(?) NEWS, Everyone!
This week, the second in a series of articles by Blizzard about the changes to gameplay in the upcoming expansion Warlords of Draenor. The subject was healing, and since that’s my area of expertise I was (variously) happy, sad, and confused by the content. I’m going to run through the good, bad, and ugly points of the changes and expand on how that will likely affect Resto Shaman gameplay when the expansion releases!
First up: let’s review the main points of the article.
- Health pools are (relatively) doubling for PvP reasons.
- Healing spells are being relatively increased, but not enough to match the change in health.
- Smart heals are no longer very smart – they pick random targets, not the one at the lowest health.
- Multi-target healing is going to be less efficient.
- Low throughput, high efficiency heals are disappearing.
- Base mana regeneration is increasing, and scaling with gear is dropping.
- Instant cast heals will have 1.5-second cast times.
There are a bunch of interesting corollaries of these changes, so I wanted to discuss a couple of areas in particular;
Health bars are going up, healing isn’t increasing by as much. How will we cope with all the damage?
Well, we won’t be running around so frantically. One thing about healing late in this expansion is the tendency for damage to be big and spiky; you spend all your time in emergency-mode making sure people are topped off before the next big hit (I’m looking at you, Heroic Dark Shaman!). With these changes, the character of encounters will be changing.
The focus is much more likely going to be upon consistent healing, spending time in the mid-health regions (30-70%) and making sure everyone has just enough health to survive. Damage incoming is going to adjust to be less spiky, but that means we have to adjust our skills. The best players of the new expansion will make clever decisions quickly, and the best teams will understand how each other plays (rather than trying to beat each other to the punch). Some people hate this idea…
… I love it. Triage, the concept of prioritizing your attention based on those most in need, is a complex and difficult gameplay style. It forces interesting and difficult decisions, where player skill and calm dominate over twitch reactions. Not only is that what I’m good at, it’s also how I learned to heal in my first raids and Heroic dungeons in early Cataclysm. It’s ingrained into my psyche, so I can’t wait to have it back.
Lots of people hated the Cataclysm healing model because the Triage style was very restrictive, particularly because it was enforced by very powerful limitations on healer’s mana regen. That makes for a nice segue into…
2.) Mana Regeneration
So the baseline regen for every healer is increasing, and at the same time the scaling is going down. What this means is that the healing game is going to evolve comparatively little over the course of the expansion. This is exciting, because it vividly opposes what happened both in Cataclysm and Mists of Pandaria. In both of the most recent expansions, the healing and regen has scaled so fast that outside the first tier of raiding, Triage was all but dead.
This is particularly important to me, because we were promised at the start of the current expansion that Triage would be big – if it ever was, it stopped being so extremely quickly. This is simply due to scaling, and if Blizzard deliver on their promise of minimal scaling then I am going to be much happier much later into the expansion.
When it all comes down to it, I think that having to panic over your mana at the start of an expansion and then towards the end almost treat your mana bar with contempt is rather boring. By changing scaling, and enforcing Triage using other methods, I’m quite convinced that the healing game will work very well.
For Resto Shaman in particular, there is an interesting question – how does Critical Strike come into this? Since Crits regenerate us mana, are we going to be able to game the scaling laws somehow? I think not – the gain from Crit on a typical fight is high, but not that high, and in addition we might well see a change to the effectiveness of Crit for us as a healing stat to compensate. The more interesting possibility is that we might see a removal of Resurgence altogether. It would be sad to see an iconic mechanic go, but on the other hand it would finally feel like Shaman would have a sort of parity in terms of regen that we’ve not seen for a long time.
Another interesting question is; what happens to Mana Tide Totem? If we aren’t quite so bound to regen as the previous first tiers, will Shaman feel like it’s more of a personal cooldown than a raid-wide one? Moreover, will we see an increase to our personal gains from MTT if scaling is going to be more predictable? Even more exciting – could Mana Tide Totem give us extra Resurcence procs? That would be extremely exciting indeed!
3.) Dumb Heals
Smart heals - a phrase which has come to define the Shaman healing paradigm – are getting Dumb. That means Healing Stream Totem, Healing Rain, Chain Heal, and Healing Tide Totem are all going to be much much less powerful. In the case of the totems, I think that this is a good thing (these sticks with faces are clever? WTF?) because they’re too much like fire-and-forget abilities. Clever totems aren’t interesting gameplay, so I’m glad to see a nerf. Healing Rain is somewhere in the middle; it’s only recently started being smart, so if it’s now dumb is there that much change?
Well the answer is yes; along with the smart change, the number of targets healed went wwaaaaaaayyyyy down, so it’s entirely possible that in your Mythic stack of 20 raiders, none of your low-health raiders are healed by a tick of Healing Rain. That is so much of a nerf it’s ridiculous.
One upside in terms of interesting gameplay is that it will make our Spirit Link Totem effectively cause our Dumb Heals to be Smart Heals again! (To all those stood inside the AoE anyway.) This promises to make Spirit Link Totem a much more go-to spell!
Now we turn to Chain Heal.
The iconic, original, smart heal, is dead.
Over the lifetime of WoW, Chain Heal has gone from being spammed, to being a very difficult but rewarding spell, to being strong, to being overpowered. Right now, Chain Heal is a smart heal which heals 4 people on low health for a lot of healing. In future, it will be a heal which heals 4 random people for a lot of healing. I think that this is the wrong way to take such an iconic spell.
Before the most recent iteration, it used to be that Chain Heal’s strength dropped between each jump – the “smart” part of the heal being offset by the drop in healing. This was interesting design, because it meant that Shaman had to be careful where to cast it; casting well was rewarding because of the smart component. The main downside was the extremely limited range of the jumps, which was the other part of interesting play.
More recently, Chain Heal’s drop-off was removed to make it more attractive, but this resulted in it being a very easy-to-spam spell with no real downside apart from range. Even this is currently circumvented by use of a Glyph. It’s simply too powerful, and no longer interesting or difficult to use. This was all to combat the problem of range, which made poor usage very punishing.
The proposed change brings a long-needed nerf to Chain Heal by way of making it random, i.e. less reliable. But this isn’t a gameplay element (such as range or drop-off) which can be combated by skill – a clever Shaman and a bad Shaman will probably find it just as useful (or useless). But here’s the thing; none of the design changes have really addressed the issue of range, and as a result Chain Heal is losing its status as a true icon of Resto Shaman identity. That’s why I’m disappointed.
The best way to prevent such a tragedy, in my opinion, is to reinstate the drop-off mechanic and the smart-heal mechanic, and tackle the range problem directly. The jump distance is simply too small to make easy play, but a small increase (less than 50%) would have such a huge impact on the spell. It would be so much easier to get jumps in that the drop-off would do a good job limiting the power of the spell. That would be a much more interesting design, in my opinion.
Last question: what happens to Ancestral Awakening? I’m not sure yet.
4.) Cast Time Heals
On the bright side, Shaman didn’t get any instant heals changed to cast-time heals because we don’t really have any. This brings other healer into line with what I have always thought is a much more interesting (difficult, but rewarding) style of play – choosing when or when not to move.
Only the other night my Paladin co-healer was taunting me with all his insta-cast heals, so it’s nice to get my revenge. Now you know how we Shaman feel!
So that’s what I think.
Some changes are awesome (Triage! YAY!) and some are bad for the specialization (Chain Heal! BOO!) and overall I’m excited.
How do you feel about the changes?