Cataclysm Class Changes: Discipline and holy priest analysis

Dawn Moore
D. Moore|04.09.10

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Cataclysm Class Changes: Discipline and holy priest analysis
By now I'm sure you have read the priest class preview for Cataclysm and, assuming that you have any feelings toward the priest class, felt a multitude of emotions toward it. Whether you stayed up late with the rest of us last night or swallowed it all this morning, the announcements are certainly shocking. I don't think anyone expected us to be cloth-wearing death knights in the next expansion. I will get to that later, though. If you didn't already guess from the title above, I will be providing a full assessment of the class preview for healing priests.

Having already browsed at reactions on the forums, I want to assure you that I am going to stay mostly level-headed with my review. I of course do this because I'm in no way bitter about waiting 15 hours for Blizzard to give me a winky-face at 2:58 a.m. EST, saying it's still the 7th of April in Anaheim, California. Anyway, whatever your feelings on the preview have been so far, hit the jump and I promise I won't spare you any variety of perspective.

New priest spells

Heal I never understood why Blizzard decided to stop making ranks for Heal or Lesser Heal. How hard could it be to make new ranks for those spells? It always made me feel like Blizzard took a lunch break in the middle of adding in the ability and forgot to finish up when they got back. I think the opportune time to have added this spell back into the game would have been when down-ranking became obsolete; but hey, I get that Blizzard is busy, so I'll let it slide.

I am actually quite pleased they're adding the spell back into the game though, and I like the idea behind a normal, big and fast heal. Heal makes sense for us to have, more than any class (even though Blizzard has already said they're implementing this across all healers.) Since priests have the most diverse palette of healing abilities, I think we may have the potential to be the most efficient healers in the game come Cataclysm. I'm really looking forward to this. To anyone who frets that going back to the system in vanilla will make healing less fun, consider this: in vanilla we were not as skilled players as we are now. The resources we have available to us, as well as our mastery of playing the game, have improved tremendously. Most PvE content in vanilla was a tank-and-spank, yet we still struggled with it; what we have to do now as players to survive encounters would be considered impossible in the old days. We are a lot better at this game now, and I do not think going back to a system that rewards efficiency will be as detrimental to fun as many people think it will.

Going back to Heal though, I think Liz said it best: "Did I really wait up to find out that priests are getting an exciting new spell called Heal?" Is it a good addition? Yes. Is it worth putting into a hyped-up class preview? No.

Inner Will I am incredibly pleased with this buff, but I have two complaints. The first is that I'd prefer it be added as a lower-level ability that priests could have while leveling. I remember before the mount changes, I used to lament priests' having zero speed increases until level 40. I even attributed their under-representation (they used to be one of the least-played classes -- that has changed) to the lack of speed while leveling. A 12% speed buff would certainly make priests more welcoming for leveling and soloing content.

My second complaint is that in the current model of raiding, I don't see where Inner Will's speed buff would have applications over Inner Fire when every encounter in this game can be successfully performed without a speed buff. I consider speed buffs an opportunity for sloppy play and cutting things unnecessarily close. Unless every class is going to get a similar ability, I don't see raid content being designed in a way that would require you to toggle between buffs to survive physical obstacles.

With that complaint addressed, I do like the idea of being able to toggle between Inner Fire and Inner Will for throughput or mana efficiency. If you were about to bubble or Renew spam members of your raid before an incoming burst of damage, switching between your buffs to conserve mana would add an interesting and challenging dimension of play that both interests and excites me. This would be a lot like casting Power Infusion on yourself or stacking up Serendipity right before (or soon before, for the latter) you knew you were going to cast a slow spell. I love that complexity, though I worry (and this is a worry I restate later in my assessment) that priests will continue to be a more difficult healing class to play at a level that competes with other healers. All the same, I think this was one of my favorites from the preview.

Leap of Faith a.k.a Life Grip. First off, no one is going to call this spell Leap of Faith, so Blizzard should just not attach themselves to the name. Why would your target be taking the leap anyway? You're the priest. They should rename it "Wings of Fate" or "Wings of Destiny," so I can say stuff like "I'll WoF you out of there." Name aside, my initial reaction to Leap of Faith was one of distaste. Priests already have an "Oh, shit!" button for other targets: it's called Pain Suppression or Guardian Spirit. While using those abilities at a strategic moment to Shield Wall a tank is no difficult task, the usage of it as a clutch player-saver is a task that does take some skill. For priest to be getting another ability like that, on a very short cooldown, makes me feel like priests are again, remaining difficult to play. Now don't get me wrong, I love this aspect of priests, but I dislike that there are healers who do not need the same precision, foresight or anticipation to play.

