Category: Healing

Jul 20 2013

Proving Yourself in Proving Grounds

This PTR build of patch 5.4 introduced a long-awaited feature to the game: Proving Grounds!  Proving Grounds are solo scenarios where a level 90 player can test their skill in their chosen role against wave after wave of enemies that get progressively harder.

•  As a DPS, your job is to kill the mobs before the next wave spawns.  It’s just you and your toolbox of spells and abilities to burn them down, interrupt their heals, and keep yourself alive.

•  As a tank, your job is to protect your NPC healer by picking up the mobs as best you can, interrupting them, and using your own cooldowns to survive.

•  As a healer, your job is to keep your party alive.  Your party is a team of NPCs – a warrior tank, an assassination rogue, a hunter and a mage.  The AI is pretty smart — they are good about interrupting and focus firing — while still being realistic in the sense that they are occasionally being slow to get out of fire or meandering out of your healing range.  You’ll need to do a lot of healing and dispelling here.

If you fail in your role objective, you get a failure message and the mobs despawn and you have to talk to the NPC to start again at wave 1.  If you get “killed,” you are actually just reduced to 1 healthpoint – so no death repair bills!  You do take wear-and-tear durability damage, though, and there is an NPC inside the instance who can repair you.

Healer PG

Goals

Proving Grounds can serve several useful functions:

  • First and foremost: it is something fun to do!
  • It gives new players a safe but real-time environment to practice their skills and improve their play.  Whether you’re new to the game or just new to a role, PGs are a wonderful place to hone your skills without worrying about irritating or — worse — killing four other players in the process.
  • If gives players a place to test out particular talents, glyphs, as well as fiddle with their addons and keybinds.

Gear Scaling

To make sure Proving Grounds are a challenge of skill and not of who simply has the best gear, all equipment is scaled down in a similar fashion to Challenge Modes.

  • Gear scales to 463
  • Gems do not scale
  • Set bonuses do not count

Unlike Brawler’s Guild where players can hit a ceiling on their success because their gear is subpar (or get further because great gear gives them more margin for error), the equalised equipment means ranking accurately reflects true skill.  Of course, if you’re exclusively a tank or healer, you can’t do Brawler’s Guild at all!

You can use flasks and foods, but not potions; they didn’t want you to have to bring stacks and stacks of pots just to make it through.  There is a soulwell for health cookies, though!

There is also a reforger NPC in case you need to make any gear tweaks, and a vendor who sells  Tomes of the Clear Mind so you can tweak your talents and glyphs as much as you need.

Tuning

First the obligatory disclaimer – All of this can change!  Proving Grounds are a brand new feature and it’s possible Blizzard may shift their goals with what they want with them.  Additionally, right now the tuning on the PTR is really easy — far below what I was told was intended (and what I outlined below). It is likely untuned right now, but being the PTR I imagine they will be tweaking them quiet a bit over the next month or so.  Give them a try, leave feedback on the tuning whether you prefer it harder or easier!

You begin with bronze mode.  The plan is for bronze to be tuned to a player ready to step into heroic 5-mans, so this should be easy for just about everyone.

After you beat bronze, you can step into Silver.  If you’re a normal mode raider, you should be able to make it through this level, with maybe some difficulties in the final waves.

After that comes Gold.  Beating gold is intended to reflect comparable skills to a player that is ready to raid heroics.  Expect to use your whole toolbox to make it through Gold.

After you beat Gold, you are eligible to try Endless mode.  Endless mode, as the name implies, has unlimited waves of increasing difficulty.  Each wave does a percentage more damage and has an equal percentage more health than the one before it.

Your furthest wave will be tracked so you can come back try to beat your high score later, and so you can compete with your friends.  Although there are no in-game leaderboards like for Challenge modes, this information is tracked in your character statistics and can be pulled up in the armory, so expect third party sites to run rankings eventually.

Rewards

There are achievements for reaching each rank in each role, as well as surviving 20 waves into Endless.  There will be titles, as well.  “[Name] the Proven [Healer / Tank / Damage Dealer]” probably earned by completing Gold for a given role.

