Latest in Gaming

Image credit:

Shifting Perspectives: Developer Q&A touches on resto druid issues

Allison Robert

Every week, WoW Insider brings you Shifting Perspectives for cat, bear, restoration and balance druids. This week, we turn our attention the most recent developer Q&A ... and we all know what happened the last time we did that.

I spent the weekend being a trifle distracted (and then heartbroken) by the Women's World Cup, but at least we can feel good about the winner. Oh, and for all those of you who utilize musk deer glands in your health regimen, please remember to check them for steroids, in much the same fashion that one would check flour for boll weevils and rice grains for moths in one's pantry. This has been a public service announcement by your friendly local World of Warcraft blog, which takes an interest in this matter because a commenter once accused it of fomenting unrest in North Korea.

What the hell is this column supposed to be about? Oh, right. Anyway, the final developer Q&A was published this past Friday, and within it were a few nuggets of interest to restoration druids. We didn't get any questions that specifically dealt with our spec, so I am not required to Hulk out over the lack of answers that Blizzard has traditionally provided to such questions, so let's spend today being happy and relatively sane.

Some of the questions really had nothing to do with restoration druids, so I've ignored those. Here's the interesting stuff:

Ask the Devs #11: Healing (Answers)
Q: At the start of Cataclysm, the the idea was given that developers wanted to step away from niche healing and let all healers be capable tank or raid healers. Has this goal since changed? Is there any plan to change the dogma "Holy Paladin = Tank healer"? As I remember, devs said that they wanted to change this formula in a past interview but Holy Paladins are still considered as a tank healer, indispensable for raid. Even thought other healers can heal tankers, there are people who say that this job is hard for other healers. – Frazlo (NA), 트롤학개론 (KR)

A: The goal hasn't changed. We added three new heals for paladins and changed their resource model to make them a better group healer. You can argue that we didn't go far enough and we should have given paladins even more new heals, but we didn't want the Holy spec to be unrecognizable for a long-time player.

We suspect several paladins would turn your question around and argue that it's not that they are indispensible tank healers, but that they can't compete against other healers for group healing.

While the answer is mostly concerned with paladins (and I've snipped most of it as a result), I think there are a few cogent observations here.

You could make a decent argument that niches for healers make more sense than they do for tanks. It's very rare these days to have more than two tanks per raid encounter, whereas the average 25-man raid will run anywhere from five to eight healers depending on the boss and difficulty. Consequently, in a large raid you can afford to have healer specializations in a way you just can't for a role that only two players are in at a time.

However, this starts to suck at the 10-man level, really sucks at the 5-man level (remember holy paladins and heroic Loken at the start of Wrath of the Lich King?), and descends to new depths of suck in PVP. So while I see where players are coming from in their dislike for healer homogenization, I can't really fault Blizzard's decision to standardize the different classes' toolkits somewhat in Cataclysm.

However, they're still different enough to produce dissimilar results in raids, and healer capabilities don't exist in a vacuum. It's not enough to be a capable raid healer if someone else can do it better and more efficiently than you. While Cataclysm has changed the degree to which that's true (e.g., holy paladins are no longer pants at raid healing), the overwhelming tendency is still to shift healers where even the most fragile advantages exist.

The closer that healer capabilities get to each other, the more that the player mania for distinguishing between tank healers and raid healers will have more to do with how our brains need to classify and organize than the capabilities of the actual classes.

Food for thought: I wonder if Blizzard ever gets sick of the community's intransigence on these issues while the game itself speeds forward.

Ask the Devs #11: Healing (Answers)
Q: Are you still considering creating a new heroic class of healer? Are there any plans for adding any new class with a healing talent tree in future expansions? – Molatuna (EU-FR), Elvenadoren (EU-EN)

A: Obviously, we can't talk about future expansions yet. What we can share is that whenever we have discussed adding a new class that can heal, the biggest question we debate is whether the healing model should be similar to the existing classes or something radically different. Something different has the potential to attract players currently burned out on healing or maybe even new healers. On the other hand, it would be much harder to balance. We know the three-heal, mana-and-Spirit based system largely works.

This doesn't really have much to do with us, but the Archdruid hero healing class was an idea that I saw a lot of people floating toward the latter end of Wrath and beginning of Cataclysm. I always wondered how that would work: "Like a druid, but better? More efficient? Less annoying? heals through the power of concentrated hate!"

People who ask for new hero classes without examining their potential impact on the game scare me. The death knight was a nightmare at the beginning of Wrath, and while a healer/DPS hero class would probably be less likely to screw with game balance (at least in contrast to the death knight, he of the then-million cooldowns), I'm still not sure it's worth the hassle. People who hate healing are not likely to find that aspect of the class compelling. People who like healing will make the switch from their own healers if they find the new class more interesting, but that means abandoning their former healer as a main.

