[..] Healing in Mists, especially in raids and especially later in the expansion, suffered from three major problems: 1) the power of healing relative to player health pools meant that injured players could be topped off almost instantly; 2) mana became increasingly irrelevant as a constraint, with many healers actively reforging out of Spirit; and 3) "smart heals" accounted for a very large portion of healing done, meaning that for some healers their targeting decisions were almost meaningless.
[..] The problem is that when healing was in that state, the only way we could kill someone in a raid or dungeon was with massive damage, fatal if the healer didn't react instantly; it led to sudden spike deaths, punished latency, and made healing more like whack-a-mole and less like a series of tactical decisions. And in raids, as soon as maximizing throughput becomes all that matters, healing risks turning into a rotation performed irrespective of the encounter or the incoming damage.
[..] We want to slow down the pace a bit, and for the challenge in healing to lie more in making decisions about spell usage and targeting, and less in twitch-reaction and sustaining a DPS-style rotation. This also means that the cost of a mistake is not a dead player, but rather a more injured one, giving you a chance to fix your error. [..]
First, I like most of this post a lot. It makes me hopeful that - at least in the beginning - WoD will have 5-man dungeons that are actually interesting as a healer. This were in stark contrast to most of WoW since the introduction of DungeonFinder in the middle of WotLK.
The exception being healing in Cataclysm dungeons with my druid back then; even the DungeonFinder ones. They were interesting and fun. I had a lot of trouble healing raids in Cataclysm, though. Not because I didn't put out enough healing or was running oom, but because I constantly died due to standing in some kind of fire or not with the group or with the group when I shouldn't have, etc.
Basically I liked the healing minigame - but to also have to be on the move constantly or standing in one specific spot at the right time was a bit too much for me. I raided maybe 5 or 6 times in Cataclysm.
The healing I liked most (of course) was the one in classic WoW. So, let's have a look at what has changed and why.
Healing in classic WoW consisted of slow/fast healing spells (reaction), low/high throughput healing spells, mana-efficient/inefficient healing spells, the need for movement and trying to not be hit by mobs.
Healers were constantly making decisions on several fronts:
- long-term decisions: Can I spare the mana?
- short-term decisions: What do I have to do to keep the group from wiping? (reaction time / necessary throughput)
- single-target or multiple-target heal?
- need for movement, which prevented efficient usage of most healing spells.
- need to not being hit by mobs, which not only resulted in the usual amount of group damage, but due to pushback, also resulted in much less healing for everyone.
Classic wasn't perfect. You can imagine combinations, like a spell that is slow and moderately efficient, but can be used during movement and while being hit without pushback. Anyway, classic WoW's healing decision making was interesting enough to be fun.
Now, you might think that the above combinations are obvious, but, in fact, this is not the way healing always worked in WoW.
For long periods of time, whenever the power-creep had set in, during an expansion, healing turned into some kind of hps rotation, where you had to cast spells in some kind of inter-dependent and/or procc-dependent order and without looking at mana. In this case, healers were just like damage dealers, with the irrelevant difference that they dealt healing instead of damage.
With the addition of smart heals, which decide on their own who should be the target of the heal, healers played the same way damage dealers played in dungeons: they spammed their AoE rotation irrespective of what happened.
I am happy the WoD developers recognized that this is not optimal! This is very important. A MMO is better if it offers different play styles. In fact, the more different, the better. Which is, why class homogenization is really a terrible thing and should be done very carefully, especially in the name of something as overhyped on player forums, like 'balance'.
Now, WoD developers once again, try to go back to the mana-limited healing. That's great. Furthermore, they aim to make movement difficult for casters again. This is also great! With the exception of too much push-back protection (healers don't have to try not to be hit by mobs) we are almost there (back in classic). And pushback protection is not relevant, anyway, in modern WoW, because tanking is not about threat anymore as tanks produce massive AoE threat whatever they do. That is another post.
