Specialization, commonly known as spec, defines a player's abilities, strengths and role in the game depending on their class.
At level 10 each character is able to choose a specialization. Selecting a specialization will determine:
- Role - Tank, Healer, Ranged DPS or Melee DPS (hybrid classes only)
- Additional active and passive abilities, including Mastery
- Additional secondary resource mechanics (certain classes only)
- Armor specialization - increasing a specific primary attribute (hybrid classes only)
- Strengths, weaknesses and playstyle
Choosing a specialization is the most important choice a player will make after choosing their character's class. It can dramatically alter the character's playstyle, determine their role in combat, and grant them numerous powerful new abilities. Most classes have 3 possible specializations, the exeptions being Druids who have 4 and Demon hunters who have 2, with each representing a different direction in the character's training, and a different approach to playing the class.
Each specialization is designed to perform a specific combat role - tank, healer, ranged DPS or melee DPS - and the active and passive abilities granted to characters of that specialization are designed to form a playstyle appropriate to that role. For instance Protection paladins have numerous abilities to improve their defences and draw the aggro of several mobs at once, making them perfect for tanking, while Holy paladins have a range of powerful healing and protective abilities, making them adept at healing and aiding their allies. While many abilities are shared by all members of a given class, the additional abilities provided by a character's spec make them capable of performing their determined role to a high standard.
While many specializations are capable of assisting in roles other than that designated for them (such as providing additional healing, damage or off-tanking) a player's role is largely determined by their choice of specialization. For example, a Holy priest has a number of damage-dealing abilities and can deal a fair amount of damage if necessary, but cannot compete with the damage output of a Shadow priest, while a Shadow priest is capable of providing emergency healing to teammates if need be, but cannot compete with the healing capabilities of a Holy priest.
Some classes - sometimes called 'pure' classes - have the same combat role for all their specializations, while others - known as 'hybrid' classes - can perform a number of combat roles depending on their specialization. However, even for pure classes, each specialization has its own character and playstyle, different strengths and weaknesses, and offers a significantly different experience of the class. For example, all warlocks deal ranged DPS, regardless of their spec. However, Affliction warlocks excel at damage over time effects, cursing their enemies and slowly draining their health, while Destruction warlocks focus on demolishing opponents with fast, powerful direct damage spells.
Each spec has its own strengths, and will excel in different situations. For example, some specs are considered to be more desirable for PvE, while others may be considered better for PvP. Additionally, as each class shifts and evolves over the course of patch changes, so each spec changes in its relation to the class. There are often "flavour of the month" specs, that may perform far more impressively than other specs, while certain specs may be considered to be fairly weak. However, bear in mind that such details change rapidly and frequently, and the enjoyment gained from playing a given spec is usually far more important than its perceived effectiveness during the current patch.
By determining combat role, choice of specialization can also determine secondary factors such as which stats, gear and bonuses are favoured. For example, healers may seek items that grant spirit, while tanks may choose to wield shields, and may seek stats like dodge and stamina. This often leads players to accumulate separate sets of gear for each spec they play. Similarly, for hybrid classes, choice of spec may determine which attribute is increased by that character's armor specialization bonus. The armor specialization bonus is a 5% increase of your primary attribute while wearing your correct armor class (plate, mail, leather or cloth) in all slots. Tanking specs will gain stamina; plate-wearing melee DPS specs will gain strength; leather and mail wearing DPS specs will gain agility; and healers and caster DPS specs will gain intellect.
Choosing a specialization
Specializations become available at level 10. When a character reaches this level, they are able to select a specialization, and will be prompted to do so. Specialization can be chosen through the Specialization & Talents window. This can be accessed by clicking on the appropriate icon on the interface bar at the bottom of the screen, or by pressing the N key (if you haven't unbound it or bound the key to a different action). From this window, select the Specializations tab will list the specializations available to your class, and display some information about each.
The Specialization tab features a pane for each possible specialization. Each spec's role and primary stat are provided along with some flavor text; beneath this a few key abilities are listed, intended to give the player some insight into the specialization's character.
Choosing a specialization is simple; just select your desired specialization and click 'Learn'. Choosing a specialization will cause you to immediately learn all abilities available to that spec at your current level, including passive abilities and any additional secondary resources.
Formerly, when a character's specialization has been chosen, it could not be changed without visiting a class trainer. As of Patch 7.0.3, you may now change between any of your specializations anywhere provided that you are not in combat. Trainers will reset the character's specialization for a small fee. Unlearning a specialization will cause you to unlearn all specialization-specific abilities and bonuses. Changing your specialization is known as re-specialization, or 're-speccing'.
