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WARCRAFT: HEALING THROUGH THE AGES

17 May, 2016

With Legion around the corner and introducing, yet again a new healing model, what is Blizzard’s plan this time?

When Cataclysm arrived, Blizzard decided to streamline the healing model for most healing specs. All healers got a moderate, fast, and expensive heal; a moderate, slow, but very mana efficient heal; and a big, slow, expensive heal. For example, Holy Paladins had Flash of Light, Holy Light and Divine Light. In addition to this, all healer specs had their own flavour heals like Holy Radiance (you became a beacon yourself and radiated a set amount of healing to all your allies, increasing in effectiveness based on distance, closer being better), Chain Heal (still pretty much the same today), or Wild Growth (pretty much the same as today, but instant cast) and many more.

The probable intention Blizzard had doing it this way, was to make sure everyone had the same basic tools available, a great way to make sure all healers can be brought to 5 man dungeons without any major problems. I think that part worked out really well, I never had any issues healing dungeons on any spec, even before the heroic nerfs that inevitably would come.

What about raiding then? Indeed, in the beginning I think it worked out really well with healers using all their core spells and flavour spells. Making our way into T11 progression we start noticing that there was very interesting interaction between massive amounts of spirit and Mana Tide. Tide gave everyone mana equal to 400% of the shaman’s spirit so a shaman could stack spirit on his gear and have a spirit on-use trinket boosting his spirit massively during mana tide and pretty much fill other healers’ mana bars from zero to full. As expected we were suddenly overflowing with mana and quickly people started to delete their mana efficient heals from their bars and only used their big, slow heals as filler in between their flavour heals. It didn’t even take a tier before their healing model had already collapsed. The “fix” Blizzard applied was changing Mana Tide to give mana based on everyone’s individual spirit instead. Unfortunately for Blizzard, we were already farming our Shard of Woes and didn’t need any of that spirit anyway. Could Blizzard have simply removed Mana Tide? Probably not. Other than tide, there was absolutely no reason to ever bring a shaman. At least until the last tier, where they got buffed by applying a 10% health increase buff to anyone healed by them. Despite the nerf to Shamans entering Firelands, with Shard of Woe and just general gear improvements mana was not a big issue at all. As a Paladin, I had no problem constantly spamming Divine Light any time I wanted to. There was no salvaging to be done here, and it was clear that the healing model intended for Cataclysm had failed.

 

shaman-mana-tiding

Enter Mists of Pandaria, a beautiful land filled with pandas and terrors and…a terrible healing model that would inevitable fail again! Mana? Not a problem. Spam your brains out? Yes, or else someone is dead the next GCD. Icecrown Citadel was turning in its grave for trying to go with that healing model again. At least every single boss didn’t have a flat damage aura constantly pulsing.

So what happened in Mists of Pandaria? DPS/Tanks gets the strong healing utility so we can keep killing off healers! Genius! Enhancement Shamans, Balance and Feral Druids, Protection Paladins, Warriors, everyone gets a strong healing cooldown! Discipline Priests smiting to heal, Mistweaver Monks jabbing and doing damage to push out Uplifts… what the hell was going on in this expansion? It’s puzzling, because I can’t find a good reason why Blizzard would ever go for this model. Dragon Soul ended with trying to remove as many healers as possible and stacking Mages, Rogues and Fury Warriors to bring down the tendons in the dreaded Spine of Deathwing encounter in time. I think our final count ended on something like 6 Mages, 4 Rogues and 3 Fury Warriors with yours truly being on a Mage instead of a Holy Paladin just because I happened to have one. I guess by adding a bit of everything to everyone they could solve the problem? It was probably one of the worst healing models they have ever attempted and it should never come back again. Mindlessly spamming your ‘best’ ability and playing a game of whack-a-mole on steroids will never feel rewarding and only lead to frustration.

 

What did Blizzard take away from Mists then? The only positive thing they learned was what not to do. I asked around to get some feedback on what other people liked about healing during this particular expansion and the same answer echoes from everyone: nothing.

 

What did Blizzard take away from Mists then? The only positive thing they learned was what not to do. I asked around to get some feedback on what other people liked about healing during this particular expansion and the same answer echoes from everyone: nothing. I understand that there obviously are proponents out there for the MoP healing model to come back, but please, never do.

Time to slay orcs for a whole expansion. Warlords of Draenor is finally here with huge changes to the healing models. Pretty much any kind of overpowered healing or mana utility is removed.

  • Innervate is personal.
  • Mana Tide is gone (took Blizzard 6 tiers to realise this after the epic failure in T11)
  • Most spells now have a cast time (but don’t worry, we also gained an ability called Aspect of the Fox so you won’t have to worry about it)
  • Tranquility, Healing Tide, Ancestral Guidance and others are removed or heavily nerfed for non-healing specs.

Great changes across the board in my opinion. Let DPS do their thing (for the most part) and let healers take care of the survival of the raid. Key point there, the raid. The individual still has his/her own responsibility to make sure he survives any raid mechanic thrown at him by either avoiding, using a personal cooldown (if up/available), but also by knowing when they will have raid cooldowns available. I think it’s an excellent system, the individual still has to care about himself but can leave the overall health of the raid to the healers. Health pools (compared to the amounts of healing the healers in the raid could output) were also greatly increased bringing us away from the awful model displayed in Mists of Pandaria and mana became a limited resource for most healing specs in another great step into the right direction. But did Warlords of Draenor solve the problem of finding the right healing model?

