Chain Me No Chains

Another week goes by before the public Beta for Warlords of Draenor, and another interesting morsel appears on MMO Champion. Another debate/argument/discussion results, and this time I am struggling to communicate how I feel on the matter. Today, I’m trying ever so hard to elaborate.

We heard this week that the new Glyph of Chaining will remove the cooldown penalty from the Live version. Before, unglyphed Chain Heal had a 12.5yd jump radius and no cooldown; glyphed Chain Heal has 25yd jump radius and a 2 second cooldown. The change will mean that we will be able to extend Chain Heal’s jump radius to 25yds penalty-free.

Some Context

Now, I’m a big fan of Chain Heal. I think that it has the potential to be a fascinating and subtle heal, with a lot of depth. We saw that in Cataclysm, where it was powerful but range limited; our complaint then tended to be that the range limit was too punishing in the healing environment at the time. Fast forward to the release of the current raid tier, and Chain Heal got the Glyph of Chaining and also had its dropoff removed – this was a massive buff.

However, there was always a question as to what Glyph of Chaining was for. Adding a cooldown to Chain Heal made it extremely poor for what Chain Heal tends to be good at – burst healing a bunch of people at once. The penalty for range extension was harsh enough that it’s barely used in higher raid sizes, and even in 10man it’s somewhat debatable. The fact is that the cooldown introduced is to awkward to make Chain Heal an effective tool in almost any circumstance.

Baffled as we were, I can definitely see why this idea might make sense. Chain Heal is powerful, and the range restriction is one of the two factors which made it an interesting mechanic in Cataclysm (the other being the dropoff). If you want the heal to stay interesting, it makes sense that you have to introduce a penalty when you remove a penalty – so why not add a cooldown as a price for a range extension? That’s all lovely, but it doesn’t really work for us.

How is this relevant to now?

That discussion is worth bearing in mind for the current situation; Glyph of Chaining’s penalty has been removed. As Mist on Twitter correctly pointed out, extra range is always useful in the general case of raid healing – there is no reason now not to take the Glyph of Chaining. Effectively, by making this change the designers are ensuring that most Shaman raiding in WoD will take the glyph – it’s “mandatory”. Mandatory is BORING. But will we ever want to remove the glyph at all?

Someone did suggest that one time we might choose not to take the glyph is for small-clustered burst healing. Imagine this; a fight requires the ranged and melee to be in two separate groups, with one group taking spike damage at a time. In WoD’s triage paradigm, we won’t want Chain Heal randomly (yes, randomly) bouncing to the melee if the ranged are taking damage. While it will still by definition give effective healing, if your priority is the ranged then Chain Heal jumping to the melee is a wasted heal. With that in mind, you would want unglyphed Chain Heal.

Left: Glyphed Chain Heal, Right: Unglyphed Chain Heal. The Ranged are taking immediate life threatening damage; on the left, you waste jumps (bad!)

Left: Glyphed Chain Heal, Right: Unglyphed Chain Heal. The Ranged are taking immediate life threatening damage; on the left, you waste jumps (bad!) due to randomness.

Now, I definitely think that the possibility of reducing Chain Heal’s range in order to compensate for situations like this is interesting. It could be a fantastic mechanic, but in the proposed form it’s bad because the choice is when not to use Glyph of Chaining. I think that fundamentally, you should always be making positive decisions to take a glyph rather than looking for reasons not to use it. An alternative would be setting Chain Heal’s default range to 25yds and making Glyph of Chaining reduce the jump length to 12.5yds. That would allow for this potentially interesting play without forcing Shaman to take a glyph on almost every fight with “regular” spread out sustained damage.

So, to answer Vixsin’s question “Consider: if 25yds was baseline, would we advocate a glyph that reduced the jump?” – Yes. Yes, I would, because it allows for interesting play changes in different situations without forcing a glyph slot to be used by default. The alternative – the current suggestion for Glyph of Chaining – removes interesting decisions.

Of course, I had an argument about this on Twitter. It’s a perfectly reasonable statement that the kind of situation I describe above is rare in comparison to the number of times you will benefit from the range boost. However, to imply that it renders my suggestion pointless is a bad conclusion; rare does not meed uninteresting – Iron Qon Phase 1 says hi.

Alternatives

I still think that if Chain Heal’s range isn’t going to be just baseline extended, Glyph of Chaining is only an interesting choice if there is a penalty involved. A cooldown penalty clearly didn’t work – it counteracted Chain Heal’s consistency, which made it so interesting in the first place. I would argue that the ability to spam Chain Heal, or to cast it two or three times in quick succession when required, was part of what made it interesting in the first place. What other penalty can we introduce instead?

A suggestion I would give is to try something like this;

Glyph of Chaining – Extends Chain Heal’s jump radius by 100%, but jumps further than 12.5yds have reduced power.

The reason I think that this is interesting is because it provides a more finely tunable tradeoff; you can set the power loss to be small but non trivial, which would on average maybe reduce Chain Heal’s raw throughout by 15% (for example) while making it net more effective at its job in a spread out situation.

The key idea here is that the penalty can be very finely tuned: too little and the glyph will be “mandatory” again, and too much and it won’t be chosen very often. But the tuning is much easier to look at in this context because it’s a power change not a rotational change. So the designers would have more flexibility to make the glyph be compelling.

So I think that the Glyph of Chaining isn’t such a bad idea, but I don’t like the direction it’s moving in. On top of what we’ve discussed already, extending the chain length removes interesting gameplay using High Tide to reach another stack, which is part of a worrying trend towards Chain Heal/Riptide related lack-of-cohesion. This expansion is shaping up to be another one where I have a love-hate relationship with Chain Heal for all the wrong reasons, and it makes me a bit sad.

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About stoove

A physicist, researcher, and gamesman. Likes to think about the mathematics and mechanics behind all sorts of different things, and writing up the thoughts for you to read. A competent programmer, enjoys public speaking and mechanical keyboards. Has opinions which might even change from time to time.
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3 Responses to Chain Me No Chains

  1. Pingback: WoDsplosion! | UNconstant

  2. Hamsda says:

    I think baseline 25y range would be fine and a glyph that decreases the range but offers a small bonus, like reducing the drop off by a bit, for stacked healing or the situation with different camps you described could be an interesting choice if there are other major glyphs that offer slight boosts.

    • stoove says:

      It’s quite interesting that you should suggest that; it’s a lot like the ideas I discussed above, except this time you think of the range reduction as the sacrifice in order to gain a modest throughput bonus. I like that idea! 🙂

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