Monday, February 22, 2010

The Enhancement Experience: Priority QQ

Since Vortex only has three mail users and two Agility-based DPS, I find myself collecting a fair bit of Enhancement gear that mostly just collects dust in my bags. I’ve always been a bit enamoured with the flavour of Enhancement (which is included a bit in the way I write Rul’s character), so I decided to take the opportunity of a relatively free weekend to re-spec and smash some things in the face.

I can say without question that Enhancement (in its current incarnation) is one of the most frustrating and overwhelming DPS specs I have ever experienced in my time playing WoW.

Now as a full disclaimer, I’m not completely unfamiliar with Enhancement. I leveled 1-60 as 2H Enhancement, and 60-70 in the new revamped dual-wield version of the spec (I was also “that shaman” who ran around with a 2H on Molten Core trash when I was bored). With the merging of healing and spell damage into spell power in Wrath of the Lich King, I found that my Tier 6 Resto pieces served as more than passable Elemental gear, so I leveled 70-80 by shooting lightning bolts and have stuck with it as my primary off-spec throughout the current expansion for similar reasons.

Based on my previous experience with the spec, I will definitely agree that Enhancement Shamans could have used a few more buttons to press to make their rotation more interesting (it used to pretty much just be Stormstrike, Earth Shock and praying for Windfury procs). But somewhere along the line between TBC and WotLK, Blizzard decided that a “few more abilities” was roughly equivalent to “every single spell in your spellbook”.

For reference, this is the current spell priority that Enhancement Shamans use for maximum damage on a single-target boss:

1. Cast Lightning Shield if it is not currently on you.
2. Cast Feral Spirit if the ability is off cooldown.
3. Cast Shamanistic Rage if the ability is off cooldown.
4. Cast Stormstrike if the debuff is not up on the target.
5. Cast a Lightning Bolt if you have 5 stacks of Maelstrom Weapon.
6. Cast your Fire Elemental if it is off cooldown.
7. Refresh Magma Totem if it has expired.
8. Cast Flame Shock if the debuff is not up on the target.
9. Cast Earth Shock.
10. Cast Stormstrike.
11. Cast Lava Lash.
12. Cast Fire Nova.
13. Refresh Magma Totem if there are 2 seconds or less left.
14. Refresh Lightning Shield if there are 2 orbs or less.
15. Refresh totems.

So that’s 1 self-buff, 2 cooldowns (not including racials, items or Bloodlust), 5 abilities with 8 second cooldowns or shorter (including Maelstrom Weapon), and two 18 second DoTs (Magma Totem is effectively a DoT on single target) that all need to be managed at once. That’s on top of the increased situational awareness required of melee DPS. Needless to say, even using the recommended ShockAndAwe add-on to help track the priority queue, I was completely overwhelmed by the requirements of the spec.

Now, rather than just quit and forget I even bothered re-speccing at all, I figured I’d try to highlight what I found so frustrating and suggest some possible solutions.

First, there are way too many short cooldown abilities. Stormstrike and Earth Shock have always been the core abilities of the spec and work well together, and Maelstrom is a really cool ability that also has some synergy with Stormstrike and requires you to pay attention to more than just your cooldown timers. Even casting Flame Shock makes sense to a degree (and the proposed change to the spell in 3.3.3 will make this even more appealing to cast as Enhancement). Lava Lash, on the other hand, is completely unnecessary and provides no purpose other than being another spell in an already long priority queue. It has no synergy with any other ability and the only remotely interesting aspect of the ability is that it ignores armour. I really don’t see why the damage from this ability couldn’t be folded into other existing spells like Earth Shock or Stormstrike and just remove it completely.

The other main problem with so many short cooldowns is that there tends to be very little downtime and a large number of priority conflicts. The downtime issue is an important one, especially as melee, that greatly affects situational awareness. Most classes in the game have points in their rotations where they either don’t have the resources to perform any new abilities (runes, rage or energy classes primarily) or they have a “filler” spell that they cast between abilities with cooldowns (most casters, although also combo-point classes to a degree). This downtime is important since it allows for cognitive processes to be used on other aspects of the fight, such as paying closer attention to the environment. The only notable exceptions to classes that do not follow either of the two above situations are Retribution Paladins and Enhancement Shamans. The major difference between the two specs though is the length of the cooldowns on their abilities. Where Paladins’ major DPS abilities all have cooldowns of 8 seconds or more (excluding Crusader Strike), Shamans’ abilities all have cooldowns of 8 seconds or less. The former results in periods of time where all abilities are on cooldown, but the latter results in very few times when a button isn’t being pressed.

