Hello! I’m Total and I have been healing in WoW since WotLK. I have played multiple healers for several raid tiers each, almost always finishing the tier at the highest raid difficulty before the release of the next one. As such, my viewpoints will be mostly concerned with Mythic raiding.
I have seen WoW’s healing design go through many different iterations and believe I have a firm grasp on the objectives and reasoning behind many of the shifts in the way healers are played. However, I have also been through a few design approaches that didn’t quite work out. I’m here to provide my feedback on what I see going into Legion through analyzing the current build (20994), my experience in the history of past healing metas, and what I see going into the future. I will be covering the following subjects:
- Healing combat flow
- Single target vs multiple target heals
- “Tank healing”
- “Tank cooldowns”
- Raid cooldowns
- Other utility
- Healer roles and raid composition
- Encounter design
Thank you for embarking on this exploration of healing with me.
1. Healing Combat Flow
One of the most controversial subjects in WoW is whether the game is more fun when there is always something to do, or if it is okay to be waiting for a couple of seconds before there is something relevant that a player can be doing. I fall strictly on the side of waiting around to be boring, which is why I stopped playing Rogue and switched to healing in WotLK.
Always having something to do is easy for DPS and tanks (who also DPS), but how is that achieved for healers? I believe there to be only two possible ways: making healers play an intense game of resources where a variety of similar heals with varying mana costs are laid out and it is up to players to pick the most efficient tool for any situation, or relaxing the resource game in favor of allowing healers to DPS in the resulting downtime.
It is my opinion that Blizzard decided which model to go to a very long time ago when downranking was eliminated. Having a somewhat relaxed mana game with fewer options leads to far less button bloat and complexity, however past expansions have failed to deliver on a sufficiently meaningful activity to do in the mean time, which makes many players feel somewhat bored whenever healing is too easy.
I think that it is in-line with the WoW development team’s philosophies and direction of healing design that there should be a couple of options to deal with healing situations that make healers play the mana game, and that the ability to DPS should be leftover and be somewhat engaging in itself (i.e. more than spamming one spell) as well as being meaningful (a level of damage that would affect the raid if it did not exist or was executed exceptionally poorly). Currently I believe Shamans have the best design in this regard with perfectly adequate damaging spells with just enough complexity, as well as artifact traits that enhance damage. I would like to see this extend to all other healers as well.
2. Single target vs Multiple Target heals
In the spectrum of cheaper, more efficient, but lower HPS heals to expensive and high HPS heals, multi-target heals naturally trend towards being more expensive because healers always have the ability to single target heal multiple targets consecutively while the reverse is not true.
With that said, it is imperative that multi-target heals are both powerful as well as expensive to emphasize the importance of selecting the right healing tool for the right job. An odd trend I have seen in Legion is to make multi-target heals affect far fewer targets, with Vivify and Power Word: Radiance affecting 3 total targets or Light of Dawn having positional requirements. While this may be a good way to ensure multi-target heals still have value in targeting and positioning, I think it is important to ensure that they remain both powerful and expensive and not too similar to single target heals. Currently Power Word: Radiance has lost this distinction, much like Disc’s Prayer of Healing on live and that in part is due to a long cast time and low power.
Going forward, I hope the development team takes special care to make sure that AoE heals are good in multi-target situations and single target heals are good at healing specific targets, as part of the issues with Mistweavers, Holy Paladins and Discipline Priests on live are due to losing this distinction as the specs become one-dimensional when one side dominates too much.
3. “Tank Healing”
As noted in the Tank and Healer Ability Tuning blue posts, tank healing is on the rise again instead of letting the tanks themselves and Beacon of Light ensure that tanks are completely self-sustaining. This is important because, as mentioned previously, the single/multi target dichotomy is essential to maintaining choice and skilled gameplay in healing. Tank damage is the source of most needs of single target healing.
In the past though, tank healing (when required) has often been left to whichever healing spec has the best tank healing kit. This player is then assigned to heal the tank and that ends up being their job forever while everyone else goes back to only using AoE heals. For the return of tank healing to not worsen healer gameplay, this situation must be avoided. The only way to do this though is make sure that no individual healer can consistently spam the tanks without running out of mana, so the “Flash Heal” inefficient single target heals must be very expensive to prevent the dreaded “tank healer” assignment from happening. This means Enveloping Mist, Flash of Light, Flash Heal, Shadow Mend, Regrowth, and Healing Surge all must be made quite expensive.
Time to kill (the time it takes to go from “normal” heal to dead) must also be drastically higher than it has been in any expansion for a very long time, possibly ever. If we do not have a healer assigned to spam the tank (which is unenjoyable and makes healing one-dimensional for everyone), then there must be a window to respond to tanks being in danger. This has been acknowledged by Celestalon as being absolutely important to the new design, but I feel like it is so important that I should repeat it here.
I’ve gone on quite a lot about mana on the side of spell selection and spell design, but mana scaling and the mana economy throughout the expansion is equally important as too much mana renders the decision meaningless while too little mana leaves healers unable to take the option of inefficient heals.
While I agree with the removal of Spirit, it is important to not get too crazy with removing mana scaling. Because haste levels increase and we would still like to feel more powerful, there should still be some source of gaining more mana as an expansion goes on.
I feel that trinkets are the optimal way to have mana scale, and that it is important to be able to switch trinkets between mana and throughput depending on each fight’s damage patterns. I hope that there is an even spread of trinkets that grant more access to mana and trinkets that make spells heal for more in Legion.