The other problem I have with Life Grip is that ... it makes me feel like I'm going to be wearing Mom Jeans. All of a sudden I have to be responsible for irresponsible players in more ways than one? I can already hear it: "Ugh! Why didn't you life grip me out of there!? I would have lived if you'd just life gripped me!" Or, "Hey, will you life grip me so I can stay in and DPS longer?" No! You do not need that extra 10 DPS to compete with hunters! Bad melee! Bad, bad melee!

That was my initial reaction. I've cooled off since then, and my secondary action is summed up by this expression: "If I could play 24 characters at once, this boss would be dead by now." In other words, while I don't like LG for the above reasons, I do like that I'll be able to reduce the impact of other people's mistakes by intervening. Is it annoying that I have to do that at all, on some level? Yes, but when I really think about it, I do like saving people. That's why I play a healer to begin with. Plus, in PvP this will be a great peel or regrouping strategy that my allies will actually be thankful for. I just hope in PvE the environment remains positive, so the mom aspect of LG will be reduced. Sure, PUGs and 5-mans will be hell, but when are they not? Also after the Shaman preview, I really like the idea of strategically life gripping a player into a soothing shower of heals; or saving Frostheim's pets; or life gripping a player next to the Lightwell with an amusing /slap emote; or terrorizing my favorite tank during farm content; or harassing that rogue I hate with an "Oops, my bad; hit the wrong key"; or ... oh, the list goes on. My troublemaking will know no end.

Beyond my mischief, another thing I do look forward to is the idea that Blizzard, in their craftiness, might be making dungeons that require strategies that would benefit from this spell. Remember the General Vezax kiting strategy for Surge of Darkness? Very few guilds used it after they figured out a Shield Wall rotation that worked, but imagine if you couldn't Shield Wall through that rotation and the tank had to kite? Now, imagine life gripping him into a head start. Dig it? I suspect that no boss will require the use of life grip (due to "bring the player not the class"), but I really hope that Blizzard will design some interesting fights that would benefit from this ability. That would entertain me greatly.

One last thing though, regarding "Wings of Fate." One priest I talked to was a little upset we couldn't move ourselves and be given an escape, since most classes have one. This is certainly a legitimate complaint and while it is not one that bothers me immensely, I figured I'd mention it.

Changes to abilities and mechanics

Innate benefits to HoTs from haste and crit At first I was excited for this change, but I'm not sure how I feel about it after a second thought. I am glad that Blizzard is modifying the interval between ticks, instead of the duration. This will be a very positive change for healing in dire situations. What worries me is that while this mechanic would be fantastic in the game's current incarnation, especially for holy priests, I don't know if it will be as strong in Cataclysm. With the mana regen system changing, I don't expect HoT-spamming to continue as a viable healing strategy in the expansion. This limitations of mana will probably be what balances this mechanic though, so I don't think it's going to be as huge as it seemed at first glance. On a final note, the holy priest mastery bonus will certainly benefit well from this mechanic. I think disc will be out in the cold on this one. It really makes me wonder if they would consider applying crit to disc shields.

Strengthening priests as tank healers
I'm pleased that Blizzard acknowledges there are some shortcomings with priest tank healing right now. Holy struggles with it, and disc started to struggle with it as Wrath of the Lich King progressed and we received little upward scaling in HPS to handle the damage and health pools we have now. Especially for high end raiders, I really miss being able to tank heal and being forced into a bubble spam niche. I also know that holy priests who played in the Burning Crusade miss being able to tank heal. Being masters of healing needs to mean something, and versatility is a fair trade.

Removal of spirit buffs We already knew this was coming, and I discussed it in this article. Overall, I don't care that I have one less buff to cast (and one less candle to spend), as I know the buff will reappear in our gear.

Mana a bigger issue
As I've already stated, I think priests will adjust to this change in mechanics the easiest due to our large healing spell book. I am certain the game will continue to be fun, while also introducing challenge, thought and problem-solving. I'm stoked that the five-second rule is going to die because it makes the mana regen system needlessly complicated, and I agree that it is not fun. (Granted, if Blizzard had just added a healing wand for priests to use like I've been saying since I installed the game, there would have been something to do for OOM healers all this time.) Consequences for inefficiency will probably start out rocky, but I have faith that players will adapt to it quickly.

New talents and talent changes

Improving disc single-target healing and a second shield On the topic of strengthening priest as tank healers, Blizzard said they are contemplating a second shield for spamming and a big shield for tanks. (Whether Power Word: Shield becomes the big heal or remains the spam shield is undetermined, but it doesn't matter much.) At first I was worried that Blizzard was going to continue to push disc in the direction of mitigation rather than healing, but their notations in this section say otherwise, and I'm glad they do.

