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Why I Hate Healing Gimmick Fights

February 16, 2012
by

When the encounters in Icecrown Citadel were first announced, there was one in particular I just couldn’t wait to attempt – Valithria Dreamwalker.  ICC was going to be the first raid instance I tackled from the moment it was released, rather than having to wait a few weeks or months until it was nerfed or my raid group had better geared themselves.  It would be my first chance to see a new raid fresh out of the box, and the “healer fight” was the one I just couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into.

Now is probably a good time to mention that I absolutely hated healing Valithria.

It was a fun concept – the “swimming” around in another dimension and gathering up the orbs that would make your healing powerful enough to revive a green dragon – but it was something of a nightmare for a druid in Wrath.  Back then, Nourish was the only direct heal (outside of Swiftmend) that we used with any frequency, and its power was entirely dependent upon having a full stack of HoTs on the target before we started to spam Nourish on her.  If I was assigned to be one of the portal healers, my rotation once I got out and began to heal Valithria went something like this: Rejuv, Swiftmend, Regrowth, 3 stacks of Lifebloom, Nature’s Swiftness + Healing Touch, spam Nourish, and hopefully one more Swiftmend before I hopped into the next portal.  The alternative to this was to just cast Healing Touch, but in those days it had a much longer cast time than Nourish and actually healed for less than a Nourish cast on a target with full HoTs.

The point of this trip down Resto Druid memory lane is that Valithria was simply a fight that wasn’t designed with us in mind.  It was beyond frustrating to watch the non-druid healers in my raid group have a blast while they spammed their huge, powerful heals and knowing that this was how the Valithria fight was supposed to feel for healers, while the closest I ever came to feeling epic on that fight was when I got the chance to solo-heal outside of the portals.  Whenever Blizzard’s designers get it into their heads that they’re going to make a “healing fight” in a raid instance, those fights invariably favor a particular style of healing, and that style isn’t one that’s intuitive to players who are used to druid healing.  Worse still, in order for us to not only be competitive, but often merely to be able to function, druid healers usually have to heal in ways that both work against our strengths and often even exemplify things that we usually would never do.

 As each tier of raiding has been released, I find myself looking forward less and less to the healer fight, to the point that I find myself dreading them now.  In Cataclysm, we’ve fought Chimaeron, Baleroc, and now Yor’sahj, none of which has been an ideal fight for a druid.  The common themes we’ve seen in this expansion have been healing fights which punish overhealing and reward a healer who can pump their largest heals into one (or possibly two) targets as quickly as possible.  Sound like druids?  Not really.

 Speaking as someone who was nearly always assigned to raid healing duty on Chimaeron, I can attest that the fight was as close to impossible to heal for a druid as anything I’ve encountered thus far.  At the release of tier 11, we lacked a spell that could quickly heal someone up to 10k health in order to save them from dying to Massacre.  Nourish was too slow and too weak; Healing Touch was powerful enough, but also too slow.  Regrowth was fast enough, but wasn’t always capable of hitting for 10k in 346-359 iLv gear.  Swiftmend would do the trick, but it didn’t help if you were responsible for healing more than one person at a time.  Most of the time I resorted to spamming Regrowth and praying I’d have enough mana to make it through to the end of the fight.  It wasn’t fun by any of my definitions of the word, and it was the first fight I ever experienced that made me feel as if my class didn’t have the tools to do what the job required.  Learning to heal Chimaeron was, in a word, frustrating.

Baleroc posed some similar, though less extreme, problems.  The fastest way for a druid healer to build stacks of Vital Spark was to shift to Tree of Life and spam instant Regrowths on the current shard target, which was also a quick way to OOM yourself.  Our HoTs were neither helpful nor harmful – they didn’t allow us to build stacks of Vital Spark but (fortunately), they also didn’t trigger Vital Flame if we kept them on the tank.  Baleroc posed much fewer class-specific problems, but managed to perfectly highlight something I particularly can’t stand about these types of encounters.  Healing Baleroc meant standing still for the duration of the fight, except perhaps on Heroic if you had to soak a shard in the event of an emergency.  There was nothing to Baleroc BUT healing, and honestly that just doesn’t appeal to me.

So Tzufit,” you’re probably thinking, “if you’re a healer and you don’t like fights that require you to focus completely on healing, what kind of fights DO you like?” 

I’m so glad you asked.

