First of all belated Martin Luther King day to everyone. I enjoyed our national diversity holiday out running errands but sore from hockey. I realized on sunday why I despise playing goalie in inline hockey. On ice, you can move laterally, in inline, not so much. Anyways, on to the meat of the post, why would anyone want to play a shammy?
In original (old school, vanilla, whatever you want to call it) Wow, shammies were basically the Horde version of the paladin. Not exactly the same and with a different skill set, they are a powerful hybrid class. Each of the specs is viable at all levels although as with most classes, the melee DPS version allows the easiest leveling. Much like the paladin, the shaman is an excellent choice for versitility.
Strengths: The one thing that shamans have going for them better than any other class is a variety of abilities ranged, melee, and healing. They also at the higher levels gain access to elemental pets which can be a huge asset if things get tough.
Weaknesses: Depends on spec. The shamans spec very much determines what they will be weaker in. Enhancement shammies will have a smaller mana pool so casting will lead to a little more down time. Elemental shammies will be weaker in melee so a little more healing necessary once mobs get to them. Resto shammies will not have the same level of DPS at range or in melee. The only difference that is large in relation is the drop in DPS for resto shamans which is in line with blizzard's unspoken policy that it will pretty much suck to level a healer.
Strengths: Shamans are a boon to any group regardless of spec. If they are resto, they are filling the necessary role of healer. If they are DPS, they have a variety of group buffs and have a totem that increases mana regen that any caster class will benefit from. Also, they have a variety of useful utility abilities including CC and fear prevention.
Weaknesses: They really are a good class to bring in a group setting and don't have much in the way of weaknesses per se. One thing to be aware of, since they have the ability to fill multiple roles with a re-spec, it is entirely possible to see a "resto" shammy with no healing experience. Again, this is not a weakness of the class, but something that may cause problems in a group setting.
Strengths: Shammies can do impressive damage and their totems are an asset in PvP. They do lack the "cheap" abilities of other classes (stun-lock, fear-dot, bubble, etc), but they are solid damage dealers or in the case of resto shammies, healers.
Weaknesses: They do lack the "cheap" moves other classes enjoy. There aren't really any overt weaknesses to speak of besides resto being comparatively weak on DPS.
Elemental: This is the caster DPS class for the shaman. They focus on improving the damage and efficiency of the shaman's spellcasting arsenal. This is a very strong spell casting spec with more durability and survivability than other caster classes. The main weakness is a lack of AoE damage comparitively.
Enhancement: Enhancement has come a long way since the inception of the shaman. In their current incarnation, enhancement shammies are impressive damage dealers, although not quite on par with rogues and death knights. One thing to note with enhancement, although they have access to the usual caster abilities, their mana pool will be comparatively low, so spells will be more for emergency use/pulling rather than a staple.
Restoration: This is the healing spec for shamans. Resto shamans are very similar in other abilities to druids: they have access to all of the "base" abilities of their class, just at a lesser level than a character specced into that path. While it is possible to level in a resto spec, it is advisable to level as enhancement or elemental and re-spec to heal in instances at the desired level (60, 70, 80, whatever).
The shaman is very similar to the other hybrid classes: they are able to fulfill a number of roles depending on their spec. Like the other hybrid classes, spec selection is going to come down to two things: what is most fun for you and what role do you want to fulfill (caster DPS, melee DPS or heals). Assuming the "flavor" of the shaman is to your liking (totem based melee caster/healer), they are a very strong choice with few weaknesses.
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