I’m going to assume everyone is caught up with all of the recent Blizzcon news. If not, read up on it at MMO-Champion.
The biggest event for us bear druids was the separation of the traditional feral spec. Melee dps druids will continue to be called “feral combat,” and tanking druids will become “guardian”. I will miss referring to myself as feral, but guardian has a nice ring to it.
Bears and cats will get the individual attention they need. We will likely get more baseline cooldowns without the fear that cats will have access to them too, and we will get passive defenses that would be overpowered in the hands (paws?) of a damage dealer. Out rotation will (hopefully) become more dynamic because we don’t have to share our skill budget with our feline brethren.
For those of us who prefer tanking and only tanking, you won’t have to feel like you’re forced into kitty dps for single tank fights. You will have to respec just like your co-tank, so your raid leader’s decision won’t be so easy.
The dreaded PvE nerf because of PvP will not be so deadly. In the past, we have lost many strong abilities and bonuses that were nice in PvE but overpowered for a tank/dps hybrid in PvP.
Bearcats as we know them are dead. Bears will not be able to contribute to dps while not tanking in this expansion (apparently because “warriors can’t dps while not tanking”… and now I can complain about all the things warriors can do that bears cannot). According to the devs, we won’t even be able to use Rip or Shred, which dooms us to a life of Mangle-spam forever. The hybrid playstyle that brought and kept so many of us attached to the feral spec will be no more, and we will undoubtedly lose many bears during the transition.
Bears will need to become multi-dimensional for this to be successful. Currently the complexity of the feral spec is limited because of it’s hybrid nature. We’ll need a wider array of skills to compensate for the half of our spec that will be sheered away. We will need something else to draw people to our class and give guardian druids some sparkle. Bears have to stand out as their own spec, and in their current state they would not stand out.
We will need more utility and flavor to replace the dps benefit we bring. Currently the other tanking classes have a playstyle that actively makes playing each one different. However, bears are obviously still warrior clones, and that was acceptable because what made us different was our cat form. Now that empty spot will need to be filled.
This will likely mean four tier sets for druids, similar to how resto druids and balance druids share similar itemization but different sets. We won’t have access to cat form bonuses and our gear won’t be so easily transferable between specs. With that in mind, who knows how gear itemization will change. With the introduction of monks as the second leather-wearing tank class, Blizzard might feel compelled to create specific leather tanking gear.
To be honest, I was devastated by this change. I enjoy playing other tank classes just as much or even more than my druid while tanking. What made me love my druid more than any of my alts was my hybrid nature and ability to change roles on the fly. I’ve reasoned through it a bit, and I now feel that this change was necessary. There also may be potential to recapture a piece of that hybrid nature in some of our talents. As long as Blizzard fleshes out bears properly, we will continue to be awesome well beyond Mists of Pandaria.
(P.S. I’m working on an analysis of the new druid talents. It will be up within a few days!)