Perhaps later other rewards will be implemented, but that’s it for now.

I got the opportunity to test Proving Grounds a couple weeks early thanks to an awesome dev, but now they are a little more polished and available for everyone to try.  Just speak to your class trainer* or the NPC in the Temple of the White Tiger in Kun Lai Summit to be sent in.

 

* NYI this build – go to Kun Lai

Outside Resources

 

Jan 02 2013

Symbiosis

Note: This spell was removed from the game in patch 6.0.2 for being too complex/convoluted.  Considering that I was able to make an entire blog post just out of explaining what one single spell did, I think this is a reasonable claim.

 

Symbiosis is a new ability granted to the Druid class in Mists of Pandaria.  When cast on another player by a Druid, both players are given access to one of each other’s spells for an hour, depending on both the druid’s spec and the recipient’s role.  The spells exchanged are not exactly like their original forms, but are similar (read the tooltips for details).  Both players still retain their granted abilities, as well (eg, you don’t lose spell reflect just because the druid gained it).

Because I often see people who aren’t sure what class or spec grants what (both the giver and recipient’s specs influence what abilities are exchanged) — including many druids — I thought I would offer a summary for people to use as a reference.  I have sorted by class for convenience:


Rogues

Gives to Druid
Redirect to cat
Feint to bear
Evasion to tree
Cloak of Shadows to moonkin

Receives from Druid
Growl


Death Knight

Gives to Druid
Death Coil to cat
Bone Shield to bear
Icebound Fortitude to tree
Anti-Magic Shell to moonkin

Receives from Druid
Wild Mushroom: Plague as Frost & Unholy
Might of Ursoc as Blood


Warrior

Gives to Druid
Shattering Blow to cat
Spell Reflect to bear
Intimidating Roar to tree
Intervene to moonkin

Receives from Druid
Stampeding Shout as Arms & Fury
Savage Defense as Protection


Paladin

Gives to Druid
Divine Shield to cat
Consecration to bear
Cleanse to tree
Hammer of Justice to moonkin

Receives From Druid
Wrath as Retribution
Barkskin as Protection
Rebirth as Holy


Monk

Gives To Druid
Clash to cat
Elusive Brew to bear
Fortifying Brew to tree
Grapple Weapon to moonkin

Receives From Druid
Bear Hug as Windwalker
Entangling Roots as Mistweaver
Survival Instincts as Brewmaster


Shaman

Gives to Druid
Feral Spirit to cat
Lightning Shield to bears
Spiritwalker’s Grace to tree
Purge to moonkin

Receives From Druid
Solar Beam as Elemental & Enhancement
Prowl as Restoration


Ma
ge

Gives to Druid
Frost Nova to cat
Frost Armor to bear
Iceblock to tree
Mirror Image to moonkin

Receives from Druid
Healing Touch


Warlock

Gives to Druid
Soul Swap to cat
Life Tap to bear
Demonic Circle: Teleport to tree
Unending Resolve to moonkin

Receives From Druid
Rejuvenation


Priest

Gives To Druid
Dispersion to cat
Fear Ward to bear
Leap of Faith to tree
Mass Dispel to moonkin

Receives From Druid
Tranquility as Shadow
Cyclone as Holy & Discipline


Hunter

Gives to Druid
Play Dead to cat
Ice Trap to bear
Deterrence to tree
Misdirection to moonkin

Receives from Druid
Dash

 

As a tip:  The new abilities will appear in their owner’s spellbooks under the name of the ability itself, not under “Symbiosis.”  If you put the gained ability on your action bar, it will stay there even when you do not have the buff for future (when you do not have the buff, it will say Symbiosis instead of the ability name on your bars), which can be helpful if you receive it regularly in your raid or because your spec grants a particularly appealing ability to druids in return.
Dec 14 2011

LFR Tool: Raiding Lite™

The new Looking for Raid (LFR) tool is a new avenue of advancement introduced in 4.3 for characters.  Out for a few weeks, the feature has had enormous popularity with players.  For those of you who haven’t experienced it yet, here is an overview based on my experiences using it.

