Level 90 boost: Resto druid reminders

Pre-orders for Warlords of Draenor WOW started today! With all the new people using their free level 90 boost, I thought now would be a good time to remind people that my level 90 resto druid beginner healing guide is available for any new druids who pop up from the level boosts.

Welcome to level 90 new restoration druids! Don’t know where to start?

Now that you are all caught up, you can start testing out your healing in the proving grounds before you take your new healer out for a spin in some dungeons or raids!

I hope you enjoy your new class! The cinematic Blizzard made with the gnome being boosted up to 90 was really awesome, so if you haven’t seen it, you should take a look! See you in Azeroth!

I used my free level 90 to pick up a warlock. Also, the collector’s edition / digital delux mount is a grown-up Anzu that can now fly (called a Dread Raven), along with a mini Dread Hatchling pet. This mount and pet is a great fit for any druid. Here’s my new warlock taking the mount for a spin!


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!

Diablo 3 loot changes: Now more rewarding

One of the most important things for the longevity of a game is the reward system. If your game isn’t rewarding enough, then people are going to tire quickly and find another game to play. This seemed to be the curse for Diablo 3′s initial release.

The problems with Loot 1.0

The completely random loot system made it such that you were unlikely to actually have good gear drop that was appropriate for your character. Instead, players often saved up gold until they could buy appropriate good gear on the auction house. In addition, everything dropped tons of low quality loot that people either realized was worthless and left on the ground, or would fill up players’ bags so quickly that gameplay was constantly interrupted with returns back to town to sell the nearly worthless items. This made the primary reward system of Diablo 3 stop feeling rewarding after a while.

The loot item level was also tied to the specific content. So, the easiest mode gave you gear that was lower level than the harder modes. This meant that many more casual players were often doing content where the gear wasn’t level-appropriate. My Wizard was often getting gear that was 10 levels below the level I actually was. This meant that nothing could actually drop that I could equip, but I would often die too much in the difficulty setting that was appropriate for my character. Since most of my gear was purchased from the auction house, anyway, there wasn’t any real reason for me to keep playing the game after a while, so I never hit max level on any characters in the game.

When I talked about World of Warcraft’s loot system a while back, I talked about how if the primary source of reward didn’t come from random drops, that WOW would get boring quickly. This is essentially what happened with Diablo 3. When you got too much bad loot from random drops, and your primary source of “good” loot came from buying things with gold, there wasn’t the excitement over wondering where your next upgrade would come from. You knew your next Diablo 3 gear upgrade would come when you earned enough gold to buy it from the auction house and what you wanted came on sale. That made the sense of adventure dissipate quickly – there wasn’t any sense of exploration to find fun rewards (unless that reward came from trying to farm things  you could sell on the auction house to make lots of gold – but with fewer people to buy things as they got bored, this wasn’t sustainable either).

The fixes with Loot 2.0

The latest 2.0 patch for Diablo 3 came with a couple really important changes that make the game a lot more rewarding:

  • Removal of the auction house means that your gear can’t primarily come from buying it with gold or real money. There are still vendors and crafting systems in the game, but your best items aren’t going to be what deals you score in the auction house. This also means you don’t have to waste time hunting for good loot deals on the auction house every time your character levels and you need better gear. This is incredibly important because this change allows for the following other changes to work:
  • Gear is less random & more character-appropriate. It is more likely to drop items that are appropriate for your character. This means that a caster whose primary stat is intellect will primarily get intellect gear, and not strength gear. There are still some random items that could be given to your other characters, but the chances of getting great gear that is appropriate for your character was greatly increased.
  • Gear is always level-appropriate. If you want to run the game on the normal-mode setting, you’ll no longer get gear that is 10 to 40 levels below your character’s current level. Instead, every difficulty level has a chance to drop things that are level-appropriate for your character.  The higher difficulty settings, instead, reward you with things like increased rates of experience gain. This allows people to choose their own difficulty setting in a meaningful way, and allows you to choose your own adventure and still get appropriate rewards.
  • Less “vendor trash” loot means you take fewer trips back to town that interrupts your game-play. Gear that drops always has a chance of being meaningful to you, so you aren’t being flooded with meaningless junk. Less meaningless junk means you won’t be tempted to leave things behind just to free up bag space, you can spend less time visiting your neighborhood vendors, and you can spend more time killing monsters. So, their philosophy of less loot overall, but more meaningful loot when it drops, means the game feels a heck of a lot more rewarding.
  • More legendary items with more appropriate stats. Even low level characters are likely to see legendary items drop (I got one great legendary item within two hours of playing on a level 50 character). While still appropriately rare, legendary item drops provide a much more clear sense of reward and accomplishment, since they are less likely to be disappointing flops. Instead, you are more likely to want to equip them and show them off to your friends.

