3 Feb 2014

Healing under Scrutiny Part 1 - Absorbs and Smart Heals

This is the beginning of a series of articles where I plan on highlighting and evaluating possible flaws in the healing system. Using research, my experience and some logical reasoning to try and answer the question that exists on a lot of healers lips at the moment: Is healing broken?

Broken? I heal just fine!

''People blame smart heals and discipline priests and whatever, that's really not the core of the issue --> Healing is stupidly broken.'' - Aladya from Method

When I say broken I mean it in the sense that sometimes healing does not feel how it should. Sometimes it can can be frustratingly easy and other times it feels like you are mashing buttons in the hopes that people simply stay alive (due to silly 'heal check' mechanics). Healing is something many people have become extremely passionate about and are getting a little bit concerned by the direction that it is heading. I aim to address these concerns.

Firstly and most importantly, what is contributing to the concept of broken healing at the moment?

  • Absorbs
  • Smart heals
  • Too many cooldowns
  • Raid design
  • Ability bloat
  • Class dependency
  • Hybrid healing

I appreciate that this has been written about in various forms in various blogs and forums but I am yet to find anything... substantial on the matter. It is more a bunch of opinions and non constructive cries for change.

My aim is to form a well structured logical and thought provoking article that rallies healers into discussing how we should move forward into WoD. So without further ado...


''Bring the player not the class, unless you are a healer, in which case bring a discipline priest.'' - Mayhem

This topic is very controversial at the moment, but why? My thoughts:

  • Absorbs are 100% efficient at converting your mana into healing, they sit on the target until the shield is whittled away by damage or drops off naturally. It requires very little skill.
  • Absorbs suppress all other healing throughput. While the raid sits at full HP and shielded, raid damage will be soaked by those shields first and foremost, leaving scraps for other healers.
  • Absorbs can save lives in ways that conventional healing cannot. Imagine a raider is hit with an ability/mechanic that takes them down to 30% hp (plenty of abilities like this in SoO HC) and then RNG happens and another ability/mechanic hits them for 30% hp straight after, they die. However if they were previously Power Word shielded they would probably end up on around 50% hp after the initial hit, giving them a much larger buffer to heal back up again.
  • The lack of absorbs in any given raid boss is TOO noticeable, in fact I have heard stories of how boss strategies (during progression) have had to be completely changed purely based on wether they have absorb healers or not.
  • The vast majority of Absorbs are actually passive (major examples being Illuminated healing, Divine Aegis, Spirit Shell and Blood Shield - Yes i did just go there there!), which if you read the previous bullet points, makes them even more overpowered and very frustrating to deal with for other healers.

First of all I would like to express my awareness and understanding of how irrelevant the healing meters are for talented healers. They should only ever be used as a tool to nit pick at what abilities did the highest amount of healing, counting dispels and finding ways of improving yourself. However having said that the competitive spirits within most of us will always feel good to have good numbers (high total healing, high HPS and low Overhealing).

With this in mind, if you have ever raided 10man with a priest and to a lesser extent a holy paladin you will quickly start to feel quite... Inadequate. The amount of effective healing and HPS will overshadow even the most competent non absorb based healers, not to mention we end up spending time during raid encounters staring at bars that stay at 100% despite the fact that your raid team is taking damage. Its almost the equivalent of another DPS taking the boss into another realm so just he himself can DPS it while the rest of the raid group sit outside being bored.

Why is this important?

To me people play WoW because they want to enjoy themselves, and part of that enjoyment for healers is to feel 'powerful' and 'useful', by this I mean healers chose that role to do exactly what you would imagine them to do, keeping people alive. No healer wants to sit in a raid twiddling their thumbs waiting for something to do while the co-healer is having a blast as not even a single raid member's HP drops. This quite clearly detracts from any form of fun that non absorb classes can have while healing.