Upon reaching level 30, characters can train in Dual Talent Specialization, allowing them to switch back and forth between two 'specializations', each with its own specialization, talents, glyphs, and action bars. Note that, despite the name, these 'specializations' are not actual specializations; rather they are two alternate customisations of your character. Each of these 'specs' can be altered and re-specced separately, and may choose the same specialization if desired. This feature can be useful for allowing players to alternate between two sets of customisations without re-speccing, saving gold and time spent. For example, a warrior may choose to play dungeons as Protection (Tank), but prefer to quest as Arms (DPS); or a player may have a PvE build and a PvP build, even if both share the same specialization.
As of Patch 7.0.3, all classes now have a default specialization which is selected automatically at the beginning of the game (for example, a Paladin's default specialization is Retribution). This cannot be changed until level 10.
Below is a complete list of the specializations available to each class. For a full list of active and passive abilities granted by each specialization, click on the name of the spec, eg Discipline.
|Blood||Tank||A dark guardian who manipulates and corrupts life energy to sustain <him/her>self in the face of an enemy onslaught.|
|Frost||Melee Damage||An icy harbinger of doom, channeling runic power and delivering vicious weapon strikes.|
|Unholy||Melee Damage||A master of death and decay, spreading infection and controlling undead minions to do <his/her> bidding.|
|Havoc||Melee Damage||A brooding master of warglaives and the destructive power of fel magic.|
|Vengeance||Tank||Embraces the demon within to incinerate enemies and protect their allies.|
|Balance||Magic Damage||Can take on the form of a powerful Moonkin, balancing the power of Arcane and Nature magic to destroy enemies at a distance.|
|Feral||Melee Damage||Takes on the form of a great cat to deal damage with bleeds and bites.|
|Guardian||Tank||Takes on the form of a mighty bear to absorb damage and protect allies.|
|Restoration||Healer||Uses heal-over-time Nature spells to keep allies alive.|
|Beast Mastery||Ranged Damage||A master of the wild who can tame a wide variety of beasts to assist <him/her> in combat.|
|Marksmanship||Ranged Damage||A master archer or sharpshooter who excels in bringing down enemies from afar.|
|Survival||Melee Damage||A rugged tracker who favors using animal venom, explosives and traps as deadly weapons.|
|Arcane||Magic Damage||Manipulates the arcane, destroying enemies with overwhelming power.|
|Fire||Magic Damage||Ignites enemies with balls of fire and combustive flames.|
|Frost||Magic Damage||Freezes enemies in their tracks and shatters them with Frost magic.|
|Brewmaster||Tank||A sturdy brawler who uses liquid fortification and unpredictable movement to avoid damage and protect allies.|
|Mistweaver||Healer||A healer who mixes traditional herbal medicine with Pandaren martial arts.|
|Windwalker||Melee Damage||A martial artist without peer who pummels foes with hands and fists.|
|Holy||Healer||Invokes the power of the Light to protect and to heal.|
|Protection||Tank||Uses Holy magic to shield <himself/herself> and defend allies from attackers.|
|Retribution||Melee Damage||A righteous crusader who judges and punishes opponents with weapons and Holy magic.|
|Discipline||Healer||Uses magic to shield allies from taking damage as well as heal their wounds.|
|Holy||Healer||A versatile healer who can reverse damage on individuals or groups and even heal from beyond the grave.|
|Shadow||Magic Damage||Uses sinister Shadow magic, especially damage-over-time spells, to eradicate enemies.|
|Assassination||Melee Damage||A deadly master of poisons who dispatches victims with vicious dagger strikes.|
|Combat||Melee Damage||A swashbuckler who uses agility and guile to stand toe-to-toe with enemies.|
|Subtlety||Melee Damage||A dark stalker who leaps from the shadows to ambush <his/her> unsuspecting prey.|
|Elemental||Magic Damage||A spellcaster who harnesses the destructive forces of nature and the elements.|
|Enhancement||Melee Damage||A totemic warrior who strikes foes with weapons imbued with elemental power.|
|Restoration||Healer||A healer who calls upon ancestral spirits and the cleansing power of water to mend allies' wounds.|
|Affliction||Magic Damage||A master of Shadow magic who specializes in drains and damage-over-time spells.|
|Demonology||Magic Damage||A master of demonic magic who transforms into a demon and compels demonic powers to aid him.|
|Destruction||Magic Damage||A master of chaos who calls down fire to burn and demolish enemies.|
|Arms||Melee Damage||A battle-hardened master of two-handed weapons, using mobility and overpowering attacks to strike <his/her> opponents down.|
|Fury||Melee Damage||A furious berserker wielding a weapon in each hand, unleashing a flurry of attacks to carve <his/her> opponents to pieces.|
|Protection||Tank||A stalwart protector who uses a shield to safeguard <himself/herself> and <his/her> allies.|