Healing Design in Legion

#1 - Jan. 31, 2016, 5:51 a.m.
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Hello! I'm Total and I have been healing in WoW since WotLK. I have played multiple healers for several raid tiers each, almost always finishing the tier at the highest raid difficulty before the release of the next one. As such, my viewpoints will be mostly concerned with Mythic raiding.

I have seen WoW's healing design go through many different iterations and believe I have a firm grasp on the objectives and reasoning behind many of the shifts in the way healers are played. However, I have also been through a few design approaches that didn't quite work out. I'm here to provide my feedback on what I see going into Legion through analyzing the current build (20994), my experience in the history of past healing metas, and what I see going into the future. I will be covering the following subjects:

Healing combat flow
Single target vs multiple target heals
"Tank healing"
"Tank cooldowns"
Raid cooldowns
Other utility
Healer roles and raid composition
Encounter design
Thank you for embarking on this exploration of healing with me.

1. Healing Combat Flow

One of the most controversial subjects in WoW is whether the game is more fun when there is always something to do, or if it is okay to be waiting for a couple of seconds before there is something relevant that a player can be doing. I fall strictly on the side of waiting around to be boring, which is why I stopped playing Rogue and switched to healing in WotLK.

Always having something to do is easy for DPS and tanks (who also DPS), but how is that achieved for healers? I believe there to be only two possible ways: making healers play an intense game of resources where a variety of similar heals with varying mana costs are laid out and it is up to players to pick the most efficient tool for any situation, or relaxing the resource game in favor of allowing healers to DPS in the resulting downtime.

It is my opinion that Blizzard decided which model to go to a very long time ago when downranking was eliminated. Having a somewhat relaxed mana game with fewer options leads to far less button bloat and complexity, however past expansions have failed to deliver on a sufficiently meaningful activity to do in the mean time, which makes many players feel somewhat bored whenever healing is too easy.

I think that it is in-line with the WoW development team's philosophies and direction of healing design that there should be a couple of options to deal with healing situations that make healers play the mana game, and that the ability to DPS should be leftover and be somewhat engaging in itself (i.e. more than spamming one spell) as well as being meaningful (a level of damage that would affect the raid if it did not exist or was executed exceptionally poorly). Currently I believe Shamans have the best design in this regard with perfectly adequate damaging spells with just enough complexity, as well as artifact traits that enhance damage. I would like to see this extend to all other healers as well.

2. Single target vs Multiple Target heals

In the spectrum of cheaper, more efficient, but lower HPS heals to expensive and high HPS heals, multi-target heals naturally trend towards being more expensive because healers always have the ability to single target heal multiple targets consecutively while the reverse is not true.

With that said, it is imperative that multi-target heals are both powerful as well as expensive to emphasize the importance of selecting the right healing tool for the right job. An odd trend I have seen in Legion is to make multi-target heals affect far fewer targets, with Vivify and Power Word: Radiance affecting 3 total targets or Light of Dawn having positional requirements. While this may be a good way to ensure multi-target heals still have value in targeting and positioning, I think it is important to ensure that they remain both powerful and expensive and not too similar to single target heals. Currently Power Word: Radiance has lost this distinction, much like Disc's Prayer of Healing on live and that in part is due to a long cast time and low power.

Going forward, I hope the development team takes special care to make sure that AoE heals are good in multi-target situations and single target heals are good at healing specific targets, as part of the issues with Mistweavers, Holy Paladins and Discipline Priests on live are due to losing this distinction as the specs become one-dimensional when one side dominates too much.
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#17 - Feb. 1, 2016, 6:27 p.m.
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Thanks for all the feedback. A few things:

1) It's definitely still intended that you consider mana costs in choosing heals. I wouldn't agree with the characterization that any changes (recent or otherwise) reflect an abandonment of this. It's widely accepted among players that mana became overly abundant at high ilvls in past expansions, which did in some cases undermine the resource management aspect. But the spell selections of each class are still made with the intention of mana being an important factor. They are in Legion just as they have been in the past, with the main change being to avoid having mana grow excessively generously throughout the expansion. Jumping ahead, trinkets are indeed one place where we may provide opporunities to invest in more mana. But mana regen will not be passively increasing by a large amount simply due to gear advancement, largely for these reasons.

