06 October 2008

WotLK: new resto druid abilities

I read a lot of beta discussion posts. Normally I focus on anything with an official Blizzard 'blue post', through the MMO-Champion BlueTracker. Recently, I've started wading into the WotLK beta druid forums directly. It's painful due to the whining found in every beta forum for every class, but if you're willing to overlook the tears, there can be interesting discussions from time to time.

I don't have a beta account, so I can neither test beta tools nor post in the beta forum. I could test on the PTR, and I've been tempted... but I haven't yet. (Maybe in the next cycle.) But I still have thoughts about the upcoming talent changes, and I wanted to write those out. I'll focus on the Restoration changes here.

Overall — and despite the crying — I think healing will be OK. The developers have explicitly decreed that a) every spec should be competitive, and b) hybrid classes will no longer be gimped a bit just because they're versatile. I don't think they're clueless enough to go live with major druid healing deficiencies, and I think they'll address minor deficiencies in an early patch.

(Some history on patches. Burning Crusade launched on 16 January 2007, based on patch 2.0.5. Patch 2.0.6 (23 January) had a few balance fixes, but the big balance patch for was 2.0.10. It dropped on 6 March 2007. So: some quick fixes were released one week after launch, and the serious rebalancing work came about 3 months after launch. I expect a broadly similar cycle for WotLK, but the 'big' balance patch will come sooner — say, early to mid January.)

In other words: druid healers will be viable. How could they not? So for me, the WotLK questions come down to a few different worries:

  • Will Resto druids be better or worse healers than in BC?
  • Will Resto be more or less fun than in BC?
  • What tools or talents will be mandatory or useless?

I'll look at the talents in detail. But today I want to look at our new Resto heals, and how we might end up using them.

Revive (base) will finally give us a standard rez spell; it only works out of combat, and returns toons with minimal health and mana, but there's no cooldown. This will make druid-healed runs go faster than before. It's not going to win more fights for us, but will make life much more pleasant.

Nourish (base) is a new direct heal. It's broadly comparable to a priest's Flash Heal: it's a direct heal (not a HoT), with lower cast time, mana cost, and healing output than Healing Touch. It's designed for situations where Healing Touch will either take too long, or will cost more than its worth. It also has a bonus component if you already have a HoT running on the target; unlike Swiftmend, it doesn't consume the HoT.

The challenge is to make Nourish work alongside Regrowth. Regrowth has all the same components: a direct heal with shorter cast and lower mana cost than HT. But it also adds a small, long-lasting HoT, and with talents it has a big (> 50%) chance to crit.

So why would you use Nourish over Regrowth? It's a tricky balance and one that Blizzard has wrestled with a bit. The biggest factor is that Nourish is a faster cast, by .5 sec. That's not much, but it's designed for the "oh crap!" moments in a healer's life. The other piece is that Nourish now has a significantly lower mana cost, so you can spread a few around without seriously depleting your mana the way Regrowth would.

This is going to be the toughest spell to work into the rotation. Right now, I'll drop Regrowth on any non-tank toon who's taken a chunk of damage. After 3.0.2 I'll probably try to use Regrowth if I expect more incoming damage, and Nourish otherwise. The key question will be whether I trust Nourish to heal them enough for me to go do other things. We'll see if that works as intended.

Wild Growth (talented) is the showiest new spell we'll get. It's our 51-point healing talent — the bold statement that "I'm full Resto and proud of it!" It's 5-man, semi-targeted heal: it heals 5 toons within 15 yards. It's a HoT, but the anti-Lifebloom: its biggest tick is its first, and it tapers off from there. Oh, and it's instant cast.

I still have questions about the mechanics of this spell: how it's targeted, how the AoE range works, who will receieve the HoT, and so forth. So I have only provisional thoughts right now. But this will be a very powerful spell to combat raid- or group-wide damage.

Tranquility is the interesting comparison here, since it's also an AoE group-wide heal. Tranq is a punishing spell: huge mana cost, channeled, with an AoE that players often miss. But it deals out a huge amount of healing, which can really make it worthwhile. What's interesting is that Tranquility got a reasonable buff too; with talents you can bring the cooldown to 4 minutes. That's great — it means you can use it on multiple trash fights in a row, or on several tries at a boss. It's the kind of spell that can uniquely prevent a wipe.

I don't think Wild Growth will be that powerful, but it'll be a more convenient option when there's widespread damage. Today when that happens, we have to choose between spending GCDs on healing our DPS brethren or on our tank heals. Choices include ignoring wounded DPS or risking a tank death. (Or we can pop Tranquility – once — with all the challenges that entails.) Now there's a third way: we can drop a Wild Growth, and we know that the worst-off should get some health even if we can't catch them directly. I predict it won't directly save us from wipes, but it will keep more DPS toons alive — and more DPS will solve a lot of wipes.

Where does that leave us? There's nothing seriously game-changing here, in the way that Lifebloom and Swiftmend completely altered our healing in Burning Crusade. I think that's a good thing. We'll be doing mostly the same things we've been doing before, with a few extra tricks up our sleeve (branch). We'll still stack Lifebloom on the tank, still drop LB or Rejuv when DPS takes damage, still Swiftmend to deal with spike damage. Having done that for a couple years, I'm not sure I'd want to start casting Chain Heal or Flash of Light all the time; it's not what we do. So I'm glad we'll be doing mostly the same things.

So we'll be 90% the same healers we were, but it's that extra 10% that I'm looking forward to. My belief is that Nourish and Wild Growth will give me two tools that cover gaps where previously I had few choices. We'll see how it plays out, but for now I'm optimistic.

(Next: detailed look at the talents we're getting. Builds will be vastly different!)

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