If you’re here, you’re thinking about starting up a druid in World of Warcraft. That’s an excellent choice! (Admittedly, I’m biased.) On this page, I’ve got a brief introduction into, well, playing a druid. If you’re looking for more detail on a certain druid specialization, I’ve got separate guides for those, which will follow shortly.
What’s a Druid, anyway?
Well, in real life, druids were a religious group that existed in Britain over 2000 years ago. In WoW, though, druids are those who seek to preserve and protect natural life; from their studies, they learn how to draw on nature’s power to perform many great feats. Druids are most iconic for their shapeshifting abilities, which are unmatched. (See this excellent wowpedia article for more about druid lore and story; the rest of this page will focus on gameplay elements.)
So, what’s this shapeshifting thing?
Druids have several animal forms they can assume at will in order to accomplish their goals. There are six forms that are open to all specializations: Bear, Cat, Stag/Cheetah, Seal/Orca, Bird, and Treant. (Two of those have options via glyphs, hence the slash.) Two more are open to certain specializations (Tree of Life, Moonkin/Astral), which gives us over 10 different options for “Poof! Now I’m a …”
Whoa, wait. Specializations?
At level 10, each character class must pick a specialization, or subclass. This choice determines what role your character will play in group combat (healing, tanking, ranged damage or melee damage) as well as what abilities are available to you. Druids have four specialization options:
- Balance: Uses a mix of Arcane and Nature magic to destroy foes from a distance. Also known as “moonkin,” which is their iconic form. Ranged damage spellcaster.
- Feral: Becomes a panther or lion (depending on race) to destroy foes at close range. Often called simply “cat spec.” Melee damage dealer.
- Guardian: Becomes a large bear to absorb enemy attacks and protect others. New in Mists of Pandaria (previously, both roles were integrated into Feral). Melee tank.
- Restoration: Uses Nature spells to heal friends. Focuses primarily on heal-over-time spells. Can temporarily assume the form of an ancient (large tree-like being) for increased healing potential. Prior to Cataclysm, healed permanently from a treant form.
Druids are the only class in the game to have four specialization options, and are thus the only class that can perform any of the game’s four roles. (All other classes have three specializations, and vary in which roles they can perform.)
Are Druids good?
Man, that’s a loaded question. :) Tell you what: I’ll do a quick list of the things I find awesome about Druids that keep me coming back.
- I’ve mentioned it already, but shapeshifting is awesome. My 4-year-old loves it. “Be a cat, Daddy! Now be a bear! Go scare the monsters, Daddy!” (Yeah, I don’t get a lot of actual playing done when he’s sitting with me, but it’s cool.)
- Flight Form. All other classes have to buy a mount, and wait 1.5 seconds every time they want to start riding. Druids? Click and go. More importantly, that means you can mount while moving…so you can jump off a cliff, plummet to the ground, and shift into your flight form right before going splat. Or, you can fly over a target, go bear or cat, and charge them from midair. It’s fun. :)
- There’s a whole zone dedicated to druids called Moonglade. Everybody can visit, but druids can teleport there at any time for free.
- Disentanglement (even though it’s not called that anymore). If you get hit with an effect that slows you or stops you, you can shapeshift out of it. “Can’t catch me…”
- Since your character can perform all the different roles, you never have to worry about switching to a different character if you want to do something else. You may not even need to acquire much new gear; Balance and Restoration share 80% of their gear, as does Feral and Guardian.
Is Feral/Balance/etc. specialization good/strong/balanced?
In general, Blizzard has been very good at balancing classes so they perform reasonably equally. Even though the balance changes a bit from patch to patch, things usually even out. Don’t worry about picking something that’s “weak” or “strong,” pick it because you like how it plays. (Yes, if you’re in the top 5-10% of competitive guilds out there, you start to identify definite strengths and weaknesses…but that doesn’t apply to most. It’s like me going out and playing golf; sure, I can intellectually understand that there’s a difference between a $200 driver and a $2000 driver, but I’m not at the level where I can tell a difference.) Instead of going into too much detail, I’m going to take each spec one at a time and discuss what I see as their strengths and weaknesses, compared to other classes that do that role.
