Druid healing is changing in WOD

The greatest fear of a video game player, especially in World of Warcraft is the concept of being “nerfed.” Thus, all changes in World of Warcraft are usually categorized as a “buff” (positive change), or a “nerf” (negative change). However, with WOD, we seem to be moving to a new system entirely where the rating scale of buff & nerf needs a new dimension for which to evaluate change (e.g., something more lateral rather than up or down). For the purpose of this post, I’m going to talk about PVE gameplay, since I haven’t done much PVP the last few expansions.

I’ll start my review of the healing Dev Watercooler with something I tweeted in response to the buff vs nerf question in response to concerns about heals being less effective in WOD if they heal for less health: “At some point, it’s like asking if a lime is a nerfed lemon just because its smaller.” It’s helpful to think of the healing changes in a more neutral metaphor. In Mists of Pandaria, our heals are all like lemons, and we make lemonade in raids as we keep everyone’s health full. In Warlords of Draenor, we now have limes. These share many of the same properties as the heals we had in the past, but the entire system changed to the point where you are now making limeade, an equally effective but different tasting drink. Just because limes are smaller than lemons and are a different color, it doesn’t mean that the new limes are nerfed lemons. Got it? Okay, with that in mind, lets review WOD’s healing changes:

The current healing paradigm:

While somewhat of an over-simplification, this is roughly the problem in MOP that the developers want to fix:

  • As health pools got bigger, healing size needed to scale up in a similar dynamic manner to keep up with the large health pools. We also needed more healing tools to deal with increasing demands in raid encounters. As heals got bigger, health pools got bigger, tool sets got bigger, encounters got more difficult, the damage needed to make healers “work for it” had to become really spiky after 10 years of snowballing class changes, PVE changes, and PVP changes that all accumulated over 10 years.
  • In some cases, people are dropped down to 10% of their health and have to be healed up in a short period of time. With being able to be dropped from 100% to 10% of your health in 1 second (and 10 seconds to get 10 to 25 people healed up to full), you have to keep people above 90% of their health or they’re likely to die from the big hits. While it used to just be the tanks being threatened, it’s now all 10 to 25 people in your raid all getting hit at the same time, and you have the AOE tools to bring all 10 to 25 people up from the brink of death with all the smart AOE heals.
  • This makes healing really “twitchy” in terms of reaction speeds, so people rely more on AOE heals, proactive healing, and ground-targeted spells to reduce the decision-making process to keep up with reaction speeds. You use a small toolset of multi-target heals where in most cases, it almost doesn’t even matter who you are targeting, as long as you are targeting someone (or the ground as it may be). You are measuring the speed of people’s healing more than the decision making processes of the healer. You just need to know which heals to mash as fast as possible, with some variations based on situation.
  • With the heavy amounts of movement and raid damage, everyone wants instant-cast AOE heals in raids that come with limited decision making, can be cast while moving, and challenging healers becomes encounters like the early stages of learning heroic Thok where the fight requires a ton of gimmick mechanics and burst damage to pose any real challenge to the healers at all. On any “farm” content, my healers often complain about being bored because as soon as people’s health pools increase to the point where they’re only being dropped to 40% of their health instead of 10% of their health, the game provides no healing challenge.

Healing System Changes in WOD:

  • Fewer instant-cast spells: Many of the AOE healing spells are being turned from instant-cast spells to spells with cast times. This should be accompanied by fewer silences, less crowd control, and potentially lower overall movement.
  • Fewer spells overall: With WOD removing approximately 20% of the class abilities across classes, some spells are being removed from healers (though we don’t have access to a complete spell list of spells!).
  • Lowering healing output (& damage done) relative to the size of a player’s health pool has several huge implications: When heals could trivially increase your health from 10% to 100% in a few seconds (e.g., if 3 seconds of healing theoretically totals 90% of your health), damage had to hit you for 90% of your health to be meaningful. When spending 3 seconds will only heal 30% (instead of 90%), then damage only has to hit you for 30% of your health instead. So, in WOD, people are likely not going to spend all of their time at 100% health, which is okay because there won’t be threatening abilities that drop you from 100% to 10% and require you to be healed back up to full in 3 seconds. There may be more time when someone sits at 80% health and isn’t actually in danger of death.
  • Lower randomness from crits: Critical strikes with healing and damage will be 150% in PVP and 200% in PVE, such that burst PVP damage & burst PVP healing are both going to be lower overall. It’s hard to tell how this will impact the relative value of crit for healers.
  • Thus, when people ask if the healing output change is a nerf, that’s really an impossible question to answer. It really isn’t a nerf to the ability for healers to keep people alive because the system in which those heals are going to be used have changed, too. You used to have lemons, and now you have limes, but that doesn’t mean they nerfed lemons. They just changed the whole system and how spells & encounters interact. Instead of being required to make lemonade, you are now required to make limeade, and you will still feel like you have the tools to do your job.
  • This is more like Vanilla or Burning Crusade style of healing in terms of the relative size of heals we used vs health pool size, rather than the insane frenzy of Cataclysm & MOP healing.  Most people weren’t going to instantly die if someone didn’t heal them in the next 1 second. However, druids won’t just be relegated to “lifebloom bots” or “Healing Touch Bots”, but will have the benefit of an interesting toolset allowing for using more than one spell.

