Over the next month or so, I’ll be making a series of posts about my take on World of Warcraft’s overall gameplay and visual design in many areas, then jumping into where I see the Shaman class as a whole and what I’d do to improve the overall and Shaman gameplay experience and address some of our weaknesses and the game’s weaknesses in 6.0. While Mists of Pandaria has done a lot of things right, there have also been a few missteps and a few problems that weren’t solved, and there are certainly improvements to make going forward.
What’s wrong with the live healing game?
Over the years, the healing game has made a handful of transformations. In Classic, healing was a constant battle with your mana bar right through to the end of the expansion, where players eventually learned to use lower spell ranks for higher mana efficiency, and mana potions were chugged on their 2-minute cooldown with no limit to how many could be used in combat. Wrath of the Lich King featured an extreme in HPS maximization with little regard to mana, and Cataclysm featured the introduction of raid cooldown choreography, where very few raid-wide healing abilities had existed previously.
My take on healing in Mists of Pandaria is that small group content generally feels pretty good. The normalization of mana pools has succeeded in making healing more bearable early on and toning it down a bit in great gear. The volume of healing cooldowns available to healers and non healers alike, however, has created a less-than-stellar 25 player raiding experience for healers, where spell selection is very exclusive, and tank damage is pretty trivial as long as the they don’t die in a global cooldown. So what exactly are the problems, and how do we fix them?
Smart Heals: In Classic World of Warcraft, there was a grand total of one spell referred to as a Smart Heal, and it belonged to Shamans. Chain Heal had a 10-yard jump range and each jump reduced its healing by 50%. The current version has a 30% reduction per jump and has a 12.5-yard jump range. Aside from a Shaman set bonus that affected Healing Wave, we did not see another Smart Heal added until Burning Crusade, with Circle of Healing and Prayer of Mending. Now, every healing class and numerous DPS classes have smart heals, such as Daybreak, Nature’s Vigil, Wild Growth and so on. I feel these kinds of heals – and a few others types of heals – are problematic in many areas and could use some adjustments and even some removals in a few cases.
Smart Player Heals: Another type of healing I’ll refer to as “Smart Player Healing” are the kinds of heals that happen automatically, happen when you deal damage, refresh easily, or are so efficient that you’re smart to cast them pretty much on cooldown or keep them refreshed. These kinds of heals include Beacon of Light, Earth Shield, Ancestral Awakening, Lifebloom, Eminence and Atonement.
Non-Healer Healing: More problematic heals are those that can be provided by tanks or damage dealers for little to no cost, or at great effectiveness. These include Nature’s Vigil, Divine Star, Halo, Healing Rain with Healing Storm glyph, Blood Parasite, and every raid-wide damage reduction or mass healing cooldown provided by damage dealers.
Absorbs: The last kind of heals that I feel are currently problematic in 5.2 and recent history are absorbs, but this may have already been addressed. Paladin and Discipline Priest mastery have long been overly powerful, providing the kind of damage prevention that allows groups to tackle content at a far lower gear level than it’s designed for, and hence, you’ve seen the vast majority of high-end progression raids with a healthy number of both since the launch of Cataclysm. The best kind of healing is healing you don’t have to do. It’s very easy to “snipe” heals with absorbs, and in today’s encounter design (which seems to be a direct result of class design) with frequent bursts of raid-wide damage, it’s rare for an absorb effect to expire unused. With recent changes to Discipline and the 5.3 changes to Paladin mastery, this issue is becoming less prevalent, so further changes may be unnecessary.
On their own, very few of these heals are problematic. You don’t hear many complaints about healers being weak in 5 player dungeons, every healing spec in WoW has plenty of room to acquire all golds in Challenge Modes. The problem starts to show up when you have a lot of or all of them, so their negative impact is felt to a much larger degree in 25 player raids than it is in a 5 player dungeon. The larger the group size, the more healing becomes about mindlessly pressing your most efficient or smartest spell (which are often the same spell) than it does about adjusting to the flow of combat and using a wide selection of spells. Where a Shaman may frequently make use of Healing Surge in a 10 player raid or a 5 player dungeon, using Healing Surge at all in a 25 man setting isn’t very likely to be the right call – chances are, the player you’d use it on is about to get hit by a handful of smart heals, splash heals, or by some healing cooldown someone happens to be using at that given time, which effectively removes Healing Surge (and even Greater Healing Wave for that matter) from a 25 player Resto Shaman’s repertoire.
Here are two Resto Shaman logs for Heroic Durumu the Forgotten kills for consideration, each being over 9 minutes long – one from a 10 player guild, one from a 25 player guild. Simply checking their spell selection, you’ll see the 25 player Shaman did not use Healing Surge at all, and the 10 player Shaman used it 35 times. Their “direct healing” vs. “splash healing” breakdowns are very different as well, the 25 player Shaman received nearly 30% of his healing from Healing Rain, while the 10 player Shaman had roughly 15% from Healing Rain. The 10 player Shaman also used Greater Healing Wave 42 times, with only 5 for the 25 player healer.
