If you were to trace the balance of power between classes in World of Warcraft over the course of multiple patch updates, you’d probably find it similar to watching a very drunk man walking down the street. In one version, warlocks are overpowered. Next, it’s the hunters’ turn. There go the rogues. Hey, warlocks again! Oooooh, mages! Watching the series of nerfs and buffs and nerfs and buffs to one’s favorite character can cause inflammation of the brain and outright frustration.
To be fair, Blizzard has a tough job in trying to balance ten classes (with the addition of death knights in the new expansion). They not only have to balance the pain dealt out by the damage dealing classes, but balance the ability of tanking classes to hold a monster’s attention and balance the abilitiy of the healing classes to… well, to heal. Some classes have the ability, through the redistribution of talent points, to switch from role to role, and a couple of classes can play all three roles. To complicate things further, the PvP and PvE systems in place are completely different; a change in gameplay or formulas which creates balance in dungeon boss fights may grant one class an extreme advantage in the multiplayer arena.
Blizzard took advantage of the release of the Wrath of the Lich King expansion and the maximum character level’s rise to 80 to try to address some of the balance issues in the game. They added new talents to every talent tree, rearranged existing talents within the trees, changed what some talents did, added new spells/abilities, made some old spells/abilities available to all members of a class regardless of talent spec, took some spells/abilities away, and changed the way damage, healing, and threat were calculated — among other things.
What all these changes really boil down to, though, is homogenizing the classes. A lot of the new talents for one class were borrowed (albeit usually in modified form) from another class. The death knight talent Bloody Vengeance is ripped straight from the paladin’s retribution tree talent Vengeance. The mages’ Mirror Image spell is pretty much the same thing as that spell the druids have to summon trees (the name of which I don’t recall, sorry), except that where the trees run up and hit things, the mirror images stand back and cast spells. The mirror images have the ability to polymorph (not that it’s proven all that useful to me so far) and draw NPCs’ attention away from the player character, but… they’re still a few uncontrollable summoned damage dealers lasting 30 seconds or until killed. The mage talent Hot Streak is just the warlocks’ Nightfall with a different trigger.
It’s been a somewhat effective campaign. These changes haven’t taken care of all of the balance issues, though. And they’ve had the unfortunate effect of making all the classes of a given type (damage dealer or DPS, tank, healer) seem a lot closer to Identical than they did before. Those things that made each class special and unique are disappearing. Crowd control is obsolete in a party environment these days, since AoE spells/abilities have been improved so much. What’s the point in having the pig, penguin, and turtle Polymorph spells if I can’t show them off? Why should I bother paying 4000+ gold for the black cat Polymorph book I can buy in Dalaran? I’ve seen shadow priests switch talent trees or switch toons altogether because they didn’t want to play a mage — a lot of the support functionality they had has been taken away from them to turn them into a straight-up DPS.
While I’m sick of people bitching about how their classes are underpowered and sick of the classism that used to abound (“No, a boomkin isn’t good enough. We need a warlock or a mage.” Pah.) and still exists to a certain extent, I really don’t think taking away the special flavors of each class is the best idea, either. It’s very disappointing to see the game developer that brought us StarCraft fail so epically at balancing a game.