As I did with my last "Maybe classic isn't just hot nostalgia garbage post," I am going to preface this by saying I have zero interest in discussing whether something was better or worse in classic vs. live. If you prefer classic, great! If you prefer live, great!
One thing that has often come up about Live, however, has been class design and class fantasy. Broadly speaking — and I know, almost guaranteed, someone in the comments will say "BfA has great class design, ur wrong eat my butthole." And to them I say, "cool. Elaborate what you enjoy about current class design then, that's the point of a discussion post." As I've been playing classic beta, I knew I'd be excited to have my Shaman totems back — after all, Shaman was my first 60, my first true love, and I mained it until MoP came out and I wound up moving to MW/BrM (in no small part because totems weren't really part of the shaman experience — I felt disconnected from the class fantasy). What surprised me, however, was that Paladin was almost an unrecognizeable entity. While I objectively knew and recalled seals, blessings, and auras, I had forgotten that more-or-less, that was their gameplay.
I am not necessarily arguing that Paladin circa 2004 is ideal gameplay. Enjoyable in its own right, but I think the majority of the WoW playerbase would scoff at the notion of primarily doing autoattacks. What is interesting to me is that a good chunk of what made Paladins, well, Paladins back in the day no longer exists. Rather than finding a way to weave gameplay around Judgement, Seals, and Auras, Blizzard instead decided to simply do away with them, putting emphasis on the "warrior" part of the Holy Warrior gameplay. While BfA has made Retribution more distinct from Arms, they're still relatively similar in playstyle.
Another interesting thing I noticed, and again, I realize it'll sound ridiculous, but the rotation for Retribution paladins wasn't as confined as it is today. Yes, it wasn't particularly complicated — but it wasn't as explicit as modern rotations are. Today (and this is the case for many classes), you have a builder and it explicitly says this gives you resources. And then you have a spender or two, and those say this spends resources or this spends resources but. It lowers the skill floor, but also makes mastery feel less satisfying because there's less to master.
Well, when you look at Classic retribution — it didn't have that. You could only have 1 judgement on a target at a time (per Paladin), so you had to manage your mana correctly to only ever keep as many Wisdoms on the target as you had to. Seal of the Crusader increased your holy damage done on the target when judged which is what your Seal of Command did on autoattacks (judging for a holy damage nuke) — so it became a function of juggling your Seals against your Judgements. Nothing was a spender, nothing a builder: it was resource management.
There is a version of this that goes with more depth and intensity to create more robust gameplay around this, something in between the Vanilla paladin and the modern paladin. I raise this point because to me, this would give the Paladin a more distinct fantasy, especially when you look across at Protection and Holy as well. This could have been furthered deepened and developed with Auras, which while still passive, could have more meaningfully impacted gameplay than they did.
Paladins could be (and were) more than Yellow warriors and metal priests.
I find this particularly interesting with the pseudo-similarities between Enhancement Shaman and Fury warriors.
When you look at Shaman, modernly, it doesn't feel very attuned to the elements. There's a few pieces of it in there, but it largely is just tied into the stormstrike animation and a few cooldowns. You're not seemlessly weaving between the elements, combining them in unique ways to unleash them on your foes. You're sort of just a fury warrior that rubbed his socks on the carpet for too long. Totems, multiple shocks, and (later on) actually using some of your "hard casts" (though this wasn't until wrath iirc) in your rotation is what made Enhancement feel like Enhancement.
For me, I don't personally understand why Blizzard didn't do the opposite of what they did — why not lean more heavily into Blessings, Seals, and Auras as a way of defining the paladin playstyle? Make gameplay center around trying to get Judgement back more often and make judging a seal the "high point" of the paladin rotation. Get rid of holy power and go back to mana. Why not make totems more involved than just passive buffs you idly check to see if they're on cooldown or not? Make them points of decision making, make them part of rotation and weave the rotation around these points of uniqueness.
The last point I want to make with these example is this: "class fantasy" has become a misnomer. It truly has become "spec fantasy," and I think that's part of what makes the game ring a little hollow. Your spec is a major decision, I'm not saying that it's not, but it separates you from your class rather than feeling like a choice on top of it. It doesn't feel like I am specializing among what's available to me as a warrior, it feels like I am picking something different all-together. A huge part of this is the lack of cross-spec abilities. Going to my above example — how different is a world where Protection, Holy, and Retribution paladins are all centered around this combination of Seals, Blessings, and Auras to create unique gameplay patterns? The overarching mechanic (Seals, Blessings, Auras) would unite them, but each would handle and feel distinctly.
I'm not arguing for going back to the old talent trees (I don't love the current ones, but that's a separate post). I'm not arguing that gameplay was just across the board better in Classic. I am arguing in favor of a world where classes can have more in common with their fellow class-specs (all specs of the same class should still be the same class), and I am arguing that there needs to be more gameplay and thematic distinction between the classes.
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© Post "Seals & Auras & Shocks & Totems: Exploring Class Fantasy" for game World of Warcraft.
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