I don't know any more about when it'll launch than anyone else. Except that it will launch sometime this year, and Activision likes late November dates. So I thought it was a bit educational to look back on what was done by this time 2 years ago, when WotLK was about 2 months away.
By the end of August we had:
- mostly finalized talents and a talent tree (berserk had the last stand effect)
- removal of crittability
- removal of crushing blows
What we didn't have:
- A finalized talent tree (survival instincts was still not there, as an example, and FFF was)
- Fully balanced skills (rake wasn't even considered for rotation, barkskin wasn't usable in forms)
- Any idea of what itemization was good or not
- All the stuff that came in WotLK proper (Feral AP removal, bonus armor removal, nerf of stam, FF's buff, mangle's duration buff, primal gore
By the end of September we had:
- A completed talent tree (essentially)
- More tweaks to skills (bash interrupting, growl taunting at range)
- Additions of things like an OoC res, barkskin in forms, pots in forms
- More of a clear idea of what is going to drop
- Removal of +armor from leather (but not from items)
What we didn't have:
- All skills finalized
- Full lists of all gear
- All numbers balanced
- Talent tree still complete
- addition of skills like Savage Roar (seriously, it came THAT LATE)
- Swipe hitting infinite targets
- Mostly finalized glyphs (the SI glyph wasn't in there yet)
- Things like on hit procs working with cat/bear form
- Mostly finalized professions (including the bonus for each being largely normalized)
What we didn't have:
- Many of the early fixes in WotLK (like bonus armor not being multiplied, Feral AP being removed)
- Some balance issues (like swipe doing a lot more threat)
- knowledge about the armor change or the FAP change (this came early November)
Now, let's assume for a moment that the release schedule is basically exactly the same as WotLK. There are reasons to expect otherwise - such as the huge amount of stuff that simply doesn't work in the beta right now - but let's go with that. What does that mean?
First off, the talents are largely finished. They might juggle some (I expect berserk to be changed significantly) but we're not going to see game changers like Titan's Grip or Chakra. For the most part, the tree is pretty well done in terms of what's there. We didn't see a lot of changes to the feral tree between August and October 2008 - the changes were to SI, FFF and Berserk with a couple of modifications to how many points each talent cost. Not a lot else was changed.
Secondly, the skills aren't remotely finished. Between August and October we had Savage Roar added, rake buffed, barkskin buffed, FFF and SI changed (and FFF made trainable), growl given a range, swipe given unlimited targets and a threat boost, bash made into an interrupt - and that's just the stuff I can find easily. There is likely to be a lot of churn in the next couple of months on skills, and even moreso on skill numbers.
Thirdly, the overall themes of the expansion are pretty well set for ferals. Don't expect big sweeping changes or big design overhauls like you saw for paladins recently. The expectation is that cooldowns will be normalized, things like incoming damage rates will matter (because mana of healers will matter), avoidance will be important, CC will be important and the longevity and time to live of tanks will increase while the survivability of DPS will hugely increase. Talent trees will still continue to focus on giving interesting talents, not ones that boost DPS or tanking specifically.
Fourth, expect a LOT of itemization coming later. Itemization happens quickly and easily for the most part. Don't worry about it any time soon.
So what kind of predictions can we make about this?
Well, here are mine:
Berserk is going to get changed...again. With Mangle being completely without a cooldown and with cleave/AoE abilities largely being nerfed or deprioritized, berserk is really without a purpose. As the marquee 31-point talent, it will need to be changed - or bears will spend that point elsewhere. Expect it to be redesigned.
Expect a couple more skills down the pipe. My gut feeling is that they're going to add at least one bear skill (or allow a non-bear usable skill to be used in bear form like thorns) and possibly two. I expect there is going to be at least another way for a bear to give themselves some more rage as well.
Talents will get juggled around a bit. The tree is weirdly unbalanced right now for both cat and bear, requiring way too many or too few talents (tier 2 for bears is almost all things you want; tier 4 is almost all things you don't). That will be fixed or at least improved on.
Numbers aren't remotely final. Don't bother number crunching unless you want to figure out (for example) what the effect of savage roar going only to melee damage is (it makes haste really awesome and hit/expertise even more awesome), or how bad fury swipes is right now (it makes baby Phaelia cry).
Rotations aren't set in stone either. Rake got added late, FFF got added as a useful damage/TPS ability late, SR even got added late!
Balance -especially tank balance - hasn't been touched. And bears are going to be nerfed at least in health and likely in a couple other places. I wouldn't expect Savage Roar to be looked at for a while, even if you know it's going to be pretty lame.
What this means for you, as a member of the community:
- Don't spend a lot of time working on huge revisions to talents or adding tons of abilities. That's just not going to happen. Juggle talent trees, but don't expect big changes.
- Do think about what the bear and cat are missing and what is fun and isn't fun, and how it can be improved. Barkskin got changed to be usable in forms, and SI got split from berserk because of this kind of input.
- Don't stress too greatly that ferals haven't gotten a lot of love; ferals historically have been late bloomers.
- Don't expect huge revisions in general. As far as I can tell developers felt ferals were in a pretty good place at the end of WotLK and weren't going to rock the boat too hard. If you didn't like them before, this is a good opportunity to switch classes. If you did like them before, chances are you'll get some nice quality of life fixes.
With that all said, I'm not planning on doing a lot of number crunching for a while - at least until level 85 folks are able to do some threat and damage assessments. Until then it's pretty much a waste of time. When we get more solid numbers I'll start looking at the various rotations and the value of stats for different rotations as well as showing how bad certain things are (like fury swipes). But doing anything before that is a bit of a pointless exercise.
Also, thanks to folks who asked me to start blogging a bit more over on wow.com. And thanks for everyone that checked that article out; Skunkworks is one hell of a special guild, and I'm very proud to be a part of it.