Why Healers Wont Die

20 Mar

Ah, the life of the healer.

Pause. I had a number of colorful analogies I was going to put after that to describe what was going through my mind, but thought better of it. Those that don’t play a healing class in an MMO would probably think it overwrought and unduly self important, or even worse, “emo.” Those that do don’t need it. They already know what I’m talking about.

My healing career started somewhat reluctantly shortly after WoW’s release. In other games I’d played, I had played some characters that had healing abilities, but they were mostly a solo endeavor, not a dedicated group healer. When a few friends and I got sucked in and had been playing a bit, we realized we would really need a nice balanced party to make the most of the game. Most of us had gamed together for years in various other games, but this was the first MMO for most of the group. The game was some thing and some place where friends sundered by distance could get together and do something fun together.

Surveys were taken, class preferences articulated and after it was all said and done, I volunteered to be the priest. I wasn’t enthused, but I did volunteer. If it meant that we would have a long a fruitful group run, it was worth it. And, I decided, if I had to play the priest, I would be the best damned priest I could be.

Our original group eventually fell apart, but my priest from that group went on and sits at level 61 in BC. Disc/Holy the whole way until last week when he specced shadow for solo and fun. When a few of us started a new regular group, we kept pretty much our same roles, just on a new server with our new addition. Yet again I would be the priest. It was a bit different this time though, we all new how to play our classes well in a group and we knew how each other played too.

Being neither PUG player nor a raider, I nonetheless persevered in running my old priest through the old endgame instances in pursuit of my wimpy Tier 0 gear as the main healer for the dreaded PUG. With the PUGS, I had perhaps too many opportunities to find the limits of the class and my own play.

Most annoying of course was having to clean up the tactical messes of other. The irony of course is that good support play often results in enabling crappy primary play. Sure I could let an overnuking mage or hyperactive rogue die in battle “to teach them a lesson” but all too often that lesson only comes at the expense of a group wipe, which is always of course, the healer’s fault. Lets face it, the only thing that makes a bad PUG worse is to make it last longer. So if you’re an ethical player (like me), you don’t bail on groups (even if you have to grit your teeth). You suck it up and get the group through it. More importantly, you learn to appreciate great group play.

With the new group, everyone plays well. Very well. So well, that we have been routinely exhausting “level appropriate” content (i.e., we’ve found ourselves conquering one instance only to be a few levels shy of eligibility for the main quest for the next instance in the sequence). The machine is so well oiled that it really makes some of the challenges feel effortless. Not effortless as in easy boring, but as in a comfortable level of competence that instills pride in a job well done. Think “masterful execution.”

Every now and again, though, we get reminded that we have limits and that we are critically dependent on each other for success, including the healer. There have been more than a few boss fights where the wily old priest (and the clever paladin) was able to stretch his mana long enough to allow someone to finish a fight that seemed all but lost (often giving the last full measure in the process). There have also been situations, usually unplanned and sometimes self inflicted, where I’ve found myself (and usually most or at least a few of my party still standing) with scarcely a tick of health or mana left, but still standing. Exhilarating. Even when it was only avoiding a wipe because of a bad pull or inattention.

These encounters with their wildly fluctuating momenta (and wildly fluctuating health bars too boot) create the heroic conditions for the maximum enjoyment of these games. Overcoming the near impossible. To approach the brink of death and to do so with the full knowledge that without the support of your teammates (healer included) that death and defeat would be swift and certain.

Despite the lamentations of the healers, imagine the MMO world without healing. A party goes into each encounter with a fixed amount of health. The mob chisels away at the group’s health and vice versa. Health slowly drops like sand through an hour glass. Mitigation becomes king with DPS its queen and yes, battles feel like long slow battles of attrition which they are. Do the math, see who wins. If Group Health -(MobDPS*Length of Battle) is not > 0, you lose. Group health is fixed, so figure out a way to mitigate mob dps or increase group dps or both to win. Think of how much health a tank would need (or alternatively how much armor)! Or, think of soloing as a pally and you might have the idea…

This is pretty much how real melee combat works—a slow slog until mitigation is overcome, a critical injury is inflicted or strength fails. Enter the healer. With the ability to replenish health, the battle dynamic changes fundamentally. The starting conditions are fundamentally different. The battle equation works the same way, but players perceive the encounter fundamentally differently. Tanks, for example, are significantly “weaker” relative to the damage inflicted by mobs they fight. They start the fight closer to the brink of doom and it’s a delicate and dynamic balancing act to keep the tank vertical throughout the fight.

Even if both styles were appropriately balanced, bringing players repeatedly to the brink during battles only to be healed to continue the fight pushes that adrenaline button in each of us each time it happens and it often happens several times in a difficult encounter. The outcome of the battle becomes dynamic and interdependent on active player abilities. The see-saw of the health bars as damage is taken and the tactical replenishment of health creates this dramatic heroic “victory from the jaws of defeat” feeling and leaves the impression of having overcome circumstances that would otherwise have resulted in death and defeat. Potions or other self-initiated healing actions just don’t give the same feeling.

It’s the journey and not the destination that makes the game exciting. Healing provides the roller coaster when we would otherwise be stuck on the carousel. We end up where we start, but the ride is very different.

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Posted by on March 20, 2007 in World of Warcraft


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