Thursday, January 27, 2011

Reader Question: What Should I Play?

An entry a few days ago was linked by both Righteous Orbs and Wow Insider, so thanks to both of those sources for some new eyes. However, the more interesting thing that happened was a handful of e-mails and questions from those readers. Thanks for those, and I plan on answering some of the more interesting questions posted in comments on those websites and/or sent via e-mail. Like Mike Rowe on Dirty Jobs, give me suggestions, wind em up, and watch the words roll out on this pink platform.

Today's question comes from Darkdust on the Wow Insider comment board.  Darkdust asks:

I like healing quite a bit, but I've focused primarily on priest healing (both discipline and holy). I'm uncertain whether I'd like druid or paladin healing; can anyone point me to a good comparison of how each healing class / spec "feels"? I can read up on the technical differences, of course, but that's significantly different.

 Well there is one problem with this question, and that is that it is impossible to answer without looking at the technical differences.  After all, the technical differences define how the class plays and how the class feels.  But hopefully I can get you on the right track.

So if you've played priest of both healing varieties, the healing world has completely been open to you. With two full healing talent trees and more healing spells than Blizzard knows how to make useful, you have full utility to be a raid healer, a tank healer, a hybrid healer/DPS, or a PvP content master. Nobody is a master of each of these roles, and I am certain there is some role you enjoy more than any other. The other three healing classes are set up to succeed, but perhaps more clearly in one or two of these roles rather than all four.  These are the limits we play with when there is only one healing talent tree in a class.

As a baseline, the priest class has 18 total healing spells available, of which 8 are single target heals or absorbs (Flash Heal, Power Word Shield, Heal, Holy Word Serenity, Greater Heal, Binding Heal, Desperate Prayer, Smite with Atonement talent), 1 is a heal over time spell (Renew), 7 are area of effect healing spells (Prayer of Healing, Holy Nova, Prayer of Mending, Divine Hymn, Lightwell, Circle of Healing, Power Word Barrier), and 2 defensive cooldowns (Pain Suppression, Guardian Spirit).  So the one thing that priest healers lack is a diversity of options for heal over time spells. Nonetheless, some talents provide a heal over time effect addition to some of the other priest spells, so a small added amount away from these baseline spells is there. It remains the one true non-focus of priest healers though. Absorb spells act similarly to heal over time spells though, so there is that aspect to consider as well.

Turning to the druid, this class jokingly offers you an option to play the best four classes in wow, all rolled into one character. If you are choosing a main alt character, you really cannot go wrong with a druid because all four roles (tank in bear form, ranged DPS in moonkin form, melee DPS in cat form, and healing in caster/tree form). So if you want to have a character that can always do something different including healing, then this is probably the best choice for you although paladin comes a close second. Druids have 9 total healing spells available, of which 3.5 are single target heals (Healing Touch, half of Regrowth, Nourish, Swiftmend), 2.5 are heal over time spells (Rejuvenation, half of Regrowth, Lifebloom), 2 are area of effect healing spells (Tranquility, Wild Growth), and 1 defensive cooldown (Rebirth battle resurrection).

Druids have only half the tools that priests have, but it certainly does not feel that way when you play a restoration druid.  The restoration druid typically builds up one or more heal over time spells on targets that will take damage and then all the talents and spells like Nourish and Swiftmend play off the heal over time spells. Instead of reactive, you generally stay much more proactive in healing.  Thus, if you enjoy the shield capabilities maximized by discipline priests, then this healing style will definitely appeal to you. Furthermore, druid healers are ridiculously resilient and hard to kill in PvP content, so if that is your preference than this is perhaps an even better class than priest. Druids are also well suited to raid heal because the heal over time spells can be spread around and the druid also has excellent group healing spells. Tank healing is possible but not preferable with this class compared to how other classes are built in the raiding context. However, don't let anyone stop you from being a tank healing druid if that is your dream.  But we all have limited playtime, so druid is probably the best choice for raid healers and PvP fanatics.

Next up let's consider the shaman.  Shaman has both melee and ranged DPS offspec, so there's a bit more flexibility than priest but less than paladin and druid. On the healing front, shamans have 8 total healing spells available, of which 2 are single target heals (Healing Wave, Lesser Healing Wave), 2.5 are heal over time spells (Healing Stream Totem, Riptide, Earth Shield), 2.5 are area of effect healing spells (Healing Stream Totem, Chain Heal, Healing Rain), and 1 defensive cooldown (Reincarnation self-resurrection).