LFR is raiding with training wheels.  To compensate for throwing a bunch of strangers together, many of whom will be inexperienced or underskilled or just bad as following directions, the fights are stripped down and tuned to be very, very easy.   They are designed to be successfully done provided at least half the raid is conscious and capable of following basic instructions, a difficulty level that is arguably necessary to ever get anything killed in such an environment.  As a result of their ease, they offer low quality loot — just slightly better than the new heroics — and lack the perks of regular raiding like achievements, epic gems and Valor-points-per-boss (LFR awards VP only for completion), or the ability to work on the tier’s legendary.

To use it, one queues through an icon on the menu bar like with random dungeons, and is automatically matched up with 24 other players.  It can be done multiple times a week (although you only have one chance at loot), and will not lock you from doing the raid on normal mode.

Organisation

The group is composed of two tanks, six healers and seventeen DPS.  The fights are designed to always use this same comp, so there is no need for dual spec or talent switching during the raid.

Raid leadership is on a volunteer basis.  To queue as a potential leader, one must check the box on the queuing window along with their usual role – same as is done for the LFD tool.  If the raid leader leaves, a new one is assigned from amongst the other volunteers.  Raid leaders get no special perks or powers and mainly exists as a way of saying “yes I will give any new people instructions if they want them.”  Unlike with a real raid group, here the leadership rarely is required to do anything different than any other raid member, although you shouldn’t volunteer for the job if you’re not interested in explaining the fight mechanics.

Players are in and out of the raid group constantly.  It is not uncommon for people to leave mid-fight, or to start a boss down a few people.  The tool is very efficient about replacing these people the instant a group leaves combat, but the fights as also easy enough that the empty spots are rarely a problem.  For this reason, no player should feel intimidated about having to bow out before a run is finished; it is possible no one would even notice.

Niche

LFR has such a huge scope of utility across all spectrum of players, that it’s hard to just pin as “raiding for casuals,” although this is the thing it is typically billed as.

However incomplete that statement might be, though, it is still very much true.  With the difficulty level so low, even someone who has never played in a raid environment can stumble through it successfully.  The tool is an amazing way to let players see the raiding content they might have not otherwise dared to try.  The DPS checks are minimal, and even a few stronger players can balance out a handful of inexperienced ones.

Additionally, with the [currently] very short queues for DPS and healers, players who don’t raid due to lack of time may also find LFR to be an exceptional tool.  Not longer do forays into raiding content require regularly scheduled groups and hours and hours of attempts learning new bosses and farming old ones.  Instead, these players can opt for a limited “demo” version of the raid instance on their own schedule as an alternative to seeing nothing at all.  Currently, both wings of Dragonsoul in LFR take about an hour each and with so many players in and out constantly, it is not harmful to your teammates if you need to bow out even earlier.

Another advantage is that LFR provides a way for all players, serious or casual, to have an opportunity to try raiding on an alt that they wouldn’t have otherwise raided on.   Whether you just want to get more familiar with that class, or take a break from your main, or practice with them for a potential re-roll, the tool can fulfill this niche.

The LFR tool can also be extremely helpful as a tool to help seasoned raiders become familiar with the fights in advance.  Although the stripped down nature make it nearly useless for learning the mechanics themselves, seeing even the basic version of the fight can be helpful in figuring out position, learning spawn points for adds, what that special mob or ability looks like visually, and getting a general feel for the way the particular fight works.  Instead of just watching that tankspot video, now you’re immersed in it, and you can control the camera angle and zoom yourself. Paired with a written guide or a video, I’ve found the LFR tool to be immeasurably helpful in understanding a fight.

Finally, let’s not discount the huge advantage LFR provides for gearing up new players, alts and rerolls and for filling in gearing holes on raiding characters.  It also allows for main raiders to get their set bonuses faster and get small upgrades more often, and the nerfed tier pieces will still work towards completing a set bonus.  Lastly, as a source of Valor Points, you might choose to get the currency to buy those VP items through LFR rather than LFD.  Although its steeper item level requirement means you can’t just waltz in as a fresh 85, the requirements can still be met by doing the new heroics rather than raiding.

