Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Class Compendium: Cleric. Goodbye, controller powers.

If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. Or should you? The latest installment of the Class Compendium series (available for free here) reprints the cleric class with a new format, incorporating all previous errata. However, unlike similar articles for Fighters and Warlords, this time the update comes with a good deal of brand new errata which definitely goes beyond mere clarifications. To say most of these changes were unexpected would be quite an understatement.

One thing that has to be understood about the cleric is that, while fairly competent, it is by no means a powerhouse of a class. It had its brief time in the sun somewhere after the release of Divine Power, where healing bonus stacking got to the point that you could outheal one or two monsters’ worth of damage at no surge cost, just with your at-wills - whereas parties could become nigh unkillable in any encounter where a daily prayer was involved. Thankfully, this was put to stop through an errata that brought drastic cuts to most common methods used to boost healing, particularly of the non-surge-required variety.

After that update, clerics were left as very strong healers (probably the best in the game, at least regarding single-target heal output), but became otherwise unremarkable leaders, noticeably behind all-stars like the Warlord. So what are we to think, when Warlords go through their Class Compendium revision mostly intact, yet Clerics get weakened significantly? Have the developers gone crazy? That may be the case but, as we will see, there is a method in this madness...

Here is a summary of the updates, classified by what got changed:

Area attacks with reduced area/damage/friendliness
Turn Undead (feature), Flame Strike (Daily 9), Holy Spark (Daily 15), Pufifying Fire (Daily 15), Seal of Warding (Daily 15), Enthrall (Encounter 17), Fire Storm (Daily 19), Healing Torch (Encounter 23), Sacred Word (Daily 25), Astral Storm (Daily 29), Astral Wave (Paragon Path Encounter 11), Healing Sun (Paragon Path Utility 12), Radiant Brilliance (Paragon Path Daily 20), Battle Pyres (Paragon Path Daily 20).

Options switched to Strength/Weapon
Holy Wrath (Daily 19), Seal of Protection (Daily 25), Angelic Avenger (Paragon Path), Warpriest (Paragon Path)

- Spiritual Weapon (Daily 5) , Astral Refuge (Utility 10), Thunderous Word (Encounter 17), Clarion Call of the Astral Sea (Utility 22), Angel Ascendant (Paragon Path Utility)

- Consecrated Ground (Daily 5) - removed area mobility.
- Nimbus of Doom (Daily 25) - added miss damage.
- Radiant Servant (Paragon Path) - crit-boosting feature now requires cleric powers. - Warpriest (Paragon Path) - renamed to Tactical Warpriest to prevent confusion with the Warpriest.
- Warpriest (Paragon Path) - marking feature toned down, now works 1/encounter.

So we see a couple of trends here. Apart from a few clarifications and a handful of random changes, there are two major update categories: improving support for the Strength Cleric build, and nerfing the Nine Hells out of the cleric’s area damage capabilities. The Strength Cleric thing is not earthshaking by any means, but it does mean that all strength-based attacks are now weapon based (which is a good thing, since requiring an implement made these powers virtually useless), and that there are two very solid paragon path options for the build, where there previously was almost none (one of the weakest points of the build, by far). This is still one of the least supported builds in the game, but going over the book, I could see that it now gets two solid choices at almost every level, and as much as we’d all want some more, I’d say the build is now in a decent shape.

As for the fact that virtually every cleric area attack in the PHB has gotten worse... well, I really didn’t see that one coming. Yet, in hindsight, it does make sense, in a way. Let me begin by pointing out that this in no way answers any game balance issue: The revised powers didn’t make the cleric any stronger than (or, some will argue, even as strong as) other leaders. Or characters of other roles, for that matter. On the other hand, I don’t think this creates a game balance issue, either - the cleric still has a lot of cool stuff going on, and is wholly capable of performing its role in a capable, if not spectacular way. More important, though, is the fact that the revised powers are still playable, and in some cases pretty good.

No, really. Look at them. It’s easy to come to the conclusion that, if something that wasn’t game breaking gets weaker, it surely has to become worthless. And, although that is often the case, I don’t think it is what has happened here. When I read the new power list without looking at the old versions, nothing stands out to me as particularly weak (or, at least, none of the powers that actually got changed), because the new values really reflect the current standard for the game. And even with the smaller, less damaging, and more unwieldy areas, clerics still have some impressive controller abilities. On the other hand, even if the update isn’t disastrous, that doesn’t mean it was justified. Why change things for change’s sake? I think that the main reason behind this is the fact that the cleric stepped a bit too much on the toes of real controllers. I mean, there are few, if any, area attacks hitting as hard as pre-nerf Astral Storm in the game, and Sacred Word was one of the most brutal ways to stun the opposing team, particularly after other classic options, like the wizards’s Legion’s Hold had got their own errata. This is not to say that every revised power was problematic, but as a whole, this collection of area attacks had little to envy that of a Wizard, and in some cases could make other controllers cry with envy. So this may be an attempt at drawing a line for what kind of controlling effects should be available for controllers and non-controllers. And we still only know half the story. The Compendium version of the wizard still has to come out, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see some powerhouses that are currently considered benchmarks for area damage, like Flaming Sphere or Stinking Cloud getting their own, well deserved revisions.

Overall, I think this isn’t as big a deal as one would think by looking at the long list of affected powers. If you enjoyed playing a cleric before, your character will still play just fine. Oddly enough, the characters suffering the most from this update won’t be clerics: Warpriest (or should I say, Tactical Warpriest) was the paragon path of choice for many defenders or defender wannabes, but didn’t fit as easily in cleric archetypes - and while the new version is still strong enough, players who relied too much in its defender mark will suffer. But it’s hard to shake the feeling that this is all downside for cleric players, who won’t see much relief in the thought that class roles in the game become slightly better defined because of this. I mean, the update is good news for Strength Clerics, but otherwise most clerics don’t get much to compensate for the loss, and with the current rate of content release, are unlikely to do so in the foreseeable future.

Oh, well. I’m glad that Consecrated Ground got the axe. But I still don’t understand how they missed Divine Oracle.

1 comment:

  1. Actually, they didn't miss Divine Oracle. Welcome to the wonderful world of Stealth Errata!