Warlords of Draenor Healing Changes
If you read my Reinventing Healer Gameplay post, some of this may look familiar to you. While, like every expansion, Warlords will be a significant adjustment for healers, the changes taking place should result in future expansions being a much smoother and easier transition. From a raw numbers view, these lines should actually be curves, but for simplicity and to convey a concept and not mathematical perfection, I’m using estimated percentage gains per item level, drawing how it “feels” with MS Paint.
Why Active Mana Regen Was Attempted
In short, adding room for growth and another layer of depth is why it was attempted.
If healers are expected to cast active regeneration abilities in place of healing abilities a part of the time in combat, it increases the depth of the healing role. There’s more to manage, there’s more room for personal skill to make a difference. That depth may or may not be fun for individuals and getting a read on the majority is difficult, but added depth is a good thing when it’s possible.
It also allows for more growth before you run into the problems that have historically plagued the healing game, such as healing numbers outscaling player health by a large degree or starting out feeling very undertuned or feeling very nerfed at the start of an expansion, and there is room to gradually remove that healing downtime as you acquire gear, while also increasing play style diversity. One healer could cast a lot of high throughput spells and a lot of mana regen spells, another could cast a lot of efficient spells and fewer of the other two, with an optimal strategy eventually forming at the highest level of play, but “optimal” not being so far away from other play styles that you can’t do most non-mythic content the way you prefer to play.
Back in WoW’s early days, forcing healing downtime by making healing unsustainable for long periods and having the 5-second rule* is where a lot of room to grow came from, and as basic sustainability improved with each expansion, so did time spent in the “bad” zones of the above image since the room to grow shrank with every change. Active mana regeneration was meant to fill the very same role as the 5-second rule without being as boring.
If you have room to grow in how many heals you can cast, and you have room to grow how many of those heals can be low efficiency and high throughput, it stands to reason that it would be easier to avoid these unfavorable situations:
- A lot of healing to do and a tiny amount of mana to do it with (early Cataclysm)
- Topping players off is way too easy and forces raid damage to be very spiky (Siege of Orgrimmar, Dragon Soul, Icecrown Citadel)
- Mana is no longer a meaningful concern (Siege of Orgrimmar, Icecrown Citadel)
Aside from active regen being different levels of fun for different players (fun is subjective after all), all is good in the world of healing!
Well, not really.
Why Active Mana Regen Was Scrapped
In short, it was scrapped because it couldn’t be strong enough without nerfing passive regen.
Passive regeneration remained the majority of your mana regen and that made it difficult for active regeneration to feel meaningful without removing mana being a limiting factor for healers entirely, and that’s obviously bad because mana is where the depth in healing gameplay comes from.
So with all of those changes, all is good in the world of healing!
Well, not really.
Restoration Shaman had a lot of mixed opinions during Dragon Soul. You either loved it, hated it, or thought it was okay**. Strangely enough, fun is subjective. For an idea of what an active regen heavy spec was like, check out this old video of mine on 10-player Heroic Madness, where a huge number of spell casts were Lightning Bolt for mana regen. This kind of gameplay happened a lot throughout all of Cataclysm for Shaman.
While the active model clearly worked and worked well for some specs in some eras, the Warlords changes would’ve required everyone to endure significant play style changes to make room for it. It can work, but it would alienate a lot of long-time healers by forcing a very significant deviation from a play style most healers have grown accustomed to, since most healing specs haven’t had much in the way of active regen at any point aside from minor tricks or very infrequently cast cooldowns spells. Sure, easier content wouldn’t really demand very effective use of active regen, but making healing spell choice mistakes is probably enough room for mistakes for less experienced or more casual players.
And so we have a world with no mana abilities whatsoever, so veteran healers of all levels don’t have to change their play style and approach to accommodate a healing model with an attempt at increased and more transparent depth. There isn’t as much room to grow this way, but it remains to be seen whether that will be a problem or not.
Is Healing Deep Enough for Mythic players?
With the removal of all mana regeneration abilities and a very forgiving starting point, some feel that healing won’t have a great deal of depth to it for advanced players, especially in the latter half of Warlords. Currently, there are a lot of small things that advanced players can do to maximize their performance. Many of them are based on the Lucidity buff from the legendary meta gem while others aren’t, mechanics like Mana Tea, Innervate, Mana Tide, or Totemic Recall.