You see, as I said earlier, as damage has scaled upward over WotLK, I found myself having a harder time staying disc in 10-mans because I don't always have strong enough HPS to keep up a tank. I can alternatively handle bubbling and spot-healing the raid alone, but it makes other players, who are accustomed to more immediate forms of raid healing, extremely nervous. It's also impractical on some fights with constant raid damage and can be hard on mana resources. In 25-mans, my low HPS leaves me stuck in the shield spam niche because I am not allowed on a tank in truck fights (fights where the tank is being hammered with huge damage). This shortcoming has helped to perpetuate early misconceptions about disc, which continually pushed it into the category of "support class" instead of "healer class" by ignorant, impatient or stubborn players. But I had to wonder, what if it's just me? For a while, I suspected that this might just be a problem at the front end of progression, when gear is still low and content is still new, so seeing Blizzard address it makes me feel validated in my suspicions. Blizzard designed disc to be very capable single-target healers (Grace and Divine Aegis are proof of that) and I'm glad that they're not abandoning that with the idea of a second shield. I just hope they've learned a lot from WotLK to properly implement it. I also hope that they will make the new shielding elements have some fun variety to them.

Improving holy for PvP healing
This statement seems rather well-timed, given my article from earlier this week about priest PvP, when I presented the idea that priest PvP isn't just for discipline priests. I am really looking forward to seeing if they will carry this through, because I know they have talked about it before and didn't. There will be a lot of priests excited to try it out, me being one of them.

AoE bubble, Power Word: Barrier
So they're finally adding this. I personally never wanted it because I think it walks dangerously close to being overpowered. (Disc absorption already walks too close to being OP.) I think how it is implemented will heavily determine how frequently this spell gets nerfed in the expansion, though. Ghostcrawler references DK's Anti-Magic Zone, but his wording implies there will be significant deviation. Will Power Word: Barrier be area-based? Will it be a bubble version of Circle of Healing? I don't know, but I am going to keep this spell at arms' length. I don't want to get attached to it like I got attached to the old Divine Hymn. (It was quite useful in PvP and 3-Drake Sartharion.)

Improving holy versatility: Chakra
First of all, what is with the name? Ugh! I will touch on this more in Sunday's column, so for now I won't go there. Let's just look at the ability: If you cast three spells in a row, you'll enter a casting state that buffs the kind of spells you're casting. So cast three Greater Heals, and suddenly you're a tank healer. Cast three renews, and you're a HoT raid healer. Cast three Prayers of Healing and you're a ... Wait, who casts three Prayers of Healing in a row? I really like the idea of expanding on holy's versatility but I'm uneasy about the idea of a healer needing a rotation to activate it. Rotations in healing kind of go against the idea of what makes healing fun. I hope they will adjust it so that it will be more along the lines of "if you cast three single-target heals in a row" or "If you cast three heals from a selection of Heal, Flash Heal or Greater Heal, in any order or grouping, you will acquire a single target healing buff that will affect all your heals on one target." This would make Chakra a holy spin on Grace and likely share a lot of synergy (or conflict) with Serendipity. I think this may be one of the most complex and interesting things we'll see for priests in the coming expansion, if Blizzard sticks to the idea of having as many buff results (even a DPS buff) as possible.

I am uneasy about one thing, though -- this line from Ghostcrawler: "We're going to try to play this mechanic up with a cool UI to try to get that 'I'm almost in the zone' feel." My reaction to that? No. NO! Do not turn me into a vehicle! I don't want to play a priest version of a flight simulator. If we get a cool animation effect around our little bodies that is fine, but if I wanted to shift into a different UI with different bars like a druid, I'd play a druid. I hope the "in the zone" feel gets scrapped as soon as possible.

Mastery passive talent tree bonuses

I don't think much comment is required on the mastery bonuses for holy and disc, especially since they were previously announced. Holy priests get an interesting bonus: HoTs. Disc priests get a boring bonus: stronger shields. The world keeps turning. I do agree with Blizzard's mastery system, granted. It will make the game more accessible by removing some difficulty in selecting talents. It will also give players more options and freedom in preparing their characters for certain fight, which could be quite fun. It will probably inadvertently lead to more gold sunk into respec costs, but if we're lucky, we'll see a triple specialization option one day. (At least that is my hope.)

My one comment on mastery is that I hope this adjustment to will allow disc priests in PvP more freedom to dip into other trees. As it stands, PvP disc priests are forced to invest more talents into their main tree to get the same results as other classes, and it unfortunately stifles a bit of creativity and limits any elements of surprise you'd encounter when facing a disc priest.

So that sums it up. Remember that these changes are just a proposed preview, and nothing is guaranteed to make it to the expansion. I have many more thoughts (and the lyrics to a Cataclysm priest preview version of "Don't Stop Believin'"), so be sure to check back in on Sunday for more on the future of the priest class. Until then, heal on, my friends.

World of Warcraft: Cataclysm will destroy Azeroth as we know it. Nothing will be the same. In's Guide to Cataclysm you can find out everything you need to know about WoW's third expansion. From Goblins and Worgens to Mastery and Guild changes, it's all there for your cataclysmic enjoyment.
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