As it so often happens for me (thankfully), when WoW activities cool down and farm content starts to age, my work oftentimes picks up to fill in the gaps. It’s been easy to let WoW slide into the background in the past couple of months, as I’ve increased my work hours and diverted my remaining free time into other games (namely: Diablo, LoL, and CoD).
But, the quiet lull that had settled over the forums, MMO-C, and LiG5 was shattered last week when the most massive pile of WoD information was laid out in front of us—some of it old and some of it new—all of it whetting our appetites for the Beta testing to come and setting my head spinning with the changes that lay in wait. Based on my experience with the past pre-launch cycles, I feel pretty confident in treating every word of blue text released as being subject to change, but nevertheless, it’s a tantalizing chance to envision what could be in store for the Resto Shaman community when Warlords of Draenor goes live.
(Because this is going to be a crapton of information, I’ve divided this post up into two parts. Part 1, below, is going to discuss high-level healing changes. Part 2, which should be posted tomorrow, will discuss more of the Resto-Shaman-Specific changes).
So, let’s start with some of the biggest relevant changes first—those that deal with the overall healing game. In the past couple of months we’ve seen Watercoolers and Dev tweets mention that change was in store for those of us who fight to keep health bars filled, so the fact that we’ll be exploring a “new” healing model in WoD shouldn’t knock anyone off their chair. A good number of the healing changes were already mentioned in the “Building Healthy Gameplay” Watercooler article published back at the beginning of March, but since they are some significant shifts in store, let’s run through them once again.
Change #1: Reduction of splash and smart healing
You knew it was coming; I knew it was coming. Heals in Mists are just too damn smart. The first thing that I’d note here is that while the posts both outlined the necessity for the reduction of smart, passive and splash healing, what was never said is that these types of healing would be removed entirely. We’ll have to wait until Beta to see how pervasive the changes to smart healing will be, but the philosophy behind them is very straightforward:
- Making healer decisions relevant when healing (GASP!)
- Rewarding smart decision-making
In all fairness, I don’t think there’s a viable argument to be made about why this change isn’t necessary. Smart and passive heals absolutely dominate healers’ contributions these days, and, as I discussed in my post about Non-Critical healing in Mists, over the course of the expansion, the fight window in which healers’ decisions actually matter has progressively shrunk to be a fraction of the encounter’s duration. By decreasing the number of smart heals in game, and in tandem, decreasing the amount of healing that the remaining smart heals contribute, healers can once again strive see the impact of their decisions on the outcome of the encounter.
Naturally, this means that a good portion of what defined “Resto Shaman healing” this expansion is going to be changed come WoD. And, truth be told, that doesn’t sound all that bad to me. Over the years, Resto Shamans’ toolkit has remained largely the same, anchored by our signature AOE heal (Chain Heal) and 2-3 single-target heals (Lesser Healing Wave / Healing Wave / Greater Healing Wave, and their various renames). It’s really our supplemental toolkit that has grown up around it, trying to fill in the gaps that were created by the evolution of the healing game.
The interesting thing is that, based on the Alpha Notes preview, Shaman won’t be seeing a huge reduction in the number of passive/smart/splash abilities that we have, but rather a reduction in the healing that they do. So, while we can shed a tear for the loss of Ancestral Awakening, or puzzle at the idea of a nerfed Healing Stream Totem that’s still buffed by Rushing Streams, we’ll still have at our disposal (presumably)—Earth Shield, Earthliving, HST, Ascendance, Healing Tide Totem, and, of course, Healing Rain. And the overall impact on the contribution of those spells won’t be seen until we get neck deep in testing.
Change #2: Dumb healing
In a two pronged approach to the problem of smart and passive healing, Blizzard is also proposing to make all those smart heals (ones that pick the target for you, like Atonement, Healing Stream, Wild Growth, etc.) a little bit less smart:
Of the changes to the existing healing model, this is definitely the one that has me most concerned, for two reasons. First, because the thing that I enjoyed least about my Mistweaver was the way that Renewing Mists functioned. And that functionality is exactly what Blizzard is proposing to extend to smart heals (if I understand them correctly, which I may not). Not being able to control or influence or even limit the players that ReM traveled to was incredibly frustrating for me, so when I picture our sole “spread healing” tool, HST, governed by that same principle, I see our capacity to handle spread-raid healing reduced to what it used to be–dependent on single-target spot healing.
Which leads into my second concern about the “dumbing” down of healing—predictability. Smart healing is something that, I think, appeals to healers because of its predictability. Where it got out of hand was in the ease of use; there was nothing in place to deter you from or question the choice of always selecting your smart, predictable heal. So, I’m absolutely in agreement that something needs to be changed to reintroduce decision-making into the process. But, I think introducing randomness is walking a very fine line, because healers are, above all else, problem solvers. And when I can’t predict if my time investment in a cast is going to solve a problem or not (short of resorting to single-target healing everything), I’m going to wind up very frustrated, very dead, or both.
