Though Blizzard may have helped spoil the expansion announcement by starting the 3.2.2 PTR's when they did, the latest round of testing also offered an unusual opportunity. As is customary, the old 3.2 PTR was not wiped because this was not a major version update. Even better, Blizzard decided to refill the premade supply to get more players onto the PTR's as they go head to head with Blizzcon and a relatively recent new patch on the live servers.
Seven premades and three transfers of my own characters (80 Page, 70 Pally, 62 Warrior) later, I've suddenly got the chance to test drive high level characters from all ten of WoW's classes. Since we're almost guaranteed to get new race/class combos in the expansion, whether or not it focuses on new races and an alt-friendly revamp of old world Azeroth, this is an opportunity that I figured I should not pass up.
Test-driving a class in 3 minutes or less
My testing session from two weeks ago spawned two separate followup discussions, so it's probably only best for me to add some disclaimers up front.
If I do group content in WoW, it's almost certainly going to be on my main character, my mage. That gets me out of testing half a dozen trees that are dedicated for tanking or healing right off the bat. Also, I'm looking at solo content, not sustained group DPS, so I have to worry about taking damage, spell pushback, etc.
All specs for today (except for the Warrior) were tested on non-elite icecrown undead, using the gear the premades came with, without socketing or adding additional enchants since that was time consuming and unnecessary. I did NOT use consensus specs from anywhere, instead making up my own choices based on my (sometimes limited) knowledge of what spells I thought I would be using solo. Overall, I'd guess that I spent 5-7 minutes on setup and 3 minutes actually killing mobs per character.
On to the latest rapid-fire trials:
Shadow Priest (Woshane, as in "Worgen Shadowpriest"):
I've never fully understood this spec in solo combat. I can see where you get an elegant rotation going on a raid mob that someone else is tanking, with all your DOTs adding even more bonuses to your other spells. Solo with the premade, I didn't really have enough time to actually use all of these spells, but having so many DOTS to wait on means taking damage while I wait for the mob to die. I'm probably supposed to rely on PW:S and/or fearing and then mind flaying mobs, but I couldn't figure out how to get this thing working in a way that didn't end up generating lots of downtime and/or forcing me out of Shadowform to heal after a couple of fights. It felt like a drain-tanking Affliction Warlock without the crucial draining part of the equation. If someone can offer me some better insight into this class, I'd love to hear it.
Cat-focused Feral Druid (Nawofera, as in "Nature Worgen Feral"):
Compared to my Subtlety Rogue, I felt like I simply had fewer options. It looks like I'm intended to chain a stealth opener into Mangle (bonus to bleed effects) and Mangle into Shred (the backstab equivalent, does more damage with the Mangle buff up). Problem is, I don't have any reliable way of getting behind the mob for the last step. Maybe it works if you use kitty hop and spam the button in mid-leap, or is this a group-only combo? Regardless, I was unexpectedly disappointed with this class. I feel like I've replaced the various stealth-related tools on my rogue with the option of going out of cat to heal - more versatile (and zero downtime, because the unused mana pool regenerates while you're a cat) perhaps, but less interesting.
Balance Druid (same):
Unexpectedly fun. Last time I tried this class, there wasn't really a good niche for Starfire in combat, so you'd pull with it, root, moonfire and spam wrath until the mob died or escaped the root. Nowadays, both spells are usable, nigh-uninterruptable with talents/glyphs, and there's a talent specifically to encourage players to switch back and forth. All that feels like it's enough to make the spec stand on its own feet solo, at which point the ability to shift out into healing or flight forms is a nice bonus.
One other thing was that the tree feels very crowded. Between pushback resistance, enhancements to the class debuffs, new spells, and general spell power boosts, this was probably the only tree I've looked at where I would even consider something really lopsided like spending 65+ points in a single tree. I guess that raiders avoid the problem by skipping the pushback-related stuff.
