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Ask the Devs Round 11 answers your healing questions

Ask the Devs Round 11 focuses on healer and healer-related topics, as Blizzard wraps up this format of questions and answers. Blizzard gave some long and detailed answers for healers this time around, ranging from topics about the nature of the changed healing game in Cataclysm to the choices healers must make in terms of which heal to use in 5-man content versus raid content. The devs also made an interesting remark about a radical new type of healing class that could appear in a later expansion -- a radically different type of healer that might bring back players who have become burned out on the role.

As a raider, I think the best answer came for the question about raid healing being hard for healers and why it sometimes feels like damage is unhealable. The devs commented that raids are not meant to be unhealable, and in most circumstances when the fight seems unhealable, players might be taking the wrong approach to the mechanics. Translated: It might not always be the healer's fault.

Check out all of the questions and answers after the jump.


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Q: I spend a lot of my time in raids keeping Water Shield up, which I rely on to maintain enough mana. There have been times I've neglected to heal someone because I had to refresh Water Shield. Why are shaman healers less effective compared to other healing classes? – Epistemology (NA), ??? (EU-RU)

A: We'd like to be more consistent about what does and doesn't trigger Water Shield. Having the shield trigger when taking direct damage, and consume an orb, is consistent with how all shaman shields work. On some encounters though, constant pulsing damage probably burns through those charges too quickly and doesn't need to do so – that said, if you're having to refresh Water Shield often, that also generally means that you're getting a large amount of extra mana from all those procs that are burning through it. A situational glyph (like we have for Lightning Shield) could help with this issue, and that may be something we consider in the future.

Shaman raid tank healing is, if anything, underrated. With a combination of Earth Shield, Riptide, and Greater Healing Wave fuelled by Tidal Waves, a shaman's throughput can be quite impressive. Yes, a Holy paladin using Beacon can more effectively heal two tanks who are simultaneously taking damage, but on the other hand, a shaman can deal better with multi-target damage or healing clumps of players. Healers have different strengths and weaknesses, which is fine as long as it doesn't get too extreme, but we recognize that the core functionality of being able to heal a single tank who is taking heavy damage from a boss is something all healers need to be able to do, and we're satisfied with the current balance in that regard. We will, of course, make adjustments if inequalities begin to appear.

The Mana Tide change in 4.2 was primarily aimed at reducing the mana available to non-shaman healers in raids. In short, shaman are balanced around always having their own Mana Tide, but other healers are instead balanced around their personal cooldowns (Shadowfiend, Innervate, etc.). Adding Tide on top of those often led to other healers having access to so much mana that managing the resource became a non-issue in many situations. The change from Improved Water Shield to Resurgence was designed to offset the Mana Tide reduction's personal impact to the shaman.


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Q: Is it intended for "smart" heals and target capped aoe spells to heal companions/pets like bloodworms instead of players? Can you redesign Shaman's Chain Heal, so that it can jump over full HP players to a target without full HP? Do you have any plans to make chain heal stronger/more appealing for 5man/10man content? – Epicfail (NA), ?????? (TW), Pikapika (NA)

A: True AoE heals (e.g. Healing Rain) will heal pets and guardians, but will not count those units towards the AoE cap. We'd prefer for "smart" heals to prioritize players over non-players whenever possible, and we'll continue to improve the logic on such heals until that is the case – it certainly doesn't feel particularly satisfying to see that you've just delivered a critical heal to a Bloodworm.

Chain Heal is inherently a situational spell – that situation tends to arise more often the more players are present, but we don't have any plans to redesign the spell to make it the go-to heal when there are fewer players present, or they are all spread far apart. We'd rather augment other tools, or add new ones, if it appears that Shaman healing is inadequate for particular situations.


