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Shifting Perspectives: Healers, selfishness and trouble ahead

Allison Robert

Every Tuesday, Shifting Perspectives explores issues affecting druids and those who group with them. This week, we stress the importance of pattern recognition.
Cirocco: I enjoy a healing model based around triage, quick reactions and maximizing output. I very much doubt I'll enjoy a healing model based around parsimoniously doling out mana and yelling at people who snipe my HOTs.
I've been guilty of a little pessimism concerning the restoration tree in Cataclysm. Many of my experiences healing on the beta haven't been good, and while I'm willing to allow for the likely possibility that that's just because I suck, it hasn't escaped my attention that a lot of druids have had the same hard time. Normal Cataclysm instances aren't bad if people are well-geared and play sensibly, but when things go wrong, it feels like you're emptying your mana into a group with nothing to show for it.

To be frank, it really is too early to evaluate whether the 5-man experience is representative of what we can expect in raids at 85, but I'm not worried about the numbers themselves. As Ghostcrawler (lead systems designer) has reminded us, numbers are pretty easy to fix. What worries me is more systemic; right now, it's hard to escape the conclusion that what made the restoration spec succeed in Wrath of the Lich King is a bad fit for Cataclysm, and a lot of our effectiveness is going to depend on player behavior that I'm not sure is going to change.

EDIT: Naturally I had to finish this article shortly before new information concerning beta build 12857 became available. It's not live on the beta servers yet, and may not be (12857 might be a purely internal build, in which case I wonder who Boubouille paid off), but there are a few things there that would have impacted how I wrote this column.

The Wrath healing model

Most players are familiar with the changes to raids between The Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King, but to shorthand it:I'm eager to stress that the problems Blizzard solved with these decisions were very real. Anyone who raided through tier 6 in those days probably remembers raid leaders having to switch shaman in and out groups to keep Bloodlust going, fights over which melee would be excluded from the Windfury group, and fights between the healers and caster DPS over the shadow priest. I think it's safe to say that no one really misses that.

However, there's no such thing as a solution that doesn't have its own impact on the game, and Blizzard's acknowledged that rampant stat inflation and easy access to Replenishment became the defining features of Wrath healing. Healers found themselves with near-limitless mana pools, and encounter design had to change to reflect a reality where longevity wasn't a concern. I'd argue that encounters and achievements like Jaraxxus, Twin Valks, Firefighter, Knock Knock Knock on Wood, Faction Champions, Anub'arak, Blood Queen Lana'thel, Sindragosa and the Lich King owe their existence to this problem. The developers had to find a way to challenge healers, and they did this by requiring us to heal through dangerous burst damage (Firefighter, Freya, Anub'arak, BQL), provide massive throughput (Sindragosa, Twin Valks, Festergut), or both.

While challenging, the spamfest healing model hasn't earned much praise from either developers or players. It's stressful, it punishes players with higher than average latency, and it's also frustrating in that raiders can literally die within seconds to things like Penetrating Cold and Harvest Soul. The hair-trigger healing style is perhaps best exemplified -- in addition to reaching new heights of absurdity -- in the Faction Champions fight in Trial of the Grand Crusader. If you can get through the heroic version of this fight without one of your players being focused and killed in mere tenths of a second, you're a better man than I am, Gunga Din.

So while successful healing in the average BC encounter depended on mana efficiency in raids with uncertain access to buffs, the average Wrath encounter has depended on massive, constant throughput.

Why is the restoration druid brought to a Wrath raid?

Massive, constant throughput.

Restoration druids get raid slots because a competent player can pump out a ton of healing over an extended encounter. Additionally, we bring extra resource generation for players with Revitalize procs, and we bring the ultra-necessary battle resurrection.

What we bring to the raid is a frankly absurd amount of healing, with HPS (healing per second) only minimally affected by raid movement, and we bring it at a time when hurdling raid content depends on healing as much as you can as fast as you can. That we've done as well as we have in Wrath shouldn't be a surprise.

Cataclysm raiding and the transition problem

In the absence of cooldowns, damage reduction or bubbles, we have no alternative but to heal players through every bit of damage that occurs. While that's true to an extent of all healers, the nerfs to tank avoidance, larger player health pools, skyrocketing mana costs and the resto druid's customarily pathetic crit rate all conspire to keep us healing constantly. The tank isn't going to dodge. The warlock trying to move out of AoE will have gobbled a quarter of your mana pool when all's said and done. You can't depend on your HoTs to crit. In a 5-man, there's no other help coming, and in a raid, well ... we'll talk about mastery next week.

The developers have been pretty open about their desire to move away from the Wrath raid model, in which difficult encounters are almost universally designed around the amount and speed of healing required. However, at this point in the beta, the resto druid doesn't have the toolbox to do much of anything else. We continue to offer raids lots and lots of healing, but the list of things we don't bring has actually increased with the disappearance of Revitalize (now this). Our battle resurrection has also been heavily nerfed by way of a 30-minute cooldown, and most of our talent tree continues to be a set of passive increases to what we already do.

Even our new cooldown -- the revamped Tree of Life -- is entirely oriented around healing more and faster for 45 seconds. We can't pull a tank's chestnuts out of the fire, we don't bubble the raid, we don't increase DPS, and we're now unable to contribute to resource regeneration. We heal.

And ... heal.

And heal some more.

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