So I just found out that the official Cataclysm talent preview for druids, priests, rogues and shamans is out. I haven't really been following the Cataclysm news all that attentively because I don't want to spoil myself too much and thus ruin any surprises that the expansion might bring, but I figured hey, new info about my favourite class is something that I should check out.
My main impression after reading what WoW.com had to offer on the subject is a feeling of - disappointment is almost too strong a word because I wasn't exactly excited about the upcoming talent changes to begin with, but I can't help feeling somewhat underwhelmed. I thought Blizzard said that they wanted to get rid of all the "boring" talents that just give you passive increases to your damage and healing, fold them into the mastery trees and fill up the now empty slots in the talent trees with more "fun" stuff that actually changes our gameplay? Because that didn't really happen, and a lot of those "more damage and healing" talents are still there. There's a bit of discussion in the WoW.com comments about this, with people trying to figure out if we might have misunderstood what Blizzard was trying to tell us, but mostly people seem to agree that the preview doesn't really live up to what was promised.
Now, I won't go over the whole thing in detail because long lists are boring, you can read it in its entirety elsewhere if you really want, and most importantly, most of it is exactly the same as the current talents anyway.
The most major change that is worth noting in my opinion is that there are suddenly a lot of new talents specifically empowering smite, most of them in the disc tree but some in low holy too. Penitence (disc tier 2) increases smite and penance crit chance, Atonement (disc tier 3) heals someone near you when you do smite damage, Evangelism (disc tier 4) gives a stacking damage buff to smite and the other holy damage spells, Archangel (disc tier 5) consumes Evangelism stacks for a healing buff and allows you to cast penance on the move. In the holy tree you mostly have the same talents affecting smite that also do it right now, but with the addition of Divine Accuracy (holy tier 2) which increases your hit chance with holy spells. The new Chakra talent (more on that later) also has an "option" for smite to increase your overall damage if you're smiting a lot.
The big question that comes up when looking at these changes is simply: why? Is smite spec meant to make a comeback as a valid PvE damage spec? I consider that unlikely to be honest, because there still aren't enough talents to empower it, not to mention none at all in the higher tiers. It also wouldn't really fit with Blizzard's decision to make every tree focus on one role for the mastery system to work, which was part of why they scrapped the whole concept of letting death knights tank and dps in all three trees. Making discipline and holy into secondary dps specs would go completely against that. Not to mention that a smite-smite-smite dps spec wouldn't fit Blizzard's ideal of an interesting dps rotation either.
It's noteable that especially the new talents in the disc tree seem to encourage a combination of both damage and healing, seeing how Atonement does some healing while you smite and Archangel increases your healing afterwards. But again, why? Are they worried about healers being bored of doing nothing but healing and inviting them to do some damage in-between heals? When you think of how we faceroll heroics right now and how a geared healer's mana pool is nearly bottomless, that suggestion doesn't seem entirely crazy (though you could still question whether healers really want to dps while healing), but considering that Cataclysm is supposed to gimp our mana regen massively, I don't see us as having the mana to spare to throw in five smites between each heal and I have a hard time imagining that Blizzard just forgot about that themselves.
So what's left? I can only think of soloing and PvP. The new disc talents in particular sound like they could make a disc priest an even more powerful force to reckon with in a battleground. Then again, disc priests were already good at PvP, so why make so many talent changes particularly tailored to them becoming even better at it? It just doesn't quite add up to me.
Compared to that, the other changes in the two healing trees seem comparatively minor. The promised power word: barrier is coming for disc, Serendipity is being renamed to Deliverance for some reason. Choir Leader is a funny name for a marginally useful new talent that affects our hymns, and Improved Holy Nova reducing the global cooldown of the spell makes me wonder how the mental image of spamming holy nova as fast and maniacally as possible is supposed to fit into the slower and more mana-conscious healing world of Cataclysm.
Chakra still sounds like a cool concept - the effect it has on the heal spell sounds great for tank healing, the renew portion will be useful for raid healing I guess, and I can appreciate the smite damage increase for soloing I suppose, but the prayer of healing portion still sounds ridiculous. Nobody casts prayer of healing three times in a row. Ever. Because even when there is massive raid damage going on, throwing around CoHs, ProMs and Renews is still more effective than spamming ProH non-stop. I just can't see this one happening.
And Thriving Light with its bleed damage reduction just has me shaking my head - an obviously purely PvP talent in tier 8 of the holy tree? Is that really going to make PvPing as holy any better?
The shadow tree looks even more unexciting than the two healing trees I'm sorry to say. There's a new talent that gives a damage increase to the mastery-related shadow orbs (woo?) and Mind Melt is being changed to introduce a synergy between the new mind spike spell and mind blast (we'll see how that pans out). Shadowy Apparition is the only new talent that sounds vaguely amusing, though it remains to be seen how effective it is.
All in all there seem to be fewer changes than there were going from BC into WOTLK - which doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing if you like the way priests play now, but as far as exciting new content previews go it's a bit of a letdown.