And while this wasn't a point that was actually raised during the Q&A, the introduction of the death knight served as a lesson on the limits of a hero class' appeal. I'll put it this way: The popular and (you might argue) reasonable assumption was that the death knight's very cool mechanics would make it attractive for more people to tank. However, in the months after Wrath launched, it became apparent from plummeting hunter, rogue, and warlock populations that the vast majority of people playing death knights as a main were rerolls from pure DPS classes. The Dungeon Finder later confirmed what people already knew -- tanks were still underplayed. There is something about the role, not the specs capable of doing it, that most people don't want to do.

So if our experience with the death knight is any indication, the addition of a hero class to the game gives people who already enjoy the roles it's capable of a new way to experience them, but it doesn't convince people to do a job they're not already doing. That's not necessarily an impediment to the introduction of a hero healer, but I think it does blow a hole in the theory that such a class would increase the number of people playing healers.

Ask the Devs #11: Healing (Answers)
Q: When healing, it is hard to see the overall screen because healers must keep an eye on the Raid frame. And due to PVP balance issues, dispels are only allowed for healer's. This situation makes it too harsh for the healers and gives to much responsibility and also a burden because healers have to heal and move at the same time during raids. Isn't this a little too harsh? – 스페이드 (KR), 신기하군 (KR)

A: Well, raiding isn't only hard for healers. In fact, most of the time the damage seems unhealable, it's probably because it is intended to be unhealable and there is some aspect of the fight that you're missing or not executing as well as you could. While raiding healers have a lot of responsibility, it is our sense that most of them want that responsibility – that it is what attracts them to healing.

While we agree that we've had fights with too much "urgent dispelling" as you put it, we've tried to be better about that in more recent content. The dispels on Valiona and Theralion or Ascendant Council need to be done at the right moment, which is emphatically not as soon as the debuff appears. You need a smart dispeller for those mechanics, not a quick dispeller. We also had fairly "urgent interrupts" in Blackwing Descent and Bastion of Twilight, which are often the responsibility of melee, we continue to have situations where tanks need to respond immediately to something (say a tank swap or incoming adds), and we have mechanics where anyone who isn't aware of their surroundings can wipe their whole group.

We definitely use incoming damage as a tuning mechanism, but we also use berserk timers to set a high bar for the DPS specs. There is a risk that if berserk timers are too tightly tuned that raids may attempt to replace healers with more DPS, which isn't doing the healers any favors either. Note that limiting dispels to healers isn't just a PvP balance issue. We wanted to know for sure that every 5-player group would be able to dispel magic. The alternatives were that there could never be important debuffs to dispel or some healers just wouldn't be viable for some content.

The only note I would add to Blizzard's first paragraph here is that a disorganized or incompetent healing team will invariably manifest itself in the form of "unhealable damage" as well. I first learned how to parse raid logs back in The Burning Crusade, when our main healer couldn't account for the absurd number of wipes we kept having on Morogrim Tidewalker. One of the healers assigned to the raid, an otherwise very competent holy priest, kept running out of mana at an oddly early time even with the chain-potting that players could do back then. It turned out that one of our other raid healers was asleep at the wheel, and the priest had been doing the lion's share of work compensating for his performance. It was a primer on the interdependence of all healers in a raid and why interpreting healing meters requires a little more thought than the usual "Who's on top?"

Cataclysm raid encounters have definitely been better with respect to the sometimes ridiculous number of dispels that healers have historically worried about. I think the last fight that ever gave me pause in that vein was actually Akil'Zon on the PTR before Static Disruption got nerfed.

Ask the Devs #11: Healing (Answers)
Q: Healers are usually responsible for the loss of the teammate, but not all the mistakes are made by healers, such as over taunt or damage zone avoidance. This also happens in the 5 man dungeons frequently. Is there any chance to add a design to punish damage classes with inappropriate behavior? Is there ever going to be a clear indicator that the indivdual died from "unhealable damage" in combat logs/on screen warning? – 明亮 (TW), Galadruin (EU-EN)

A: We see the mindset slowly changing from the notion that anytime someone dies, it's the healer's fault. We agree that there could be more situations where we make it obvious that the healer couldn't realistically save the DPS from their mistake. On the other hand, saving other characters is part of the fun of playing a healer, so we don't want to totally remove that gameplay. We also provide many specs with sprints, self-heals and emergency buttons of their owns, so the answer shouldn't always be unhealable damage. We also are making more and more use of mechanics where "standing in the fire" doesn't cause damage, but causes a debuff which lowers DPS, hitting those players where it hurts the most.

