Lost Pages of Taborea: Spam heal is the enemy of strategy

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Lost Pages of Taborea: Spam heal is the enemy of strategy
Last week, I spoke a bit about whether Runes of Magic was too easy or not. In that article I harken back to the mana strike that players held to remove part of a patch that added a percentage-to-cost modifier on all spells for all classes. This week I wanted to flit around the same subjects, but from the viewpoint of healing and strategy.

I want my readers to be well-versed in RoM 101. Just like I set out to do with my community guide for new and old players, I want to educate players today on the fine art of button-mashing. Let's start by covering what spam healing -- or spamming any skill -- is, and why it's not always fun. I'll put this into the context of dungeon-running, cover some fun strategy that results from not being able to spam heal, and give my opinion on how well (or not-so-well) all this works in RoM.
I basically gave it away in the introduction: spamming heal or any other skill is button-mashing. It's not inherently bad. Many times our focus, energy or mana pools are nice and full; we're in a position in which we have the luxury to spam skills on a helpless mob or player; and our chosen skills have an instant (or near-instant) cooldown. It's great for grinding, but the old definition of grinding that I first learned -- the art of tearing through more than one mob at a time, as fast as possible, to maximize XP gain.

Eventually, though, our bars run dry, and we rely on flip-flopping between skill rotations to be able to keep steadily grinding away. If mana never ran out, why have it to begin with? If it were too easy to quickly restore mana wherever and whenever you needed it (to the point you never had to worry about running out or sacrificing anything for it), then it's a skill that needs to be reworked or removed. Look at the Rogue's Shadowstab, which uses a small amount of energy. You can slice and dice through mobs almost endlessly with this skill. You still can't spam it, but it does replenish quickly, enough to keep you going at a steady pace. Throw in a healer to team with the Rogue and the two can make short work of mobs. The only real danger is in aggroing too many mobs at once or running into an elite. But if you're going into a dungeon, it's a different experience.

Inside a dungeon, mobs are all significantly stronger, and the boss, well, he's going to be a lot stronger. If you've ever run into Perodia while killing ents in Silverspring, then you know what I mean. Inside a dungeon, teamwork and strategy come into play. The frequent spamming of heals we were able to use to keep our questing buddies alive just won't (or shouldn't) jive inside a dungeon. It should be a given that you will run out of mana, at all the worse times. The best course of action for any class (but especially for the healer) is to develop good hand-eye coordination, acquire a little foresight, learn which heals to use when, and hand them all out judiciously.

One thing to keep in mind is that the majority of time when you're fighting your way through a dungeon, you just need to keep everyone alive. That doesn't mean everyone's health bars need to be at 100%. If you found yourself in a tight situation when one or two extra mobs were accidentally aggroed, you need to ensure that the players are all above zero, not that they are all fit as a fiddle. If the fight is over and the tank has 10% health while you are almost bone-dry on mana, that doesn't mean RoM is broken. It is the nature of MMOs. Pop whatever potions are needed and move on. Dungeons are going to require strategy, a game plan that involves coordinating between party members, knowing what mobs to hit when and how to best use your heals.

There are different heals for a reason. An ideal scenario in which a party is up against a boss would have the healer doing a lot of work. Make no mistake: Healers are not an easier class than others to play. In my fabricated scenario, the healer will be paying close attention to his groupmates' health bars, how fast those health bars are draining, the boss' skill rotation, and where the healer himself is standing at any given time. As the healer, you may be faced with figuring out that the tank's health bar is steadily draining at a faster rate than everyone else's. To add to that, the boss has a certain spell that will knock out a fourth of everyone's health bar in one shot. You may be doling out single heals on the tank and Rogue while occasionally throwing a regen on the tank as well, to mitigate the extra-nasty skill the boss occasionally throws. While doing this, the healer will also be watching his own mana pool and how each player's health corresponds to that of the other players. You'll find ideal times to throw a more expensive group heal whenever the players' health bars are reduced by roughly the same amount. You should also consider any class combo advantages, both for yourself and for the other classes you're partied with. A mage covering area-of-effect spells might be able to spare a mana regen for you from time to time, and there will be other strategic possibilities.

While this is my ideal situation, unfortunately RoM is not an ideal MMO to make this happen often. RoM still needs a sizable amount of balancing in most dungeons to maximize this kind of strategy. There's also the fact that many bosses are almost strategy-less. They're tank-n-spank elites that just stand there and throw damage at you. Many times it just makes more sense to simplify the matter and rely more on brute force and brute heals, because basically you'll just be plowing through groups of identical trash mobs that are positioned within the dungeon in a way that doesn't call for much strategy. If Runewaker started adding more variety to the kinds of trash mobs and their patrol route within each area of a dungeon, it would be a start to injecting the need for more strategy. Right now, it just might be more fun to rely on gear modding before entering a dungeon and on stacking stats to kill the boss as fast as possible, but I don't think that's a road anyone should be content with.

Part of what I see as providing a lot more fun in the long-term is longer boss fights. I don't mean insanely long, but the ability to gear should not equate perfectly to the amount of time it takes to down a boss. You should not be able to down a boss of any level in four seconds, no matter how strong you are. Bosses could become ridiculously easy, yes, but they would still take time because you have to go through a strategic routine. Even bosses significantly lower than the player should (at most) have the player yawning while the boss barely scratches him, but it's still going to take time for the player to tear through the boss' stamina. As it is, many players can forgo strategy, stack stats to obscene amounts, and take down even high-end bosses within minutes or seconds. I can't blame players for that. A lot of the problem is in the design, but I don't think that's a road players should willingly go down when giving advice to Frogster.

No matter what road you travel there will always be speedbumps, so why not choose the lane that takes us toward a more robust element of strategy? Yes, I'm harping about the percentage modifier that Runewaker tried to institute. It wasn't perfect. What it was, I think, was a good start in steering RoM down a road that leads to more diversity in how each class can function, and ultimately, to injecting a basis for using more strategy in the game. It wasn't just a way to make some classes have a slightly harder time refilling mana because spam healing was getting out of hand. It does accomplish that, but it added much more. Every player in every class would have to be more conscious of the role he played in dungeons, at every level.

As a player giving my input, I don't want Runewaker to get the solid impression that I just want things to be balanced but simplified. I want things to be simple, with the ability to add complexity. Consider Magic:The Gathering -- it's easy for anyone to pick up and play but hard to master. I want the need to have to choose what skills I use when depending on what level I am. There are many more reasons for me to want to go down that road too, but it's mainly because I don't want an overly simplistic MMO. I don't want a game in which all I have to do is stack enough stats to enter a dungeon and then plow through it like a wheat thresher. All that will leave me with is a game that becomes so simplistic and strategy-less that I burn through the game too fast and get bored more quickly. RoM could end up being a game that's kind of fun for a minute, but then once we run a dungeon, we hate it, and there's no reason to stay. I don't mind 21st century instant-gratification when it comes to playing a game, but leave it for traditional console-based RPGs. There's a particular mix of strategy and problem-solving that lends itself to more fun when it comes to MMORPGs.
Each Monday, Jeremy Stratton delivers Lost Pages of Taborea, a column filled with guides, news, and opinions for Runes of Magic. Whether it's a community roundup for new players or an in-depth look at the Rogue/Priest combo, you'll find it all here. Send your questions to jeremy@massively.com.
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