Tobold's Blog
Friday, August 15, 2008
So how do you feel about downranking?

Big outcry on the World of Warcraft forums: Blizzard is changing the way spell ranks work, making the mana cost a percentage of base mana, not a fixed number. Thus the mana cost of lower rank spells increases with higher level, and low ranks cost equal or more mana than higher ranks of the spell. That prevents the strategy of downranking, casting lower rank spells on the cheap if you only want a smaller effect. I did that for a while with healing spells for my priest, until the last nerf of that strategy. But now downranking is truely dead.

Personally I'm not that angry about Blizzard removing downranking. But I think the move is not to their advantage, because it shows up a huge flaw of WoW: There aren't all that many different spells. Especially in Wrath of the Lich King, what I saw on the trainers was 90% just higher ranks of existing spells, and only 10% new spells and abilities. If Blizzard can make the mana cost of spells go up automatically with level, then why doesn't the effect go up with level too? The only reason it does not is that then in the second half of the game your trainer wouldn't have anything for you to train in many levels. Removing downranking means visiting a trainer is not a joyous occasion for you to increase your options, but an annoying trip back to the old world with added cost, just to keep your *relative* power constant compared to your level. Where is the fun in that?
This move scares me a bit because it smacks of the Blizzard "let's fix it because it's broken" mentality. They seem to overlook that the current state of balance is not just from what they intend, but what actually exists.

Removing downranking will fix the various ills that it causes. These things being rank 1 spells to get side effects such as poly, nova, earth shock. Secondarily, healers often downrank due to lack of variance, as Tobold mentioned.

So you end up with two questions for those two "fixes":

#1 - arena casters currently depend heavily on downranking to get side effects cheaply. Whether it's intended or not, it's necessary for the current level of balance. Will they compensate casters somehow or is it just an indirect nerf?

#2 - raid healers depend heavily on downranking to control their efficiency. Even with a nerf to +healing coefficients, it's still better for many healers to downrank in order to not waste mana on huge heals. This can be fixed with different heal spells or some other game mechanic (refund on overheal?)... but will it?

I suspect downranking will be removed because it is not intended by the designers. However, it will be another one of those changes that upsets the balance of the game because, like it or not, it's a big part.
LOTRO does not have this issue with "down ranking spells". Spells and skills scale with level (as Tobold queried in his blog). You recieve passive skills on odds levels and active skills on even. You might only receive 1 or at most 2 skills a level you do get a more progressive feel as you level up. Also because you cannot down rank you simply learn to live with it because you know no different.
As with all changes, people will learn to live with them. It reminds me of when you could "auto downrank" with certain mods the out cry was much the same. Change is's what keeps you on your toes....
Wasn't there also an issue where the same player could cast cumultively stacking spells of the same type - i.e. Moonfire rank 1, Moonfire Rank 2, Moonfire Rank 3?

Pretty sure that's not intended...
They should go ahead and have spells automatically over write in your spellbook and on your hotbar (just like combat abilities always have). There is absolutely no reason for lower ranks of spells to exist in your spell book once this change goes through.

I actually vastly prefer the LoTRO system where spells level with you. I'd rather go three levels without getting any new spells then have to buy fireball 1-22.
I kind of understand why Blizzard has to put this change in. Lots of spells are getting new secondary effects by glyphs or talents. This makes balancing with several ranks really tricky.

Even scaling pure damage-/heal-spells with rank is far from trivial as the first nerf for downranking showed. How are you going to scale effects such as debuffs on mobs or buffs on yourself that proc from spells?

At the moment casting the cheap rank 1 often gets you the full secondary effect, as with snare effects from various frost spells. The downranking nerf removes that loophole. The developers only have to worry about the effects of the spell in its intended level range, since outside that range the spell always is worse than the intended rank.

It is a nerf, but I think in the end it might be for the better. But some additional changes to reduce the fallout from the nerf would be nice.

As a healing priest I wouldn't mind the "fix" much if there was an alternative to the one spell I downrank: Greater Heal. At the moment the change just reduces the possible spell choices for me and makes healing less fun.

I kind of hope Blizzard resurrects the Lesser Heal and Heal spells by giving them new ranks. Heals in different sizes to choose from are a good thing.
Either way, this is going to cause most classes to rethink how they equip their toons and socket their gear as we head into the release of Wotlk.

This will undoubtedly result in a new round of theorycrafting among the min/max crowd as it stands to change the overall dynamics of raiding and PvP. It also raises some very interesting questions as to how raid content will be structured in the expansion as well.