The other major issue with so many short cooldown abilities is that it increases the number of priority conflicts that occur. This results in constantly making split second decisions on the best possible spell to cast (or using ShockAndAwe, making split second reactions to the spell it suggests). This wouldn’t be so bad if mistakes weren’t punished so severely. With the current Enhancement shaman priority, the disparity between abilities at the top of the queue and at the bottom is significant. Missing or delaying a Maelstrom cast results in a massive drop in DPS, as does accidentally casting an Earth Shock instead of a Flame Shock. While I will admit that more familiarity with the spec would help to minimize these types of mistakes and I believe these types of decisions are important to help separate players of differing skill levels, making these types of important decisions constantly over an entire 5 minute fight is just incredibly stressful and very frustrating when screwed up.

Secondly, stop making AoE abilities worth casting on single targets! This problem bleeds into the Elemental part of the class as well, especially in 25-mans where they may be free to drop DPS totems. There is absolutely no reason why Magma Totem should provide more single-target DPS than Searing Totem. None whatsoever. It really makes little to no sense in its current implementation. Searing Totem either needs to gain more spell power from the caster or fire more often (perhaps inheriting haste from the caster). Alternatively, if Blizzard is dead set on making Searing Totem effectively useless in PvE, then Magma Totem needs a longer duration than 20 seconds. Fire Nova is a fantastic ability, but I can’t help but feel somewhat annoyed that it is still considered a button worth pressing on a single target. Outside of having it share a cooldown with another ability, I’m not really sure how to fix that issue though.

Out of curiosity, I decided to test out a rotation that left out Lava Lash, Magma Totem and Fire Nova and found that it was much more manageable and enjoyable. It was still a bit hectic with all of the short cooldowns, but overall it felt a lot more in line with other DPS specs, particularly Retribution Paladins. Unfortunately, this rotation resulted in a predictably significant drop in DPS.

As it is, I’m unfortunately going to have to put the Enhancement gear back into the bank for the time being. Due to the ability for a lot of my Resto gear to function as passable (if sub-par) Elemental gear, it’s unlikely that I would have ever made the full switch to Enhancement as a primary off-spec anyway. But, that said, I was still disappointed to have such a rough time with an aspect of the class that I always remembered so fondly. Ah well.

Has anyone else had any similar or more positive experience with Enhancement as an off-spec? It definitely seems to be the more rare option among Resto Shamans, likely due to gear crossover in Elemental.


  1. I agree completly and my single target boss rotation as devolved into mindlessly using 5 fingers to spam 5 spells with a bit of roaming in the event something on TotemTimers lights up funny. I mainly raid as resto.

    I have a spell rotation macro that times out my flame and earth shocks so I do 2 earth's and then a flame. I spam that

    I spam Shammy Rage as my trinkets and hyperspeed accelerators are macro'd to it

    I spam storm strike

    I spam lava lash

    If the malestrom bar on TT goes green (and i notice it) I spam my lightning button and stop spamming the others

    I spam fire nova if I notice there's nothing else to spam, and i spam magma totem in the event my spaming of nova does nothing and i forgot to watch that meter

    Power aura's tells me when to spam lightining shield

    I normally have the wherewithall to notice when my doggies are available

    I have done my best to practice actually following a priority, but normaly that just ends up in me doing a very good job at swinging at air as the mob I was hitting has already moved off 2 yards to the left while i was staring at my UI

  2. Yeah, that's exactly what ended up happening to me as well when I tried to actually pay attention to it. I finally felt like I was doing decent on the target dummy, but on an actual moving boss I was hosed. Not to mention trying to avoid environmental damage.

    I ended up just combining the 8 major spells into 4 macros with modifiers. Something along the lines of:
    /cast [nomod] Stormstrike
    /cast [mod] Lava Lash

    That seemed to help at least with the finger memory and I was having a better time hitting the right spell, but I still found myself just staring at the ShockAndAwe priority for the most part.

