Friday, August 7, 2009

The State of the Union - Priests

In the middle of a development cycle for an ongoing game like World of Warcraft, it becomes a great time to step back, get some feedback, and figure out where things can be improved before the next major expansion. So it is no surprise that right before Call of the Crusade went live, the developers sents Ghostcrawler out to opine on each of the current classes in Azeroth. The Q&A series is an absolute must read for the classes you follow, as it can show what the developers are addressing and what to expect in the long term direction for your favorite character. The great thing about an MMORPG over a RTS game is that attributes (spells and talents) can be constantly revised to change the gameplay experience or make it better. So let's review the Priest Q&A for our priest followers.

First, a brief look into the overall background and direction of the class was given. Ghostcrawler confirms the "jack of all trades" idea behind the healing setup for priests, and notes that the class is definitely the most versatile of the 4 healing classes. Note that versatile does not equal most powerful, which means the priest will be outshined in every role by a class who does it a little bit better. However, the utility of having a priest in a raid is that some fights need more AoE heals, some need more tank heals, and having a class that can adapt to any situation is valuable. Ghostcrawler also noted that Shadow was a crappy leveling spec until the end of Burning Crusade, and they've spent a lot of time fleshing out the DPS aspect of a priest to make it more enjoyable. None of this is surprising, but it sounds like the class is more versatile than if you like doing something better than anyone else, stay away.

The Q&A covered some Shadow issues, but those are not so important for this blog. Ghostcrawler admitted that a priest takes a while to get the rotation of DoT spells going to make effective damage. In other words, shadow priest is a diesel engine while many other DPS classes are currently bottle rockets that can switch 100% focus and damage instantly. In a boss fight or longer fight, the shadow priest will shine...and that's apparently designed as intended. So don't hope for a fundamental change, as it appears the shadow priest is supposed to be poor in quick fights much like Warlocks. One good news is that for shorter fights and PvP, Ghostcrawler believes there is a problem with talents in the shadow tree only working while DoT's tick. So perhaps some redesigned talents will help a shadow priest stay more effective in these arenas.

Ghostcrawler believes Vampiric Touch and Vampiric Embrace as well as Mind blast are well tuned and will not be changing significantly soon. Plus they really like how the top tier Dispersion talent turned out for the class, and I have to agree. Dispersion looks bad on paper but is very nice to have for mana regen when needed (rarely) and good to save yourself (kind of like a temporary pally bubble for a clothie). One bit that was news to me is that most shadow priests have dropped Shadow Word Death from their rotations, but GC appears to believe this is not a problem because "we think shadow priests have enough spells to manage as part of their rotation." The good news is priest DPS will not get any more complicated, but the bad news is it sounds like one of the old mainstays SWD will not be changing anytime soon. Overall, there was not much surprising about the shadow side of things.

One question asked was whether they were considering increasing Shadowfiends duration. GC responded by saying "priests don't seem to have much of a mana problem on long boss fights." What? If he's only talking shadow than I completely agree, as I've never seen such mana longevity as they have with Vampiric touch helping all the time as well as Shadowfiend and Dispersion and a potion to rely upon. However, if he's referring to healing priests I completely disagree. It's true we have Shadowfiend which is kind of like a good potion and then one potion in a boss fight, but on the higher level content right now I think we suffer very badly if we need to chain cast heals. I wouldn't mind seeing a buff to Shadowfiend for Icecrown only or maybe a glyph that drops the cooldown more.

As for healers, GC started by answering a question about holy vs. disc viability in raids and PvP. GC stated that holy is getting more PvP focus, but that Disc is so well suited to the role because of the talent buffs to dispels. For a Holy priest they would really like to improve mana efficiency and burst healing. So perhaps the alarm bells in my head on the shadowfiend question were unfounded.

A couple questions followed about Greater Heal and Flash Heal being not well designed, G-Heal because it is too slow and F-Heal because it does not heal for enough. However, GC defends both spells as they currently are. Greater Heal is not criticized for being too expensive on the mana-per-healing standpoint, but it usually overheals and when they removed downranking casts then they limited G-Heal to the big nuke role. GC does believe G-Heal is what holy priests should be casting as their main heal, which is interesting considering almost nobody effective in raids seems to cast it more than 5% of the time. Flash Heal is also supposedly working as designed, as the price you pay for the quicker heal is inefficiency. It appears that they want to force priests to only use Circle of Healing (for holy) and Prayer of Healing (for disc and holy) for group heals rather than spamming Flash Heal around. With the major nerf to Prayer of Healing, group heals become much more daunting for a disc priest if Flash Heal is not going to be changing.

GC also mentions that they've thought about making Lesser Heal a 50% version mana and healing at top rank of G-Heal, and I hope they try this out. They say they are struggling getting people to cast both G-Heal and Flash Heal right now so there's no immediate attempts coming on this until they figure that out (so everybody Holy, take the Serendipity talent and USE IT). They are also not lowering the cooldown on our mega-save-the-group heal Divine Hymn, but they may make it reset on a wipe which would be nice for places like the 5-man Trial instance where multiple attempts happen in the CD window.

And then the LOL-well hammer drops as always. Probably the biggest complaint of Holy Priests over a long period of time is the uselessness of Lightwell. GC undestands and says the developers are not happy that DPS players are willing to use warlock healthstones but not go to the trouble of clicking Lightwell despite the fact that Lightwell is really powerful healing. GC also thinks this is a function of the fast paced boss encounters so prevalent right now, and perhaps there's room for imporvement if the boss fights change in style. They are as frustrated as us, so it's not worth bothering with it IMO until that changes.

The final notable question (after the confirmation that addons should be able to track absorbed damage better now, which will make healing meters perhaps useful for the first time in history) was about combining Dispel Magic with the Cure/Abolish Disease spells. However, GC says that this would make dispelling too EZ-Mode, so we'll be stuck with the two spells (three if you count both disease cleansers) as they are. No real surprise, as every class would then need changed into one big red dispell button for whatever the developers allow them to dispel, be it magic, curses, posion, or disease. Also since healers don't get hit capped, dispels will continue to miss on raid bosses and that's just too bad according to GC. Boo...hiss.

So there you have it. Nothing earth-shattering, but it appears they have the priest class in a good place and they are just tweaking things to hopefully make us even more versatile. Again, this is not the class to go to if you want to be the best DPS or the best tank healer or even the best group healer in min/max play. But people want your flexibility and they definitely aren't going to cut out your three important group buffs (stamina, spirit, and shadow prot). I'm pretty happy with my Alliance main, and I have high hopes that things like a Lesser Heal at exactly 50% of a Greater Heal and a Power Word Barrier eventually go into effect so that we can continue to be the most entertaining and flexible heal class to play.

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