6) Tranquility and Divine Hymn should still deliver significantly more healing than those players would typically do in 8 seconds. Having these sorts of spells (both the channeled and instant varieties) do "significantly more" than usual, as opposed to the overwhelming strength they have on live, might take some getting used to. But there is no reason they won't be strong and helpful spells to use either at specific high-damage encounter moments or simply because the player needs to catch up in a bad healing situation. In both of these cases, the intention is that the cooldowns don't completely supplant the normal healing gameplay, but give a boost to output at a key moment. On Tranquility and Divine Hymn in particular, the 8-second channel causes the biggest problem in the dungeon context, and both of these spells will do increased healing outside of raids to account for that.

The Aura talent row, Aura mastery spell, and corresponding artifact trait are all reworked in an upcoming patch. Among other things, we agree the trait giving Aura Mastery the effect of all three Auras eliminates too much of the significance of the talent choice.

7) We understand the importance of utility. I want to point out that on live, the dominance of Disc Priest and Paladin in the highest-level raiding is primarily due to their core healing function and not to unique non-healing utility (exception in some cases for Hand of Protection, but the removal of Clemency from all specs in Legion reduces that problem significantly). Avoiding a repeat situation where some healers feel left out of the most optimized Mythic healing groups is likely a question of balancing the actual heals, not of more incidental utility buttons such as Wind Rush, Tiger's Lust, Innervate and so on.

The artifact trait granting a 5% haste aura will also be changed before Holy Paladin is playable on alpha.
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#26 - Feb. 2, 2016, 12:01 a.m.
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02/01/2016 01:18 PMPosted by Totallite
To illustrate with numbers: if 100 DPS is incoming and you have to choose between spending a little bit of mana to do 50 HPS, a medium amount of mana to do 125 HPS, or a large amount of mana to do 200 HPS, the correct choice is 125 HPS, but then every 5th second there's nothing to heal. All I am saying is that healers should be able to do something meaningful in this 5th second.

Note that even in your example, you could instead spend every 3rd second on your 50 HPS heal, and save a little mana over your solution (that never uses that heal and instead fills every 5th second with DPS). In any situation where healing and mana are a significant challenge, that gameplay is still present, and toolkits with different spells of varying efficiency provide opportunity for more skilled healers to know when and how much to use the cheaper options.

02/01/2016 01:18 PMPosted by Totallite
On 7) While I agree that HFC's healer composition issues stemmed largely from actual healing issues, I still think that more effort can be put towards ensuring that every healer has things they can do that are useful and "cool" beyond filling health bars. Similar to the above, it is less about power and more that it feels bad to be asked to justify why your spec should be brought when another spec brings X ability and not have an answer. Currently I think that HPriest/Druid/MW all have difficulty answering that question and while it may not matter much to people that have a good understanding of the entire healing picture, this topic holds a lot of sway when it comes to the general community's opinions on balance.

Again, nobody's denying the value of utility abilities that are fun to use (defined as you did in the OP as things other than healing output or equivalent shielding/damage-reduction). Merely trying to avoid conflating it with major healer balance concerns. To your point, even the Disc Priest in Warlords didn't justify being brought by some X factor that raid leaders had to have, other than their sheer volume of healing/shielding. Their extras like Body and Soul were comparatively minor. Similarly, something like Wind Rush isn't intended to dominate the importance of actual healing when deciding what classes or individuals to bring to a raid, and we'll examine it closely if it does. It likely won't, as it's somewhat weaker than the live spell Stampeding Roar (which hasn't had such an effect)--much smaller radius and no snare break (also a 2min cooldown which I believe you haven't seen yet).