    How are your numbers as Enhancement? Part of the reason I got so discouraged was that after I simmed out what my DPS would be in similar level gear as what I'm using for Elemental, it was roughly the same as what I normally do and that's assuming I was doing the priorities perfectly. It just didn't seem worth it given how much more difficult and frustrating it was. Especially as an off-spec that I don't get to practice on a regular basis.

  3. For gear i'm using 4pc T9 ilvl232 stuff with some smatterings of ivl245 off spec things i've picked up off the hunters that don't need it.

    If its a fight like Saurfang where I have the better dps offspec then the rest of our normal healers I can do in the neighborhood of 5.5k dps. But that's a fight where he's pretty much a target dummy. I occasionally do dps in ToC10/25 and there I feel good if i get over 4k with all the moving and such.

  4. /throws more Enhance gear at Rul. :D

  5. gah i dont want enh gear cluttering up my bank slots/bag space. yes enh is far too awkward to use on real moving bosses, i love the wolves but think i'll pass.....

  6. Although my shaman is not my main, but an alt, it's an alt I dearly love. I often say he's the alt I use to test my limits and to push my gameplay. I agree with everything you've said: the priority system is complicated, and could probably use some semplification. It is also extremely satisfying, though, and it DOES get better with practice. I now (mostly) get the priorities right without Shockandawe, and use it mainly to warn me about maelstrom 5-stacks. To be fair, though, I gave up on resto completely: the lack of "oh shit" buttons, and the mindless spamming style is too much of a shock from my native priest. So maybe it's a question of personal preference: I like having many buttons and having to learn them all....

  7. I was enhancement for a good portion of my level 80 career, and I absolutely loved it. I still do. It's a spec that all but requires addons and macros to be effective, but once you have them, it's not too terribly difficult with a bit of practice.

    The reason they added Lava Lash into the game is to combat the very thing you dislike about it: Lava Lash is an 'alternative' spell - you jab that button only when you have nothing else to jab.

    I definately agree with you, though, that searing totem should be the totem of choice for single-mob encounters. As it stands, Shamans have very few options for fire totems - Resto=flamteongue, ele=wrath, enh=magma. There are several completely pointless totems in our arsenal, and searing is one of them. Make it a cheap alternative to single-target DPS.

  8. I'm a resto main with enhancement offspec and I actually tend to play 50/50 these days and regularly swap between bosses (yay flasks :/) due to lack of other people willing to provide Imp WF/Imp SoE/AP etc.

    I have to agree with most of what you wrote. On fights like Saurfang or Festergut I do very competitive damage as I can concentrate completely on my rotation. On Putricide and even Rotface I find my dps dropping massively.

    What's worse though is that I have less health and no decent abilities to negate/avoid damage like all other melee. On Putricide this week we encountered some fairly nasty lag and at several points we had green puddles drop on the melee but not actually show. The other melee would drop very low but survive where as I'd just die.

    I'm also actually glad that Magma Totem is better than Searing Totem in all cases as I've got enough spells keybound as it is. I already don't bother with Chain Lightning on multi-mob fights as it's another cooldown and keybind I don't want to have to deal with.

    I'd definitely welcome the removal Lava Lash and some changes to Fire totems though - increased Magma duration or perhaps just reduce Fire Elemental cooldown to 2 minutes so you can have it up almost all the time (might require a small nerf to damage I guess).

    I can't see myself sticking with enhancement offspec in the expansion though. Although I prefer it for levelling, I've never got on with melee classes in raid environments.

  9. On my shaman alt I chose enhance as my mainspec, and I love it. I do agree with it being a very punishing rotation, but I've read that the difference between the perfect rotation and just hitting things randomly is pretty small, so if I get into a situation where I need to focus on something else I try to just keep high priority on ES, Stormstrike and Maelstrom and hit the rest randomly.

    I've also spent a lot of time at the training dummies getting used to my keybinds, I've probably reached the 2hr marks of standing there testing my rotation, I definitely didn't need this kind of practice for boomkin which is my main's offspec.

    The other frustrating thing about this spec is that if you get absolute BIS gear and do your rotation perfectly, the max dps you'll ever do is about 12K, where some other classes can hit 12K in worse gear and with much easier rotations