Success Ratio

Queuing at least once weekly on four characters, I’ve had very good luck in terms of success with my LFR groups.   Most bosses take just one or two tries to down, with ample forgiveness for mistakes.  Trash wipes typically only occur when someone facepulls several packs or the boss itself (or both in the case of the slime boss).  The worst group I’ve encountered spent 45 minutes just on the first boss of part 2, which is still a good deal faster than a real raid might take, and they still went one to one shot every following boss.  In the best group, I’ve cleared part 1 of Dragonsoul in just over a half an hour on my lunch break.  The raid is definitely succeeding it its goal to be painless and easy.

Loot

You can roll on loot for each boss in LFR once per week. Once you’ve already beaten that boss, you will be ineligible to roll on loot from that boss again during the week if you continue to queue.  Many of the items are now limited to particular appropriate classes (ie, a rogue cannot roll on a strength sword).  Roll bonuses are given if you are ‘need’ rolling on an item for the spec you are queued as, so if a piece of intel/spirit mail drops, the resto and elem shaman will have an advantage on it over the enhance spec’d one, but the enhancement shaman may still roll for their offset without worrying about the item getting dusted.

The system is far from perfect and is still peppered with bugs and oversights, but overall it is a large improvement over LFD.

Attitudes

Just as any environment in which anonymous strangers are thrown together and forced to interact, LFR certainly contains its share of jerks.  Every group has the one DPS who spams Recount after every attempt to brag about his numbers, and the other guy who spends more time bitching about the weaker DPS than he does doing his own job.  You do encounter those two people who get in a fight over something petty and insist on holding up the entire raid so they can bicker over it.  And yes, there is the guy who tries to publicly shame anyone who makes a mistake or taunt everyone who dies with “newb!”   There are also people who are abusing the system by joining then going AFK, and those lazy people that don’t want to help with trash or run back after a wipe.

However, I have been largely impressed by the bulk of groups.  For every asshole throwing a tantrum, there are three people telling him to shut up.  I have encountered players who have made special effort to explain the fights to the people that ask, who give helpful call outs and reminders, who present solutions instead of complaints.  There are those people who are cheerleaders and in the face of others bitching can say, “we were really close, we can do it, we just need to be a little more disciplined.”   There have been people who win duplicate loot and gracefully hand it out to the second highest roller.  I have seen more people booted for being a jerk than I have for making mistakes or doing low DPS.

Overall, I’ve found it to be a smoother and more enjoyable experience than doing PuG five mans.  The jerks are diluted in a sea of people, and the bad players don’t hurt the raid’s success and there are always at least a couple good and patient players to help teach the inexperienced what to do.

My conclusion on LFR is that it is a wonderful tool that many people will find useful and/or enjoyable.  Since it is only a few weeks old, I suspect that once the novelty wears off and people are capped on valor goodies, the demand for running it will decrease and queue times will grow.  Nevertheless, it is reasonable to believe it will still be one of the most popular game features Blizzard has ever implemented in WoW.   Love it or hate it, the thing is clearly a hit.

Oct 23 2011

Monk Class: Blizzcon Preview

Blizzcon just finished and I’m sure we’ve all heard the new announcements by now.   New race: Pandaren.   New class: Monk.   Demo computers were available to see both the Pandaren starting zone and give the new class a whirl.

WoW fan sites have posted the details of all the new World of Warcraft announcements, ability lists, gameplay trailers, etc, but I thought I’d do something different and talk a little bit about how actually playing the new monk class felt and give my own impressions.

Remember, all of these details can change between now and when the expansion goes live, and probably will.

Basic Information

Monks are a new hybrid class; they have specs that will allow them to heal, tank, or melee DPS.  They are heavily martial arts themed, aiming for the archetypal monk class.  They are not a hero class, and will begin at level 1.

They wear leather and will share their gear with rogues and druids, depending on their role.  They start in leather gear from level 1.  They can currently use fist weapons, polearms, staves, and 1-handed swords or axes. As healers, they will use offhands rather than shields.  The current plan is for tanking to lead towards 2h while DPS and heals will use the 1h weaponry.