It also will cause a rethink on gem and enchant applications as well, which will change the entire economy almost overnight quite possibly.
I think its a bit of a fail mainly because it makes increasing your base mana pointless.

having 5000 mana would be so differ to having 10000 mana, because it still costs the same percentage to cast the same spell. so two mages with the 2 different mana amounts referred to above. They could bost keep casting frost bolt until OOM and if you exclude taking into consideration mana regen and talents. they would both cast it the same number of times before MMO.
This is a bit sad..
I have no problem with Blizzard adressing the "I only use Rank 4 Heals so I never go oom" issue. It'll teach players to use their mana pool more efficiently without cheap tricks like that.
But I really liked using different Ranks of Heals to tailor my Heals to the amount of damage someone received. It cut down overhealing and added complexity while saving mana "the smart way".
All in all I get the feeling that Blizzard wants to make Healing less complex, which is bad for those of us who mastered healing in its current state.
bonno: You are wrong, it's a percentage of base mana, eg the mana pool of a character that has 0 intellect. Hence the gear won't affect the mana cost of the spell and your 2 mages don't cast the same ammount of spells.

(In a related note, many spells actually work this way already: druid shapeshifting, various decursings, ...)
Personally I do not like this change. As a mage I use rank 1 spells all the time:

* arcane explosion, to find stealthies
* frostbolt, to apply a fast slow (still fast cast, just costs tons now)
* blizzard to find stealthies
* nova, no sense in using higher ranks

etc. It is hard enough to find a stealth without draining your mana pool, this just makes it impractical to even look. I don't understand why this is an issue that needed fixed. Maybe it has something to do with the implementation of glyphs on spells.
This change is a slap in the face to all casters....well not really but I just like saying "slap in the face".

The truth is this change is is good and bad. On my paladin I only have two heals, holy light, and flash of light. I either heal for 1500, or 4500. There is a huge gap of 3000 hp I would normally cover with a downranked holy light. The good is that I won't have to worry about using a medium heal. The bad is the tank may die because instead of throwing him a medium heal I waited to do a full holy light and now the tank is dead.
They're doing this right as WAR is about to go live?

why not just remove ranks altogether then?
If they no longer consider downranking a feature and want people to stop, then just remove ranks.

This will affect mages too, no more rank 1 AEs or rank 1 frostnovas
I think its hard to balance, so they tried the all or nothing route.

The real issue isn't with the downranked heals and nukes (mostly) but the side affects.

I think to combat that, the cheaper spells should only affect targets of a given level. Like cures which can only remove poison/disease under a certain level. Or engineering items that don't affect enemies over a certain level. Basically apply the same logic to spell side affects.

It still brings up an issue with low cost AoE: its useful for detecting stealth for super cheap. Perhaps scale the resistance to those spells with the spell. These spells would still be useful for grabbing low level monsters, but not so much for breaking stealth. This wouldn't affect heals because those aren't resisted.

Are there other cases?
I am confused on where they are going with this. Anyone can simply choose between a big long cast time healh and a lesser quicker casting heal. The true "skill" in WoW healing was downranking to cut down on overhealing and stretch mana effeciency.

Healing is allready terribly mundane for a great number of players. I don't understand how giving healers even less options and removing the down ranking meta-game helps anyone.
I think some people are really blowing this way out of proportion. This is something that Blizzard overlooked, and now people are using it to their advantage.

In DAoC you could Spellcraft crafted cloaks for the first couple of days after spellcrafting was introduced and people took advantage of it, you can no longer spellcraft cloaks.

If people want to quit over this (which I'm sure there are at least 100 12 year olds on the WoW forums complaining) then they're pretty much just bad in my book.

If you compare the amount of mana per hp healed for every rank of your heals you'll see that it's either about the same or maybe that you get more hp per mana at higher levels. All you have to do is just heal based on how much hp they're missing instead of just spamming a couple of low cost heals.

God forbid you have to think more.

Good post Tobold.
Yeah, it's still a freaking beta. People need to calm down and see all the other changes they end up adding. You can totally see why other MMORPGs have long closed betas with NDAs given the idiotic outcry about changes still in the process of being worked out.

WoW flaws-wise, I don't agree at all, Tobold. WoW has TONS of spells. My mage has 4 full bars of spell icons and it's a huge hassle keeping all the truly useful ones on hotkeys that are easily accessible (I've got 1-=, alt1-=, ctrl1-=, shifta-z but not all of those combos are quick 1-hand moves). My feral druid is almost as bad. I do NOT need more spells.
I'm not too concerned about the pvp implications, but I do feel bad for healers. Where's the harm in being creative with your ranks to achieve mana efficiency?

I really think Blizzard ought to look at either providing healers with a greater range of tools for the job, or else consider mana returns for overheals as someone suggested above. But I won't hold my breath for either.