From a player perspective, it remains to be seen whether there’s enough room for growth throughout an entire expansion without running into any of the “unfavorable” situations listed above. It will certainly be improved from MoP, but the problems may not be solved entirely, and there are a few more variables than those listed above.
- Because Spirit will not be present on most gear, players will have more throughput stats. Depending on final conversion rates at level 100, this may result in an increase in HPS scaling. It will depend on how much time you can spend casting high throughput spells later in the expansion.
- The amount of Spirit you can choose to add through enchants, gems, potions and flasks remains to be seen. A lot of Spirit options or lack thereof could result in a huge difference in available mana. For Spirit to always be valuable and spell choice to stay important, however, it needs to be limited.
One of Blizzard’s design goals is for their games to be easy to learn and hard to master. In my opinion, the healing role is the one that falls the furthest away from this goal. No other role relies on addons and/or macros nearly as much as healers do in PvE, giving the role a high barrier to entry compared to tanking and damage dealing, and due to that, healing requirements of easy content tend to be extremely relaxed and healing toolkits contain very little in the way of maintenance buffs or “rotational complexity” so that it’s not impossible to jump into and play as a beginner. Getting to a higher Heroic or Mythic level of healing capability is likely harder and takes more work than any other role… but once you’re there, without mana-saving or mana-gaining abilities to utilize, there isn’t all that much to it.
While I won’t pretend that there was a great deal of gameplay behind Innervate, Mana Tide Totem and similar abilities in PvE content, there was a lot more to it in the PvP game. Protecting your mana regeneration abilities was an important part of gameplay for healers, and because of their removal, PvP gameplay will have a great deal of depth removed with nothing to take its place.
I think that, at this point in WoD development, another layer of depth is needed, but it needs to be something that will only really affect Mythic-level players. Active regeneration was an option, but it’s not the only one. The ability to deal meaningful damage is something Priests and Mistweavers are already capable of, and I’d personally like to see their damage capabilities extended to other healers. The benefits of dealing damage do not need to be equal across all classes. Discipline and Mistweaver can continue to have a healing benefit attached to their damage, Shaman can continue to have high healing-per-execution-time spells like Healing Rain down to reduce the HPS cost of casting some DPS spells, and other healers can just simply have a higher tradeoff to do some damage. Even in low damage situations, someone’s going to need to keep healing, so some classes being preferred over others to switch modes is fine, as long as all of them are capable of similar damage with no mana cost should the need arise.
Doing meaningful damage gives you a higher-level choice for advanced players and lets you contribute to your raid’s success even when healing isn’t needed immediately. Allowing heal-over-time effects, ground heals, or other healers top people off during low damage periods so you can conserve mana or contribute in other ways is the kind of depth that the healing role may need at a high level. DPS checks at other difficulty levels can easily assume the healers won’t be contributing at all.
Meaningful damage has some other benefits:
- Questing and solo play is easier without having to gear and use an offspec.
- Reduces incentive to drop a healer in Heroic/Mythic raids due to a smaller DPS gain. It won’t stop the practice entirely, but it will help.
- Similar to Active Mana Regen, your healing team being expected to spend a certain amount of time dealing damage early in the expansion at the cutting-edge level gives more room for healer power growth throughout the expansion.
Not everyone agrees that this kind of added depth – a choice between healing and something else – is necessary for the role. My opinion may very well end up being irrelevant when we get WoD endgame in our hands to play with, as there are many changes to come and we haven’t seen level 100 content or appropriately tuned mana costs and regen. Real depth may be possible in a world where healers do very little outside healing spells and dispels. Despite some of the other limitations of the spec at the time, I felt Restoration Shaman had the deepest gameplay in Cataclysm thanks to the prevalence of Telluric Currents.
* The 5-second rule was the name given to how mana regeneration originally worked. For Druid and Priest, only 15% of your mana regeneration from Spirit continued “while casting” due to the Meditation talents, and for Paladin and Shaman, none of it continued. “While casting” actually meant “within 5 seconds of spending mana”, so if you didn’t spend mana for 5 seconds, your full amount of mana regeneration from Spirit would kick in.
** “I played in a death metal band. People either loved us or they hated us — or they thought we were OK.” – Mitch Hedberg