The WoW community has now had a while to stew or shout about the class changes announced for Cataclysm. While these changes are subject to removal or modification during the beta testing phase that will be upcoming, on the whole, we know the direction Blizzard wants to go with Azeroth. Considering all the changes to the core stats on gear and the old world itself, this could be a very different game in 2011. A relaunch of sorts to let Blizzard enjoy new subscribers and probably at least 5-6 more years of prosperity before moving to another MMO.
With the massive reduction in number of stats and complications, cries have come out about class homogenization. Some class representatives think they are losing what makes them different, and in the case of death knights where all three classes could tank, that is true to some extent. However, for healers the evidence is right there on the table in multiple ways. But is class homogenization a good thing?
The first major restructuring for healers came in the basic healing spells available to each healing class. For classes like shaman and priest, there were spells like Lesser Healing Wave, Lesser Heal, and Heal, that became completely obsolete at endgame. Blizzard does not like that, and so in Cataclysm each class will have three baseline heals: an expensive inefficient fast heal, a medium output medium speed heal, and a massive output large cost heal. This will give every class the same basic ability to take on any healing task.
As far as pruning out the useless spells in the spellbook, I like this change. Furthermore, for people like me who love healing with different classes, this will give us a sense of normalcy when we swap over to an alt or switch main characters. Right now sometimes I can feel lost with the druid set of heals compared to the big toolbox of priests, so it would be good to put 1-2-3 as pretty much the same thing on my bars for each character. As long as the remaining abilities on top of these baselines do not become too similar, it will continue to be desirable to play all the different healing classes. Overall I'm in favor of this change.
The second major restructuring is the changing of dispel mechanics. While this change was focused on PvP balance, the changes will definitely affect how you construct your raids as healers are now the only characters that can dispel (sorry retribution paladins and shadow priests). All "brainless" dispel-over-time abilities like abolish poison and Mass Dispel are going away in favor of one single cleanse or dispel spell for each class. The spell will handle 3/5 of the debuffs in the game, and so obviously you will need to keep a list handy of which classes can handle which debuffs. Here's the take:
Druids can dispel defensive magic, offensive magic, and curses
Paladins can dispel defensive magic, diseases, and poison
Priests can dispel defensive magic, offensive magic, and diseases
Shamans can dispel defensive magic, curses, and posion
I'm going to take a middle road with this change overall. As far as PvP, it is nice that all healers you bring along will be able to remove the polymorphs and other debuffs that knock your teammates out (when it's not aimed at the healers of course). However, I seriously question the outright removal of AoE dispels and dispel-over-time spells. For healers that are already tasked with quite a bit in raids, forcing us to proactively remove those pesky debuffs every time they pop up individually for each raid member just makes the job more difficult. However, at least there will only be one dispel button for all dispel actions now, so perhaps it will be better than I think. From the PvE perspective, I still just do not like the implications of removing some of the nifty different dispel utility, and it probably comes from being a priest who got all the toys.
Every healing class will have more clearly defined gear now that spirit will be the baseline mana regeneration statistic for everyone. Spellpower will only be present on weapons, but that should keep other people away from our weapons at least. It will be much simpler to figure out how to customize your gear when the relevant stats are limited to intellect, spirit, haste, and crit. This in combination with the repurposing ability to shift some stats around on your gear will make it possible for you to be very unique in your playstyle. This is a very good change.
And that's about all we have. Evidence to the contrary still shows paladins having better tank-saving tools, druids still being the masters of heal over time, priests being a jack of all trades, and shamans bringing the most added utility to any raid. Perhaps the homogenization claims are a little overblown with healers. Also, even if we are somewhat homogenized, in guilds with raid spot competition, this should reward those who play better, not those who play the right class. However, I do not want all four of my healers to become the same because the different styles of play in Azeroth is what makes the game engaging for hours beyond the first character. I hope this is as close as we come to each other in the healer field.
Verdict - Good for now, but no more!