Anyway, healing looks reasonably good in WoD with one more difference remaining to classic:
See, in classic WoW casters only regenerated meaningful amounts of mana if they hadn't cast for the last five seconds. This lead to a play style very, very different from that of damage dealers. Healing was a tactical/strategical challenge. It was not so much about being fast or active, but about trying to do nothing whenever possible. Healers would watch the battlefield, constantly thinking and judging what to do next and when. They may not have pressed buttons all that often. But, mentally, they were often the most active players. I know one healer in classic who was well known on the server to let tanks and players drop to very low amounts of health before healing them up again. He rarely ran oom and since he usually succeeded at keeping the tank alive, even in tight situations, he was very well respected.
With Cataclysm, however, the developers considered this a bad mechanic. Players doing nothing for long periods of time didn't fit into their ever-faster philosohy. ("We don't want to reward inactivity" - as if watching the battle meant being inactive!)
As a consequence they added super-mana-efficient heals that could be cast for forever and removed the extra-fast mana-regeneration after 5 seconds of inactivity. Healers now regenerated a moderate amount of mana irrespective of spell casting.
This ended in catastrophe. Healers were completely overwhelmed by the combination of
- dungeons that required team work, single-target damage and crowd control instead of AoE (like in late WotLK)
- players who weren't used to this anymore
- the new healing philosophy which I just explained
- all this in combination with the DungeonFinder which must not be used in combination with non-trivial content, as Blizzard has learnt since then.
But what about the Cataclysm healing if done right? It wasn't terrible. In fact, it was pretty neat in 5-man dungeons, if you had a reasonable group, some self-confidence (one of those things many healers don't seem to have) and if you had understood that you had to cast your cheap heal all-the-time.
Players who hadn't understood the difference to healing in prior expansions, however, were screwed.
In Cataclysm you didn't regenerate more mana if you hadn't cast for 5 seconds. Consequently, if you tried to cast as rarely as possible, followed by your most powerful (and most expensive / mana-inefficient) heal, you would run out-of-mana very, very fast. Healers who tried to adjust to the new-found difficulty of Cataclysm dungeons and tried to go back the the mana-efficient healing of pre-Cataclysm times, ran constantly oom - often without understanding why.
The disadvantage of Cataclysm healing was that, constantly spamming your mana-efficient healing spells, while also looking out for mana-saving proccs made healing very stressful. Especially, when combined with raid-like positioning mechanics. For me, the 5-man dungeon stress level was still ok - but raiding was too exhausting to be fun.
In addition, contrary to the design goal, healing in practice didn't go from using the super-cheap heals to the more inefficient ones while content became more difficult. Instead, it went from using the inefficient ones rarely if the content was easy (less work), to using the inefficient ones more often if content became more difficult. The difficulty sweet spot where you had to use the efficient ones all the time and supplemented them with the inefficient ones, was very hard to hit for the designers.
And, last but not least, healers, facing easy content, were lazy and used the inefficient spells rarely, instead of the efficient ones often. Consequently, they felt bad for knowing that they played sub-optimal. But there just wasn't any need to play better if the content was sufficiently easy.
This is in contrast to the old healing philosophy which made healers feel good whenever they didn't have to heal. They were rewarded with mana and short relaxing breaks when they cast as little as possible and, consequently, were happy whenever they could just watch the battle. Of course, damage dealers and tanks not having much self-healing/absorbs back then also prevented healers from ever becoming superfluous, no matter how easy the content; that's another difference to now.
Eventually, and yet again, power creep set in. At that point I had already left my raid group, 5-man dungeons were super-boring as a healer, the open world was made trivial (not least due to pve-pvp separation) and thus, the announcement of a whole expansion about pandas (Pandas!) was quite enough to make me quit.
Healing in WoD looks good so far. Not great, but good. I hope that after the ability pruning, healers will still have lots of heals to choose from. To have just one fast/inefficient/high throughput and one slow/efficient/low throughput heal for single targets and multiple targets makes four heals for all healers. That's boring.
Healers should be different! There should be many more heals for different situations. One shouldn't be afraid of a heal that is moderately efficient, very slow, has moderate throughput, rewards mana if the healer is hit (becomes very efficient), but turns into a high-throughput HoT that costs extra mana over time (turns into inefficient) if the healer starts moving while casting. This kind of ability may add complexity, but it also adds some depth - especially for the game as whole!