Due to the fact that absorbs are (and lets face it) supremely more efficient, effective and useful than your 'bog standard' heals that non absorb classes get, we cant help but feel hard done by.

If you have read my healing 101 article you will fully understand what healing means to me and why I am so passionate about it.

Can absorbs be fixed?

I think they can, and hopefully they will. Going into WoD the blizzard team will hopefull come up with some intuitive ways circumventing the fact that absorbs are overbearingly powerful.

As for my ideas on the matter:

  • Place a cap or even remove the ability to shield an already full HP target. This will completely stop absorb classes having 'first dibs' on a lot of healing and prevent scenarios where raid mechanics can be bypassed or done differently to how you would do them with non absorb classes.
  • Make absorbs interact with other healing in some way based on class mastery. By this I mean make absorbs fun for everyone, not just the person using them, some imagination and adaptation would be required to implement this but it would add much needed flavor back into healing.
  • Stop absorbs from being passive and make them more deliberate. This is a huge one for me, Absorbs are the most efficient form of healing and yet they are applied by doing almost nothing at all (Atonement/Illuminated healing).
  • Design bosses that do not require absorbs to make it easier. Bosses that throw out extremely high spikes of damage, or where people go out of range of healers for a small while, or where the raid is stacked up and takes periodic damage from a single target. All of these facilitates a perfect environment for absorbs to thrive, making other healers less effective and sometimes meaning they get benched in favor of absorb classes.
  • Stop absorbs from being instant. They should have more meaningful casting requirements.
  • Remove absorbs or give all classes absorbs. This is not because other healers are jealous, it is because other healers are getting very frustrated when they heal alongside priests and paladins. (just look at Sonies blog or twitter!)

While some of these points may seem a little drastic, I still maintain that if something drastic does not change, the problem is only going to get worse with new level 100 talents and stat percentages getting higher and higher.

Smart Heals

''A smart spell is a spell that behaves intelligently in response to a situation. A smart spell's behavior usually involves a selection of targets, attempting to make the optimal selection from those available.''  - Wowpedia

Smart healing  is currently running rampant in World of Warcraft, more or less every healer class has an abundance of smart healing mechanics in their toolbox. The ability to simply press a button and let the game do all the hard work for you is lazy, boring, uninspiring, unskillful and quite frankly far too effortless.

I feel that to a certain extent Monk healers should be excluded from this list due to the fact that they have lots to consider when fist weaving not to mention eminence only contributes 50% of their damage as apposed to the 90% disc priests enjoy, they also only provide bog standard non overpowered (non absorb) heals which personally I can live with. Healing on a Monk is fun, and healing alongside a monk is equally as fun.

What is so bad about smart heals then (in bullet point form please mayhem!!) I hear you ask?

  • Fire and forget. This means all you need to do is press a single button and poof, the game does the rest of the work for you.
  • Makes the game easier, the more smart heals that exist the easier the game becomes, until you get to the point where you are just pressing a rotation without even using your mouse while watching the TV...
  • Takes away intensity from the fight. Those hair raising moments where a someone gets low, you decide on a spell to heal them and.... oh no wait, healing stream totem and Efflorescence just healed them up, never mind.
  • Takes away player interaction from the fights. While healing you want to be in full control of your character and their abilities, being certain of the people you want to heal and go about making sure they don't die. Letting a computer decide this for you is a loss a control, this loss of control adds to a loss of immersion.
  • Too strong!! Smart heals are called that for a reason, the game calculates who has the lowest health and goes about healing them in a fraction of the time it would take a mere human, giving you, the player, time to think about other things in the meantime.
  • Too many!! There are at least 100 quadrillion different smart heals in WoW nowadays (give or take a couple), and as such you tend to find that a lot of heal sniping/collision occurs when you plan on actually 'manually' healing the raid yourself.


Why is this important?