Specific changes for druids:

Now that you have the whole context, here are some of the specific things we know based on specifics they gave us:

  • Wild Growth now has a cast time, similar to changes made to other classes. Rejuv and other single-target HOTs weren’t on the list of instant-cast spells getting a cast time. Instead, this list appeared to target AOE heals.
  • Efflorescence is now permanently tied to Shrooms (no more glyph) – confirmed via twitter.
  • Spells like Healing Touch, Rejuv, & Efflorescence (tied to Shrooms) are all now “high efficiency” spells.
  • Spells like Regrowth and Wild Growth are “high throughput, lower efficiency” spells.
  • Nourish is being removed. We don’t know what other specific spells might be removed.
  • Your healing style will probably feel similar to today, though you may need more of your single-target heals in raid situations – if the frenzy of spamming everyone and keeping everyone topped off starts to die down a little bit over time.

I hope this helps with interpreting the changes coming to healing in WOD!

8 Comments

  1. Verdus
    Posted March 7, 2014 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    One thing I’m rather concerned about are the combination of smart- and multi-target heals. Separately they seem fine. Together? It won’t be possible to make an intelligent choice about when to use Wild Growth.

    They said that they only want multi-target heals to be the “right choice” if it will affect two or more targets without overhealing. Fine, that makes sense. But if they also make it so that smart-heals pick targets randomly, we won’t have any way of knowing that!

    If half the raid gets hit with a big, randomly-targeted attack but the rest are only lightly wounded, using Wild Growth would be the wrong decision, contrary to their stated goals. It would be just as likely to target the whole unwounded set as it would the wounded set. More likely, of course, it’ll pick some from each. But now it’s taking a *double* efficiency nerf; not only is it healing for less but it’s likely as not to just end up as overheal.

    • Lissanna
      Posted March 7, 2014 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

      If people don’t sit at full health all the time, then we won’t actually see so much over-healing. I would except AOE heals to still prioritize wounded targets over full-health targets. So, it’s actually unknown whether the changes would result in more over-healing than currently, or whether having more wounded targets that aren’t sitting at full health would lead to less total overhealing for everyone due to not having everyone sit at 100% health all the time.

      It’s still a difference of a raid where most people sit around 80% to 90% more of the time, versus a raid where everyone is either at 20% or 100% all the time.

      • Verdus
        Posted March 8, 2014 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

        Well, yeah, that’s kind of my point. If everyone’s sitting at around 80-90% most of the time, then there won’t *be* any full-health targets for spells like WG to de-prioritize. When you have seven people at 90% at three people at 40%, a spell like Wild Growth should be the right answer. But it’s not, because it’s picking purely at random and so there’s a very good chance that none of the badly-wounded targets will get affected at all.

    • Lissanna
      Posted March 7, 2014 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

      The entire game system is changing, so people keep evaluating individual things as though it’s being done to the WOW of MOP. However, the entire WOD system is different and that cumulative change is going to have big impacts on the game.