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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), ????? (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. Ultimately, we think the problem is Holy Radiance. Light of Dawn is a finisher so it's never going to be continuously available for periods of intense group healing without unshackling it from Holy Power. Holy Radiance could be changed however. Our original concept of Holy Radiance being a tool the paladin used to heal those around her never quite panned out – we had to keep bumping the range to make it a useful heal, which removed much of the positional gameplay. Currently it is potent, but fairly "fire and forget." A paladin is never choosing not to use Holy Radiance, unless perhaps mana is very tight. A better model for Holy Radiance, and something we are considering for the next content patch, is as a cast-time spell with no cooldown that generates Holy Power (for Holy paladins at least). This would give Holy paladins an actual area-healing rotation -- Holy Radiance and Light of Dawn -- that they could use instead of the single-target heals. Currently Holy Radiance can just be layered on top of the other heals, so the paladin isn't shifting into group-healing mode the way a shaman can focus on Chain Heal or a priest can focus on Prayer of Healing.



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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.


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Q: What are the developers' thoughts on perhaps giving Discipline priests three strengths/types of shields/absorbs, in a similar manner as all other healers have three main heals? Discipline priests (especially those purely going for absorb) always were unique through this absorb, I mean: Shields. Why does this become shorter and shorter, always saying we should go for direct healing instead? In that case you could play another healing class that has better direct heals. – Kahlan (NA), Zerreshju (EU-DE)

A: Balancing the Discipline Priest is often challenging because they can provide so much more damage prevention than the other healers. If Discipline priests had all absorb spells instead of heals, it might make them mandatory for all raids but weak when healing a 5-player dungeon. That said, replacing one of the three mainstay heals with an absorb for Disc is certainly something we've talked about before. It's too big a change for the current expansion but something we'd like to explore in the future. Power Word: Shield is instant so it's hard to build a whole rotation around that spell. If Discipline had an efficient cast-time absorb and then used Power Word: Shield more for instant healing, their toolkit would feel more fleshed out. However, players who cling to the attitude of "I'm a Disc priest; I should only shield," aren't really understanding our design for the class. Ditto with druids who only want to cast hots, or paladins who only want to drop heal bombs on the main tank. "I'm good at something" isn't the same as "I only do that thing."


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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? – ???? (KR), ???? (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.


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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? – ?? (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. Finally, we are exploring more on-screen warnings for dangerous debuffs in the same way we alert you when certain class procs have gone off. We just have to be careful not to turn the default UI into an unrecognizable sound and light show.

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Q: How do you plan on addressing our inflating spirit and mana pools later in the expansion to keep mana a resource, rather than a solid blue bar? Do you plan to preserve a principle of rational use of mana, which makes it interesting to play a healer? In the beginning of Cataclysm we had to use almost every spell to succeed, while now everything is about pushing a couple of your best healing spells. With the release of a new patch the level of equipment will raise significantly, and we won't have to think about mana regeneration any more. Do you plan to somehow adjust encounters or healing mechanics perhaps? – Nehalim (NA), ?????? (EU-RU)

A: Our plan was always that healers could gradually grow out of being very mana-limited, but we didn't want that to happen in the very first tier of content. If it happens in the final tier of content, that's fine. It will help healers feel like they have actually become more powerful from accumulating so much gear. Consider that tank health, mitigation and avoidance increase with each tier, as does the size of heals and the rate at which you cast them, and those are probably sufficient to offset the increased damage being done by bosses and trash.

In heroic raids, even today, healers often rely on their inefficient heals a great deal, so there isn't a ton of room to expand into becoming even more inefficient (and therefore requiring more mana regeneration). As such, you should consider Spirit somewhere in between the stat continuum of hit and something like haste or crit. For the former, there are hard caps. For the latter, there are inflexion points where the value of a stat grows faster or slower, but in general more is always helpful. For Spirit you need enough to feel good about your healing longevity and anything beyond that is probably of diminishing value. We think this actually makes itemization as a healer more interesting for the player than just grabbing more and more of a particular uber stat.

With the raid content we have released for Cataclysm so far, we feel like we can put pressure on healers to keep tanks alive without repeating the gameplay we had in Wrath of the Lich King, where the smart way to play was to keep heals constantly going because of the risk of the tank dying in two back to back hits. Even with increasing regeneration, we don't think we'll get back to a two-shot the tank situation for Cataclysm. If your tanks are dying faster than you can heal them currently, again, you're probably missing something about the encounter or aren't quite ready for it yet.