5. “Tank cooldowns”
Ironbark, Guardian Spirit, Pain Suppression, Blessing of Sacrifice, and Life Cocoon
These are single target damage reduction or death-preventing cooldowns, but let’s be realistic and call them what they are: tank cooldowns attached to healers. These have been a fundamental part of the healing toolkit for many expansions now, with every healer (besides Shamans) having access to one. In a necessary change, they were all made much longer cooldowns, however I think that there is room to be more interesting.
For tank cooldowns, we have Pain Suppression as the gold standard of being generic. Guardian Spirit is a great twist on the opposite end of the spectrum, while Ironbark holds its place as being just as generic as Pain Suppression, but weaker with a shorter cooldown. Unfortunately, Blessing of Sacrifice and Life Cocoon do not share such properties. The intent of being tank cooldowns is clearly there (as seen in the mass lengthening of cooldowns all in one build), however Blessing of Sacrifice is overly messy with its damage transfer and could do something more simple like costing a portion of the Paladin’s health per second instead of probably killing her or him. Life Cocoon is outdated as a big absorb bubble and could use something more unique like granting the tank maximum health and the HoT increase for a full 12 seconds instead of annoyingly disappearing.
Then we have Shamans, who have Spirit Link Totem in place of having a tank cooldown. This may be okay; I’m not sure.
6. Raid cooldowns
Divine Hymn, Healing Tide Totem, Spirit Link Totem, Revival, Aura Mastery, Power Word: Barrier, and Tranquility
These abilities used to be borderline required to deal with scripted raid-wide burst. Now, they are being retooled to be more like personal healing boosts instead of raid tools. Many players are upset at losing the “god mode” that some of these cooldowns provided, and I think we can make these abilities fun without being overpowering and oppressive to healing and encounter design.
The first major change I think needs to happen is to eliminate the idea of 8 second long channels. Yes, they provide some nice unique class flavor, but abilities have to be extremely powerful if they are going to make a player do absolutely nothing but sit there for 8 seconds.
Secondly, there needs to be some differentiation in these abilities. SLT, Revival, and Barrier all have their unique niches. Divine Hymn and Tranquility share the long-duration slot while HTT gets away with having a “ramping up” quality via its artifact trait. Either Hymn or Tranquility needs to change, and I would choose Divine Hymn because frankly Holy Priests have been in the background for a while and Tranquility is far more iconic. With a single GCD instead of a channel time, I believe Divine Hymn could have its healing amplification amped up further to differentiate it from Tranquility.
Aura Mastery is in a strange spot because amplifying the chosen Aura talent is cool and unique, however I caution against the current trait that enables all auras as it actually takes away from the choice of aura and threatens to make each effect be too watered-down to feel meaningful without being overpowered.
7. Other Utility
This word has been abused by people much like “clunky” used to, but to clarify I am discussing “utility” as being the following: spells that do not heal, absorb, or otherwise block damage from occurring yet are still useful to raids.
I’m not sure if anyone is even thinking about this when balancing healers, but some odd things have happened in Legion like Shamans gaining Wind Rush Totem and Druids losing Stampeding Roar while Discs gain free raid damage by virtue of the way the spec works. The end result is a feeling that Druids, Mistweavers, and Holy Priests bring virtually nothing to raids outside of providing healing while the Blessings, Totems, and damage of Disc are clear, very obvious mechanics that provide an array of usefulness to every single fight.
I don’t have much to say on this topic but to please consider this an area of balance that is separate from healing tuning but of equal importance that exists in parallel. I have seen many suggestions on the forums for utilities that could be added to specs that are lacking and I am sure the development team has its own ideas, but please do not consider this a trivial matter.
As a final note on utility, please stay away from granting raid damage as utility. Adding raid DPS is often the single most important thing any character can bring, and things like passive raid DPS increases (looking at you, 5% haste aura) are toxic to the game because they have a tendency to be far too good on any fight to ignore.
8. Healer Roles and Raid Composition
“Yes, we view 5 as the target. We’ll likely bump the raid damage on several fights that were being widely 4-healed.” – Watcher, Twitter, 30 Sep 2014
Let’s try a bit better with that this time around, as things got a little out of hand with only a few fights being 5 healed in Mythic, most being 4 healed, and a few being 3 healed.
With that said, it is also important to avoid healer niches and strengths from becoming too niche to the point where raids feel like they must have a specific spec to succeed. One way to ensure niches can be deep is to allow some overlap, for example instead of just one spec having great single target heals and mediocre raid heals, make it two.
On a final note about healing specifically, please whatever happens, do not introduce a massively powerful healing item in the final tier of Legion. This happened with both the cloaks in SoO and the rings in HFC and it resulted in fights being incredibly underhealed. I’m sure many players would prefer to not get extremely powerful items if it meant healing gameplay could be preserved in a reasonable state.
9. Encounter Design
Designing the player side of healing only goes so far. A huge part of the healing game is the raid encounters themselves and the damage patterns they provide. Here are some things to keep in mind as a checklist for making sure an encounter is healer-friendly:
-Does it have raid damage occurring at reasonable frequencies? (no Thok-level constant raid barrages, but also no Kormroks where literally zero raid damage occurs for 30+ seconds at a time)
-Are tank mechanics still reasonably dealt with by single target heals? (Tyrant one-shots are a big no-no)
-Can huge amounts of raid damage be avoided by cheesing specific mechanics? (solo soaking, turning invisible, using BoP/Cloak/Iceblock/Bubble to remove mechanics)
If you’ve stuck with me this far, thank you for reading. I’m very excited about the potential of healing in Legion and hope that it can work out and we don’t repeat any of the previous mistakes of the past.
Come join me at our all-healer Discord https://discord.gg/0l64WMq72BKeRFFb