I have to return to a point made during our discussion of the tank Q&A: If you're playing like a jerk and the person being punished for your poor gameplay is someone who is not you, there is no functional incentive not to play like a jerk. While a good DPS player will take steps to avoid unnecessary damage, past a certain point, you just have to train yourself out of the effort to avoid all of it, largely because you can't. It's impossible to avoid raid damage on most fights. Your survival is ultimately in the hands of the healing team, so it's probably more accurate to say that the difference between a good DPSer and a bad DPSer is the degree to which the latter commands healer's attention and not whether that attention is required in the first place. A bad DPSer can always retreat into the haze of numbers and random damage on the average boss attempt, and it's just not worth your time to deal with it unless someone's a major-league offender. Unfortunately, a raid full of minor-league offenders is usually enough to 86 the average attempt.

So there's a certain brilliant if sad cynicism in avoidable boss debuffs that lower DPS rather than endanger players -- "hitting (DPS) players where it hurts the most," as Blizzard puts it. Mechanics like this nicely solve a persistent issue with difficult content: If you die, there's always the question of whether a fast healer and/or a rapid cooldown could have kept that from happening. Less clear is how the effort to save your sorry ass affected the rest of the raid.

Ask the Devs #11: Healing (Answers)
Q: Looking at the healer changes with patch 4.2, there are changes being made to paladins and druids, but there doesn't appear to be any for either the priest or shaman. Do you feel comfortable with where these two classes are? Where do you feel the other healers are at currently? – Sergan (LA)

A: As we write this, heroic attempts on the Firelands raid have just begun and the new PvP season has started. At this time, we are happy with all five of the healing specs. We don't think there is a weak or mandatory healer. We try not to change things just for the sake of change. We know that constant changes can be exhausting for players, so we try to resist the urge to tinker with mechanics, specs or classes that are basically working fine. We suspect that sometimes players fall into a mode where if they don't see copious patch notes for their character that they feel like we don't love them anymore. We love all of our classes. If you don't see any changes in patch notes it either means that we don't think changes are warranted yet, or that we have future plans to change things that we haven't quite solidified or lack the ability to implement exactly how we want. This doesn't mean every class is now perfect and requires no additional tweaks – far from it. Just try and distinguish between "my dude hasn't changed lately" and "my dude is fundamentally broken and the developers don't know or don't care." We can assure you the latter sentiment is never the case.

Compared to healer balance in the first part of Cataclysm -- by which I mean, "Ignore the druids, bring one shaman for Mana Tide Totem (then 400% of the caster's spirit), and then stuff the team full of priests and paladins" -- right now, we're in a friggin' paradise.

Ask the Devs #11: Healing (Answers)
Q: Do you feel that the three-heal model you implemented at the start of Cataclysm is a success? Have you changed your expectations or goals in regards to the three-heal model after watching a tier of raiding? How do you feel about how the various specs are using or avoiding these three core heals? – Anohako (NA)

A: Overall, we still like the model and we intend to keep supporting it. One flaw with the system is that healers in 5-player dungeons often have to make harder choices about which of the three core heals to use at any given moment. In raids, especially in 25-player mode, healers can afford to specialize more. To be fair, raids often replace spell-choice complexity with encounter complexity, but overall it would be nice if players graduated from less complexity to more complexity as they went into more challenging content rather than the reverse. As a theoretical example, imagine that priests didn't have access to Greater Heal in 5-player dungeons, so the choice would be between the fast, expensive Flash Heal vs. the slower, efficient Heal (in addition to all their other tools of course). It's hard to develop a system that would make such a restriction make sense, but you get the idea.

When comparing classes, the intent was always that the druid and Disc priest would use those three core heals the least. It is a design problem (though not a massive one) that those two specs can specialize so much in 25-player raids that they can forsake their three core heals to a great extent. In smaller groups, they still need to look at their full toolbox. We like the way the shaman works, particularly with Tidal Waves providing synergy among the three core heals. The paladin model is close but as mentioned above, they have to rely on the three heals too much because they don't have another heal like Riptide or Penance to add to the mix. Holy priests still suffer a bit of the reverse where there are so many heals that it's hard to provide niches for them all. We've talked about a spec model where there are even more specialization spells (like the ones you get at level 10) so that we can have more spells for each healer without players having to spend talent points on them.

Our commenter Radda observed that druids are in the semi-unique position of being somewhat exempt from the three-heals model that Blizzard's pursued, and it's kind of cool to hear that Blizzard actually intended for that to happen. That Blizzard considers it a bit of a design problem makes me wonder what we can expect when the developers inevitably start reassessing healer specs in the run-up to the next expansion. Between this and the holy paladin question (concerning raid healing) earlier, I'm curious to see if and/or how the developers are going to erode and/or boost the different classes' raid healing tools.

Shifting Perspectives helps you gear your bear druid at 85, tempts you with weapons, trinkets and relics for bears, then shows you what to do with it all in Feral Druid Tanking 101. We'll also help you gear your resto druid.

From around the web

ear iconeye icontext filevr