People will adapt, as they always do, but in the meantime, this seemingly petty change will sap a little joy from the game for many players, like every nerf.
Bonedead, while your basic post, I think, is correct, you have overlooked the effect of +healing (or +damage). This significantly changes the math of downranking, especially for healers. It is true that for some time now the effect that one gains from +healing scales somewhat with the rank of the spell you are casting, but it does not scale in a linear fashion.

Additionally, what this change has done is to shift the spamming from low rank heals to max rank ones. That is, if HL, for instance, costs 2% of base mana per cast no matter what rank you are casting, why would I ever bother to cast anything other than rank 11?
I think its pretty stupid really, as all they're doing is limiting player options, and limiting player options is never a good thing. Does a lower rank spell ever do more damage/healing than a higher rank spell? No. You get less effect for less mana, and I fail to see what's wrong with that.

If the issue is that with +2000 healing the output of a downranked spell is insignificantly different from a higher ranked spell compared to its mana cost . . . that's a failure of blizzard's spell and gear system. By placing the emphasis of power on the gear instead of the spell, they have of course devalued the spells themselves.

If they really wanted to 'fix' it, they'd decrease the impact of spellpower and INCREASE the base value of all spells. That way the difference between two ranks of the same spell would be significant no matter your gear.

Did I ever downrank when I played? Only for totem busting with my druid, but the thought of having to use a full cost moonfire to deal 5 pts of damage to a bosses totem is pretty irritating.
Personally I don't think you should even have lower rank spells. I think when you go to your trainer and get Heal Spell Rank 2 it should overwrite Rank 1 so you don't even have to change your hotbar. I never used lower rank spells simply because I didn't want 5 million buttons I could hit, I saw the possible advantages of using them, however, I saw it as more of a challenge to play the class the way [I assumed] it was meant to be played.
As someone who plays pretty much exclusively healers, or at least used to - I have mixed feelings about this.

I used to downrank, simple fact is it was more mana efficient - and in a raiding environment mana efficiency is extremely important.

Paladins are realitvely okay, the downranking HL nerf will probably hurt them somewhat, but in the majority of situations maybe FoL will be sufficient or maybe a change in a paladins role - Holy Shock is more viable now and can perhaps fill in that "medium" heal role someone mentioned. Watching Beta footage - a paladin holy light in full T6 with a ring proc, i beleive it was - healed for nearly 10k.

On that note - blacksmithing helms have things like 650 stamina.. Unless i read that wrong. In wotlk - I mean healing is going to be a completely different ballgame.

Druids and Priests, Druids, fairly lucky, never had to downrank and they both have the new regeneration talents. I can see how they will survive with huge amounts of spirit no doubt incoming and the right sort of playstyle.

As for Shamans. No idea, im fairly sure they will be fine - again depends on the gear and certain talents remaining the same or changing. I did downrank chain heal for mana efficiency but at the same time - I know many in my guild who didnt.

At the end of the day we simply wont know how this will work out untill were stood infront of Malygos actually healing in an encounter where we might have to take a moment and plan how were going to heal aside from being told to heal the main tank.

Either way, im sure its a step in the right direction.
In general, I don't like this because it will force me to change my play style. Downranking isn't cheap, it's smart playing. It's more efficient.

However, I'm not really worried. By the time I get close enough to the 80 endgame, the hardcore guilds will have already done the math for me. I'll just follow the guides.

Meanwhile, I'll be playing WAR.
bunch of blue responses to questions in this thread on the wow forums. 1st blue post is post 15.
My mage has 4 full bars of spell icons and it's a huge hassle keeping all the truly useful ones on hotkeys that are easily accessible

This is because WoW doesn’t replace old spells with more useful ones, they simply give you more ranks or the existing spells. Imagine that instead of getting that next rank, you got a brand new superior spell that shared the same cooldown. The new spell makes the old one obsolete and replaces the old spell one on your hotbar. So instead of just getting Frostbolt (Rank 15), you got Icebolt (Rank 1) with a new animation and superior effect.
I've healed a lot of raids using downranking but tbh it's always felt a borderline exploit. Your best heals should be your latest heals. The idea that someone can improve healing per mana by numbercrunching with lowbie spells is rather meh.
This is a step closer to a simpler version of WoW that could make it to a console.


I like Downranking due to the ability to use my heals more intelligently with my play style. But they are heavily mixing up the Healadin playstyle with the expansion anyway. So it will just make me change my play style.

I believe that most of the decisions being made (only one pot, only one rank) are due to balancing the 25 player content for 10 players (or vice versa)

It will be interesting to see if they balance around a smaller of healers with stricter enrage timers.
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