      For example, it’s the full complete set of changes that matters:
      Overall stat squish (changing everyone equally)
      Removing resilience (nerf)
      Removing battle fatigue (buff)
      Making health pools larger relative to damage (buff)
      making health pools larger relative to healing (nerf)
      Reducing CC abilities & interrupts/silences used against healers (buff)
      Reducing CC abilities & interrupts healers can use (nerf)
      Having to use cast time spells more frequently (nerf)
      Reduced movement required in raids (buff)
      Reduced crit damage done in PVP (buff)
      Reduced crit healing done in PVE (nerf)
      Adding new stats to the game (buff)
      Removing spirit from some armor pieces (nerf)
      Adjusting mana regen to accommodate for less spirit on gear (buff)
      Getting rid of some spells from healers. (nerf)
      Getting rid of some spells from damage dealers. (buff)

      Total: 8 nerfs & 8 buffs plus the stat squish impacting everyone equal. This pretty much equals out to neutral lateral changes from one game system to another game system, rather than increases or decreases in total effectiveness. At this point, I figure that since the entire system changed, any one change in isolation and the relative power change of any one change is meaningless, since they’re both nerfing AND buffing healers all at the same time. It’s not worth crying over any one nerf when it’s equaled out with an equal and opposite buff somewhere else.

  2. Muphrid
    Posted March 7, 2014 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    I have to disagree with your second point about damage getting spiky to threaten healers. This cannot be simply a consequence of heals getting bigger to stay proportional to health pools. Damage does naturally get more spiky as DPS gather crit, and I feel that damage in general tends to scale faster than healing throughput because DPS have access to more damage-increasing stats while healers must spend some itemization on spirit.

    On the other hand, the existence of spirit means that, if the throughput of individual spells is keeping up with damage, then overall it will be much tougher to run a healer OOM, necessitating other ways to threaten healers aside from attrition–e.g. through spike damage.

    At any rate, I don’t see the causal link between healing keeping up with health pools and a necessity for spikier damage to keep the same level of threat upon players’ lives. I’m sure spiky damage was happening, but I don’t think it arose from the former effect: it’s still overall desirable for the size of heals to stay proportional to the size of health bars (and for damage to do the same).

    The general problem with this game has been health not scaling up as fast as throughput, though. This also leads to a spikier game.

    • Lissanna
      Posted March 7, 2014 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

      The problem of chicken or the egg is a circular problem, so a causal link isn’t even something I was trying to draw in the 20 minutes I had to get a post put together. The cause at this point is unimportant. I’ve edited that section to have a less linear pathway between the damage being spiky and some PVE-specific things that have accumulated over the years.

      The power of both heals and the size of health pools went up and so did spike damage, and so did everything else. It was more like a see-saw or something much more complex than a direct linear causal problem after 10 years of change.

      Crit damage isn’t even the cause alone, since Vanilla actually had the same super high crit %’s by the time Burning Crusade launched (causing us to go from having 1% of crit on a piece of gear to having a rating that was a fraction of a % on a piece of gear). All the other hundreds or thousands of who knows how many changes that have happened to the game since then that impacted balance. High crit damage has always been a problem, but high spike damage was a slower growing issue over expansions.

      That’s why the stat squish alone doesn’t fix the burst damage problem, but why they need to introduce other mechanics to stop the creep in PVE. The decision to use resilience in PVP instead of larger health pools impacted PVE design cumulatively over the years, but that’s such a circular problem, there isn’t any one particular cause.

      The shift from more single-target to more AOE heals could be more of the bigger problem. So, in the end, it’s more like the John Madden cat picture in terms of the evolution of the game and not a nice tidy line of causality worth debating.

      At this point, what matters is what the game will look like in WOD, and how the outcome of the system’s properties are changing.

  3. Orrin
    Posted March 8, 2014 at 6:24 am | Permalink

    I hope those changes will work. For a long time we were 3 healing SoO Normal and I always felt as a crutch: if I was using mostly HoTs, I was last on healing meters and just catching those people other 2 healers didn’t get. Wild Growth felt escpecially useless on some fights because the combination of Disco Priest sheilding and direct AoE heals top players health bars in first 3-4 seconds.
    On the other hand if I relied mostly on direct heals (Swifmend, Regrowth and Shrooms Explosion), I quickly went uncomfortably close to oom and lost that special feeling that I’m a Druid.

  4. Zaier
    Posted March 8, 2014 at 7:51 am | Permalink

    Interesting article Lissanna; I agree that the overall changes are going to be more side-to-side than buff/nerf because they are balancing out the changes (such as decreasing effectiveness of heals relative to health pools and then also decreasing creature damage relative to health pools). I also agree that something needed to change in order to address the PVP issues. The thing that concerns me the most is that something like holy paladin healing is currently very dependent on weaving in our instant holy power finishers for both single target (eternal flame or word of glory) and aoe (light of dawn) healing. Giving all of those a cast time will greatly impact a paladin’s throughput and what worries me is that the relative healing of these or other spells won’t be increased (talking relative to other spells in the holy pally tool kit) enough to compensate.