In direct contrast to the summer lull that bled over into September, where bloggers picked fights and raiding teams struggled to find motivation, the past month or so has been a busy time for the WoW community, with news and patches aplenty. For me, the past month has been full of beta testing, raiding, SC2 (a LOT of SC2), questing, leveling, and writing. It’s also been a month chock full of learning and preparing for what’s to come. No longer is Cataclysm a blip on the radar; it is almost upon us.
The forums, and particularly the healing ones, have had a slight air of panic as Wrath comes to a close and as we get a better view of the style of raiding that lies in wait for us at 85. No longer theorizing about the experience, recent Beta raid testing has allowed healers to experience the oft-mentioned “triage model” and test whether Blizzard can actually toe the fine line between Vanilla healing and the Wrath model. My ultimate conclusion—we’re definitely in for it when Cataclysm hits, but not in the way that you might think.
Since alpha, the buzz word for healers has been “mana”, as in we need to value it more. And in those beginning days, GC made waves with a now-forgotten response to a healing post:
Running out of mana doesn’t have to be, and won’t be, the only reason you fail an encounter. But it is a point of failure that we don’t have today. Adding it back in will make the encounters feel more distinct from each other and will actually, we believe, make healing more interesting and ultimately more fun. I agree it’s going to be a tough sell though. In one of our playtests recently, the healer came back frazzled. “I couldn’t keep everyone topped off,” she said. “It took me half the dungeon to realize that I didn’t have to.” Once that clicked, she said she started having fun. Hopefully it will click with other players quickly too. (Source)
At the time GC posted this, I, along with a host of healers working through ICC normal and hard modes, scoffed at the idea that a dungeon group could be anything other than 100% or 0%. Our collective noses upturned, we wondered, what bad healer would let players sit at less than full life? Given our perspective at that point, the idea was simply unconscionable. Tanks, and players, could be dead in the span of a second or two if we weren’t on our toes. Healing reputations, at least over the past 2 years, had been based more on speed and awareness, and yes maybe a little bit of judgment, more so than they were ever based on efficiency. And as GC continued to repeat this same perspective in a litany of posts over the subsequent months, we healers had no idea how close Blizzard was making those musings of a philosophical crab into reality.
The Paradigm Shift
The unvarnished truth is—the dungeons and instances that Blizzard has created thus far (and made available for testing) hold a new environment for healers. And that environment is not the world of 4.0.1, and it’s not what we’ve been comfy with for all of Wrath. It is an environment where GC’s comments above are coming true.
Through a combination of increased player HP, low healing values, higher mana costs and interwoven damage mechanics, healers will be placed in a situation where our choices matter more than our twitch reflexes. In fights in almost every instance and raid I’ve run thus far, I actually let players sit at less than 100% because I needed to direct my attention elsewhere. In fact, there were multiple times where our tank dropped below 50% and *GASP* wasn’t in absolute mortal peril. That’s not to say that I or the healing team let him sit there for very long, but it is saying that I’ve yet to see the Lich King Shambler Squash happen during any Cataclysm encounter.
In my travels around Beta, through raids, dungeons and Heroics, the differences between Wrath and Cataclysm have become even more apparent, extending beyond average player health:
- DPS makes a huge difference – From doing instances and raids with PuGs to doing them with guildees who consistently have top WoL parses, the difference in my stress-level and in my mana-bar is like night and day. All I can say is … healers, get ready to start closely watching your dps meters, because gone are the days where you could simply power-heal a low-performing group through an instance like H-HoR. (And I do mean low-performing, like the group I healed through H-PoS the other day where epicly-geared players could barely top 2k dps.) Ultimately, it will behoove healers to know just how much damage everyone needs to do to keep your blue bar greater than 0.
- Mechanics matter – While many posts about Beta have been talking about the end of days for AOE (and it is, to some extent) and the re-introduction of CC, I think the larger picture is that how you handle trash and boss mechanics significantly impact your chances of success. While not incredibly difficult to conquer when you employ forethought, a number of instance mobs and bosses have pretty harsh punishments for players who don’t want to or who don’t care to follow the rules. (And by “harsh” I mean, 1-shots).
