The Alpha testing for Warlords of Draenor has begun! For most of us, that will not mean too much, except that the development of the new expansion is progressing. Most of us will not hear anything until the Beta goes live, and perhaps longer out than that. On the heels of the Alpha announcement came publication on the Warcraft site of the initial patch notes for 6.0.
There was a lot of stuff covered in the patch notes, but as a healer, a Shaman, and a Monk, I wanted to focus on my thoughts regarding a few things in particular.
Character stats have been squished into smaller numbers that are easier to understand. It’s important to understand that this is NOT a nerf as enemies have been squished as well.
I find it amusing that after everything previously published, Blizzard still has to preface that the “Big Stat Squish” is NOT a nerf. They did a very good job of explaining exactly what the squish will mean for gear, characters, and mobs in the patch notes.
There has always been a big jump in gear from expansion to expansion – Wrath epics getting replaced within a few quests in Cata, for example – and this stat squish will even out a lot of those spikes in gear.
It’s no longer necessary for Borean Tundra quest gear to be nearly twice as powerful as Netherstorm quest gear, even though the two zones are only a couple of levels apart…
In order to bring things down to an understandable level, we’ve reduced the scale of stats throughout the game, back to as if they continued scaling linearly through questing content from levels 1 to 90.
I like this, because now while leveling, it will not be necessary to completely re-gear your character at 60-70-80 etc. Gearing and leveling will be smoother.
Blizzard even addressed concerns transmoggers and achievement hunters may have in regards to soloing older content:
Players will deal bonus damage against lower-level creatures from past expansions, and will take reduced damage from them.
So all in all, I think the stat squish is being handled well. I look forward to seeing it in action.
Retuning Healing Spells
This section was definitely the biggest focus of mine while reading the patch notes.
Before the Notes, Some Background
The transition between Wrath and Cata was a tough one for me, as a Resto Shaman. Do not get me wrong, I enjoyed the change in healing mechanics – I am quite fond of the “triage” mentality – but as a Shaman, it was a most disturbing experience. Honestly, I think Shaman performed as Blizzard intended when they made the healing changes, I loved the feel of it, but they were under-performing compared to the other healing classes. I would watch the other healers in my guild fly through those early heroic dungeons with little down time, and in comparison the other guild Shaman and I would have to CC every pull, drink to replenish mana regularly, and still not be able to heal people standing in bad.
Because of this experience, I had some reservations going into Mists. However, Mists swung the extreme opposite direction, and even early on in heroic dungeons I hardly had any issues. Raiding was similar, and part of my reason for switching to a Mistweaver Monk hinged on the fact that Shaman healing was starting to feel same old, same old, and like all of the choices I used to have to make were no longer there. I had certain buttons I had to push on cooldown to make my Shaman perform – period.
At least with my Monk, it was a completely new and different class, with different skills and healing styles.
Mistweavers had a rocky road through Mists, though. Sometimes they were hot, and sometimes they were anything but. I have spent the entire expansion feeling that my Monk would be better utilized in a 10man environment because of her skill set – particularly her spread-out, AoE healing style (Renewing Mist and Uplift).
I firmly believe that if anything gets changed with Mistweaving, it should be giving greater spread to Renewing Mist, even at the cost of a less efficient Uplift. Nothing is more frustrating than seeing only half the raid with my HoT and not being able to Uplift on anyone who truly needs it – basically, feeling like I have to ignore half the raid. I literally had to change my healing mentality to play a Monk. There was physically no way to focus on everyone in the raid, and I had to retrain myself to focus smaller – usually myself, my group, and our tanks.
In addition, I think overhealing was a ridiculously awful trend this entire expansion. Whether on my Shaman or my Monk, overhealing always ran high, and it ran high throughout the entire raid. One of my goals as a healer through both Wrath and Cata was minimal overhealing – maximum efficiency. I would keep up in heals, while bottoming out the charts in overheals, and that made me happy.
Overheals, and their ridiculous waste of resources, make me twitch.