 

This ultimately lead us to the question: How do we make healers progress through an expansion, without breaking the intended healing model for that expansion? How can we make a healer feel the power spike in the last tier compared to the first tier of that expansion without completely throwing out our intended healing model for that expansion?

 

Not at all. Warlords of Draenor was a mess, but at least not a complete broken mess like Cataclysm and especially like Mists of Pandaria. Healing cooldowns (Tranquility, Mana Tide, Avenging Wrath, Revival) are way too powerful compared to your usual healing. Absorbs are way too powerful. Damage reduction is too powerful. Basically, you have your moments where you are incredibly powerful, but most of the time when you are without them you just feel kind of useless. This is especially prevalent with paladins but also goes for the other classes, just less so. Discipline priests are way too powerful overall at all times – you spam your shields no matter the situation. Holy priests are too underpowered.

In Blackrock Foundry we finally got some new and powerful trinkets. Some felt underpowered and to solve that Blizzard greatly buffed the spirit on them. Suddenly, we had trinkets giving 800 spirit, which amounted to an insane amount of mana regeneration. We were back to having insane amounts of mana to spend and started using our big spells pretty much all the time. Some specs didn’t have any mana problems before the change so opted for full +int/+throughput. Once again, in the second tier this time though, (according to Blizzard it’s still the first tier but the difference between Highmaul and Foundry is huge…) we had broken the healing meta. Mana was in abundance, healers could deal with any situation with their strong cooldowns (assuming you had the correct specs in the raid), mechanics were absorbed left and right meaning some you never had to deal with them properly, we could quickly start clearing raids using very few healers (2-4) instead of the 4 to 5 blizzard intended for raids to have.

 

healer-crests

This ultimately lead us to the question: How do we make healers progress through an expansion, without breaking the intended healing model for that expansion? How can we make a healer feel the power spike in the last tier compared to the first tier of that expansion without completely throwing out our intended healing model for that expansion? There’s no easy solution. Let’s say that we never touch a healer’s mana bar throughout the expansion The improvement comes in the form of throughput stats – more critical chance, more spell power, faster casting. The problem with this is that while your healing increases, so does the raids’ health pools and so does the damage the bosses deal. If you decide to give the bosses next tier a 15% damage increase while the healers’ throughput increases by 30%, you trivialise the content, and you’ll probably remove a healer in favour of another damage dealer.

In Legion, Blizzard will also try to bring the level of your secondaries closer together between raids in comparison to how it’s been done in previous expansions – while you started at 10% of a stat in the first tier in Warlords of Draenor to end up on a massive 50%, now you’ll start at 30% and end at 40%, putting a cap on the amount of progress a healer can do in the expansion. Mana regeneration is completely gone from gear, and will only be available through trinkets. Raid cooldowns have been nerfed heavily, but maybe too much? Instead of completely refilling bars from zero to full now you just do twice or so more healing than usual when you pop a raid cooldown. Pressing revival on my Monk went from feeling like a huge life saver to… “did anything actually happen?” I usually have to make sure my revival is on cooldown just in case I pressed the wrong key, I don’t believe that’s good either.

Trying to manage mana in Legion is extremely unforgiving right now. Let me rephrase, there is no mana management to speak of. You cast the lowest, most mana efficient spell you have, yet you are still losing huge amounts of mana. Standing around doing nothing at all to make sure you are saving up a percent or two of your mana is not very engaging gameplay either. I liked how it worked back in Vanilla and TBC (with the 5 second rule), but that was back then. The encounters are so massively different in terms of difficulty that standing around doing nothing doesn’t feel good at all in Legion and creates a lot of unwanted stress when trying to manage your mana.

 

If a healer can spend 30% of his mana to make sure the raid manages to stay alive whenever something (not too horrible) goes wrong, then let him do that.

 

What Blizzard is doing currently is going from one extreme to another. In Cataclysm, they tried a new healing model that theoretically was very good but failed on the execution due to abilities having unintended effects. In Mists of Pandaria, it was… “special” and thought they would just bring back the “good” old Icecrown Citadel.  In Warlords of Draenor they removed all the junk they introduced in the previous expansion and it did actually look very promising but failed on classes having too big power spikes compared to regular healing, and absorbs being too strong. In Legion, everything went from too strong, to too weak. There are pretty much no power spikes to speak of, there is no progression.

My thoughts, introduce back impact heals. Let mana be the deciding factor. I don’t like losing mana when I’m trying to conserve mana. Let us have a chance to recover the raid in case something goes wrong, but don’t go too far with it like in Warlords. If a healer can spend 30% of his mana to make sure the raid manages to stay alive whenever something (not too horrible) goes wrong, then let him do that.

Legion is now headed into the last stages of testing, and so am I. Time for some proper tuning, and by the looks of it compared to the previous expansions, Legion is actually looking good. Not perfect, but a lot better than what we’ve been dealing with previously.

Ajwon is one of Dragon’s healers. Occasionally found coding WeakAuras and/or having opinions. Currently playing…all healing classes. To know more, feel free to visit his profile right here on Dragon’s website.