Sunday, June 26, 2011

How has Cataclysm healing gone so far?

The first tier of Cataclysm raiding is drawing to a close. Now is a good time to ask: how have the planned changes in healing worked out in practice?

Before Cataclysm came out, Ghostcrawler wrote a great post on what he wants from healing. Here's an excerpt:

Mana efficiency is ideally part of this calculus. If mana doesn't matter, then either your highest healing-per-second spell or your fastest spell (depending on the situation) is always the best choice. Increasingly in LK, it's just the fastest spell that wins because of the nature of incoming damage. If mana doesn't matter, then you aren't trying to hit the bullseye I described above because missing the bullseye (overhealing) has no consequence. If you use the proverbial bazooka to kill cockroaches, then who cares?

I would tease out three overall goals from this and other posts by the Blizzard developers:

  • Mana efficiency should matter. Healers should choose spells not just on their healing per execution time (HPET), but their healing per mana (HPM). Healers should gear not just for bigger, faster heals, but for mana regen.
  • Damage should be slow enough that healers feel free to use slower spells. In Lich King, a slow spell like Healing Touch could easily mean people die before the heal lands.
  • Healers should not cast the same spell over and over. They should intelligently make choices about what to do.

Based on the normal-mode 10-man raids I have been in, I believe the game has accomplished this quite well in the current tier. For the current tier:

  • Mana efficiency is huge. Regrowth is only used in emergencies, for example, due to its high mana cost. Resto druids are highly prioritizing mana regen on their gear and in their specs.
  • Damage intake is slow enough that you don't need super-fast healing. Slow and steady healing is just fine. The main exception is Chimaeron, where Caustic Slime comes very rapidly in the phase 1 and is devastating in the phase 2.
  • Healers have a lot of choice in spells. This is weaker than ideal for nourish versus healing touch, because their HPM are so close. However, there are lots of interesting choices in where to use swiftmend, when to use tranquility, when to cast a regrowth after all, and when to use tree of life.

The second two items look fine for future tiers. Damage will go up, but so will stamina, especially now that stamina gives 14 hitpoints per point. Furthermore, much of what is interesting in spell choice nowadays is about other factors than HPET versus HPM, so even if we switch over to only good HPET spells, we'll still have more to think about than in Lich King.

Mana regen is a different story. Since spells take a fixed amonut of mana, it seems inevitable that mana regen will eventually get to the point that druids can spam cast healing touch and rejuvenate indefinitely. At that point, which is pretty much top-end tier-11 gear, players have no more benefit from regen. Thus, I expect regen in Firelands and beyond to be more like the hit cap: it will be very important up to a certan amount, and after that you won't care.

Fixing the mana regen problem is pretty hard. To make healers keep caring about mana, it seems like we need a way to heal even more than they currently can, but at the expense of using more mana. One way would be if higher spell power meant you also went through mana faster. That would be a rather dramatic change in how healing works, though. A milder change would be if players could take a talent to get more healing but much worse mana efficiency. For example, 50% more healing but 100% more mana per spell. Players in the current tier wouldn't use it, because they'd end up out-of-mana very quickly. Players in later tiers would have to take it, though, just so that their max throughput can keep up. Once they take it, they care quite a lot about regen again.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Built-in damage meters?

Someone asked about this on the DPS installment of Ask the Devs. They answered that they are working on it:
Q: Will we ever see an in-game damage and healing meter to replace Recount? – Sinth├Ča (NA/ANZ), Hemodynamic (EU-EN)

A: We’d dearly love to do this, and it’s been something we’ve been working on, off and on for some time. The problem is that increasingly players place a really high and occasionally unhealthy emphasis on meters, and once there is an official Blizzard-supported meter, then that situation is only going to get worse. Anything that isn’t portrayed in our meters with a great degree of accuracy is going to be misinterpreted and cause forum drama. For example, it’s easy for DPS to inflate their meters on some fights by attacking targets that don’t matter. How do we handle those situations -- trust players to know the difference? That’s tricky, especially when the community has a penchant for distilling lots of fights down into a single measurement of DPS. As another example, the Restoration druid Tranquility is intended to fill a role similar to Power Word: Barrier or Spirit Link Totem. Yet the druid cooldown is an actual heal, which greatly inflates their meters to the extent that we see a lot of players complaining about how Resto druids are overpowered. Do we not show Tranquility on healing meters?

On the other hand, one benefit of having easy-to-use Blizzard meters would be getting players to focus on their own personal DPS instead of what the best players in the world are capable of. It makes developers cry when we see a good Fury warrior go Arms and do lackluster DPS just because they read that Arms DPS is higher. (Now, if that player just likes Arms or wants to try something different, more power to them.)

Also consider that damage and healing meters are valued by a pretty small set of the playing population as a whole. New UI features like the quest and equipment systems we added not so long ago, and even the upcoming Dungeon Journal, would be more widely used overall.

So the short answer is that it would be a very useful tool and we suspect we’ll do it eventually, but we have an enormous responsibility to get it right, and even then it could do bad things to the community as a whole.

I played vanilla for several months without it occurring to me that I should be maximizing dps. I played it like other role-playing games, and in other role-playing games it doesn't much matter. So long as the mobs die, they die.