Anyways, enough of my digression. Onward to…
The Actual Healing Notes
One of our goals for healing is to tone down the raw throughput of healers relative to the size of player health pools…
…healers are [currently] able to refill health bars so fast that we have to make damage more and more “bursty” in order to challenge them. Ideally, we want players to spend some time below full health without having healers feel like their groupmates are in danger of dying at any moment…
To that end, we’re buffing heals less than we’re increasing player health. Heals will be deliberately less potent compared to health pools than before the item squish.
Basically, Blizzard wants to give healers back the feel of triage and eliminate the end of expansion bloating that leads to spiky damage boss mechanics. They are confident the changes we will see in Warlords will result in a more gradual progression of gear and performance throughout the life of the expansion.
The other big thing that caught my eye was a mention of “smart heals”:
We want healers to care about who they’re targeting and which heals they’re using, so that their decisions matter more. To that end, we’re reducing the healing of many passive and auto-targeted heals, and making smart heals a little less smart. Smart heals will now randomly pick any injured target within range instead of always picking the most injured target. Priority will still be given to players over pets, of course.
Yes, yes yes! Thank you!
At first glance, my thought was, “Damn, just take out all of the ‘smart heals’!” (I’m looking at you Renewing Mist.) But AoE heals are in many ways “smart heals” especially when they are affected by caps on number of targets.
Mostly, I am pleased about the line “so that their decisions matter more.” THIS. So much this. Give me back control of how I heal. Give me back the choices. No more of this “healing rotation” crap, because so often playing my Monk came down to casting Renewing Mist on cooldown, Uplifting as often as possible, and filling in with Soothing Mist. Sometimes, it was so mind-numbing I could not stand it. Especially to do all these things and know there was hardly any room for improvement.
Another of our goals for healing in this expansion is to strike a better balance between single-target and multi-target healing spells. We’ve taken a close look at the mana efficiency of our multi-target heals, and in many cases, we’re reducing their efficiency, usually by reducing the amount they heal.
…players will face a meaningful choice between whether to use a single-target heal or a multi-target heal based on the situation.
Once again, yes, yes yes! Give me the power to choose. Make me think. None of this crap where Shaman currently are more efficient to just spam Healing Rain than cast a single target spell or Chain Heal – even when only one person is standing in the rain! For crying out loud, how did Healing Rain become the best single target heal??
Finally, we’re removing the low-throughput, low-mana-cost heals like Nourish, Holy Light, Heal, and Healing Wave…
This made me go, “Whoa, wait, what??”
During the triage period and even through most of the first tier of Mists, Healing Wave was my Shaman’s go-to filler spell. It was efficient, and though it would not save anyone, it did keep those bars mostly full with good management.
However, we still want healers to think about their mana when deciding which heal to cast, and so the mana costs and throughputs of many spells are being altered to give players a choice between spells with lower throughput and lower cost versus spells with higher throughput and higher costs.
Alright, I am listening… I have a good deal of trust in Blizzard and the goals they aim for. So I am eager to see these changes in action, and learn what they mean to the healing classes. (Particularly Shaman and Monks, but I play all the classes that can heal and eventually I know all mine will see 100.)
All of this discussion of efficiency may cause most healers to start worrying about mana regeneration and their mana pool. To allay those concerns, we’ve increased base mana regeneration a great deal at early gear levels, while having it scale up less at later gear levels.
Once again, more changes with the hopes that this will make the beginning and the end of the expansion equally as enjoyable.
That’s a lot of big changes for healers: reduced throughput, a more deliberate pace, less powerful “smart” heals, weaker absorbs, fewer spells, and a new focus on efficiency decisions. We’re confident that we can apply lessons learned from previous expansions to make this the best healer experience yet: more dynamic, less punishing, and frankly a lot more fun.
Okie, Blizzard. You had me hello. Let’s do this.
One section I kind of glazed over was the removal of hit and expertise. I guess I understand the reasoning for this, but at the same time, I feel it is further dumbing down the game. Prove me wrong, Blizzard.