In terms of the impact of this change on Resto Shaman, I think this is another one that will need to be explored through testing. The optimist in me is hoping that Chain Heal will retain its smart healing design, partially because of the significant cast time investment, and partially because it is our sole targeted AOE heal and 80% of our AOE healing “rotation”. It would be one thing to introduce a level of RNG in a spell like Healing Rain, but when I only have one targeted AOE healing tool aside from my cooldowns, having it function like the errant wheel on a shopping cart is going to get frustrating very quickly.
Change #3: Scaling Back Instant Casts
The next major change that’s coming for healers in WoD is a reduction of instant-cast / instant-heal abilities, which have not only sped up the healing game over the last several expansions, but also, as of late, have made healing more about beating your healing teammates to the punch and less about the “right heal at the right time”. Among the spells getting added cast times:
- Wild Growth (Restoration) now has a 1.5-second cast time (up from instant cast).
- Uplift (Mistweaver) now has a 1.5-second cast time (up from instant cast).
- Eternal Flame now has a 1.5-second cast time (up from instant cast) for Holy Paladins.
- Light of Dawn now has a 1.5-second cast time (up from instant cast).
- Word of Glory now has a 1.5-second cast time (up from instant cast).
- Prayer of Mending now has a 1.5-second cast time (up from instant cast).
- Cascade, Divine Star, and Halo now have 1.5-second cast times (up from instant cast).
For better or for worse, Resto Shaman have always been slaves to the long-cast-time, higher baseline heal model. So, it’s not surprising to see our toolkit excluded from the list of scaled-back instant casts, because although Unleash Life and Riptide do fall into the category, their cooldowns and low throughput already serve as significant constraints on Resto’s mobile healing output.
However, what I do find very tantalizing about the inclusion of cast times on abilities such as Wild Growth, Light of Dawn, and Priests’ Tier 90 talents, is how much more powerful Spiritwalker’s Grace becomes in a situation where damage coincides with a raid on the move (which Blizzard mentioned they’ll scale back), where other healers are constrained by the stutter-stepping that has long characterized Shamans’ “mobility”. With total raid throughput decreasing as a result of movement, and shaman capable of doing a complete rotation during SWG, our mobile throughput might actually see a comparative boost. Add Ascendance into that equation, and you then have a very powerful raid-wide throughput, mobile cooldown coming from a historically immobile class. (Holy Priests also seem like they would have cause to rejoice, because conspicuously absent from the list above: Circle of Healing).
So, net impact to Resto Shaman? Possibly a gain! I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
Change #4: Stats are getting a scrubbing
Although the most recent information didn’t go into it all that much, stats are going to be shifting quite a bit in the coming expac, with the introduction of some new tertiary stats and modifications to both existing primary and secondary stats.
- Spirit will no longer be treated as a Primary Stat; instead it will appear as a bonus stat on some armor pieces, namely: rings, neck, trinkets, cloak and weapons. (Source 1 and Source 2). As a result, the amount of Spirit provided by gear will be less, so healers will be more reliant on their own personal regen to sustain their rotations. As a result of this constraint, healers’ available mana will be more controlled over the course of the expansion. While we might start with a little more mana than we’re used to in the first tier, we also shouldn’t see that same surplus point we’ve seen in expansions past, where you suddenly have more than enough disposable mana from gear alone, and so you drop all the regen you can in favor of pure throughput.
- Haste breakpoints are no more. (Source). Instead, haste will determine how many ticks occur during the hot’s duration and any remainder (partial ticks which were previously rounded up or down, resulting in haste “breakpoints” where you could get the benefit of an additional tick without actually investing the necessary haste to get precisely that number of ticks) will now occur at the end of the hot’s duration. This is a valuable change in a world with no reforging because it means that you can see some healing gain from a haste drop, even if your stat priorities don’t favor a haste build.
- Intellect no longer is tied to Crit Strike chance. While a comparatively minor change in nature, this does concern me when it comes to Resto Shaman because of the unique nature of our personal regen mechanic—Resurgence. Previously, Intellect gains on gear meant that we were always assured a slight increase of Water Shield procs over the course of several tiers, even when we weren’t stacking Crit. However, with the disconnection of Intellect from Crit, I would expect we’ll see increased tension between Crit and Spirit as regen stats.
- New Secondary and Tertiary stats are being added to provide more diversity in gear and are projected to include: Readiness and Multistrike, (as secondaries) and Movement Speed, Sturdiness, Life Steal, Avoidance, and Cleave (as tertiaries). (Source) The most recent WoD post didn’t make much mention of the development, so it remains to be seen if/how these additional stats will be implemented. (Note: the FinalBoss interview with Celeston and Zarhym confirmed that Cleave was removed as a tertiary stat because it was too much a “healer stat”, while being situational for everyone else. Thok’s Mighty Cleave trinket agrees. Source)
- Spellpower will now affect the entire healing output of a spell. While this will likely be an entirely inconsequential change for most players, it does clean up the process of evaluating upgrades and tying those upgrades to your HPS. (Both Stoove and Dayani have great posts on this point—do check them out).