The shaman brings a lot of utility to a party even with other classes getting Heroism equivalents in Cataclysm.  The shaman is more than just a buff class, but the use of various totems can really add a lot of utility even as a healer. However, for straight healing abilities, the shaman has a couple fewer options than the druid.  Plus the class plays completely differently, as the best shaman healing spells are quick one-time heals instead of the heal-over-time build up and weaving style with druids. Shamans are also generally good raid healers thanks to the multiple area of effect abilities, but they can really shine in the hybrid DPS/healer role thanks to the two strong DPS talent trees to accompany the restoration talents. If either of those roles appeals to you, then shaman will be a good style fit.  Note that playing a shaman is probably the second hardest class to get the hang of behind priest, as I've found most people to think druid healing is easier to learn than either.

Finally, there is the paladin. Paladin is probably the easiest or most forgiving class to learn in the game, and provides many options at the end of the leveling curve.  Paladins, like druids, can tank, DPS, or heal. Paladin healing was too simple in the past, but Cataclysm has brought more diversity for the healers. Paladins have 12 total healing spells available, of which 5 are single target heals (Word of Glory, Holy Light, Flash of Light, Divine Light, Holy Shock), 0.5 are heal over time spells (Holy Radiance), 0.5 are area of effect healing spells (Holy Radiance), and 6 are defensive cooldowns (Lay on Hands, Hand of Protection, Divine Protection, Divine Shield, Hand of Sacrifice, Guardian of Ancient Kings).

As over half of these abilities are defensive cooldowns, a paladin normally only has the plurality of single target healing spells to rely on. Holy Radiance adds a nice second dimension to the healing, as Paladins were really limited to tank healing before.  However, paladins are still the kings of single target focused healing, more so than any other healing class.  If you enjoy being a tank healer, this is definitely the class for you.  With Holy Shock, Paladins can be respectable hybrid DPS/healers, and of course paladins are decent at PvP content as well.  All things considered, paladin could be the choice for you if you are looking for the polar opposite playstyle from priests. Paladins are simple and straightforward, but that can be a refreshing change of pace from the hectic priest lifestyle.

So in summary, like a good lawyer, the answer to your question Darkdustis "it depends."  When you move from a priest to some other healing class, you will sacrifice the do-it-all mentality of the priest class.  However, you may become more proficient in one or two fields than being a jack of all trades, so the trade-off is certainly worth it. No matter where you end up, I wish you the best of luck.  Remember, you can always reroll!

Send more questions to the email address above, and see you next week.


  1. Awesome. Reading in detail now... and thank you.


  2. I would add that druid, with its hots, like priest (esp disco priest) has a more anticipatory, preemptive feel. The healing of a shaman or pally is more reactive. However, anticipatory healing isn't as advantageous this expansion, since unlike in wrath, a tank can't get taken from full to dying in 1-2 gcd.

  3. I would add that paladin have another one nice spell called light of dawn :)

    also, in my personal opinion, druid and paladin way of healing complete pretty nice. I have both and like switch between them

  4. "Paladins are simple and straightforward, but that can be a refreshing change of pace from the hectic priest lifestyle"

    To anyone considering a paladin I'd say you simply have to try it. The old myth of paladins being two button healers was never really true, and certainly isn't now. While the toolbox may seem simple/straightforward at first, the challenges separating good players from bad are in constant/quick decision making and knowing how and when to use your entire toolbox. The same could probably be argued for any class/spec, but I believe it's especially true for holy paladins. You have to think and act fast to be effective because you have very few niceties (shields, hots, group heals) to do your work for you. Holy Radiance is a godsend from Cata but it's very expensive. The good part is this effort is rewarded handsomely.

    In response to the quote above, I could say that whenever I play my disc/holy priest, I feel like they have a much more "relaxed" time with clearer priorities/goals (i.e. what spell to cast next based on what's available/already been done), more straightforward abilities, and ultimately an easier decision making process ("if-this-then-that"). And that to me, I find playing my priest a refreshing change of pace from the hectic paladin playstyle :-). But both our statements could just be chalked up to a case of mains vs. alts. I know my priest friends work very hard at what they do, and ultimately, we're all just competing with ourselves as we hold ourselves to a higher standard every time we play.

  5. @Darkdust - you are welcome. Thanks for the question and I hope you have found a healing class that suits you.

    @Zelmaru - Despite the inherent disadvantage of pre-emptive healing in cataclysm, disco priests and resto druids are still two highly regarded and effective healers. The playstyle is indeed similar.

    @Agnieszka - There is something to be said for having two highly different healing styles to switch between. It probably cannot get much different than the paladin and the druid, so it does not surprise me that this setup works for you.

    @Ithilyn - On the baseline level, paladins are much easier to understand and play than any other healing class. However, there is serious depth with their cooldown abilities that becomes incredibly hard to master. Just like any class, there's always enough depth to separate the very best players from everyone else.

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