The Wrath of the Lich King expansion changed a lot about the way classes in WoW are played. Some of these changes didn’t work out so well—Retribution Paladins and Arcane Mages were overpowered and consequently had their mechanics changed in ways which have caused them to scale poorly in relation to other classes. Others, such as the overhaul of the Warrior’s Protection talent tree, were much better received. In addition, the introduction of the Death Knight class added an entirely new, and grossly overpowered, class to the original lineup. As a result of all these changes, developers at Blizzard are still attempting to find a balance between all the classes in PvE and PvP content.
Perhaps the most important change to the PvE side of WoW came as a result of a change in design philosophy on the part of Blizzard. In pre-Wrath content, “hybrid” classes (those which can choose to spec in more than one role) fell far short of their “pure” counterparts in terms of damage done. The developers believed that because pure classes brought little “utility” to the raid in the form of raid buffs, they had to be compensated by being given far superior damage capabilities. However, with the release of The Sunwell Plateau raid instance, encounters became so difficult that many guilds resorted to stacking their raids with hybrid classes that brought valuable raid buffs like Shadow Priests and Shamans, at the expense of pure classes like Mages. To end the “raid stacking” phenomenon, Blizzard adopted a new motto of “Bring the player, not the class,” to be unveiled with Wrath of the Lich King. Pure classes were given raid buffs similar to those already brought by hybrids, and hybrids were given a damage increase in return (two notable exceptions are the Shaman ability Bloodlust (Heroism for the Alliance), and the Paladin’s Blessing of Kings, which have no comparable buff).
Unfortunately, this rebalancing led to an entirely new set of problems. Blizzard attempted to protect the raid viability of pure classes by giving them more utility, but the pures were not convinced this would keep them from being forced out of raids. If a hybrid class brings the same damage and utility as a pure class and can respec from healing or tanking to dps during raids, they argued, why bring a pure class at all? (The recent addition of Dual Talent Specialization increased the wailing and gnashing of teeth by pures on this argument.) In response, Blizzard has maintained that they expect pures to continue to do better damage than hybrids, though by a smaller margin than before, the commonly referred to “5% rule”. The backlash from hybrids was predictable. If pures have hybrid-level raid utility and better damage, they countered, why bring hybrids at all? And this circular argument continues to be rehashed over and over again with no end in sight.