it in different ways via a burst cooldown, a haste passive or increasing the frequency of a primary cooldown. Most importantly Ancestral Swiftness is a good, uncomplicated passive for beginner players to use, while the other two allow advanced players the ability to customise how they play.
The Legion talent tree on the other hand has a lot of different role options in the L75, 90 and 100 rows, while L60 is actually more limited within the same role as Elemental Blast is an additional short rotation cooldown as a replacement for Elemental Mastery.
In L75 there is Elemental Fusion (single target), Primal Elementalist (elemental pet buff) and Magnitude (AoE multidotting effect). L90 has Lightning Rod (possibly both single target & aoe), Storm Elemental (elemental pet buff) and Aftershock (single target & possible movement). L100 has Ascendance (dps cooldown), Icefury (possible short dps cooldown as well as for movement) and Liquid Magma (aoe cooldown). None of these rows have any consistency on function so it’s possible to take 3 talents focusing on AoE, burst damage or mobile damage.
A better design approach would be to have similar behaviour for each talent row, so players can tweak how they play based on their personal preference rather than needing to select specific talents for specific encounters. I wouldn’t want beginner players to have to use Magnitude to increase their AoE damage should the situation require it, nor force more advanced players into more “basic” talents where there isn’t any space for increasing performance.
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Path of Flame is a decent talent for Lava Burst, but the Flame Shock spread mechanic is a bit out of place. In proper multi-dot situations it could be handy only if the targets are stacked very close together. Otherwise it seems to be a multi-target effect shoehorned onto a single target spell to support Magnitude up at Level 75 by replacing active multidotting with using a single target spell in the middle of the AoE rotation.
Earthen Rage is a good way to retain the Molten Earth spell animation and is a good “basic” talent for minimising complexity, but is another spell that isn’t affected by Mastery or interact in any way with cooldown abilities.
Totem Mastery is similar to Earthen Rage in that it’s a way to retain a certain Shaman feel, namely the “totem forest” of previous expansions. The effects of the totems are all low level but since there are four of them that’s ok. Having a 30 second duration and a 30 second cooldown will make having a perfect uptime impossible, but since the cooldown seems to be a bit arbitrary it could be removed with no real negative effect at all. I will note that it’s a little odd to have an Overload effect (not learned until 78) on a level 15 talent though, which will result in a 3/4ths effectiveness while leveling.
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Gust of Wind is a fun movement ability to use, but has limitations when going up a slope and a bit of an advantage going downhill.
Ancestral Guidance seems completely out of place here, but I suspect that it’s mostly being used as a placeholder talent here until a new one is implemented. If it’s not a placeholder then having it here will make it the default talent to take when either personal or raid movement buffs aren’t required. The problem with abilities like this is that they’re either powerful enough to be mini-raid healing cooldowns, or weak enough to hardly matter at all. Having it as a self healing cooldown using the same mechanic could be a bit more interesting at the same time as removing the raid CD potential.
Wind Rush Totem can essentially be described as the “Stampeding Roar Totem”. I don’t think that having similar utility spells across different classes is a bad thing, but in an expansion where one tank has “superior mobility” touted as a selling point, having a raid mobility talent feels somewhat overpowered.
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Lightning Surge Totem is a renamed Capacitor Totem. Not much has changed, although it does have projection built in (using the ability brings up a reticle to allow you to place the totem in a location) but lacks any way of making it trigger sooner. In terms of gameplay it serves a similar function as Shadowfury but with a delay between placement and detonation, plus a longer cooldown. The only point in favour of Lightning Surge is that it’s an instant cast. To make this talent reasonably useful in both PvP and PvE the detonation delay should be removed so it stuns as soon as it is placed at the target location.
Earthgrab Totem is another talent retained from Warlords, although now it is the only AoE slow as Earthbind Totem has been removed. As with Lightning Surge it has projection built in.
