Right now, feral druids are only an okay melee choice but a good tank choice. Their melee DPS is about 70-75% of an equivalently geared rogue given similar buffs, which isn't great but isn't the worst thing ever. Their group buff is very good for raid dps since it tends to already improve the highest dps classes (hunters and rogues), and they do not require an optimal party composition to achieve decent DPS. They also provide very useful generic druid buffs to a party that can make progression fights far easier. For tanking, there are only a few fights that mechanically a feral druid can't main tank, only a small amount where a feral is significantly disadvantaged, and a few where they are the best choice for tanking on progression. They have a niche as the best physical damage tanks in most situations and the best offtanks in most situations that require threat without being hit constantly. The unification of the two in one single spec, able to switch as necessary depending on the encounter's requirements, is also a huge strength and a huge source of the fun of a druid. I have spoken about that before, but it bears (hah) emphasis: a feral druid is both a cat and a bear. You should be able to do one or the other. That is a feral's biggest contribution to a raid: flexibility. Without that, a feral druid only has a few fights that they can tank the best and no fights where they can DPS the best.
It is the versatility that makes a druid a joy to play and makes them valuable to a raid.
The big weaknesses that I see are:
- A lack of itemization, especially in higher tiered content. The best overall tanking weapon is a trash drop from SSC. The best trinket is a random world drop. Most non-tiered armor drops are either more trash, crafted, or gained from pvp/arena. The 'tanking stats' like defense aren't optimal for bears, and no epic leather pieces exist in the game that have defense on them anyway. It's a big mess. For cats, their DPS doesn't scale well with the high-end stats like haste, and their base damage was not that great to begin with. Thus they do not scale as well with the rogue gear that is best for rogues, and the feral gear is loaded with stats that aren't relevant such as int or armor.
- Poor scaling mechanics. Armor is the best stat to stack for a bear, but armor becomes cappable early in raiding. After that there simply isn't much to improve. As a result, bears peak in overall effectiveness in T5. Cats are similar in that the only stat they scale well with is crit, which has very large diminishing returns.
- Lack of choices. Paladins suffer from this as well, but a bear's tanking rotation is set in stone: mangle, lacerate, maul. If you're well-geared and buffed, putting in swipes while maintaining the lacerate stack is an option, but this is still 4 buttons to manage at most, and all are spammable. There's very little else going on, and this rarely changes as you fight different bosses. There's almost no interactivity with the mobs you're facing. For a cat, there's a lot more interaction if you're doing it right thanks to powershifting, but it is still 4 buttons: rip, mangle, shred, shift.
For cats, I would like them to close the gap a bit on being a useful raid slot. Ideally I'd like to see them get more raidwide utility buffs. Leader of the Pack is a good buff, but it scales poorly with some classes, the healing is unreliable and fairly unremarkable, and the synergy with any other class is lacking. I don't want to actually see their DPS go up all that much; it seems okay where it is and that + awesome party buffs would be far too much.
Above all, I'd like to see that the unification of a feral druid remains. The versatility that embodies a druid, the fluidness of forms, the ability to use all of your skills as you need - this is what makes a druid a joy to play.
Still trying to be not bitter.
Blizzard has not finished the feral druid for WotLK, and as such we don't know what the end will give us. We have no idea what the itemization will look like, but chances are it will be rogue leather + some tier pieces/tanking rings/cloaks/amulets/trinkets. That could be okay; I remain skeptical that a mismash of random class gear, dps gear and tanking gear will be reasonably itemized for a druid, but it's possible. And if done right, it gives a lot more freedom in gearing up than previously.
As of now, tanks do not have any more options in terms of their rotation, really. Berserk is a great ohshit button for a tank, but it must be saved as that most of the time and is on a 5-minute cooldown. Mangle's cooldown is being reduced so that it can be spammed more, but that is all. For cats, the addition of savage roar has some potential, as does the improvement of Omen of Clarity, but there is still not a lot of interaction, the scaling for a cat is still not that good with rogue stats (the best stat for DPS scaling is strength, which appears on 0 pieces of leather currently), and the actual dps output looks to be not so great, still.
But what really bothers me is the following:
We're not entirely happy with the way the Feral ended up in BC. The idea was that you could be a decent tank and a decent melee dps class, so Ferals were something you wanted to bring if you weren't the kind of guild that swapped different people out for every boss. But I don't think "convenience factor" is ultimately a great value to bring to a raid.and
and (oops, thanks Brad)
I do think the Feral flexibility will still count for something, as will unique abilities like Innervate. But we'd like the Raid of the Future (tm) to be one where you need various roles filled, but have options for how to fill them. Ferals can fill tank roles or melee roles (or both!) and can also supply the X raid buff. It would be nice if every spec of every class could bring a version of some raid buff.
If you want to do a little tanking and dps, you probably won't be as optimal at either, though you'll probably always be better at switching between the two than other classes. In order to be as good at tanking as the other classes, you might have to give up a few talents that maximize your dps, and vice versa. This is a good thing -- it lets you choose to actually be a main tank.
The stated goal of the dev team is to make ferals consciously choose between being a good tank and an okay dps or a good dps and an okay tank. For me, this is an easy choice: it will be a tank. It'll be a hard choice though, because while I tank a lot, and I'm good at it most of the time, I also like DPSing as a feral. I like the role I have right now. Reading other druid's experiences, I think they do as well. The versatility, not the specific abilities, are what make druids unlike any other class, and this feels like something of a desired nerf on Blizzard's part. I can't even clarify it further than that, and that's really frustrating. It could be only a 5% increase in maul damage vs. a 5% increase in shred damage, something minor, and it would still feel restrictive.
Blizzard believes that ferals want to choose. I think I'd rather be an okay tank who occasionally excels and an okay dps who doesn't embarrass themselves and provides raid utility than a tank all the time or a dps all the time. I'm surprised by this; when I rerolled a druid I did so because I wasn't sure what our guild would need most - a tank or a healer - but as I've played the druid I've found the flexibility is what brings me back to the joy of playing. No other class has that kind of flexibility.
Keep in mind - I can totally buy that this sort of change, this required choice to be a good tank or a good healer - will make a bear more effective as a tank or make a cat do more damage or be more useful in a raid. I'm not denying this at all. It has nothing to do with effectiveness of the class or getting a raid spot; it has to do with the sheer pleasure of playing a druid.
So I ask you all - what is your view of where a feral should go in WotLK? Should they be separated into Feral Cats and Feral Bears? How strong should the separation be? What would you like to see improved? I'm very curious whether my views of ferals - and my joy in playing them - matches up to others.