Speaking of friends, Rewards aren’t just about loot! The game now has a better social system in place. You can now join clans (kind of like being part of a guild in WOW) to be able to chat with your friends as you play. In addition, your friends in the clan can see some of your accomplishments, so that you are going to get more social rewards for things you accomplish in the game. Your friends can know what you are doing and send along congratulations when you get a really awesome legendary item.

So, if you picked up a copy of Diablo 3 and abandoned the game along the way, I think it is definitely time to take a second look. I think you will be pleasantly surprised at how much more rewarding the game can feel when they have a more functional reward system. It turns out that you don’t actually need an auction house to buy gear if the gear you want is actually achievable along the way. I hear that the new expansion coming in a few weeks has other great features that is going to dial up the fun factor in other ways in terms of the content available to you. However, it takes a great designed reward system to make the game worth playing. I think they have now gotten closer to what we all wanted Diablo 3 to feel like from the beginning.

(I’ll get to talking more about WOW content once we know more specific changes to druid & mage spells for WOD. Hopefully “soon”).

The hard choices: When to cut abilities people love?

Blizzard has a problem. They have been adding abilities to World of Warcraft for the last 10 years. Some of those abilities work great (see: Lifebloom in Burning Crusade becoming druids’ primary healing spell), and some of them cause more problems than they solved (See: Starfall pulling all the things, all the time, even when every patch says they fixed it, and isn’t even the AOE spell it used to be). Blizzard decided that for the WOD expansion, they want to trim back some of the button bloat, and get back to something a little more streamlined. This means that if Blizzard does their button bloat fixing, you will have fewer buttons in WOD than you did in MOP. This means that some button you loved is going away, and is probably not being replaced by a new button. (See: the old Ten Ton Hammer for an explanation of ability bloat & why Blizzard is looking to fix it).

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This is the tough question. There are people who truly love every spell, no matter how terrible it actually is. There was a response to this tweet from someone talking about how much they missed “Thorns” (a druid spell that reflected damage back when you hit the druid with melee attacks). However, most everyone also agrees that there is a certain amount of “button bloat” that needs to go. Blizzard has argued that the way to fix button bloat, however, isn’t just to just cut out the buttons no one uses.

In fact, I think people will argue that they do use Soothe (druid ability that dispels enrage effects), even if they haven’t used it for an entire expansion. You could argue that we should keep Soothe because we might sometimes need to use it if they happen to put a boss in an encounter that we need to Soothe. Still, though, if they removed Soothe, they would need to change how enrage mechanics work and streamline the buff/debuff/dispell system more generally. So, they wouldn’t be able to put in an encounter that required Soothe if the button no longer existed (thus, arguments for keeping soothe are really circular – because the game can be balanced either way around the abilities we have, or don’t have).

Cutting the buttons people love

If we can’t just cut spells people use once a year, what can we cut from rotations people use every day that people will learn to live without?

In terms of spells that could be removed, the player base has to be willing to accept that some of Blizzard’s spell experimentations didn’t work, that Blizzard added too many spells to the game, and that creating the illusion of choice and interesting PVE rotations isn’t about who can balance a plate on their head while jumping up and down and repeating the alphabet backwards. Somewhere, Blizzard has to make the hard choices and cut spells that we use every day, but could easily live without.

For example, Blizzard had to remove Insect Swarm from moonkin because it caused more balancing issues than the spell was worth. The best places to cut are things like the removal of Insect Swarm that never really worked well with Eclipse in Cataclysm, and just cause more problems than was worth fixing. Plenty of people loved Insect Swarm, but we learned to live without it, and it turned out that moonkin were just as fun without insect swarm. All the petitions in the world to save Insect Swarm wouldn’t make it work with the new moonkin rotation – it still always left Eclipse out of balance, and was better for the game to be removed. There weren’t any really solid arguments for keeping insect swarm, and thus it was better for moonkin that the button was taken away.

In a previous post, I suggested the best places to remove buttons would be in reducing redundancy. In addition, I suggested making some buttons only for PVP and others only for PVE in a way that was much more distinct than previous expansions. In the case of Alter Time, it is a perfect example of a spell that could work better as PVP-only (providing only utility, without any interactions with our main DPS spells, procs, trinkets, heroism other damage buffs in our primary raiding rotations), rather than working in both PVP and PVE. It would remove a PVE rotational button while still technically preserving the original utility design.