Recently, my 10 man team has returned to Bastion of Twilight to complete the heroic versions of the fights there and tackle Sinestra.  Last week we downed Heroic Ascendant Council – a fight which was still a good challenge even though we were running in T13 gear – and I quickly realized that I had found my favorite fight of the entire expansion.  Heroic Ascendant Council has all my favorite elements of an encounter.  There are debuffs to pay attention to, abilities that require precise movement and situational awareness, and a healthy chunk of healing throughput to last until the end.  It reminded me a lot of one of my favorite fights from Wrath, Heroic Professor Putricide.

Putricide and Ascendant Council are both execution fights; they ask for more precision and focus than they do raw DPS or HPS.  What I loved about each of these encounters was that they require you to do your own job (whether that’s healing, tanking or DPSing) flawlessly, but also force you to pay attention to every ability in the fight.  You don’t get to stand back and stare at healing bars for 5 minutes – you’re in the thick of things.  You have as much responsibility to keep yourself alive and not do things that will result in a raid wipe as anyone else does, and you need be an exceptional healer to boot.  That’s the kind of healing challenge I enjoy – a fight that asks me to think on my feet, always be aware of my surroundings, and is unpredictable at every turn.

Returning to current content, some of those elements are present in the Yor’sahj fight, which is what my 10 man group has gotten to in our heroic progression.   What could be fun in that fight, however, often leads to temper tantrums on my part because I am so annoyed by the seemingly arbitrary way that the encounter’s designers chose to determine which healing abilities provide stacks, and which don’t.  I feel powerless during much of the Yor’sahj fight in a way that is painfully reminiscent of my experiences with Chimaeron.  It’s not fun, it’s frustrating.  Having an entire spellbook full of things that I shouldn’t cast because I’m probably going to blow up the raid isn’t a cool mechanic to me – it’s a nightmare.

I play a druid healer because I love the style of druid healing.  I enjoy the flexibility of it, and that it allows me to multitask in a way that isn’t possible for any other healing class.  I love that I can easily go between tank healing and raid healing, or pull off both at the same time, and I don’t mind at all when a fight asks me to do both of these things.  I do mind, though, when a fight essentially tells me, “No.  You cannot heal like a druid.  You will heal like a paladin now.”   Here’s the thing – my main isn’t a paladin.  She isn’t a shaman or a priest, either.  Yet fights like Yor’sahj and Chimaeron have taught me that if I want to be able to heal them successfully, I can’t heal like a druid.  In an era when we are supposed to be able to “bring the player, not the class” (and not the player on an alt of a different class, either), I don’t understand how these sorts of fights can possibly coexist with that message.

If I could have just one wish for the boss encounters in Mists, it would be that Blizzard’s designers forever lay to rest the idea of a “healer fight.”  If the goal is to make your raid’s healers feel epic, it’s certainly not working  for me.  I feel epic when I can conquer a challenging fight – like Heroic Putricide or Ascendant Council – which doesn’t ask me to relearn everything I know about healing, but instead requires me to apply everything that makes me an exceptional healer to the specific mechanics of that fight.

What are your feelings about “healer fights” in raid instances?  Do you love them, hate them, or can you think of a way to make them better?

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. Sunrise permalink
    February 16, 2012 6:49 am

    This is an incredibly well written post that hits the nail on the head.

    Gimmicks are only fun for as long as every class can counter them equally effectively in some way. As you pointed out, in most cases, that’s only possible to achieve with fight mechanics that rely on your personal skill.

    Such fights are also nightmares for raid leaders, especially for 10-man comps where you don’t have as many options. If you don’t have those classes with that specific style of healing, with those specific cooldowns, you might as well shelve the fight (or spend weeks beating your heads against it, while a better comp aces it).

    • February 16, 2012 6:29 pm

      I’m fortunate in that my 10 man group is an extremely tight-knit bunch, and we really never ask anyone to sit simply because their class would make for a difficult composition. Of course, that also means that it can often take us longer than maybe it should to finally complete an encounter. I’m happy with the way that we run things, and I agree that it would really be difficult to be a raid leader in situations like this.

  2. February 16, 2012 6:56 am

    On a somewhat related note, as a healer worst fight ever for me was the Instructor fight in Naxx.

    Mind control tanking with my Priest was not what I had in mind when I rolled a healer.

    I enjoy fights that have me thinking on my feet, and reacting to a variety of things, but not ones that make me play my character in a way that is not what they were designed to do. (MC tanking, flying a dragon, vehicle fights, etc)

    They say bring the player not the class… I say to them, bring the boss, not the gimmick.

