This was a learning experience, to say the least.
I don’t generally level very quickly because it bores me, but I was shocked at the sheer efficiency of just knuckling down and questing your way to the level summit (dungeon quests where appropriate). That said, Blizzard REALLY need to take a look at the difficulty curve from 1 to 85; it’s busted to all heck. I quested as Retribution until I got to 85 on Sunday afternoon, with Sunday night seeing me having tanked my way through all three Hour of Twilight heroics; I’m now looking to round out my gear before doing an LFD run. Yep, it’s THAT quick.
So, say hello to Zellvirae the paladin.
Misconceptions about the “facerolling pally”.
This was a huge wake up call for me.
Ignoring the fact I found levelling as Retribution very frustrating up to almost the mid-forties (mainly due to rotational gaps that were impossible to plug), tanking as a paladin has far more interactivity than you might think looking from the outside in. Not only are you looking for procs while executing a rotation, the income and use of Holy Power is something that you make decisions on as they come up. Sometimes Shield of the Righteous is best, sometimes Inquisition is best and sometimes Word of Glory is best – actually, party awareness often implies that Word of Glory is best on someone else.
Then there’s the rotation itself. The actual number of available options is far more varied than you might think. In the average pull you can expect to be using combinations of Crusader Strike/Hammer of the Righteous, Judgements, Avenger’s Shield, Holy Wrath, Shield of the Righteous, Hammer of Wrath, Word of Glory, Inquisition or Consecration. That’s plenty. Mana management is another eye opener, with me ending up entirely out of mana near the end of pulls on multiple occasions because I underestimated just how much care I sometimes need to take of my blue bar. Sure, lining up multiple procs of Avenger’s Shield for maximum damage is fun, until you realise your choice to never Judge leaves you running on fumes.
The power of Consecration was another slaughtered lamb. Paladin AoE strength has almost nothing to do with Consecration, and everything to do with Hammer of the Righteous, Holy Wrath, Avenger’s Shield and Inquisition. In fact, the way the Sanctuary talent works is intelligent, as it directly leads you into an assessment of when Consecration is safe to use; on a single target you’re best not bothering, but on multiple adds you’ll get getting enough mana back to use it relatively freely. This is sophisticated design.
Of course, there are cooldowns. One huge advantage a paladin has over a warrior is Avenging Wrath, a legitimate DPS cooldown that warriors have no version of. Guardian of Ancient Kings is about equivalent to Shield Wall, while Holy Shield essentially works as Shield Block; use it when available. Depending on the fight you can pick up a glyph to make Divine Protection purely magical but, again, it’s a mitigation cooldown warriors don’t have an equivalent to. Lastly, there’s Ardent Defender – another example of my overestimation of paladin strength. Frankly, other than specific gimmicks that are rare, Last Stand is better than Ardent Defender 90% of the time. It’s a really frustrating cooldown, if I’m honest.
So warriors and paladins are roughly equivalent?
Well, you know, there’s a lot of… It’s kind of like both classes can… I mean, different class is different and no two toolkits are the same, so… Okay, look, you can’t make comparisons like that, all we can do is… Screw it.
Paladins are flat-out better tanks than warriors.
There, I said it. And despite my erstwhile loathing of paladins as a class, and my half-decade love affair with my Protection warrior, there is literally no other conclusion to be drawn on live servers. It aggravates me saying this because it strikes me as resolutely unfair, but I have to be brutally honest. While things like rotational attacks, resource management, minor/major cooldowns and encounter viability are all roughly equivalent between tanks with a few exceptions, the fact is that paladins have an x-factor above and beyond their basic toolkit that warriors simply cannot touch.
I mentioned Avenging Wrath and Divine Protection. I wish it ended there.
The utility of Divine Shield for an encounter, assuming a cancel aura macro, can’t be understated – this saved me so many times when I’d have otherwise died and wiped the group. Similarly, Lay on Hands is an extraordinary ability in a group environment when things are going south. Divine Guardian is often likened to Rallying Cry, but there’s only one winner and it’s certainly not the ability that locks one class out of a major cooldown for two minutes. Embarrassingly, even Forbearance is less punitive a mechanic and that’s for Lay on Hands or Divine Shield; not a basic part of the paladin tanking toolkit. Why not make Rallying Cry affect everyone but the warrior so Last Stand is still available for personal use? The ignorance of an existing and more sophisticated solution to an issue just highlights the very severe quality discrepancy between the paladin and warrior design teams.
The options for Divine Protection are compelling at the cost of some Dust of Disappearance, while the number Hands a paladin has means they can free you from roots/snares, lower your threat, make you immune to damage or even provide an external damage cooldown for another class. If you like, you can spend a couple of GCD’s off-healing with Word of Glory or cleansing debuffs that your allocated healer is unable to. A selection of different seals depending on what you’re actually tanking round this off relatively nicely with the fact that paladins take less damage, do more damage and have far higher threat potential than a warrior in equivalent gear.
Said warrior does, of course, bring his own niche to the table. A niche that includes an inferior raid cooldown that stops you using your personal version, a broken Heroic Leap that still fails more often than it succeeds, a busted resource mechanic that’s been overhauled more often than the British political system and a series of bandage fixes designed to cover up existing design failures. Against this backdrop, talents like Piercing Howl or (particularly) Safeguard look like absolute dynamite because they give warrior tanks utility that, though hopelessly situational, isn’t matched elsewhere.
Now, there can be no doubt that I’m still under the influence of the new car smell. I’ve only been playing a paladin for a laughably short time and could well be concentrating too much on its positive aspects and I’ve yet to come across its weaknesses. Obviously, I’m happy for some forewarning. But at the moment, with the exception of the awkward Ardent Defender, playing a paladin is the most depressing highlight of just what’s gone wrong with warriors that a long-term player of our class could ask for.
The tragic part is that Greg Street and his team will simply keep saying “warriors still tank content” rather than fix the glaring weaknesses the class has. Even Matthew Rossi of WoW Insider, almost the most positive warrior player I know, has entitled his end-of-expansion review a “post-mortem”.
The definition of which is a telling enough indictment.
Please, Blizzard, sort this issue out.
It’s last rites time.