Back when I wrote my post about why healing people is fun, it occurred to me that aside from the social aspects, I also really enjoy healing from a gameplay point of view. The way that healing mechanics are implemented in TOR pretty much suits me to a T. Talking about that didn't really fit with the theme of the previous post though, so I thought that I'd save it for a separate one.
Mainly there are three points that I really like, especially when compared to what I was used to in WoW. Not that WoW healing wasn't fun in its own way, but I do like the way TOR handles it even more.
One of my favourite parts about being a WoW healer was always the challenge of being able to manage my mana. It's what really distinguished healing from just being a game of whack-a-mole where you always apply your biggest heal as quickly as possible. The "problem" I had with this in WoW was that, over time, the viability of mana management as a gameplay mechanic turned into a bit of rollercoaster: people would completely outgear the need to pay attention to their mana, then regeneration would be nerfed, then players would acquire better gear and make it trivial again... and so on and so forth.
I really like the way SWTOR has approached this, which is to simply to make the size of your resource pool and the rate of your regeneration something static that isn't affected by any stats. Better gear will make your heals bigger, sure, but it never absolves you of the responsibility of having to pay attention to your ammo/energy/force, as the only way to keep it at the correct levels is to play well. I really like that.
As a bonus, all three healing classes have ever so slightly different resource systems. Commando healing is on a short regeneration cycle that you need to watch closely at all times, though you have several cooldowns available in case you mess up. Scoundrels mostly use the same system, but they also have Upper Hand to watch as an extra resource which adds another layer of complexity. Sages on the other hand have a fairly long regen cycle that can only affected by a single ability (Noble Sacrifice), which means that on short fights they can actually get away with mostly ignoring it... but if you mess up and find yourself completely out of force too quickly, there's no good way of recovering.
I once read a post on game development somewhere (I don't remember where exactly) that said that the basic premise of designing a game is about creating a framework of rules and limitations in which the players will enjoy operating.
A Sentinel friend of mine once watched a gameplay video that I had recorded of myself and expressed amusement at how few buttons I had to pay attention to compared to him (or so he said). Truth is, I only have two different heals that have no cooldown whatsoever. Two! Then there's another four that come with shortish cooldowns, and about four utility skills that I use regularly. Doesn't sound like much, does it?
I really consider that a good thing though. Combined with the need to manage resources as mentioned above, this lack of buttons to push generally means that incoming damage mustn't come too hard and fast or else it's simply impossible to keep up - because the healers only have limited tools. The result of this is that except for a couple of hardmode fights that I've seen so far, the actual execution requirements on healers are pretty lax (compared to other roles anyway); you just have to be attentive and think strategically. This is exactly what I like about healing though, as opposed to (PvE) dps, where you might have to spend some time thinking about your rotation beforehand, but then it's mostly about executing it as quickly and accurately as possible.
Again I feel that this is an interesting contrast to the development of healing in WoW as it was when I stopped playing, where the power creep of several expansions had given healers so many insanely powerful buttons to press that as a result the fights became more and more about hitting those uber skills as quickly as possible or else see your tank die within two global cooldowns. (Or in other words: if your healers can potentially heal fifty bazillion damage per second... then the main way to challenge them is to make people take fifty bazillion damage per second. Not that fun to me personally.)
Everyone knows that Sages are the masters of AoE healing. They can heal single targets as well of course, but it feels a bit sluggish compared to other classes. Commandos are the exact opposite, able to keep a single target stable as well as react quickly to burst damage, but as a trade-off our AoE healing is pretty lackluster. Scoundrels are a sort of jack of all trades or utility healer that can be matched with any other type and still do a good job.
During WoW's Burning Crusade, the game operated under a similar system, and I was quite disappointed when they completely did away with it in Wrath of the Lich King so that you could "bring the player, not the class". There were of course drawbacks to having niche healers: it could be annoying for the organiser of a raid to find themselves stuck with a team that didn't quite gel due to class mechanics, and it could be disheartening to come up against a fight where your particular healing role was weaker than the others.
Still, personally I definitely do prefer having dedicated healing niches. In a game that's about playing nice with other people, I'm quite happy
to have mechanics that are based on the idea that not everyone is
equally good at everything, and while you'll have your chance to shine
on one fight, it's okay to let someone else do the heavy lifting on
another. It makes the classes feel different and unique and enables people with very different preferences to all find a play style that they enjoy.