We had originally planned on having bosses in later tiers scale so that players would need more crit, hit, expertise, dodge and parry for later tiers. We ultimately decided not to do this, at least for the current expansion. That decision was driven partially because we couldn't figure out an elegant way for stats like haste to scale with boss power and partially because we weren't convinced our planned UI would communicate the concept clearly enough to players. For example, would just bosses be affected? Just raid bosses? If not, would you want separate sets of gear for dungeons vs. raids? Those are solvable problems, but we weren't convinced the path we were on would solve them as well as we would like.

Our current numbers wouldn't work if we had a dozen raid tiers before increasing the level cap, but that's not our plan.

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Q: Are there any plans to give Holy Priests access to a viable 3-minute raid cooldown? There are concerns that without a cooldown along the lines of Power Word: Barrier, Spirit Link Totem, or Tranquility, we may need to play disc a lot in firelands. Maybe simply an improved Divine Hymn? – Maladi (NA)

A: You can make the argument that the Holy priest doesn't have a similar raid cooldown like Power Word: Barrier, or that Divine Hymn isn't as powerful as Tranquility. However, we feel the Holy priest toolkit overall is strong, that they provide meaningful contributions to raid healing, and are well represented in actual raid groups. It's possible we may make Divine Hymn more of a Holy (rather than Discipline) priest thing in the future, and bump it up to around where Tranquility is, if the need presents itself. Overall, Holy priests are fine. They have enough benefits that few guilds seem to be sitting them for want of yet another raid cooldown, and Guardian Spirit remains an exceptional tank cooldown.

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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.


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Q: What is the reasoning behind certain classes that lack a healing spec (such as a rogue) being able to self-heal better than a dps spec of a healing class (such as a balance druid)? – Idej (NA)

A: A great recipe for class homogenization is to go down the list of every ability and make sure that every class has their own version of that ability. We don't think powerful self-healing is mandatory for every character. Some classes are inherently better at it than others. As long as the overall package is competitive, it's okay for specs or classes to have strengths and weaknesses. If the overall package isn't competitive, we'll certainly hear about it.

Our definition of hybrid class is a class that has a tank or healing spec. We don't spend much effort to make sure that the DPS specs of hybrid classes are more "hybridy" than the DPS specs of mage, warlock, rogue or hunter. Sometimes hybrid DPS specs might be able to throw out a heal, but unless used very strategically, those contributions are often in the rounding error of the healing provided by the dedicated healers. And when DPS specs are healing themselves (Frost and Unholy DKs before 4.2) or others (Ret paladins before 4.1) too much, we take action there as well. So it's not a priority for us that Balance druids are great healers. We recognized going into Cataclysm that rogues had a lot of down time while solo, that they didn't have many options for spending combo points after a target died prematurely, and that too much rogue survivability was based around crowd controlling an opponent. Thus we thought there was a need for Recuperate. If Balance druids have similar challenges, then we'd look for solutions for them as well, but they would hopefully be unique or at least kit-appropriate solutions.

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Q: With the changes being made to critical heals, do you feel that crit will become a more prominent stat for healers, up there with haste and mastery? Or is it a less important change aimed at balancing between the pve and pvp aspects of the game? – Derëk (LA)

A: Even with the 4.2 changes, haste may very well be a more attractive stat for healers. We're just trying to narrow the gap. It's not important for all stats to be identical as long as they aren't so far apart that you're tempted to keep perfectly optimized gear from a previous tier instead of less perfectly optimized gear from a new tier. We want a healer to take gear with crit seriously (even if he would ultimately prefer haste) rather than passing or sharding it. We made the change mostly for itemization reasons and for any PvP vs. PvE concerns. PvP healers tend to have low crit chances anyway and we have other ways to balance healing in PvP should it become too powerful (predominantly the Mortal Strike and related debuffs).


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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.


Check out our coverage of the previous Ask the Devs Q&A sessions:
The news is already rolling out for the upcoming WoW Patch 4.2! Preview the new Firelands raid, marvel at the new legendary staff, and get the inside scoop on new quest hubs -- plus new Tier 12 armor!

Filed under: Blizzard, Cataclysm

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