After a conspicuous lack of Balance changes in the 6.0 notes before now, the newest update shows what they’ve been working on: a complete rework of the class.
There is still an Eclipse bar, but it’s changed in two important ways:
- Its movement is no longer affected by your casts at all; it cycles on its own between the two endpoints, making one complete loop every 30 seconds.
- Your Arcane and Nature damage bonuses vary continuously based on the Eclipse marker. At the midpoint, you get half of your mastery bonus to either element, and at an endpoint, the full mastery bonus to one element only.
So, some things stay the same. Your Eclipse cycles back and forth regularly, and you cast Starfire half the time and Wrath half the time. You use Starsurge regularly (see below) in either half of the rotation, since it’s buffed by either bonus. You maintain DoTs, and casting them when you have a high Eclipse bonus is still beneficial (even though DoTs will no longer snapshot most effects, they will still snapshot Eclipse).
The reason cited for the change is that Moonkin was daunting to initially learn, but relatively easy to play well once you understood it (which is the reverse of what you usually want in a class). I think this is generally correct, subject to some details of Eclipse management at the highest levels of play. Eclipse is confusing to explain and understand at first, to new players to the class, and the new version hopefully won’t have this problem.
In addition to the stated problem related to the learning curve, the 5.0 Eclipse had some issues that commonly caused frustration among players. I tended to pinpoint the problem as being related to Nature’s Grace–a major DPS buff that lasted a fixed amount of time and whose uptime was determined by your ability to race between Eclipses as quickly as possible. This made the class somewhat reliant on haste to avoid being stuck outside of NG, and severely penalized the class for any time not spent advanced in the Eclipse bar, in particular, movement and AoE. Even before seeing these changes, I’d suggested to the devs that they remove Nature’s Grace in 6.0. With the new constantly-oscillating Eclipse, they are not only removing Nature’s Grace, but making it so that your choice of what to cast doesn’t even effect the uptime of an Eclipse bonus. This should make the performance of the class much more stable.
A downside that remains in the new Eclipse system is that the player has very little control over the timing of the damage highs and lows. To me, it wasted a lot of the potential of having a class where the central conceit is alternating periods of high and low DPS, if you don’t get much gameplay out of choosing when to take the highs (for example of a class that does high/low DPS periods with a very high degree of player control over the timing, look at Windwalker Monks).
This is still a potential issue in the new system–in a sense even worse, because you truly have no control over when Eclipse peaks occur (unless you Astral Communion during combat, which requires channeling and doing 0 DPS). But a few things mitigate this problem now. First, the variance in the Eclipse cycle is much smaller (see graph below). Rather than a high-low cycle, it’s more of an alternation between Nature and Arcane without any true low points, since you always benefit from at least 50% of one of the bonuses. Second, there is a new mechanic that does in fact give you more control over high-DPS periods, in the new Starsurge. While it’s not precisely the same as getting control over Eclipse (what I’ve always thought we needed more of), it’s a controllable mechanic that interacts with Eclipse in an interesting way.
The new Starsurge is on a charge system (similar to Force of Nature), giving much more flexibility in when to use it. No more mashing it the instant Shooting Stars procs. Instead, you can store a charge or two to use when you need it. The decision about when to use it comes from the fact that it buffs your next 3 Wrath casts or 2 Starfire casts (depending on which side of the cycle you’re on), by 30%. This is, of course, more beneficial near the peak of the cycle, when those spells are doing the most damage. The difference in value is small–30% of half of your mastery bonus on the affected casts–but it will be clear when you want to use it for optimal damage (possibly the bonus could be made larger if needed). However, anytime you need a damage burst at a particular moment, you can use your Starsurges then. There’s always a possible decision of maximum total single-target damage vs. using them to support the needs of the encounter.
There is also much better gameplay in Shooting Stars than in the past, as I touched on above. Instead of responding to any SS proc right away for fear of wasting it, you can use the extra charge whenever you want as long as you don’t cap. Since you’ll probably always be planning out your next 1-2 Starsurges based on your Eclipse position and what’s happening in the encounter, a proc gives you the chance to modify your plan.
In a little more detail: since you generate an Starsurge charge every 30 seconds, and you get one Lunar peak every 30 seconds (the moment in the cycle with the highest single-target damage), that’s one place you’ll likely always use SS on a single target. What this means is that you’ll cast SS when you’re around one cast away from the Lunar peak, so that it buffs the two Starfires that hit closest to the peak. Also, regardless of Starsurge/Starfire timing, you want to Moonfire as close to the peak as possible, so snapshot the highest Eclipse buff. Fortunately, if the timing is slightly off, the damage difference will be tiny (a nice feature of the sinusoidal Eclipse behavior). With 30 seconds between Eclipse peaks, and a 32-second Moonfire duration, the goal will be to always have a max Eclipsed Moonfire on a single target.