Voodoo Totem has its ups and downs. Given that Hex still retains a cooldown it keeps the weakness of being unable to re-control from early breaks, but in any situation where multiple crowd control spells are needed this will be a must. It’s worth noting that players can control their movement while hexed, so the note about “leaving the area” will reduce its power in PvP a bit.
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Elemental Blast carries over from Warlords with little change aside from moving to L60 from L90. Combined with a large increase to the spellpower coefficient it’s a serious contender with Echo of the Elements for which talent to take to increase sustained output. The problem is the additional cooldown conflict as mentioned in Point One makes the use of this talent lower than otherwise expected. As the current implementation of this spell has the damage as the primary effect and the buff as a secondary I would suggest reversing this so that the buff is a fixed % damage increase (to avoid high power with early gear and lower power with late raiding gear) with no cooldown and damage lower than Lightning Bolt. This way the gameplay is about maintaining the buff with the fewest casts needed rather than weaving a third short cooldown into the mix.
Ancestral Swiftness is just a standard passive haste effect. Not much to say about it, although the attack speed portion will most likely not affect Elemental pets now they’ve been converted to ranged pets.
Echo of the Elements loses the Earthquake effect but gains a third charge for Lava Burst. There is potential for “pooling” charges with this, but thanks to Lava Surge procs it will only be practical to save no more than one charge for future use. There’s also a lost opportunity to add some higher skill options into the rotation via interaction with Elemental Focus (ie: delaying using Lava Burst when a charge is refreshing to get Focus applying to more spells) but with the current 10% bonus this isn’t worthwhile.
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Elemental Fusion is similar to its Warlords implementation in name only. This time around it increases the Lava Surge chance by 10%, for a total of 20% per Flame Shock tick. It’s worth noting that Flame Shock has a base tick speed of 2 seconds now, down from 3, so even though Warlords has a 20% chance per tick Elemental Fusion will see a higher proc rate. Overall the talent seems ok even though it’s another one without Crit interaction, but the problem here is actually how it works with the Honor Talent Control of Lava. This replaces the Lava Surge passive meaning that a talent to improve a passive which can be replaced can potentially have no effect. I’d expect this to be a tier set bonus rather than a talent, where there is no chance for interaction.
Primal Elementalist is unchanged from Warlords. The only comment I can make on this is that it’s effectively doubling down on the lack of Mastery interaction as mentioned in Points Three & Four.
Magnitude is an interesting mechanic for a talent but requires a bit of complicated setup with 20Ms Flame Shock casts on multiple targets before spending another 40Ms on Earthquake. It could be possible to set this up with Path of Flame but that requires using Lava Burst (a single target spell) in the middle of an AoE rotation. It’ll certainly have a high skill requirement which will cause problems for beginner players if they need more AoE damage.
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Lightning Rod could potentially be used for both single target and AoE rotations, but the big problem is that it’s unpredictable in the application of the debuff. That means that it may not be available when needed. A previous implementation of this spell had it as a cooldown ability, which may be the best way to go as it limits the single target effectiveness as well as having it ready for AoE as required.
Storm Elemental is a bit different in Legion, actually replacing Fire Elemental instead of being a third elemental pet. This mostly means that it’s a second version of Primal Elementalist with a flavour change. It does keep the small movement buff, which when combined with the fact that the elemental pets stay beside the player with ranged attacks might make this useful on high movement fights, especially with the cooldown reduction trait.
The other issue here is that taking Storm Elemental means that Primal Elementalist is a must have, as Storm Elemental will be a base power increase for Primal Elementalist to increase by 80%. This is assuming each talent is balanced independently, otherwise it will be impractical to take one without the other.
Ascendance still has outstanding issues from Warlords that need to be resolved, namely that Maelstrom spending will not be affected in any way even though it’ll generate well over 100 in a short timeframe. There’s also the lack of Crit scaling with it, the fact that the damage gain is tied to the frequency of Lava Burst (where more frequent Lava Burst casts results in a lower net gain) and the fact that Power of the Maelstrom may end up partially wasted if it procs early in Ascendance use.
