Tobold's Blog
Friday, October 15, 2010
Healing is a transferable skill

When I have an idea for a blog post, but no time to write a full post, I note the idea in an e-mail to myself. One such idea, fallout from the Great Skill Debate, was about transferable and un-transferable skills learned when raiding: The transferable skills are those where you learn how to play your class and role well, and can be transferred to the next boss fight. The un-transferable skills are those where you learn the scripted Simon Says moves of a particular boss, which won’t help you for any other encounter.

I was thinking about that idea this week due to patch 4.0.1 of World of Warcraft, because I can’t remember any other patch or expansion which did so much to reset the transferable skills, changing the way in which many classes are played. I started playing my druid, first with a healing spec, then with a moonkin spec, and was surprised how different that felt from before. With the spells having the same names and icons as before, it was particularly noticeable for druid healing that the same spells now had very different effects. On my first dungeon run I kept wondering what effect was always dispelling the Thorns buff I put on the tank, until I noticed that the duration had been slashed from minutes to seconds. Rejuvenate has a much shorter heal over time effect now, while Healing Touch is a lot beefier. Druid healing now resembles priest healing more than it did before.

As moonkin I not only had some new and different spells, but also a new game mechanic, with eclipses now not being random events any more, but being triggered by a defined number of spells. As I was soloing that was a huge improvement: While in the old system the mob was dead when the eclipse triggered, and then the eclipse ended before I reached the next mob, in the new system you are automatically under the effect of one eclipse half of the time. That plus Starsurge boosted my damage output significantly.

Then I started looking into the talents of the next character, my paladin, and noticed that there were even more changes for the paladin than for the druid. In this case the damage output was nerfed, but with retribution paladins having been so seriously overpowered that was only to be expected. But again I found new game mechanics, holy power in the case of paladins, and enough changes to all spells and abilities to again change completely how this class is played. I haven’t studied my other three level 80 characters in detail yet, warrior, priest, and mage, but just seeing that there is no more defense stat assures me that the life of my tank will be fundamentally changed as well.

Now I’m happy that there are still over 7 weeks until Cataclysm comes out, because that gives me time to acquaint myself with my characters which feel so new. As much as I like the feature of WoWTal to export a talent build directly into World of Warcraft, I do not want to simply copy and paste the most popular build for my various classes without thinking. There are three reasons why I prefer to study what the talents do and try to figure out the best build for myself: 1) It is more fun. 2) I gain a deeper understanding of my character’s skills, which allows me to play him better. And 3) the most popular build is often a raid build, and not necessarily optimal for a non-raiding character doing 5-man dungeons or quests.

Many people believe that there is no room for that sort of thinking and understanding in MMORPGs. Get the boss strategy from YouTube, get the best build from Elitist Jerks, and then train your spell rotation on a target dummy to get the “muscle memory” in your fingers for the highest damage per second, and you end up with an approach to raiding that doesn’t require thinking. It reduces the whole exercise to the un-transferable skills that are specific to each encounter, and have nothing to do with being able to play your class well. But that unthinking approach not only runs into trouble when a patch changes skills, it also is inherently unsuited for playing a healer. You can’t play a healer without thinking, without observing who is what health level and going down how fast, and then making a decision about what kind of healing spell to use to save everybody. Maybe the need to think and decide instead of just mashing buttons makes healing inherently somewhat slower than dealing damage. But a healer who doesn’t pay attention for 5 seconds can cause a wipe, while a damage dealer only risks to lower his position on the damage meter. That is the challenge I love.

As I only raid with healers, I prefer the thinking and understanding approach to talents and spell rotations over the muscle memory approach. It might take me a bit longer until I fully understand all the changes of patch 4.0.1, but that initial effort will pay off: Playing a healer well is a transferable skill, which is independent of which boss the raid or group is tackling. And fully understanding the fine differences between various healing spells enables me to choose the right one in many different situations. No video guide from the internet can replace that.
For an adult human it has never been hard to find a good specc for himself. And it never was. EJ did nothing else, but suggested all talents that buffed damage directly and then said the rest was optional.

The new talent trees are explicitly designed in a way that you cannot make serious mistakes anymore. The game has become much easier to learn and much harder to master.

The changes in mechanics are drastic - as has been known by some months by now. Ghostcrawlers explanations have been the most interesting posts on gameplay-game design that I know.

In principle the game has impromed - much. In practice, however, balance problems, especiall at low level, are dramatic. And my 61784 arcane blast while self-buffed on a target dummy yesterday made me smile: That is no Blizzard polish and if it weren't Blizzard I'd be convinced that the polish will not be there in 6 weeks, either. Since it is Blizzard, I remain doubtful.
One of the problems with MMOs is that everything is a transferable skill. It's why there's such demand for WoW-alikes, because people are too lazy to have to learn everything all over again.
For an adult human it has never been hard to find a good specc for himself.

