Basically, this is a Nostrodomus type post. I am not expecting these things to happen, but I think that Blizzard wants raiding to become more cerebral than it is currently and this is the roadmap that I have come up with based on what I have seen in the beta and what Blizzard is saying in blue posts. The game is severely lacking in depth at the moment and I think players are hungry again for a game that poses a challenge, instead of how fast I can hit my nuke button.
WOLK raiding has been characterized by fast paced, wham bam thank you ma'am type encounters that are completed pretty quickly. Enrage timers are generally 10 mins (LK 15mins, Halion 8mins both with very demanding DPS requirements) but fights are often done way before that. This twitch raiding model shifted focus away from the group effort and more on the player reacting and moving to avoid getting killed; raiding became less about coordination and more about how fast you could not stand in the poop.
Heroics, and trash are all about throwing as much AOE, and area damage at a group of mobs until everything dies, pull the next pack and repeat. While it is fun to just absolutely obliterate everything in a swirling vortex of rape, something can be said about methodically disabling and killing mobs. It is a lot of fun using all your abilities instead of just mashing your AOE nuke until you get your emblems, which is really the most boring thing I can think of, and one reason why I feel let down by WOLK.
Hard modes really helped give some depth to raiding and allowing more people to get into raiding. Call it catering to casuals, call it a paradigm shift or what have you, everyone has their labels. I call it a win, it let everyone play the game not just the people who raid 20 hours a week, and it was good to see that the large player base being able to take advantage of the content rather than subsidizing the raiders with their monthly fees. Being a hardcore raider, I didnt feel slighted in the least to know that noobs were seeing the same content I was.
I do scratch my head about how gear inflation got out of control in this expansion, and I see Blizzard taking dramatic steps to not allow stats to approach the crit and haste percentages that is common for every player. There is something broken if an averagely geared player is approaching things like haste and crit caps.
Looking forward to Cataclysm
As far as I can tell, Cataclysm raiding will be more of a slow burn instead of a gasoline fire. The days of the two shot tank, the 15 mob AOE trash pull, and the enrage timer will be artifacts of what raiding is going to become. I want to talk about how each of the three raiding Triforce elements (Tank, Healer, DPS) are going to evolve in the new raiding model, and then just a brief overview of raiding structure in general.
Sadly, I don't see a whole lot of changes coming to the tanking game. Stamina and Armor are becoming even more important than they are, and avoidance will be useful for mitigating damage in the long term rather than stopping the two-shot. Good tanks will be able to use their cool downs effectively, i.e. when healers need to move, or when they get into danger of dying; attacks that are capable of killing a tank will require cooldowns/movement and will most likely be broadcast well in advance so that the raid can coordinate. All tanks will have a block mechanic which will play a key role in making the healers mana stretch farther. Good tanks will be able to throttle their abilities in order to put more emphasis on survival or threat, depending on which is needed more; great tanks will be able to do both. Since crowd control is making a comeback, more skilled tanks will know which targets to leave alone and not break CC; pulls will be done more gingerly.
The shift in the healer paradigm is the one I see as the most interesting change in Cataclysm. Healer mana will often be the key to success in any raid encounter. Healers who know how to maximize effective healing are going to be the ones who have the most success in the next expansion. The encounters will last as long as the healer's mana holds out. Once the healers go oom, then the fight will be over very shortly. Healers are going to have much lower mana regen, and much bigger mana pools, so that it acts as a soft enrage timer for an encounter.
More skilled healers will be able to use their mana intelligently. They will constantly be making decisions about who to heal and more importantly who not to heal. Keeping tanks alive is the first priority, other than that keeping everyone in the raid not dead is the next goal. Overhealing will matter again, it will show which healers are doing the best job and not squandering their mana. If a DPS dies in the fire, then the healers no longer need to feel guilty that they allowed him to die, as keeping that person alive would just waste their mana that they can't get back.