Places where it makes the most sense to remove abilities are places where there is redundancy (in the case of any class that has a bunch of DPS cooldowns that all largely get macro’d together). Yes, all the classes “love” all of the DPS cooldowns that get macro’d together, but they won’t hate their class if they have one less thing bound to the macro. So, places where things get macro’d together are good places to cut buttons, because this largely starts to reach the point of the actual definition of “clunky” (having to hit X number of buttons before doing Y) if people don’t have them macro’d together. There are plenty of these examples for every class, but even if people love the cooldowns, it would be really an easy place to cut and streamline abilities from player rotations.

People often mistake poorly implemented mechanics for “flavor”, but if Blizzard is looking to reduce the number of buttons we use, it would be in Blizzard’s best interest to remove the most poorly implemented mechanics instead of trying to make the mechanics work. This is also why they should probably remove some of the crowd control buttons in PVP, however, to give players back their sense of control.

This is also why the mage level 90 talents need to go. Rune of Power is another ability that requires the mage to stand still and takes away control from the player. Having to risk death to your character just to do equal damage to the other people in your raids means you are a liability, not an asset, to your team. Rune of power isn’t worth saving or fixing – it would be better to just cut it (and the rest of the level 90 talents) and start over again with new level 90 talents. Yes, some people “love” the level 90 talents, but that isn’t reason enough to save failing mechanics.

Thus, for PVE reasons, Alter Time is really a poorly implemented, hard to balance, and redundant cooldowwn that feels like it has unique flavor, but that “flavor” is just in the form of being able to randomly kill you – and becomes my primary example of DPS cooldowns that aren’t really needed (Even if lots of people “love” the spell). Random deaths that are largely out of your control, however, do not add any actual fun to the game. Just like having starfall aggro all the mobs in the zone doesn’t actually add any fun to the game (I think Starfall is another good candidate for the “this never worked right anyway” chopping block, to be honest).

Random PVE deaths aren’t particularly fun, and they can really let down your team. An ability that essentially randomly causes you to explode is fun for an expansion or two, but isn’t really unique “flavor” that makes a class fun (and while I originally suggested that living bomb should require the mage to explode and come back in the form of a Phoenix, there’s a good reason why that joke suggestion was never implemented). So, when I joke about wanting “alter time” to die in a fire, this is mostly because of the number of times it has caused me to get sucked back into randomly spawning fires I just moved out of, and the feeling that every time I use Alter Time, the spell is essentially taking away my ability to truly control my own character’s movement for the next 6 seconds.

If I have to give up a button, I would rather give up this button that doesn’t work right than ones I think are actually well designed for current-day content. When we got to actually stand still in raids, being rooted to the ground for 6 seconds wasn’t a problem, but with more and more running in actual circles happening in raids, abilities that take away our sense of control are good places for Blizzard to cull because they start to be incompatible with how encounters are designed. Even though some people love spells that root players to the ground, the game isn’t about who can stand still and nuke Patchwerk to death the fastest. Encounters are now designed to make you jump through hoops (literally in the case of Firelands), and having to balance plates on your head (and having you die any time you drop the plate) while you jump through the hoops really isn’t what this game should be about.

Would it be possible to fix spells like Alter Time and Starfall rather than cutting them? Yes, absolutely. However, the primary goal of reducing button bloat is the goal is to cut spells – and the best place to cut spells is to cut what isn’t quite working as intended so you can focus on making the actually more functional spells work better. In many cases, buttons that could be cut are buttons we asked for in the first place, but we have to be willing to let go of something, or there will never be any fixes to the button bloat. In some cases, I’m being particularly antagonistic just because I want people to think more about what buttons would be the best to chop, not just about why X spell should be kept – but what button would you give up instead to be able to keep X spell? In picking on spells people love, but could live without, my point is to get people to think more critically about the seriousness of the consequences of Blizzard’s attempts to reduce button bloat.

The point I’m trying to make is less about any individual spell, however, and more about the fact that Blizzard has to make hard choices. In the end, we can all make suggestions of things we love and couldn’t live without, or things we hate and wish would go away. If I have to give up buttons, I would rather give up buttons that take away my sense of control over my character, are redundant with other buttons, or serve no real purpose other than providing a sense of “flavor” without any real meat behind it.

Are those buttons also things that people love? Yes, but the fact that people love every single ability in the game isn’t reason to avoid fixing the problem of button bloat. It sucks to lose spells that you love, but we can’t fix button bloat if we don’t cut spells that people love. You can learn to love your class again even if you have fewer buttons.