It is not just the spec, but also the rotation / priority list for spells and abilities.

I find it curious that it is always the same people who A) say that it is too easy to learn how to play the game right, and B) complain that the majority of players isn't playing the game right (usually by calling them names). Both statements cannot be true at the same time.
It is not just the spec, but also the rotation / priority list for spells and abilities.

Agreed. The endgame rotations - especially with patch 4.01 are sometimes very tricky.

I find it curious that it is always the same people who


A) say that it is too easy to learn how to play the game right, and B) complain that the majority of players isn't playing the game right (usually by calling them names). Both statements cannot be true at the same time.

And both is not true. I was talking about speccs. .. I should stop commenting, I should stop commenting, I should stop commenting .. ;)
I read at least three people in trade chat today essentially say that if they were going to have to learn a new game, then might as well try a different game.

My first character was a pally. Since he is 80, I can max out his trade skills so I may never get him to 85.

My only disagreement is with a minor portion of this sort of argument and essentially boils down to statistics. At some point, one needs to either spend dozens of hours testing; or reading EJ. Cast 100 spells or shots is just not a statistically significant test. You find out what the milling/disenchanting/proc rates is by casting thousands, not dozens, of spells. If someone is willing to spend that time, then they don't have to read EJ.
You are forgetting one thing. In Cataclysm, Blizzard have said many times that dungeon and raid content will now require DPS to do more than just DPS, such as watch threat, CC, etc. This means that DPS will be in a similar situation as Healers whereby they need to respond to CC breaking (by re-CCing a target), switching from one spell to another to avoid aggroing a mob, etc.

In my opinion this is fantastic and makes DPS more reactive as opposed to the current WotLK paradigm of Tank grabs mobs, DPS stands in one spot and rotates through spells.
And lo! the wheel was re-invented.
It's funny that after disagreeing so diametrically with you on the GS/Achievement thing, on this one I agree 100%. Back in Vanilla, virtually all of the game centered around knowing your class. No one class did the same thing on raid encounters in Vanilla. Everyone had a job. It was easier to balance in a 40 man, because the devs could assume that there was at least one of every class, so you could set up those jobs in the encounter.

Then, when they went to 25 mans, they had to assume that maybe there was a class or two missing (and they were working an additional class in) so they went more to "periodic jobs that everyone/anyone had to do."

Then, in Wrath, with 10 mans, they had to assume that lots of classes would be missing. That put pretty much everything in the "everyone/anyone" spot, and it playing your class meant nothing, and it was all playing your role (tank/heal/dps).

I think that the devs are trying to dig themselves out of this hole in Cataclysm. They have taken the key things that were a class job in Vanilla (like dispelling, CC or cloth tanking) and spread those skills across several classes. I think that they might be able to strike a balance between the Vanilla "you have to know your class and think" playstyle in raiding, while keeping the group sizes small.

Of course, I also think that the majority of this will be in the hard modes, and that the regular raiding will be just "bigger dungeon" style.
Healing was always my most favorite role to play in WoW.

Tanks can accidentally hold enough aggro to get a group through a dungeon.

DPS can eventually kill the mobs/bosses in a dungeon.

A healer has to be awake and performing at all times, or the group fails, period.

And a good healer could push you through a dungeon, even with bad tanks and DPS. My favorite thing as a healer was keeping people alive who should have died many times, while pushing out 1k-1.5k DPS, sometimes more than the actual DPS player.

I stopped playing WoW a few months back, so I haven't seen these new changes, but I'd have to think that making the game require people to learn their class is a good thing. The AoE-fest of WoTLK was absolutely terrible.
I am curious. You have many times complained that new games have the same old mechanic of target with your mouse, and hit hotkeys on your number pad.

But surely those games offer something more different than the Druid and Paladin specs you are now excited about?
No syncaine posts anymore... guess he got what he wanted from you Tobold.
@ Nils: The analysis of specs could actually be just as complicated as the analysis of rotations. The vast majority of Shadow Priests unthinkingly dumped points into Improved Mind Blast despite the fact that each point was less than a 0.1% damage increase and in top end gear casting Mind Blast at all was a mistake.

@Hagu: 100 spells is plenty for a statistically significant sample, because you know *roughly* how spells work to begin with. Base amount + % of spell power * whatever other factors.

Also I find it odd that people would say that if they need to learn a new game they might as well play a new game. If you are tired of WoW then leave, for sure, but the idea that a new game is likely to be better than Cataclysm defies reason and history.
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