Having more players in a raid group will allow for healers to specialize a lot more, but I feel that the healing situation is not where it should be as long as many 25 player raiding healers are simply ignoring large portions of their healing toolbox, and when many spells are simply “pressed on cooldown” instead of used intelligently (such as Wild Growth and Prayer of Mending). It’s easy to see why many spells might be ignored with so many smart heals, splash heals, raid cooldowns, and heals from damage dealers getting there faster than players can react.
I’ve made numerous posts over the past several years asking for the impact of and proliferation of “raid cooldowns” to be chilled out. For 25 player healer spell selection to become more diverse, the sheer number and power of these things needs to be reigned in. Tank damage in 25 player raids also tends to be very high – it’s nearly impossible to endanger tanks in larger settings without outright killing them in a window of time that is smaller than a player can realistically react. A large part of this comes from the high volume of “free” healing that hits the tanks, and the ability for many players to throw heals on a tank without sacrificing too much from the raid due to the “free” heals going out everywhere else.
In 5.3, a change has been listed as increasing the number of targets affected by spells such as Tranquility, Divine Hymn and Revival to 12 instead of 5, providing these spells much larger impact in 25 player raiding settings. I can’t, for the life of me, understand what this change is hoping to accomplish aside from making individual player spell choice even less prevalent in larger settings, and 25 player raid healing being based more on cooldown choreography and mapping instead of healer spell selection outside of “when to use my cooldowns”. Healing should never feel like a rotation, but it comes very close to feeling that way in larger raid settings. It does a lot to take the individual out of the overall experience and make the logistics of 25 player raiding more of a headache than it needs to be.
What needs to happen?
While a lot of what you might see below will appear as nerfs, player power is relative. It’s not really a nerf if everyone is getting nerfed, is it? The examples I use may not be the ones that would ultimately get changed if I had my way, they are merely examples of what might need to happen. Different spells might need to be adjusted that I haven’t mentioned here. And don’t worry – your class can be adjusted to perform just fine with changes like these in mind:
- Low cost healing abilities need to be removed from damage dealers. Damage dealers being able to provide meaningful healing in a pinch is not a problem, but providing automatic or low-cost healing through abilities like Nature’s Vigil, Divine Star, Halo or Healing Rain with Healing Storm glyph, or extremely powerful bursts of healing like Ancestral Guidance or Tranquility are far too much. If a damage dealer is called on to provide healing, it needs to be restricted to self heals or cost the damage dealer the majority of their damage while it’s in effect while providing little more than a healer does outside cooldowns. In short, Halo and Divine Star should not heal in Shadowform while Nature’s Vigil, Chi Wave, Light’s Hammer and Holy Prism should do damage or healing, not damage and healing. Maelstrom Weapon should not work with Healing Rain. Healing Stream Totem should not belong to DPS Shamans. Ancestral Guidance and Vampiric Embrace should come with a damage penalty.
- Most smart heals need to be reduced in overall effectiveness, offset by a much higher cost, or simply be redesigned to be a lot less smart. Circle of Healing and Wild Growth should affect the 4 closest targets instead of the 4 lowest-health targets as one example – the range on these could remain the same, but their functionality changed to make them less appealing in 25 player raids. Prayer of Mending could jump only to targets with Weakened Soul or Renew on them. Daybreak and Lightspring probably don’t need to exist. Healing Stream Totem feels like a spell with high returns for marginal player input and could instead be changed to be a Restoration-specific self-healing cooldown. Atonement and Eminence should allow the use of cheaper or instant-cast heals that require player input instead of simply automatically healing those nearby.
- The most powerful healing cooldowns should be based on player input. I feel Ascendance, Incarnation, Archangel, Spirit Shell and Guardian of Ancient Kings are very successful examples of healing cooldowns that separate the great from the average. On the other hand, Healing Tide, Tranquility, Devotion Aura, Revival and Divine Hymn are far too powerful for the effort they take to use and their true value should not be a raw healing-per-second increase, but rather as a mana-efficient way to get a burst of smart-healing for a dicey situation or a scenario where your spec’s toolbox doesn’t have the frequently-useable tool you need.
What will this accomplish?
Well, I’m not sure. It’s impossible to know exactly what kinds of trends will emerge if these changes were to take place, but my goals are simple:
- Greatly reduce the efficiency of smart and splash heals in large groups, where more eligible targets and more such spells being used dramatically increase their efficiency while having a lesser impact on smaller groups and raids.
- Reduce the need for healer cooldown choreography in 25 player raids while increasing the variety of spells used in larger settings and putting more of an emphasis on in-combat performance and overall spell selection.
- Allow tanks and tank healers to feel threatened by damage that doesn’t outright kill them in 25 player raids.
I feel the majority of the problems with PvE healing stem from the synergy of these types of spells in larger groups, and that smaller PvE settings feel a lot better and are better at maintaining a need for a wider variety of spell usage. While I understand the desire for wanting healers to “feel awesome when they press their big buttons”, I’m not sure this is being accomplished by the current model. I feel awesome when I use Guardian of Ancient Kings well… I don’t feel awesome when I use Healing Tide well.
What do you think?