Ret paladins are not overpowered, and have been underpowered for quite some time. They can put out absolutely huge burst damage against unprotected targets with lower than average resilience, and they have very powerful team based defensive buttons. That’s it.
We all probably remember that one week where ret was ruthlessly overpowered. A ret paladin on the field of battle was a mobile nuclear weapon, capable of completely devastating a target in a manner of seconds. Just like every other class with a DPS spec (except warriors, hunters, and priests, cause screw those guys). But that’s all in the past, and thus irrelevant. Let’s talk about today’s ret paladin.
Ret isn’t even doing that great in raiding. I mean, DKs suck in PvP but have a very strong presence in raids; ret paladins don’t even have that much due to crippling scaling issues.
Today’s retribution paladin suffers from an extreme case of “melee class without any melee class tools”. Namely, a ret paladin does not have any gap closing buttons, snares, interrupts, and other than one extremely restrictive defensive cooldown are the squishiest melee class in the game. Only a rogue caught in the open with zero cooldowns is easier to kill than a ret paladin is.
To put it another way, ret paladins have one defensive ability available at any given time. Technically speaking, they have Divine Shield (total immunity for 12 seconds), Lay on Hands (refills health bar), Divine Protection (half damage), and Hand of Protection (total physical damage immunity). All of those cause Forbearance, meaning the Paladin can only use on of those on themselves every 2 minutes.
Now, for arenas, this means the paladin picks one of those and that’s all they get, really. Lay on Hands is, of course, unusable, and Hand of Protection is usually strictly reserved for other players. So the choice comes down to Divine Shield or Protection, and it’s always Shield. Of course the paladin could use these more liberally if the given arena battle lasted longer than the two to four minutes (or significantly less) most arenas are decided in.
This situation is made even worse as the paladin’s only offensive cooldown, Avenging Wrath, is completely unusable within 30 seconds of any of the above (except, I believe, HoP, though I have never HoPped myself so I can’t be sure) and vice versa. Popping Avenging Wrath is always a huge gamble, because what if you need to bubble in the next 30 seconds? You’re SOL, that’s what.
It’s a slightly different picture for battlegrounds, as Forbearance doesn’t persist though death. Conceivably, the paladin could use Divine Shield and pop Lay on Hands on themselves in under 20 seconds, or even less depending on when they get to the graveyard. I can see how this might create an odd perception, due to the paladin effectively showing up in combat with a fresh defensive cooldown every single time.
Still, Divine Shield can be dispelled by priests and warriors, both very common classes, Divine Protection can be dispelled by anyone with a dispel button, as can HoP, and Lay on Hands is extremely overrated. Technically, yes, the paladin can Divine Shield and use that 12 second immunity to just flat out delay anyone without fear of failure for that entire time span, but… well, technically every single class can do that as long as someone reasonably competent is at the helm.
All this vaunted survivability that everyone likes to attribute to the ret paladin spec is nothing more than player skill. Think about it.
How does a warrior PvP? Charge, intercept, even intervene in some situations to close. Once there, they can use hamstring/piercing shout to stay in melee, throw up a powerful mortal strike effect, extremely huge amounts of damage (provided a decent weapon and ArP rating, which let’s face it all warriors have by now), and if things go haywire they have interrupts and numerous defensive cooldowns to rely on at a moment’s notice.
How does a ret paladin close to melee? They cleanse snares from themselves, perhaps blow freedom, or get out of combat so they can mount and charge. The latter is usable by anyone, the former two easily counterable by anything that actually uses snares (except moonkin, because they suck). Then, they have two interrupts on one minute cooldowns, no snares of any kind, and precisely one defensive cooldown to rely on provided they didn’t blow their only offensive cooldown.
The only reason ret paladins ever survive as long as they do is because good ret paladins think like casters. Ret paladins survive because they continuously duck around corners, constantly pillar hump to avoid damage and let their heals tick, and constantly fight opposing melee class from range.
To put it another way, ret paladin survivability is not a part of how the spec is designed. There is barely any survivability at a ret paladin’s disposal. What they do have are LOS blocks and very strange “melee” abilities.
Look at the range on the paladin’s abilities. Judgement has a 10 yard range. Divine Storm is 8. The only things a ret paladin has to be in melee range to do is crusader strike and auto attacks. Everything else can be used from outside the 5 yard melee range. Paladins beat and out survive warriors because the paladin does his best to never actually be in melee with warriors.
A ret paladin who thinks like a melee character and tries to act like one will fail over and over again. A ret paladin who thinks and acts like a frightened holy priest actually gets results and is called overpowered for it.
It’s worth pointing out that ret paladins can absolutely, completely, totally, utterly destroy the undergeared/underskilled/unattentive players.
Against undergeared… ret paladins scale rather poorly against resilience. Art of War gives rets the ability to heal themselves whenever they crit with certain abilities, thus the less resilience a given target has (read: undergeared) the more they crit, the more they can heal themselves easily, the more “unstoppable” they appear.
Against underskilled… this is self explanatory. As a spec, the ret paladin isn’t a complicated class. Few abilities with few applications means that their strategies are extremely limited and they are very easy to counter. However, the vast majority of players are not PvP savants. They don’t have split second reaction speeds or fantastic spacial awareness. When fighting a ret paladin who does, these people get destroyed.
Against unattentive… again, self explanatory. A ret paladin can bear down on a priest who isn’t paying attention or AFK making a sandwich and obliterate them. A ret paladin who gets to start combat already in melee range against an unshielded/hotted target has a major advantage.
Against anyone of equal gear, skill, and is paying attention? A ret paladin isn’t going to be able to do much at all besides stumble around, cleane their partners and give freedom to their more powerful teammates.
In any case, this must change. It absolutely must. I don’t think a lot of people quite understand how horrific the loss of cleanse is for ret paladins. Cleanse is our primary form of team support (dispelling CC) and a very potent defensive button (dispels snares and things like Immolate), both for the paladin and his teammates.
To put it another way, an arena ret paladin spends something like three out of every five GCDs on cleanse. Possibly an exaggeration? I kid you not, I have Cleanse bound to S on my and I have hit that button more than any other on my keyboard. My average arena rotation as a ret paladin was:
Judgment -> Divine Storm -> Crusader Strike -> Cleanse -> Cleanse -> Judgment -> Cleanse -> Cleanse -> Cleanse -> Cleanse -> Repeat
Losing Cleanse is a huge blow to ret paladins. Absolutely huge. Mages losing polymorph huge.
But as always, Cataclysm will fix it.