They will use stances, presumably similar to a warrior and based on their role.

They are available for every race except Worgen and Goblin.

Resource System

Monks use a unique resource system different from the current ones in game. They have an energy bar, called Chi, which functions similar to that of rogue and cat druids by refilling quickly to a hard cap.  This is paired with a combo points-like system, but this is where it departs from the familiar.  Monks get two sets of combo points — Light and Dark Force — and these are tied to the player and not the thing you’re fighting.  They do not appear to decay (although they probably clear at log out) so you can carry them from fight to fight.

Your basic attacks cost Chi but build combo points of either the Light or Dark Force or both.   You then spend those force points on special stronger attacks.  Unlike the finishers that rogues and cats spend their combo points on, these abilities don’t scale based on number of points – they cost a flat amount.  Because of this, you will not be capping your points and then spending them, but rather using a rolling priority system of using both as needed.  The playstyle ends up being very different than the usual “point-point-point-finish” feel of other energy classes.

Blizzard has said that when Monks are spec’d for healing, their Chi bar will be replaced with a Mana bar.   It was not explicitly stated but seems obvious based on their design goals that the class will still keep its Light and Dark Force bar for healing, allowing it to maintain its unique feel in all three talent specialisations.

Abilities

Here are some of the spells & abilities that were available in the demo:

Level 1 Abilities

Jab
40 Chi – Melee Range, Instant
Requires Stance of the Drunken Ox, Stance of the Fierce Tiger.
You jab the target, dealing 5 damage and generating 1 light force and 1 dark force.

Jab is your basic attack. This is the button you are hitting the most to spend your Chi and generate your Force points. I imagine you get different ones later as you level and based on spec.

Tiger Palm
1 Light Force – Melee range, instant
Requires Stance of the Drunken Ox, Stance of the Fierce Tiger.
Deals 10 Physical damage, deals 5 additional damage if the target is above 50% health.

Level 2 Abilities

Roll
50 Chi – Instant
Roll a short distance.

Roll is a mobility tool to keep you moving around the battlefield (and, when out of combat, to appease your pining for that mount that is eighteen levels away).  It costs only energy, so you can zoom around as often as your bar refills.  It’s very fun for getting quickly from enemy to enemy or just getting around faster.  You can roll in any direction, including backwards and sideways.

Level 3 Abilities

Blackout Kick
2 Dark Force – Melee range, Instant
Kick with a blast of energy, causing 28 physical damage to an enemy target. If the target is killed by blackout kick, you are returned 1 Dark Force.

Level 5 Abilities

Flying Serpent Kick
8-40 Yards range, 25 Seconds Cooldown, Instant.
Soar through the air towards a targeted enemy, knocking them down and stunning them for 2 seconds.

Spinning Crane Kick
Instant, 2 Lights and Dark Forces
Requires Stance of the Drunken Ox, Stance of the Fierce Tiger.
You spin while kicking in the air, dealing 23 damage every 1 second to all nearby enemies within 8 yards. Movement speed is reduced by 30%, last 6 seconds.

Some other abilities were loosely discussed at the various panels, but were not in game to try.

Auto-Attack

Monks do not have an auto-attack like every other class.  Blizzard developers said they wanted the monk to have a “street fighter feel” where each button press from the player is an attack from your monk.  This is very unique to the game, and it is controversial enough that this may end up not going live (in fact, I would predict it will be in and out of the beta several times before a decision is made).  There are some concerns about that, and I’d like to address them the best I can for a player who has only played the first six levels of the monk class.

The first worry I have heard expressed (totally justifiably) is that this will make playing the Monk very spammy.  I’m sure those of us with Warriors heard the announcement and were thinking old school Heroic “I eroded a hole in my keybind” Strike.  The good news is that it does not feel like this at all.  Your Jab costs enough that you are not hitting it a million times a minute, but fast enough that you don’t feel like you’re standing around waiting for energy regen (usually… more on that below).  You are also limited by your GCD, which is current the same 1.5 seconds of most players [note:  I am pretty sure Jab is limited by the GCD]. The playstyle is fast paced but far from overwhelmingly or spammy.

