Spoiler Warning: Discussion of the early Mage class experience, including when spells become available and how they impact gameplay. No lore, story or plot spoilers.
After firing up the Cataclysm beta on Friday evening, I’ve since tried a handful of characters. My level 80 mage has now been copied over, mainly so that I can have a look at the fleshed out talent trees. Because there’s a whole batch of changes to the Fire tree due to land in the next beta build, I’ve instead focused on the experience of rolling a new mage.
I initially started off by rolling a Gnome but there are currently a handful of bugs for both Gnomes and Trolls at character selection. As a result I decided to try a Worgen so that I could get a feel for the new starting area at the same time. Don’t worry though, I’ll be keeping this all Mage-centric.
The first spell you start off with as a mage is Fireball. And that’s it. No self-buffs, no other schools. You have one button to press and you’ll be pressing it a lot. The aim here is to streamline the experience and introduce new spells gradually. Great for those new to the class, but seasoned Mage veterans will be a little shocked.
For the most part it’s a smooth introduction, with mobs falling over after a couple of strikes with your trusty spell. It gives you a chance to get used to the area and the controls rather than worrying about what button to press
The Proc Pickle
At Level 3 you learn Arcane Missiles. Normally this would be a great thing, but in Cataclysm AM is purely proc-based. Cast almost any other direct-damage spell and there’s a chance that you’ll proc Arcane Missiles.
Anyone who’s played a raiding Arcane Mage will be instantly familiar with this mechanic, as it’s an almost direct copy of the old Missile Barrage talent. There are two problems I have with this choice, the first being that the procrate feels low to me. It might be that I’m missing procs due to limitations of the Standard UI – I’m used to using Power Auras and Mage Alert in order to tell me when a proc is available for me to use.
There’s another problem with having a proc based ability available so early on – how to actually make use of it! At the early levels you’re typically burning things down very quickly, so the proc usually gets wasted. Sometimes you’re lucky and can use it to pull a fresh mob, but it’s not optimal by any stretch.
One of the big uproars that initially came out of early beta announcements was the removal of Conjured Food and Water until the later levels, where mana pies and strudels would replace the individual food and water spells.
The strange thing is, I haven’t really missed it. Downtime seems to have been drastically reduced at the earlier levels, with both health and mana regen getting a significant boost. The old sequence of fight-drink-fight-drink is largely gone.
Building the Music
Things become a little more interesting around the level 5-7 mark. Mages are known for being a glass cannon, and you really begin to feel it at around this level. Mobs start to build up and swarm around you, yet without any crowd control or mob management ability, it can become a frustrating experience. Careful pulls are the order of the day to get over this hump. All the same, get used to seeing the spirit healer at the graveyard.
Fire Blast makes an appearance at level 5 as a great finishing move, but it’s not until Frostbolt arrives at level 7 that you get some ability to control the mobs around you. Frost Nova finally appears at level 8 in order to finally give you the mob control you need. You’re still running without Blink, but new mages can start getting to grips with the old-school mechanics of rooting and kiting as the way to control mobs.
Rounding things out, Counterspell becomes available at level 9. Being able to pull casters into melee while kiting them slowly using frostbolt is a classic tactic, so it’s good to see it being encouraged here.
That Mage Has Talent
Once you hit level 10 and talents become unlocked, things become substantially easier. The talent interface locks you into a specific tree until you either unlearn your talents at a trainer or reach the end of the tree. The talent interface is a slick affair and a huge improvement on the one I’m used to, so I’ll be covering it in detail once the Fire talent updates arrive.
For the moment I’ve decided to go with a frost spec, partly because I’ve not used one in a very long time (think Molten Core back in Vanilla). The other reason is that RandomPetName is ridiculously overpowered – I can pull a mob with Fire Blast and the water elemental will take it down in a single hit. In terms of mob control it’s almost an essential companion, especially if you’re going to be focusing on the kiting/rooting tricks as a way to get quests done.
Gazmundo has reached level 12, having just picked up Arcane Explosion. My next instalment will document his journey into the 20s and possibly beyond, depending on how smooth the ride goes. In the meantime, if you have specific comments, questions or things you’d like to see then please ask below.