Combat Rogue (Gobsneak, "Goblin Sneak", since I picked the Horde premade here):
I'm sure the sustained DPS is great, but it feels, well, less subtle than Subtlety. Also - and this was an issue with the Cat as well - I'm not as fond of energy as a mechanic in a toe-to-toe fight. When I get into a fight, I want to be pushing buttons, not waiting for my energy to regenerate so I can push buttons. I should probably try Assassination instead to see if I like it better.
Subtlety Rogue (same)
This was a very quick test drive to see what lies ahead. The increased focus on stealth and piling on the combo points makes this build feel distinct from other melee specs - I open with four combo points via Premeditation+Ambush, unleash a massive combo attack a few seconds later, and then it's time to mop up what's left of the foe. Shadow Dance is a ton of fun, though I had a ton of trouble attempting to configre the separate action bar; Kidney Shot stun followed by a pair of Shadow Dance Ambush Crits is absolutely nuts. Again, I'll try Assassination later, but I doubt it will dethrone this spec from my Rogue anytime soon.
Fury Warrior (Greenraven, level 62 live character)
Also a brief test-drive to see how the class plays now. With Whirlwind, Berserker Stance, and Titan's Grip, it's a cuisinart of doom. I should probably give Arms a try as well, but I've always disliked that spec because of the potential to go rage starved on a string of misses when single-wielding a 2-handed weapon. See previous comments about wanting to push buttons in fights, rather than waiting for the opportunity to get to push buttons. This character may get dusted off on the live servers just so I can see the rest of the Horde content (e.g. the Thrall questline in Nagrand, which might get removed by plot advancement).
Unholy Blood Death Knight (Cheerydethfo, as in "the fourth")
Having played the original Cheerydeth to level 80 during the Wrath beta, this was mostly a drive-by to visit my old favorite spec, a 34 Blood/37 Unholy hybrid with the self-healing corpse worms from the blood tree and the permanent ghoul minion, third disease debuff, and bone armor out of Unholy. This combination has actually gotten BETTER since they scrapped the talent that turns the DK into a ghoul on death and added a pet-buff that heals the Ghoul (incidentally counteracting the life-draining drawback of Hysteria from the blood tree). I guess that Unholy Blight was probably better when it was a FOURTH disease, but it's not horrible as a bonus effect on Death Coil, and I don't really miss the flappy Gargoyle much anyway. I'm sure it's terrible for group DPS, but it's a ton of fun for solo content with good DPS and massive self-healing.
Beast Mastery Hunter (Worgenseeker)
This thing took like 3 times as long to set up because I also had to manage a pet. I decided to take the spirit beast that Blizzard helpfully put in the premade's stables for a spin, along with a bunch of points in BM and Aimed Shot plus Go for the Throat out of Marksman. In the past, my complaint about Hunters and Locks was that, after having played a Mage, being a ranged DPS class with a pet tanking for you felt like letting an NPC do all of the actually hard/dangerous work. I don't know if the BM Hunter has that problem or not, because stuff was dying so quickly that I barely had time to get a few shots off, much less pull aggro. As with the Warlock, I may have to go pull some elite mobs to actually learn anything about this spec.
Remaining on the to do list
The PTR's are going to be up for another week at a minimum, so I've still got some time to play around with these guys. If I'm going to try everything that I didn't get around to between this PTR and the last one, the remaining specs would be:
Demonlogy Warlock (not expecting to like it due to the pet tanking thing)
A bit more quality time with all three trees of hunter (Survival sounds most interesting at the moment)
Perhaps experimenting with more conventional Death Knight specs (i.e. actually trying 51 point talents)
It was a bit of a whirlwind tour, and I'm sure I missed a lot of stuff from sheer lack of knowledge, but it was also a ton of fun to get to take basically the entire game for a test drive. Obviously, no class actually failed to kill non-elite mobs, so it's more a question for me of whether I liked how the playstyle felt, and a general personal preference for limited out of combat downtime over higher DPS but more time spend eating/drinking to recover afterwards. If anyone thinks I've missed something crucial about some of these classes, please let me know - like I said, I've got time to take another crack at these things, and the purpose of the exercise was to learn.