However, the lack of auto-attack does have some weaknesses that need to be addressed eventually.  It is annoying when you find yourself in a situation with neither Chi nor Force points and you’re up in some mob’s grill unable to do literally anything but stand there.  That might not happen often, but it can happen in numerous circumstances:

When moving quickly from fight to fight, the small delay before your opening attack could prove frustrating in those situations where you’re racing to tap a rare mob and have to stand there waiting for the precious energy to claim it as yours.

As a raider who currently plays a rogue, I can think of a lot of current situations in group play where I am swapping to an add and auto-attacking it until I have enough energy to use Mutilate.  This would be very frustrating to find myself in that position as a Monk, chasing an add but doing literally no damage.  I can think of a lot of situations where the add dies before I get enough energy for that special, making my only contribution my white damage (or perhaps I am pooling for when I return to the primary target).  For a monk, there would have been nothing.

I can also see it being problematic from a tanking perspective, where one at least builds minimal threat in the seconds before or between breaking out a special, especially if you’re juggling multiple mobs at once.  Those white attacks can often be the difference between you or the healer tanking in those first microseconds of a pull.

There are also the circumstances of when a mob has a sliver of health left, and one would finish it off with auto-attack. A Monk would be forced to use its resources which perhaps it wanted to save for the next fight. At the very least, it would be a bit overkill.

The other thought that occurred to me is doing old content.  When I was working on Loremaster, I often had to bare-knuckle auto-attack mobs that I needed to get low but not kill for some quests.  If a Monk can only use specials, how would he do such quests?  A level capped Monk would surely one shot these low level mobs in a single Jab.

That may sound like a lot of problems, but they are very situational.  I actually like the feel of the gameplay and being in total control without the auto-attack, so I hope these issues can be resolved in a positive way that allows Monks to keep this unique flavour.  Perhaps a no-cost but super weak attack with a cooldown to use in those situations?  Still, I wouldn’t be at all shocked if Monks went live with auto-attack like everyone else.

Healing

My disclaimer here is that this is all based on Blizzard’s conjecture and will [very probably] not end up like this on live.

They want the heal system to be unique and involve damage reflected into AoE healing for friendlies, rather than the traditional three-cast-time-heal bread and butter for current classes.  For example, Blizzard envisions moves like this to be the means through which a Monk heals its party:

Statue of the Jade Serpent
5 Sec Cast
Summon a statue at the target location. Anytime you deal damage, a nearby friendly target within 20 yards of the statue will be healed. You can have up to 3 Jade Dragon Statues active at a time.

I have serious doubts that the class with go live with things like this as their primary means of healing.  It’s too different, too hard to balance and seems like the kind of thing that would end up overly powerful in some circumstances and too weak in others.   Statues radiating heals seems like it would be very awesome as a raid healing, but what about five mans, or high movement fights?   What about when the healer needs to keep up a tank taking a lot of damage?  What about when the monk is forced to move out of melee for whatever reason?  It’s a very big move away from the “we want all the healers to be able to do successfully do all roles” design goal that Blizzard just implemented, and against the homogenisation that all other healers faced in the last expansion.

The current design goal for healing is to heal through DPS, making the Monk the true melee healer.  This is something they’ve toyed with trying to achieve with Holy Paladins with limited success.  The difference is that Blizzard wants even healing Monks to do “massive” damage and for that to be the vehicle for their heals.

I’m not sure what the implications of that will be for gameplay if we have one healer who is able to contribute significantly to DPS while the others are not. The worry is always that the other healers will be less desired if a raid could instead choose one that helped with those tight enrage timers — a variation of this was voiced frequently when Death Knight tanks were doing a lot of damage and while it didn’t end up proving true, DKs did ultimately receive a series of nerfs in this area to bring them in line with other tanks.  I can see this also having negative PvP connotations if your arena player can both DPS and heal effectively at the same time.  And what of the shadow priest, whose passive raid healing was nerfed because it was too powerful in conjunction with strong DPS?