Having a built-in damage meter would be an excellent step for two reasons. One is that it would provide guidance to new players on what they should be paying attention to. Second is that semi-new players would get this vital information without needing an addon.

The describe a problem with attacking irrelevant targets, but there's no way to fix that, so don't bother. Besides, with the simple meter I have in mind--just a single number somewhere on the screen--nobody would see anyone else's damage meter, anyway. This highly limits the ability of people to pointlessly boast.

Another issue they describe has to do with healing. There are more issues than they list, however! Basically I don't think it would help to include a healing meter in-game. In a 5-man, your hps in the same as the incoming dps -- that is, the healing you do will always match exactly the damage done to the party. As such, there's nothing you can do to change it. In a raid, you only improve your own hps by subtracting someone elses, which is otherwise known as sniping. In short, I don't think a built-in healing meter would help new healers do a better job.

I'm very glad to read that Blizzard is considering adding a dps meter. However, I don't think they need to think about this quite as hard as they are. Skip it for the healers, and only show the dps of the player themself. For anything else, let people go to add-ons or log analysis sites.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Path to Dragonwrath

Hedra has a great writeup on the quest chain for obtaining the new legendary in Firelands.
With patch 4.2 comes the new Tier 12 raiding content and the Firelands raid instance. It’s also when the Legendary staff, Dragonwrath, Tarecgosa’s Rest, becomes available and will be the most important item for almost any raiding dps caster. This is the first appropriate legendary for a boomkin, since Atiesh (which is no longer in the game). The staff stats are the equivalent of Tier 13.5 gear, so this will likely be the weapon of choice until the end of Cataclysm.

Want! It is too bad that I dps so little. I will be ridiculously far down the list for this staff.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Five changes in WoW that are good

Jinxed Thoughts has a fun post up on changes in WoW that were for the better in WoW. For example:
Believe it or not, there are few things in the game that have annoyed me as much as the way gaining wep skill used to work. For any weapon you could use you had to not only go buy the skill in some cases, you had to also manually learn it by swinging at a mob with said weapon until you reached the proper skill level. Going from 1 to max skill could take hours.
Yeah, it was pretty miserable. Casters wouldn't bother. With melee classes, though, you have to skill them up, and it takes forever. The first few points go quickly, but it really slows down when you get close to the skill cap. RIP, weapon skills. You were a terrible bore.

It got me thinking what I am happy has changed. Here are five picks of my own.

The Dungeon Finder. I played a little bit in vanilla and had no idea what was going on. I found 5-man instances one of the most fun parts of the game, but I found it really tough to find an instance. I came back to the game in Lich King, and I still knew what was up, but assembling a group for anything took a while. The Dungeon Finder is a huge improvement, especially for dps classes. Instead of plaintively asking for a group for half an hour or more, you hit the front of the queue in about 15-20 minutes, all without having to beg and plead.

Newbie friendliness: tooltips and the new spec system. Jinxed Thoughts mentions this one, too. I like that the tooltips say things like "a large heal" rather than giving a very precise and very bogus number like "heals for 132 points". The spell always healed for more, because the tooltips didn't factor in all the buffs that apply, so the number on the tooltip was pretty useless to anyone who is not a human calculator. Likewise, I like the new talent system, where you get spec-specific improvements right when you pick a tree. It means that level 10 is way more fun than it used to be.

Easy mode of raids. I like that casual players like myself can at least see a softball version of everything.

The new token system. The new token system means that it's fairly quick to level up an alt to being able to work on the previous tier of content.

Class balance. I'm impressed and glad that every class has a competitive dps spec, and every healer and tank class is about equal to the others on the whole. Getting a character to level 85 takes a while, and I'm glad that nowadays you can be sure you won't regret your choice of class.
I just got around to reading the Tier-12 set bonuses that will be available in Firelands. Here are the bonuses for resto druids:
  • 2-part: Your periodic healing from Lifebloom has a 40% chance to restore 1% of your base mana each time it heals a target.
  • 4-part: Your Swiftmend also heals an injured target within 8 yards for the same amount.
The two-part bonus is huge but will not affect gameplay. It will just regenerate mana for us all the time. Just remember to be extra sure to cast a lot of lifebloom in Tree of Life form, but I am already doing that anyway. The two-part bonus means we already graduate from needing to worry about mana in tier 12. Sustainable throughput no longer looks like the most important thing to aim for. I recently made a couple of Nefarion attempts while accidentally wearing moonkin gear, and my regen was lower than normal, but probably still enough to beat the fight. In tier 12, with the higher amounts of int and spirit, I am guessing we no longer have reason to bother reforging secondary stats to spirit. Just take the spirit that comes on the gear, and reforge everything else to haste.

I'm not sure why Blizzard is making this change. I enjoyed having to manage mana usage, and I was hoping it would last for at least one more tier. Instead, Blizzard seems ready to hasten it out of consideration.

The four-part bonus will affect our gameplay. It's going to be interesting trying to swiftmend people who are near other injured people. In practice, I suspect the best I will be able to do is swiftmend people who are in a group--it will be good to be melee in any group I am healing! Basically, this will tip the scales of using the heal on the tank versus using it on a group to trigger efflorescence. With the extra heal on a neighboring player, it will be even more valuable to cast swiftmend on a group.