Although I know that the goal of most of these changes was to decrease the level of analysis associated with upgrades (especially in light of the removal of reforging), I can’t help but think of the divide that the above changes might reintroduce back into Resto Shaman healing. Because our stat priority is so heavily tied to the health of the raid and to our healing rotations, I can definitely see a future where Restos go back to the days of maintaining a Mastery/Spirit-heavy set for AOE healing, and a Crit-heavy set for spot-healing encounters.
Other Healing Notes
In addition to the healing shifts above, the Alpha Notes also made mention of a number of changes to some of the underlying tenets of the healing game:
- Smart heals should be dumber than targeted heals. I mentioned this above, but it’s worth mentioning again, because for Resto Shaman this change will presumably impact: Healing Stream Totem, Healing Rain, Healing Tide Totem and Chain Heal.
- Long-cast-time single target heals (eg: Greater Healing Wave, which will be known as Healing Wave in WoD) will cost roughly half as much as fast-cast-time single-target heals while healing for roughly the same amount. I’m not sure I’m entirely on board with this idea, since I appreciated the holy trinity healing model and the variation in output it afforded me, but I do appreciate the clear distinction now between mana conservation and speed. Also, it’s worth noting that Resto Shaman will still see a distinction in output between GHW and HS due in large part to the benefits of Tidal Waves.
- AOE healing spells will be less efficient than single-target healing spells when they heal 2 or fewer targets. I’m not holding my breath that this will actually be the case for Resto’s Chain Heal, given the reintroduction of the CH jump reduction and the offset of the Draenor perk “Improved Chain Heal” (see below).
- Spells with cooldowns or limitations may have higher efficiency than no-cooldown equivalents. This really isn’t a new philosophy (since I remember it being at the core of the Chain-Heal-doesn’t-have-a-cooldown-but-Circle-of-Healing-does debate that occurred around the end of BC/start of WotLK), but it’s interesting to bring it up because of the implications in balancing, for example, Rejuv versus Riptide. In concept, Riptide should be the stronger heal per mana, because of the inherent cooldown. But the opposite has been true for as long as I can recall, with Rejuv significantly outpacing RT despite the Glyph of Riptide “Heal Like a Druid!” model that was introduced in Mists.
- Raid-wide mana return has been significantly nerfed, with the removal of Hymn of Hope and the significant reduction of the benefits of Mana Tide on your healing team (reduced from 200% of the Shaman’s Spirit, to 50%). So, those resto shaman theorycrafters who have been crying foul about the “mana battery” mantle for years now can finally rejoice in seeing that aspect of our utility finally put to rest. Talk about the end of an era.
- Last, but definitely not least, absorbs are being reigned in. Throughput healers rejoice! After seeing absorbs replace throughput in many situations (man, that sounds awfully close to what I was arguing in my last post … OMG I AM SUCH GENIUS), it appears as if Blizzard is looking at returning to a more balanced Disc Priest model, where absorbs are used to supplement throughput instead of supplant it. What I hope this means is that while Discs and Paladins might see their absorb-based healing scaled back, it will be offset by an increase in actual throughput. This is not only good news for those of us non-absorb classes out there, but also means that Disc and Paladins will be more competitive in triage environments because they will actually have some way to play catch up. See? We can all play nice together.
Looking forward to Beta
Obviously, I can’t say that I’m thrilled about heading into yet another expansion where major changes are being made to the healing game under the auspices of “fun and exciting gameplay”. Arguably, the changes healers underwent in Mists were significantly less painful than those introduced in Cataclysm, but I confess I am a little weary of having The Constraints of Healing altered every 2ish years. No niches! No niches, forserious! Triage! Holy Trinity! Cooldowns! No more unlimited mana! Unlimited mana with a legendary meta! Save your GCDs! Use your GCDs! Use your GCDs for the right things unless you have other things to do with those GCDs! Drop Healing Tide and AFK! UGH.
That being said, I understand that the changes above and those waiting to be discovered when beta testing starts, are the natural and necessary evolution of a living, breathing game. And, I’m happy to see a number of issues from MoP are getting some much-needed attention, from the strength of absorbs and the prevelance of splash healing, to the renewed emphasis on decision-making and the reinstatement of raid cooldowns as healer domain. Like many, I’m anxious to actually get into the testing phases to see how everything feels, but as of right now, this backseat designer is content to just be along for the ride.
Next up … What these changes and others discussed on the Alpha Patch notes mean for Resto Shaman. Coming soon! (Actually, like, tomorrow, since it’s already 90% written).