But with all of these changes upcoming, an adjustment of racial abilities and traits seems obvious.
I was most interested in the Draenei changes of course:
- Heroic Presence has been redesigned. It no longer increases Hit by 1%, and instead increases Strength, Agility, and Intellect, scaling with character level.
- Gift of the Naaru now heals for the same amount over 5 seconds (down from 15 seconds).
A retune of Heroic Presence, finally! I like this change, since it means the racial of my favorite race will now actually make sense for my favorite specs (healing). The Gift of the Naaru change is nice too – a faster HoT is always a good thing.
We decided that we needed to make a strong push for paring down the number of abilities each class/spec has. That means making some abilities restricted to certain specs that really need them instead of being class-wide, and outright removing some other abilities. It also includes removing some Spellbook clutter, such as passives that could be merged with others, or with base abilities.
However, this doesn’t mean that we want to reduce the depth of gameplay, or “dumb it down.” We still want there to be interesting decisions during combat, and for skill to matter. But, that doesn’t require complexity; we can remove some needless complexity and still retain the depth and skill variance.
This section was interesting, but rather than quote everything, let me suffice to say there are some good changes coming to all of the classes – in my opinion. Have a look at the patch notes for all the details on each specific class. I will keep this more general.
There are so many games now (including Diablo 3!) which use a very minimal number of buttons to accomplish a goal. Guild Wars and Guild Wars 2 are also good examples. I like choice and depth, but it does not necessarily mean things have to be extremely complex. If I played solely one character, and did everything on that one character, then perhaps I would be more inclined to want more buttons. But I prefer to play a little of everything.
One type of ability that we focused on is temporary power buffs (“cooldowns”). Removing those also helps achieve one of our other goals, which is to reduce the amount of cooldown stacking in the game.
I cannot say that less cooldowns will break my heart. At least, not less purely DPS cooldowns. Life-saving cooldowns are another story, but it does not look like Blizzard is removing any of those.
Instant Cast Heals
We’re still preserving the option to instantly heal, but are reducing the number of instant-cast healing abilities overall. Raid and dungeon encounter damage during high-movement phases will be adjusted accordingly.
This section was probably my biggest place of indecision. I am not entirely sure how I feel about these changes.
In this section, they list some of the skills being changed, by class, and I found it interesting and worth mentioning that Shaman are the only class not having any of their spells changed. (Because their only instant cast heals are Riptide and Unleash Elements, and it looks like all the healers are retaining their single target, instant cast HoTs.)
I know there are a number of classes and specs, but I am not going to go over all of them here. I will only be focusing on the Mistweaver Monk and the Resto Shaman, because those are the classes/specs I play the most.
Mistweavers had a bit of a rollercoaster ride, veering between weak and strong over the course of the expansion. Most of our changes to Monks will focus on Mistweavers, to try to get them just right.
All abilities available to Mistweavers now have a 1.5 second global cooldown (up from 1 second).
- Stance of the Sturdy Ox and Stance of the Fierce Tiger now reduce the global cooldown of the Monk’s abilities by 0.5 seconds.
Stance of the Wise Serpent no longer increases Haste from items by 50%.
Focus and Harmony is a new passive ability for Mistweaver Monks.
- Focus and Harmony: Haste effects lower the global cooldown of your spells and abilities.
Crackling Jade Lightning no longer generates Chi for Mistweaver Monks.
Soothing Mist no longer generates Chi for Mistweaver Monks.
Thunder Focus Tea now causes the next Renewing Mist to jump up to 4 times (used to cause the next Uplift to refresh the duration of Renewing Mists on all targets).
Healing Spheres now heal an ally within 12yd (up from 6yd) for 100% (up from 50%) of their normal healing, when they expire.
Detonate Chi is a new spell available to Mistweavers:
- Detonate Chi: Instantly detonate all of your Healing Spheres, causing each of them to heal a nearby ally within 12 yards of the sphere. 15 sec cooldown.