Healer coordination will separate the good guilds from the great guilds; the ability to cover a raid using everyone's skills will be enormous. Dispells will also become critical to the PVE game as the mana required must be calculated as to how much benefit a dispell will actually produce. A dispell that is performed early will be much more effective than a dispell done well after a debuff has dished out some damage. Also, a dispell may also be just a waste of mana entirely if healing the damage consumes less mana, the debuff isn't life threatening, or the DPS can heal themselves somehow. DPS self heals will matter.
Healers are becoming much less specialized in Cataclysm, but they still are retaining unique abilities that allow them to shine in certain situations. Paladins will be able to AOE heal, Druids will be effective tank healers, and so on but they will be their most potent when doing the things that they were designed to do. Healers also now have more than one speed. Healers can now do some damage in which that augments their healing abilities. This will be useful for fights where raid damage can be throttled, and healers can participate more in the fight rather than clicking on boxes.
The goal of the DPS is to maximize damage output while not getting themselves killed. Preferably a DPS will place a high value on consuming the least of the healer's mana as possible. From what I have seen of the new talents and abilities, each DPS spec has the ability to heal themselves and/or mitigate incoming damage taken. Good DPS players will be expected to heal themselves to some degree via the use of First Aid, abilities/spells, potions, healthstones or any other avenue which can take the pressure off the healers. In general, DPS will be require to take a much greater responsibility for their own well being in comparison to previous expansions.
In general, better players are not simply measured by how much damage they deal, but by their ability to do more than just kill a boss. Great DPS players will also be able to incorporate their other abilities into their GCDs which will help the raid, such as paladins using hand spells, or priests using hymns as two examples. From what has been put out in the cataclysm beta, players aren't nearly as GCD locked as they once were, so they can afford to use these abilities to benefit the raid, or heal themselves for damage.
I see pure DPS classes coming back into the spotlight as we get further into the expansion. It seems less and less people are playing pure DPS classes simply because of the trade-off between performance and flexibility. Why roll a mage when a balance druid does just about the same amount of damage. The hybrid tax will enter the spotlight again, and pure DPS classes will once again shine on the meters. I don't see the Pure/Hybrid margin to come back in the magnitude of Vanilla and Burning Crusade, but 5% seems like a good place to start. Being a pure DPS should matter a lot more than just bringing raid buffs.
Hybrid DPS classes will have a place, but play a much larger role supporting the raid with dispells, off heals, and temporary buffs/debuffs rather than just focusing purely on damage output; hybrid classes can take some pressure off the healers and conserve their mana. Hybrid dispells seem to be crucial and I think we will see one or more encounters in the expansion that focuses on dispells from Hybrid DPS. The healing classes will be able to dispell magic debuffs exclusively, but poisons, diseases and curses can be dealt with by a hybrid. Hybrid CC will also play a big role in raiding.
Raiding in General
1) Easier initial bosses, harder final bosses. The first couple bosses should be puggable, but it will take a more coordinated effort to defeat the later bosses in a dungeon.
2) 10mans tougher than 25 mans. I'm calling this one right now. The only way to kill any debate that the 10man content is less viable than the 25man, is to overtune the 10man encounters not to mention the gear lag in Valor points that a team faces when doing 10man content.
3) Penalty of death much higher. Raider deaths are excusable for most raid encounters at present, simply because of the twitch nature of the fights and the movement involved which is affected by latency. Cataclysm raiding will be at a slower pace, not to mention most classes being able to heal them selves, and have higher health pools. If you die in a raid, you most likely did something incredibly stupid and your team will suffer for it. If you say that you died due to lag, I will stab you in the jaw.
4) Less complex loot systems. The mastery bonus will make armor less desirable by classes not sharing of that armor type, meaning rings, trinkets, weapons and jewelry will become more sought after. By concentrating the pool of desired loot, guilds wont need a broad complex system to allocate it all. Suicide Kings, EPGP will become more ideal ways of allocating loot.
5) Broadening the guild skill range. Currently there is a very black and white view of how good your guild is, either it is good or bad. By adding complexity to the class and raiding environment we will begin to see a more broad range of the skill of guilds, not just are you an 11/12 HM guild or a 12/12 HM guild.