07/01/2013

The Joy Of Healing... Mechanics

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.

Resource Management

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.

Sensible Limits

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.)

Healing Niches

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.

6 comments:

  1. Great article, one thing I would like to say though. You talked about regenerating force, and Sages using Noble Sacrifice. This is the same as Consumption on us Sorcerers. There may only be one but it is powerful, as long as you keep a HoT up there is no force penalty to use it. There is only the penalty you take in health which is easy enough to take care of by standing in your own purple puddle of love. Makes for an awesome force regen tool.

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    1. Oh, I'm not saying it's bad. It's just that you kind of have to keep using it regularly and continuously throughout the fight (with Resplendence procs basically) to keep your force up. If you suddenly find yourself completely OOF, it won't save you. Whereas my cooldowns on my Commando can literally bring me from no ammo to full, which just makes for a very different type of resource management.

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  2. I cannot agree more with the Resource management system. It indeed is fairly different for each class. While Scoundrels and Commandos do have a fuck-up cd for quick recovery, Sages 'only' have the Noble Sacrifice.

    Yet, there is one additional interesting point you haven't mentioned. Commandos don't get their ammo boosted in any way and have to deal with what they have since level 1. Sages on the other hand get up to 150 additional Force from talents and set bonus. Scoundrels can get 10 additional Energy from PvP set bonus (and there is no reason not to get it for PvE). It does have some effect although it may not be anything major.

    Interesting post :-)

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    1. I did remember that about the talents and set bonus but didn't really have anything useful to say about it. :P I don't think the Sage one makes much of a difference to everyday play, and I don't know enough about the Scoundrel one to have any comments on it. If the larger energy pool actually gives you more wiggle room while staying in high regen modus, that could be quite powerful.

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    2. The Scoundrel one is actually just 5 more energy - but still useful imo :-) Lets you not reach the lower regen rate that soon.

      And Sage one makes doesn't make that much of a difference? :-) Noble Sacrifice returns 8% of your maximum Force - so it matters a lot to me (500 or 650 is quite a difference).

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    3. Of course it's going to make a difference in numbers - I just can't see it making a very noticeable difference in terms of play style / frequency of Noble Sacrifice use. :) You'd still have to watch your resources all the same.

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