Additional Starsurge charges from Shooting Stars procs can be used to buff Wraths at the Solar peak (the next-best time for damage), or by using 2 at the Lunar peak (one just before the peak and one just after, to buff 4 Starfires). In addition, they might also be used for AoE.
Even though Starsurge and its new buff are single-target effects only, you actually have a choice of how to spend each charge: you can spend it on Starsurge or on Starfall. Starfall will now be a true AoE spell again, and it won’t be used on a single target, because Starsurge will be a better use on a single target. The AoE system is much richer though, when you have to choose how to pool and spend charges on Starfalls at important AoE moments. This may affect your single-target rotation planning as well, if you hold off on casting Starsurge in order to build up Starfall charges in advance.
Aside from Starfalls, AoE is done using Hurricane and potentially multi-dotting (Wild Mushroom no longer does damage). A lot of math will have to be done on the details of multi-dotting, now that 1) Shooting Stars procs will give extra Starfall casts and 2) the Sunfire DoT has an AoE effect.
The lack of Eclipse control over AoE may still be a problem as it is now, especially since Starfall is only buffed by Lunar. It’s possible the idea is that, since Starfall is buffed by Lunar, while Hurricane and Sunfire are buffed by Solar, AoE damage winds up roughly even regardless of where you were in the cycle. This is something to keep an eye on as we start playing with the class. If AoE damage is roughly balanced between Nature and Arcae (i.e. around 50% of it is Starfall), this should work out about right, but that balance will vary since Starfall use won’t always be totally consistent. At any rate, the situation will be much better than it is now due to the absence of Nature’s Grace.
I’m not going to do a full analysis of talents, especially since it’s too early for power comparisons (and fully developed spreadsheets are needed for that). Suffice to say, every existing talent, ability or proposed Level 100 talent that interacted with Eclipse had to be redesigned. A few preliminary comments based only on the short descriptions:
- Celestial Alignment: now 15 seconds of maximum Eclipse damage, and freezes your Eclipse bar for the duration. Overall similar to what it does now, but better in two ways: 1) steady-state max Eclipse damage isn’t something you get normally, so it’s a bit more of a punchy cooldown, and 2) you can use it anytime without impairing your Eclipse uptime–Eclipse will pick up where it left off when it’s over.
- Soul of the Forest: now a passive that increases the Starsurge buff. It remains the basic passive talent choice, and should be simple to math out eventually. It enables some better burst, but presumably still not as much as Incarnation or FoN.
- Balance of Power: causes Wrath and Starfire to extend DoTs. 4 seconds per Wrath and 6 seconds per Starfire seems like might be enough to extend DoTs indefinitely on a single target (it’s more than twice the cast time of each spell). At first glance I’m not seeing the goal of this talent–all that’s accomplished by infinitely-extended DoTs is saving the GCDs to refresh and getting a better Eclipse snapshot on Sunfire. Even if the damage benefits are there, not very exciting.
- Euphoria makes Eclipse cycle 50% faster, reaching a Lunar peak every 20 seconds instead of every 30. I’m not entirely sure I see the point of this, since the average is still the same, and it may actually get slightly less convenient to make optimal use of Starsurge and DoTs. Maybe for this reason, there’s a DPS increase component to the talent, where the Starsurge buff adds some haste (very similar to Soul of the Forest). But the big unique part of the talent, changing the Eclipse oscillation frequency, might be a miss. It’s hard to imagine how that will help me utilize Eclipse better during an encounter.
Overall, I’m happy with where these are going. I’m looking forward to getting a full-blown model in place (which may take some time given the new, unique mechanics). I think they address most of the problems that Moonkin had with the current Eclipse of 4.0 and 5.0, while keeping the flavor of Eclipse. The new Starsurge mechanic is key–without that, I would have been very concerned about the gameplay of an Eclipse that you have almost no control over in combat. The biggest thing I’ll be focusing on once we have an alpha to play is that Starsurge (with its new counterpart Starfall) bears the burden of providing nearly all of the decisionmaking in the new system. Starsurge charges are the new class resource, and effectively the only one, with mana and Eclipse energy not functioning as resources. Making sure that decisions of how to spend them are interesting and meaningful, and have no undesired incentives, will be a critical point for feedback between now and 6.0 launch.