I am really looking forward to playing with Detonate Chi. I am very surprised and uncertain about the changes to Thunder Focus Tea, Soothing Mist, and to a lesser degree, Crackling Jade Lightning. Because of the Stance changes (see below), I understand Crackling Jade Lightning, but I am irked about my primary single target Chi-generation being removed. And Thunder Focus Tea sounds like a really gimpy version of what I WANT Renewing Mist to do. Oh! one whole extra target!
I suppose I will have to see these in play before I make hasty generalizations, though.
Another issue with Mistweavers is that of Eminence, which has never really played out how we had hoped. The intent with Eminence was to create an alternate play style to fulfill the fantasy of healing through dealing damage, since we knew a lot of players had that fantasy, and a new class was the perfect opportunity to satisfy that.
Having two play styles in one spec (Eminence, and traditional Mistweaving, healing primarily through casting heals) proved challenging to balance, because we don’t want players to take the best parts of both and stack them into an unintended superior spec. The most notorious of these cases was “Jab-Jab-Uplift”. In order to solve this problem, we’re giving Mistweavers two stances.
Stance of the Wise Serpent – This is the current Mistweaver Stance. With the changes coming in Warlords, it will be our “Mistweaving” Stance. Enveloping Mist, Renewing Mist, Soothing Mist, and Uplift will only be usable in this Stance.
Stance of the Spirited Crane – This is the replacement for our Tiger Stance (which never made any sense to me to even have, I only used it to reforge my Haste). This will become our “Fistweaving” Stance. Blackout Kick, Jab, Tiger Palm will only be usable in this Stance.
There are also more improvements coming to Monk Healing Spheres. They will be smarter about not overhealing targets running through them and they will heal for 100% when detonating upon expiration, instead of 50%.
So many changes. But I knew they were coming. Blizzard said at the start of Siege of Orgrimmar they wanted to overhaul Mistweavers, but wanted to do it right and wanted to wait until Warlords.
All I can do for now is wait and see what all these changes will mean.
Restoration Shaman had the most passive and smart healing of any healer, and so received some reductions in that area, along with buffs elsewhere to keep them competitive. One particular change is to Mana Tide Totem, which we made less effective for other players, but still just as effective for the Shaman.
This change is kind of a big deal. I have mixed feelings about it, because though it reduces some of a Shaman’s utility, it also reduces the chance we will be forged into mana batteries for the rest of the raid.
Chain Heal now heals each chain target for 15% less than the previous target.
Unleash Life no longer increases the healing from Healing Rain.
Earthliving Weapon now increases healing done by 5% (instead of increasing healing Spell Power by a flat amount).
Healing Stream Totem’s mana cost has been reduced to 10% of base mana (down from 23.5%), and its healing has been reduced by 50%.
Glyph of Totemic Recall now only increases the mana returned from recalling your totems by 25% (down from 75%).
Mana Tide Totem now increases the Spirit of allies by 50% (down from 200% of the Shaman’s Spirit). It remains unchanged (200%) for the Shaman activating the totem, and it still ignores temporary Spirit buffs.
Conductivity is no longer triggered by damaging spells for Restoration Shaman, or by healing spells for non-Restoration Shaman.
After Mana Tide, the biggest thing that catches my eye in the Resto changes is the change to Unleash Elements and it no longer effecting Healing Rain. This will make for a big difference – Healing Rain was always my focus with Unleash Elements, because it gave the most benefit. Not to mention, Healing Rain has become so incredibly powerful in the Shaman’s tool kit, it is a matter of casting both together on cooldown.
It will sting, but I think it is a good quality of life improvement for Shaman. It will give us a better opportunity to choose our spells, rather than spam Healing Rain.
I am sure there are many more things I could touch on in the Alpha patch notes, but these cover my initial thoughts and reactions. What it comes down to at this point is really just keeping an eye on updates and hoping for a Beta soon, so we can start putting these updates to the real playability test.
Please feel free leave comments, to agree or disagree, and bring to my attention any topics regarding healing, Shaman, or Monks I may have glazed over and missed.