Thursday, January 22, 2009

Anatomy of a Healer: the Class

Why is it that looking for the images to accompany my insightful blog posts (it's my blog, I can pretend I'm insightful if I want to) almost takes longer than actually writing them? Today I got distracted by a blog by a med student/resident. Evidently she wants to be a pediatrician (but not the cutesy "here's your lollipop" kind) and has fat cats. Now on to the actual post.

If you don't count rogues with bandages--and you really shouldn't--World of Warcraft has four classes that can choose to heal: Druid, Paladin, Priest, and Shaman. Each is very different both in lore and play style, but all can be excellent at healing. So why should you choose one over the other?

I'm not trying to get into the intricacies of each class, or preach about why one is better than the other. What I do want to do is explain why, to me, it doesn't really matter which you choose, as long as you take the time to be good at what you play. I'm going to oversimplify a lot here. And I'm probably going to get yelled at by my healer friends. Please don't take my statements as gospel, but research your chosen class and read the blogs of people who actually play those characters.

First of all, all healers are hybrids.

There are four "pure" classes in the game: Hunter, Mage, Rogue and Warlock. These classes cause damage. That is all they can do. If a Rogue respecs from Assasination to Sublety or vice versa, she will still do damage. She does not have a tanking tree or a healing tree--she has three dps trees.

Every other class in the game is a hybrid class. Let me say that again. Every other class--except Hunter, Mage, Rogue and Warlock--is a hybrid class.

I'm sorry for harping on this. But Priests are not pure classes no matter how much a certain guy I know thinks they are. And it's important to think of all healers as hybrids in order to get over certain misconceptions many people have.

Now that I've beaten the hybrid concept into the ground, we can focus on the class that is arguably the biggest hybrid of them all. Druids who choose to embrace their outer Barkskin are very powerful healers in Wrath of the Lich King. Restoration druids have many heal over time spells to absorb spiky damage as well as several larger heals that make it possible for them to heal bigger chunks as well. The druid play-style isn't for everyone and requires that you be able to manage a lot of different timers as well as predict who will take damage when. I see druids as proactive healers who can spread their healing over many targets. They are less whack-a-mole and more sand box; they enjoy filling the smaller dips with HoT stacks but are able to pour out more healing on demand to plug the larger holes as well.

Holy Paladins are still great at single target healing, but WotLK gave them more tools to use as well. Playing a paladin well requires quick reactions and is most often seen as whack-a-mole at its finest. I'll admit that I know little about raiding as a paladin. But from what I've read on other blogs, WotLK has given them more flexibility. And I know I'm always glad to have them along.

I'm biased. I love the priest class. I chose to bench my priest for a few different reasons, but none of them was because I disliked the class.

Priests are my favorite healers because they have so many different tools to choose from. If you need a priest to be a single-target healer, they will do it. If you need a priest to spot heal the raid, they will do it. If you need a priest to help mitigate incoming damage on a player, they will do it. Priests can do everything, and they can do it all well. I'm not saying that a priest will do better than another class at a specific job, just that they can do any job. Being a good holy or discipline priest requires the same level of dedication as the others with the added burden of choosing the right spell at the right time.


I've talked about shaman healing a bit before, so I won't bore you with all the details here. Wrath of the Lich King gave shamans a few new tricks to make them a little more rounded than they had been before. Chain heal is still what we're known for, but it isn't the only spell in our arsenal, and shouldn't be the only one we use. However, in a raid situation, knowing who to use as the anchor for chain heal based on positioning is very important. Shamans need to have better than average situational awareness (something I'm still working on) in order to choose the right spell to the greatest effect. Using a Chain Heal on the mage who is way out of the group may not be the best choice. Likewise it may be better to cast a Chain Heal on a rogue when those around her are about to take damage than to top her up with a Lesser Healing Wave. I may not advocate true heads up healing, but knowing what is going on around you as well as who is standing where is necessary to be a great shaman healer.

Whack-a-Mole, Sand Box, Heads Up, Spacial Awareness. Whatever you want to call it, healing takes skill, patience and a certain amount of trial and error. I stand behind my assertion that all healing classes can be effective healers. No one class is better than the others, but one class may be better for you.

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