- Gear is going to change – With the introduction of mastery as a secondary stat, as you move into the 80+ zones, you’ll start to see your typical crit/haste pieces replaced partially or all-together by mastery. And although zones were not fully optimized when I rolled through on Vixsin, you will likely need to pay closer attention to picking up stat-balanced pieces as opposed to throwing together a set on the fly. And do expect to replace your ilvl277s long before you hit max level; you shouldn’t be wandering into Bastion of Twilight in your T10.
- Mana isn’t meant to last – Most of the fights in these Cata instances and raids aren’t the simple encounters that we’re used to seeing, and they sure as heck aren’t short. To give you some perspective—even when I popped back into normal-mode Stonecore (a level 80 – 83 instance) at level 85, my mana still wasn’t in endless supply. Across the board, harder instance bosses had me close to OOM or operating on a very small margin for the last 20-30 seconds, and raid bosses had me playing very cautiously for the duration. Conversely, those fights where dps excelled, or where everyone understood the mechanics, passed by much more quickly and it showed in a mana bar hovering at around 30%.
- The Healer as DPS model – There continues to be a good deal of hype surrounding the renegade dps talents included in healing trees, with players either openly embracing the idea or inching away in disgust. But, at this point in testing I think I can say: they might be nice when leveling or down the road when you’ve overgeared instances, but in an entry-level raid, you simply won’t have the time. Yes, twitch response has been lessened, but it will take much more than the promise of some mana to assure me that given a sufficient 2 second interval, I should choose to cast a lightning bolt instead of Healing Wave or Chain Heal.
- Self-heals are something dps and tanks need to use, period. While there will likely be some encounters with very tough enrages, I can happily say that thus far in testing, survivability has been the name of the game. And that means bandages, health stones, self-heals, and the like are back on the table as requirements for every raid member.
- Player HP to Healing ratios – It’s a strange feeling to cast a heal on someone and only see their health go up a slight amount (or worse yet, decrease). But with the large gap between player HP and healing values, it’s easy to start feeling like you’re using downranked versions of your powerhouse abilities. I ran a heroic last weekend with a goblin DK in modestly blue non-heroic gear who had close to 95k HP. And the scaling on my heals—almost what I have right now on live, at level 80. This amounts to a sizable difference and generally means that a couple of crits simply aren’t enough to top one person off, nonetheless the entire group. And while I’m sure my mind will adjust to the differential, for a while I’m sure it will feel like I’m using the healing equivalent of a wiffle bat.
So, in sum, while it’s not the end of days that some have called it, the changes above (and more) definitely add up to a new experience for players venturing into 5-, 10- and 25-mans.
The True Anxiety Source
By now, I think we’ve all realized that the healing game is changing. The comments, the posts, the PR from Blizzard about switching things up for healers–they’re all coming true, and quite frankly, I think players are more stressed about the idea of retraining than the idea that things *could* be changing for the better. While dps and tanks may have to deal with different rotations, or the inclusion of some new talents, or the rebalancing of stats, healers by and large are not going to be able to approach this expansion as they have approached the past 2 years of WoW.
For shaman, this means that we’re going to need to dust off our proactive caps and go back to basics with heals no longer supported by massive amounts of haste. Healing Rain, for example, because of its long cast time and its protracted period of effect, is incredibly situational and requires a good amount of forethought to be truly effective. Healing Surge is no longer something we can cast with reckless abandon. Our stat preferences will be changing, we’ll be practicing a hands-off policy for non-mail items, and we may be looking at a different raid role than the one we’ve enjoyed in Northrend. For other healers, times will be changing too. Trees will be working with new constraints on their hots, while paladins will deal with juggling a new resource and priests will be struggling to fit their ever-expanding healing baggage into the overhead compartment.
Ultimately … all healers will need to learn to heal again. There is no getting around it. Yes, that means that the healer you were is not the healer you’re going to be. Yes, you could stink at it and look like a bumbling fool the first few times in. (Hey, until you fall off the platforms in Vortex Pinnacle, you’re still doing better than me!) But personally, I have a hard time seeing the downside in the opportunity we’re being presented with. We Group 5 residents love a challenge; we push up our sleeves when there’s something “impossible” to be done, (and then step behind everyone else while waving our hands wildly). We are a group that can defy even the best simulations. And we are a group of players who relish in responsibility because we can handle it.
Healers, we didn’t choose this role to be stagnant. We chose to heal because we wanted to have an impact. We love variability and we love being the hero. And that, my friends, makes Cataclysm OUR expansion.