I suspect that when Monks are being beta tested and tweaked, we will find them being homogenised into the same foundation as the other healers, with the [fast expensive heal], [long, big heal], and [slow efficient heal] and the moves like the statues and vampiric-embrace-like abilities will be dropped to supplemental, expensive AoE heals like Prayer of Healing or Tranquility.  I think they will use melee attacks to add the flavour of their class and to earn the Force Points to do unique and different things with their heals in order to keep their very unique class feel.  I suspect they will not end up doing significant damage as healers, and may perhaps be more in line with a tank or smite-spamming Disc priest.

Tanking

We don’t know much about Monk tanking, except that it will probably involve using staves and polearms and the gearing will be about the same as current Bear druids.

Overall Impressions

Despite being somewhat similar to rogues (my primary reason for being uninterested in feral cat), I found the Monk to be fresh and engaging and am definitely interested in leveling one up in Mists of Pandaria.  Monk is definitely appealing to me a lot more than Death Knights did initially (the DK class and starting zone was amazing but I found the resource system cumbersome and the pace at which you get abilities as a hero class overwhelming).  I thought the resource system here was unique and fun but still very intuitive and user-friendly. The abilities are fun, simple, and well paced.  Roll is super cool.  That handful of levels I got to play in the Blizzcon demo was very enjoyable.

I love hybrid classes and I’m interested in trying both tanking and healing as this new class.  I’m already thinking about which races I will choose for each faction.

Apr 14 2011

The Problem With [not] Healing PuGs

As Blizzard scrambles to bribe healers and tanks back into the LFG Randoms using pets and mounts, I would like to talk a little bit about one reason why we’re struggling to find people to fill these needed roles. More specifically, I’d like to talk about what it is like as a healer using the LFG tool this expansion.

The shortage of healers is due to many factors. It is true that some players just prefer DPSing. It is equally true that many people don’t like the additional responsibility that comes with playing a tank or a healer. It may also be the case that some healers were dissuaded from healing this expansion due to the increased difficulty. However, it is also because many healers have started queuing for heroics as DPS (or forgoing randoms entirely) because they are tired of being the punching bag for other players who can’t handle the increased difficulty. Of these points, only the latter one is a legitimate problem, and it is the one I am going to address.

Choosing Pew Pew Over Heals

I consider myself a decent healer on my restoration shaman. I have healed extensively since classic WoW, both in PvP and PvE, in hard modes and regular content, and doing so has been some of the most fun I have in the game. I like the increased challenge in heroic dungeons in theory, but I hate the indirect consequence that has turned every bad PuG into a nightmare of finger pointing and name calling. Healing for LFG PuGs has gone from something that was mildly frustrating on occasion to being completely unbearable anytime there is a bad player or two in the group. As a result, I just will not heal heroic PuGs anymore. If I need to random, I will take a queue that is 45 minutes instead of 5 minutes to do something I enjoy far less, just because I don’t want to deal with being the scapegoat for every other poor player in the game.

This is not an issue unique to me; I have multiple friends in the same circumstances: great healers who just don’t want to put themselves through the torture and abuse of healing PuGs anymore. I have spoken with many more who feel the same, both in-game and on the forums. Players like this may not be the majority but there are obviously enough of us to merit discussion. And while this is our choice, it does impact your LFG queue times by aggravating the existing healer shortage, which is an issue Blizzard is trying to fix as I write this very post.

LFG Heroic Dungeon Climate

In Cataclysm, heroics are designed to be more challenging than Wrath on several levels. Crowd control is more desirable and often mandatory if the team is not overgeared. Avoidable damage is far less forgiving than before, often one-shotting or severely injuring players who don’t pay attention. Healers are no longer responsible, as some like to put it, for “healing stupid.” Although design has shifted, player mentality about how heroics are “supposed” to go has not. Players still expect to be kept alive and at full health regardless of how they play. I would have thought this would have improved as the months passed and more and more players experienced the new content, but it hasn’t.

