I have a special place in my heart for hybrid characters — while I’ve had a mage, rogue, and hunter, all high-end dps focused classes, I’d much rather have classes standing in the wings who can spec between different roles: tanking, healing, ranged or melee dps.
In vanilla WoW, hybrids were unheard of in the raiding scene. If you were capable of healing, you healed — that simple. Druids, paladins, priests, and shamans all filled healing roles. Warriors were the only tanks, and everyone else was dps. Outside the raiding scene, bear tanks could be found (albeit rarely), and shadow priests often battled for Alterac Valley, but roles were definitely clearly defined.
When the Burning Crusade was released, hybrids of all shapes and sizes began to come forth. Feral (bear and kitty) and balance druids, retribution and protection paladins, shadow priests, elemental and enhancement shamans all appeared on the scene. Suddenly, roles were not so easily defined. A pure dps class might respec from raid to pvp, but a paladin or shaman might respec for raid healing, raid tanking, raid damage or pvp healing or damage. Hybrids usually brought some buffs that made them valuable to a raid, but there dps generally scaled poorly, and all types of player based ingenuity was required to make some of these specs “work” as intended.
Apparently, Blizzard got the message. I personally spent a lot of time in Wrath Beta as a paladin, taking a look at the new direction in itemization, abilities and talents. I know other hybrid classes did the same — when Wrath of the Lich King went live, some class trees were so revamped, that it took a complete reversal of common ideas in order for people to play their classes again. Hybrids no longer seemed to mean “good at vanilla spec, subpar at everything else, but you can if you REALLY want to.” However, Blizzard seems clear that it wants to ‘protect’ the role of pure dps classes:
What does this mean for the future of hybrid classes?
My personal philosophy is this: Improvements to class specialization have been staggering since WoW created their community. Developers, while having their own ideas and direction for the game, have not completely ignored their community / player base, and in my time in the game, I have seen a protection paladin go from being a leveling spec, to a weirdly contorted, one trick pony, but tank spec, to a completely viable tank spec ready to stand in front of any boss in the game. Other classes — shamans, druids, and priests — have likewise seen their “non-raid” specs become viable in every setting of the game.
I am very aware at the moment that elemental shamans, while perfectly viable through Naxxramas, have serious scaling issues not seen in enhancement shamans, retribution paladins or shadow priests. Yet, sunny little optimist that I am, believe that these scaling issues will be worried over and tinkered with, and I should see a more viable elemental shaman scale by the time Cataclysm hits the door.
Despite the statement by GC that hybrids should consistently under-perform pure dps classes, in my experience, that difference will never preclude hybrids from being included in raiding.