Going back to the comparisons between Fire Elemental and Arcane Power, Ascendance has similar issues with adding damage onto the existing rotation. Ascendance is primarily a “hit button X as often as possible for 15 seconds” cooldown rather than the “add power to existing rotation & choices” that Arcane Power has.
I’ve been saying for a long time that Ascendance needs a major re-work to be useful without needing late expansion tweaks like reducing the cooldown. Incidentally, the cooldown is now back up to 3 minutes.
Icefury at first glance is a fairly cool movement ability, but when you look closer it’s a bit more than that, but also a little less. The 2 second cast means that it’s not a reactive cast but rather a preemptive cast, or in other words you need to know when you’re moving so you can cast it early. The other thing is that it actually seems to be a sustained single target gain even when not moving, assuming you have enough Maelstrom to spent 20 on each Frost Shock. If anything this feels a bit too powerful while also lacking any Mastery interaction.
Liquid Magma Totem is another carry over from Warlords, but aside from being a totem in its own right rather than requiring a fire totem being active it hasn’t changed much. Still a good option for burst AoE damage, but may be overshadowed by the AoE potential from Ascendance.
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Artifact: The Fist of Ra-Den
Stormkeeper isn’t a bad on-use ability. It’s effectively a mini-cooldown designed to add power to the “filler” part of the rotation in keeping with the Lightning theme of the artifact. On its own it’s good, but when combined with a lot of other Lightning Bolt or Nature based procs there is the potential for confusion for players over whether to follow a basic priority or skip spells like Lava Burst in favour of Lightning Bolt.
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Damage Bonus Traits
The majority of traits on the Fist of Ra-Den are passive bonuses. I’m only going to look at a few here. One thing to note is that we’re not really sure how long it will take to fully “unlock” the legendary weapons, so planning out trait selection may be very important in early raids.
Master of the Elements is now the only Mastery specific trait now as the others have been removed. Given that the bonus damage is a multiplier I suspect this may need to be tweaked upwards to help the value of Mastery (see Point Three).
Surge of Power gives a bonus 15% damage to Lightning Bolt. Given all the other things affecting Lightning Bolt I’m worried that the difference between it and Lava Burst is going to become smaller and make Lava Burst less meaningful/powerful. Also risks making the Lava Burst based talents (Path of Flame, Echo of the Elements, Elemental Fusion & Ascendance) less valuable.
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Elementalist is another old tier set bonus converted into a trait or talent. It will certainly make Fire Elemental more powerful as its uptime is improved, but even with a 8 second frequency for Lava Burst it will only reduce the cooldown to 4 minutes.
Fury of the Storms adds a bit extra damage & flavour into Stormkeeper, but again has no Mastery interaction and will quite likely have haste breakpoint issues given its short lifespan.
Power of the Maelstrom is a bit problematic, even after reducing the RPPM to 2+Haste and increasing the buff duration to 20 seconds. Firstly, it makes Lightning Bolt incredibly powerful when stacked with other effects like Stormkeeper or Lightning Rod, to the point where saving controllable abilities like Stormkeeper for when Power of the Maelstrom is up may be worthwhile. This will add a lot of conditional behaviour into the rotation, which will make it more difficult for newer players while not adding anything more advanced players can optimise around.
Secondly it doesn’t actually interact with Mastery in any way, so this effectively increases the power of Crit & Haste disproportionately. This further feeds into the imbalances mentioned in Point Three.
Volcanic Inferno feels a little bit random, as it’s adding a small 3 yard AoE (for comparison, Earthquake Totem is 8 yards) onto a single target ability. At most this will be a very small single target gain, and is probably targeted at passive cleave for stacked targets. It’s a nice idea, but seems somewhat underwhelming.
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