[Warning: contains mild spoilers about Priest talents in Cataclysm]
Leveling up healers in MMOs is usually pretty tough going. They are, after all, designed to heal which is not a very helpful mechanic for trying to solo and I’ve often wondered why so many designers insist on flooding healers with dozens of heals at low levels but few ways of defending themselves and inflicting damage. Surely it would make more sense to start off with fewer heals and more damage and then slowly acquire more and more healing abilities as one progresses?
Turns out I’m not the only one who’s frustrated by this and it’s actually one of the reasons that I don’t play healer classes very often. My Cleric in Everquest was a toothache to level, my Inquisitor in EQ2 wasn’t much better and my experiences with the Priest class in WoW (I’m onto my second one now) are about as pleasant as a prostate exam. Funnily enough though, just as I was planning to write this article today, I saw the overhaul that the Priest talents are getting with Cataclysm and I gotta say, I’m impressed.
Out of all of the classes I’ve leveled up in WoW, Priests are definitely the slowest, most boring and most difficult. If you’re going Shadow spec then things start to pick up around level 40 but until then, no matter what you do, they plod through the low levels, something which seems very counter-intuitive to the point of progression in MMOs. Surely leveling up should get harder, not easier? Right now I’m trying out the much acclaimed Energizer hybrid-spec but even then it’s proving quite weak compared to my experiences with other classes. I never really understood the point of having to “struggle through” lower levels by any means necessary just to try and reach a point of power.
Aside from trying to make the Discipline tree more interactive, it seems like Blizzard have recognised these issues with the Priest class and are trying to resolve them with the talents overhaul in Cataclysm. And it looks good, very good in fact. They’ve shifted a lot of the Holy spell offensive talents into the earliest tiers of the Holy and Discipline talent trees and even added some nifty new mechanics such as automatically healing nearby allies whenever the Priest inflicts damage with Smite. Overall, by the time a Priest is level 30, they can increase the damage of Smite and Holy Fire by 12%, decrease their casting times by 0.5 secs, increase Smites crit chance by a whopping 15% and allow it to instantly heal a nearby ally for 45% of it’s damage.
Low level Shadow talents get a boost too as Shadow Weaving is moved into the 2nd tier (down from the 4th) and a new first tier talent is added that reduces the pushback suffered from damage when casting Shadow spells. These are changes are certainly nice but I get the feeling that the leveling spec of choice will be a Disc/Holy hybrid one as the changes are more beneficial to low levels.
Although many may hate these changes, I think it’s great to see such a radical overhaul of the Priest talent system. Frankly, it just isn’t working well enough as it stands. Now if only other games could follow Blizzard’s lead and overhaul their healers’ progression. Yep, I’m looking at you, Everquest 2.