Of course, it is no surprise to anyone that there are a lot of bad players in heroic randoms because we’ve all encountered them. There are players who take the same nonchalant attitude towards heroics on their grossly-undergeared, fresh 85 tank as they might on their raid-geared main. There are tanks who refuse to use CC because their “threat is fine” even though they take massive amounts of unnecessary damage, or who are incapable of doing a pull without breaking what CC was used. There are tanks who don’t know how to kite, who are trying to tank in DPS or PvP gear, who don’t use their defensive cooldowns, or who chain pull without watching mana or waiting for the rest of the group. There are players of all varieties who stand in void zones, get cleaved by the boss, are terrible at interrupting, or who ignore the adds that need to be killed. There are lots of players that don’t run away from insta-gib mechanics, pull aggro by attacking the wrong mob or laying in too early, players who often suck at positioning, break CC or have no idea how to apply it in the first place. And of course, there are the garden-variety-bad DPSers who put out about half the amount of damage they should be, making the fights far too long.

Dual Spec:  Healer/Scapegoat

Healers have always had increased responsibility by nature of their job. They are also used to fingers being pointed at them when things go wrong (both with and without merit). Unfortunately the difficulty level of this expansion has made things far, far worse. In the past, healers could cover for people’s mistakes. And while PuGs have always full of jerks, before they were appeased by how smoothly runs went no matter how badly people played. All those stupid mistakes before really didn’t matter. Now they do. Now the people who play poorly will die. If they don’t die immediately, they run the healer out of mana later. And when that happens, the player who gets berated or booted isn’t a DPS or tank. The player who is punished the most for mistakes isn’t the person that made them: it is the healer.

It is no consolation to a healer to know that they were not at fault when booted from a group after already investing 45 minutes in a dungeon; knowing it was someone else’s mistake does not give back time lost. The fact that it is the DPS who fails at a mechanic does not make the healer feel better when they have to spend an entire dungeon being berated every time that lousy player dies. The knowledge that healing is designed so healers can’t always keep everyone topped constantly does not filter out the players demanding heals, cursing or name calling when they don’t get them immediately. It doesn’t console the healer to know that after they leave the party (either by choice or by force), the party is going to have the same problem with the replacement since the issue is the group itself. The healer is not comforted through the scapegoating just because they know that the reason they ran out of mana wasn’t because they were using improper spells but because the DPS was so bad that the fight lasted twice as long as it was supposed to. It doesn’t matter who is really to blame when a dungeoning experience has ceased to be fun and started to be legitimately stressful and draining any time a healer gets a group that is less than stellar.

Now What?

To clarify for people who tend to skim articles: this is not a complaint about Cataclysm heroics being more challenging. While I understand that some healers don’t like the new design, I’m not concerned with those players; you can’t please everyone. Overall, most healers — myself included — seem to enjoy actually having things to do in heroics, unlike Wrath heroics where we were barely needed. And the reality is, healing is not really that much harder once you learn how to manage the new playstyle assuming people aren’t taking excessive damage.  However, it seems like a design failure when an indirect result of the difficulty level is that players who like healing and prefer to heal refuse to do so because being brutalised by other players — who regularly do take excessive damage — has made a job they previously loved into a miserable experience.

Blizzard obviously can’t control the actions of their players, but their design does influence the environment and attitude, and one could argue it is precisely that design that is encouraging players to act poorly. As long as the punishment for failing at a mechanic is damage to a player, healers will be blamed regardless of whose fault it actually is. Between this and the fact that you need addons for tracking fails or discerning death reports (the default combat log is too incomprehensible for the average players), it far too easy to shift the blame towards the healer because the punishment for every mistake is damage, the very thing healers are tasked with solving.

I don’t know of an elegant solution to these circumstances without reverting heroics to super easy and giving healers godmode again, which I don’t think anyone wants. However, I think the issue is worth discussion. There has to be some other way to keep the challenge level while keeping individual player responsibility from drifting to other players. Perhaps possible alternative solutions should be explored, whether it is changing the consequences for failing at mechanics to something that gimps DPS or threat (like Putricide’s slime debuff) rather than damage or deaths, or making it easy to see why someone died or why things went wrong within the default UI.

What do you think?  Have you had similar experiences?  Have you been kicked from a PuG you were healing for someone else’s mistake, or seen it happen to another?  Do you still heal in LFG PuGs?