Balance Balance druids will be walking around in Moonkin form most of the time, blasting things. Traditionally, they are very good in fights that have lots of enemy targets, due to strong damage-over-time spells that are easily cast on multiple foes. Unfortunately, they’re pretty immobile; they can do a bit of damage while on the move, but not much. A fire mage is probably the closet comparison.
Feral This is my favorite spec (as you’ve seen, the majority of the site’s old content is feral-related), so I’m probably a little biased. Ferals are the opposite of moonkin, almost; they’re very mobile, and excel at doing damage to a single-target, even if the target is moving. They struggle at damaging multiple targets that aren’t grouped closely together. They are modeled after rogues, but they have far fewer abilities to use from stealth and interact with it much less.
Guardian Guardian bears are modeled after warrior tanks, but very loosely. Guardians excel at, well, taking damage; they have the highest armor of any spec in the game. To compensate for that, however, they have no secondary mitigation; they don’t block (like paladins or warriors) or self heal/shield (like death knights). As a consequence, Guardian ends up being reasonably simple to play, compared to a warrior which is more technical.
Restoration Restoration druids are the king of the healing-over-time (aka HOT or HoT) spell. This means restoration druids excel at dealing with consistent enemy damage, and struggle somewhat with burst damage. Because so many of restoration’s spells are instant-cast, they are the most mobile healer class. Prior to the Cataclysm expansion, restoration druids had a Tree of Life form that they healed in permanently; since then, tree form has become a form they can temporarily assume when they need stronger healing. (This was very controversial.)
What are some reasons NOT to play a druid?
In the interest of fairness, druids aren’t right for everyone.
- No gear If you’re shapeshifted, you can’t see all the cool stuff you’ve acquired, or your spiffy transmogrification (AKA costume) set, etc. (Except for Restoration.) To some people, this isn’t a big deal; to others, it’s gamebreaking.
- Sometimes have to do it all While this isn’t as large an issue as it was in the past, Druids are still the most hybrid class in the game. That means if your group or raid makeup changes and you need an additional tank/healer/DPS, you’re most likely to be the one who’s asked to switch to an alternate role. If you like being a jack-of-all-trades, that makes you feel wanted and needed; if you prefer sticking to a single thing, that makes you feel jerked around. Now that Guardian and Feral are split into separate specs, this is less likely to occur, but it’s still a possibility.
- Fewer tools in the toolbox I already briefly mentioned this, but feral druids are patterned after rogues, while guardian druids are patterned after warriors. Unlike rogues and warriors, though, ferals and guardians have a few less main buttons to hit. That doesn’t make them worse; I find it actually makes them somewhat easier to play, but others disagree.
- Animal jokes This is pretty petty, but I had a friend who was really bothered by it. If you play Feral, you’ll get cat jokes; Balance, chicken jokes; etc. It goes with the territory.
What races can druids play as?
Traditionally, druids could only be Night Elves (for the Alliance) or Tauren (for the Horde). In the Cataclysm expansion, that choice was expanded to include Worgen (Alliance) and Trolls (Horde). At only four races, druids have the smallest set of race options available to them of any class.
What stats do druids prefer?
Well, it depends on your spec. Feral and Guardian druids’ primary stat is agility, which grants dodge, attack power, and critical strike chance. After that, Guardians will look for stamina, which increases their health, and dodge rating, who increases their dodge, naturally enough. Ferals will look for hit and expertise, which decreases their chance to miss a target or have the target parry/dodge an attack.
Conversely, Balance and Restoration druids’ primary stat is intellect, which increases the power of their spells. After that, they will look for spirit, which increases the size of their mana pool and (for Balance) decreases their chance to miss a target.
(For more specific information on stats, see the individual spec guides.)
What weapons and armor do druids use?
For weapons, druids can wield either two-handed staves, maces, or polearms, or a one-handed dagger, mace or fist weapon combined with an off-hand item (no shields). While no specialization actually uses the weapon visually, the stat bonuses on it are figured into your abilities. For armor, druids are intended to wear leather. A leveling druid might wear a few pieces of cloth armor if they haven’t been lucky with drops, but that’s about it.
Well, that about wraps it up for introductory material. As always, feel free to follow me on Twitter at @alarondruid for news and updates!
(All images from the WoW TCG.)