    • February 16, 2012 8:01 am

      This this this. Especially this bit:

      “but not ones that make me play my character in a way that is not what they were designed to do. (MC tanking, flying a dragon, vehicle fights, etc)”

      I like fights which require movement, avoiding nastiness and paying attention but I want to be doing that as my character. I would even have been ok with tanking the Instructor had I been able to do it with my own toolbox rather than having to use mindcontrol and then having a limited number of NPC abilities.

      Thinking back my favourite fights have been things like the Faction Champions (awesome, having to keep an eye on your threat, movement, keeping an eye on all the mobs so you knew where to run before they got to you, dispeling and healing at the same time) and Hardmode Mimiron (same kind of thing, lots of movement, chaotic fight, being in the right place crucial to success).

    • February 16, 2012 6:31 pm

      It’s such a fine line for me – I love a fight that makes me drag out abilities I don’t have a chance to very often (needing to use Soothe to dispell an enrage, shifting to cat to use Stampeding Roar, etc.). But something like 25 man Instructor where priests go from their usually role as healers or DPS to spending the entire fight “tanking” the boss with 3 abilities? Yeah, I can certainly see why that drove you nuts.

  3. February 16, 2012 8:19 am

    Speaking as a disc priest healer for Dreamwalker, I have to say I agree with you. I didn’t get to go into the portals, as I prevented damage, not healed it. I got to stay outside the portals and heal everyone else, maybe getting an innervate if a druid was in the raid. I only got to go in if I was in an alt-run on my shaman, and that was really rare.

    • February 16, 2012 6:33 pm

      Oh yes, I didn’t think of it but of course that fight would have been awful for Discipline as well. :-/

  4. February 16, 2012 1:38 pm

    I think my biggest beef with the two healers fights this expansion after Chimearon are that they were such DPS checks in heroic that it wasn’t really a “healer” fight, it was a “which healer are we going to bench or ask to DPS this week” fight. Having the “healing” fight only require half of your healing team so that you can meet the DPS requirements is equally as frustrating to me.

    • February 16, 2012 6:37 pm

      I completely agree, Beru, and not only because I am the only one of the 3 healers in my 10 man group who even *has* a DPS off spec. There’s never a question of who will need to go DPS on fights that require only 2 healers – it’s always me. The problem is (without rehashing your entire post on the topic), I really don’t care for Balance DPS, and so I don’t keep up on the finer points nearly as much as I should. That means that when it comes time for me to DPS, I’m putting my group at something of a disadvantage, and I absolutely hate feeling that way.

  5. February 16, 2012 2:10 pm

    Anything that acts as a minor differentiation between classes means that some fights will lean towards certain classes. The more unique you are, the more likely you are to wind up being in the extremes, either some fights are trivial to you when meant to be challenging, or they’re difficult for you. Trees and Disc priests tend to occupy those niches in healing. It’s rough at times.

    • February 16, 2012 6:40 pm

      True, and Disc Priests and Resto Druids certainly are the most distinctive specs out of the healing classes. I have to wonder, however, whether these kind of fights even feel fun to the healing specs for which they’re tuned. I can’t say I’ve spoken to any healers who have chosen any of the healing fights as their favorite (or even anywhere near the top) of the fights in a tier.

  6. February 17, 2012 11:58 am

    Excellent post Tzu! While those fights always do sound fun and challenging on paper, they always seem to end up punishing healers who don’t have a certain setup. Usually everyone but holy paladins and holy priests, and you’ll still find even healers of those classes that hate them because instead of feeling like they can really make a difference, they end up spamming one or two spells because the encounter pretty much demands it.

    The fights you described as your favorite are both very movement-intensive, yes? And involve a lot of watching what’s happening on screen? I think movement fights are really where druids shine, and it sounds like so-called “healer fights” can’t even be called that for druids (and to a lesser extent, discipline priests). Sometimes it makes me wonder if Blizzard really gets what makes healing fun!

    • February 17, 2012 5:08 pm

      Yep, both Putricide and Ascendant Council have a ton of coordinated movement, and plenty of feet-watching – definitely a great thing for a druid healer. I also wonder if Blizzard’s encounter designers quite understand what makes healing a raid fun. I approve of just about all the changes to the healing design in Cata – I think those generally have made healing more fun than it was in Wrath – but healing fights make me think that not everyone at Blizz is on the same page about this.

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