To make the game fun you have to involve the player in the decisions beyond deciding when to press an all singing all dancing button that does 80% of the work for you. The decisions on who we heal should belong to the healers more so than they do now. In my opinion druids are the best example of non smart heal driven healing style. Sure efflorescence and wild growth are Smart heals but without them druids would arguably have very little in the way of AOE healing. the rest of the time everything else is purely based on player decisions.

Other classes such as Shamans are absolutely fraught with smart healing mechanics, making them not only boring to play but arguably too powerful. This, unfortunately, in turn causes the Devs at Blizzard to make encounters more damage driven rather than tactics/mechanics driven as we have seen from most of the HC encounters in MoP.

You don't see any dps that have a button that does their rotation for them while they go make a cup of tea, so why should healers be treated the same way?

How could smart heals be fixed?

I honestly believe that this is not something that can be easily fixed without causing a complete uproar from the more casual players of the healing community. Being handed an easier way to heal, that requires less attention and less effort is far more appealing than having to focus on triage, ensuring proper use of spells and coordinating your heals in a more controlled and more situational manner.

However if I were to try and fix this problem I would probably suggest the following:

  • Reduce the effectiveness of smart heals, if they are less powerful they suddenly transform from an ability that is essential, to an ability that simply helps.
  • Make non smart heal type abilities more meaningful and accessible. A perfect example is on a Resto shaman, you will rarely see them casting any of the healing waves, because most of the time other tools in his Kit will get the job done faster and more effectively.
  • Design raid bosses to involve more interesting healing mechanics, a fight where you are literally spamming all of your abilities like crazy to keep people alive is not as fun as a Tortos style encounter for example.
  • Lower the amount of targets they effect, or simply remove the smart heal affect and replace it with a new mechanic that either splits healing between X amount of nearby players or adds a healing taken buff for example.

My final point which is slightly too long to get away with in bullet point format is the overhealing element

Change the way overhealing works.

Overhealing is more or less the reason smart heals are useful, it reduces overhealing due to the efficient way the game decides who the smart heal with target (Lower HP people are prioritized). If you make overhealing more interesting and useful it suddenly removes the need to utilize powerful smart heals in the first place. Here is the current overheal effects on each of the classes.

Shaman - Ancestral Vigor
Druids - Wild Mushroom
Paladins - Illuminated Healing
Disc Priest - Divine Aegis (to a certain extent)
Holy priest - None
Monks - None

From my experience as a healer, the only truly useful overheal mechanics come from Paladins and priests, both of which utilizes Absorbs, these are useful but too strong.

Wild mushrooms are a very interesting and intuitive way of utilizing my overhealing on a druid, as the bloom itself is player controlled it brings in a level of control back to druids who typically do quite a lot of overhealing.

Ancestral Vigor is not very useful at all unless you are expecting a particularly big hit that would otherwise kill a raid member but the fact that the % of health remains unchanged after they effected player loses the buff makes the ability rather lack luster. Suggestion: Overhealing increases an ally's maximum health.  Lasts 10 sec. When the effect expires, the accumulated overhealing on each player turns into a buff that increases the healing that the target receives from single target healing spells.
This not only encourages shamans to reply more on single target spells but also brings back a level of player control over an encounter by use of careful planning.

Holy priests currently have no mechanic in place at all to compensate for overhealing. The main question firstly is - do they need/want it? I have never played a Holy priest before and it has actually been quite rare for me to raid with one, thus I cannot really comment or even make a suggestion on this class.

Monks do not have any overhealing mechanics either but I feel that due to the way they work, it is not important for them to have any. Although it seems quite unfair that disc priests get some form of respite from thier overheals, technically making them more efficient.


Although absorbs and Smartheals do have flaws that can possibly sap some of the fun from WoW, they are very both clever mechanics that could be a lot of fun if they were tuned correctly and didn't have such a large impact on current Raid content and game play.

I hope you enjoyed reading this article and feel free to leave a comment below if you dissagree with anything or simply just want to voice an opinion.


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