Ghostcrawler Greg Street is the Lead Systems Designer for World of Warcraft, and basically has become the public face of the developers over the past couple of years. Ghostcrawler can be abrasive at times, but he has a great sense of humor and brings a dose of good perspective to the community, which typically wonders at large what in the world the developers are thinking.
In order to open another avenue of regular communication with the players, the developers have decided to start blogging on battle.net. Of course, the first developer posting blog entries is Ghostcrawler. His first entry was about 4 weeks ago, and it focused directly on healers. More specifically, why healing is becoming more difficult in Cataclysm. Now that the entire playerbase is hitting 85 and trying out heroics and perhaps even starting raids, the calls for "why is this content so hard" have come out in full swing. Yet if these masses paid attention to this Ghostcrawler blog, they might have some insight on why Cataclysm is different.
In reality, Cataclysm is a return to the difficulty levels or play style of vanilla and The Burning Crusade:
As a blanket statement, healer mana wasn’t a big concern in Wrath of the Lich King. You could run out of mana sometimes, but it really didn’t affect your spell choice in the way it did prior to Lich King. We think resources should be important, though. A lot of gameplay in a wide variety of games comes down to managing a limited resource, whether it's Vespene Gas in an RTS, ammo in an FPS, or even time in a puzzle game. Managing your resources well makes you a better player.Obviously the resource that all healers manage is mana, and there were absolutely no mana problems in Wrath of the Lich King. Ghostcrawler explains all the ways this damaged the game by taking half the possible dimensions out of decision-making for healers. When overhealing and mana resources are not a problem, why wouldn't you cast your fastest heals over and over, even if they are inefficient?
In other words, Cataclysm will bring back the concept that healing is a triage operation. You must save who you can with the right heal for the job because if you do not choose the right heal, you will eventually run out of mana and everyone will die. On occasion, this will mean you have to let someone die because they are beyond the point at which you can help them.
For example, think about the marks that Saurfang put on raid members when he reached 100 blood power in Icecrown Citadel. The marks put out a continuous stream of heavy damage on whomever received the mark. In Wrath mode, raids assigned a healer or two to do nothing but counteract the first couple of marks. While the healer would be fully occupied or nearly fully occupied keeping up with the mark damage, mana was not a problem so this was a way to circumvent the penalty for playing poorly (because marks and blood power were a result of not taking care of blood beasts, mainly). In a 25 man raid, I witnessed a raid survive five marks with only losing a couple of players. That should not happen.
So Ghostcrawler says resource management will make healers become better players. However, the tools like Saurfang's mark are there to also force other players to also play better or else they will doom their healers to failure. This is no different than the DPS and healers needing to help the tanks with threat by killing things in order and using crowd control. Everyone has more to do in instances now, but the biggest change is for healers.
But here's the thing: that's just how it should be! A good healer should be able to use all the tools and spells at their disposal like a grandmaster in chess or a conductor of a symphony. Anybody who has ever watched a really good tank manage all of their abilities understands just how challenging and how rewarding this game can be for healers. That's the game I want to play, and that's the magic I want to bring to my guilds and my raids.
Yes, the first few months of Cataclysm will be an adjustment period and will be difficult. However, the payoff for the players who enjoy healing will be so worth it, and the developers should be applauded for looking this problem right in the eye and fixing it the best way they know how.
In December, Ghostcrawler has issued three more blog entries. Two have focused primarily on threat and tanking, and thus are not terribly pertinent here. However, Ghostcrawler does acknowledge that if a tank is using area of effect threat generation abilities, healing should not pull aggro on a non-focused mob. This is not rocket science though, it is what we expect as a baseline.
The other entry explains the design philosophy behind primary and secondary stats on gear. The game is currently designed so that every progressive piece of gear is designed to give increasing stamina and increasing strength/agility/intellect depending on your type of character. Those statistics are now clearly not intermixed with the secondary stats: haste, dodge, crit, mastery, hit, expertise, and spirit. The developers currently intend these secondary stats to be another way to customize your character, as haste, crit, and mastery all have very different effects if you stack them.
Hopefully this means that there will be multiple ways to have a properly talented and geared character, making socketing gems and choosing enchants fun as opposed to brainless based on what wow-popular and Elitist Jerks say. More on this later, but character customization may have a golden age in the future post-Cataclysm because the developers are thinking about mixing the primary stats into the customization and gearing mix. That would be exciting, and would make gearing nearly as fun as healing!
On that note, have a great Christmas and a happy holiday season.