Priest Q&A with the World of Warcraft Development Team
Community Team: Joining us today to close out this round of the Class Q&A Series by addressing questions collected from the priest community is the lead systems designer for World of Warcraft, Ghostcrawler, who has enlisted the assistance of several members of our class design team to provide the most thorough answers possible. We’d like to begin as we always do by addressing what priests add to the World of Warcraft experience.
Q: Where do priests fit in the current scope of things, and where do you see them from this point going forward? What makes them unique?
Ghostcrawler: When you think of the priest in the context of traditional MMOs you think of the token healer, usually part of the “holy trinity” along with the warrior and mage. Many players who picked the priest as their character when they started the game had the expectation that they would be the premier healer, playing the role of support. Certainly in the beginning of World of Warcraft the priest was the class you chose when you were looking for a healer, and the class was adept at filling that role. However, unlike in other RPGs we’ve tried to make healing a role that many classes can fill. This is why sometimes priests can feel that they aren’t balanced correctly, since they aren’t necessarily the best healer.
In World of Warcraft, the priest isn’t a stronger healer than the other classes, but does have unmatched versatility. At its core the priest has two unique talent trees for healing, while the others only have one. Furthermore, the priest has strong heal-over-time spells (HoTs), direct heals, and area-of-effect (AoE) heals. So where the power of the priest comes in is how you use your entire repertoire of healing tools together to overcome a situation, rather than focusing on one aspect. Players sometimes call this the jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none role, but we don’t really view it that way. The priest has a big toolbox. That makes you versatile, but at the cost (in player skill) of knowing how to match the right spell for the right job. The trade-off of the healing priest isn’t in trading power for versatility, but in having narrow niches for spells but a lot of spells.
One other way we’ve tried to make the priest class more enjoyable is by fleshing out its damage-dealing talent specialization (spec), the Shadow tree. In the beginning, the Shadow spec was more of a leveling tree and not really viable for high-end content late game. In The Burning Crusade, it didn’t really keep up in damage compared to other classes in raiding but it did bring strong utility. Finally, in Wrath of the Lich King we increased its damage-dealing potential to make it near that of a primary damage-per-second (dps) caster -- such as a mage -- while also retaining some of its unique utility which made it cool during The Burning Crusade.
Overall, we feel the priest is one of the most versatile classes in the game, and can be the most enjoyable of the healer classes in the game because of its feature of having two different unique talent specs providing two different types of play styles. And for players who enjoy the dps aspect, you always have the option of going to the dark side as Shadow to either melt faces in PvP or help take down foes in PvE. As for moving forward, in a nutshell we’d like to improve the Holy tree’s PvP niche and polish the Shadow tree a bit more for both aspects of the game.
Community Team: Since the role of a priest can vary drastically depending on the type of role the player wishes to fill, let’s focus on Shadow priests and dealing damage first.
Q: What makes a Shadow priest effective in a raid environment versus a PvP environment?
Ghostcrawler: Shadow priests have some start up time to get all of their DoTs going before the damage really starts coming in. This is easier in a boss fight that lasts for several minutes and harder in a really dynamic PvP environment.
Q: Since a lot of the damage a Shadow priest does builds with damage-over-time (DoT) spells, are you concerned about them being well-rounded enough to do adequate damage in shorter PvE encounters, 5-player dungeons, or in the Arenas?
Ghostcrawler: This is a long answer.
First, we want a certain amount of class diversity. We try to make sure that everyone’s single-target dps is comparable to that of similar specs or classes, and we try to make sure that most damage specs can do some amount of AoE damage. But we don’t obsess with say slow group pulls compared with say fast single-target pulls to make sure everyone’s damage is comparable in every situation.
Second, if the pulls are really that quick, nobody is counting on your dps to begin with. What I mean is that if you are pulling and killing groups of mobs faster than every 20 seconds, then the extra damage you might or might not bring isn’t really an issue because stuff is just collapsing anyway. On the other hand, if the pulls take 20 seconds, then you should have plenty of time to get your DoTs up before stuff starts to die.
Third, there is an issue of player skill here too. If your group kills the skull first every time, then maybe you want to DoT the third or fourth mob in the group so that you do have the benefit of time elapsing. DoTs just work differently. The Enhancement shaman by contrast can be at 100% on one target, then switch and be at 100% on the new target instantly. Not every class or spec can do that and class diversity would be a little boring if they could.
Fourth, the issue that we think is most problematic is found in the Shadow talents. Many of them say basically "while your DoTs are ticking." This means in situations where the DoTs can’t tick (say those very short PvE fights, or sometimes in PvP) you are doubly punished since now those talents aren’t pulling their weight. The Shadow tree could benefit from more talents that affect all damage and not just the DoTs.
Q: Is it too easy to dispel DoTs right now?
Ghostcrawler: In a word, no. Priests of all specs used to benefit a lot more from “junk” buffs and debuffs to “protect” their spells than we typically allow these days. We just didn’t think that was an aspect of the game we really wanted to promote. Realizing how dependent Shadow is on DoTs though, we did recently buff the backlash from Vampiric Touch so you get some damage even if it is dispelled.
I’ve referenced a few times our desire to make the dispel game more fun and less frustrating, especially in PvP. Dispels shouldn’t totally negate your class abilities.
Also remember that all types of damage will be reduced to the current DoT level in 3.2 against targets with resilience. This means that overall the contribution of damage done by DoTs should go up.
Q: Are the developers happy with the functionality of Dispersion and is it considered to be an adequately valuable final talent in the Shadow tree?
Ghostcrawler: I think the key word here is “final” talent. Players have developed an expectation that the 51-point talent should be the best one in the tree; and for damage-dealing trees that means it’s expected these final talents do more damage than anything else the player has. That’s not really the way we design the trees though. Dispersion is a very valuable spell -- nearly all Shadow priests take it. It’s one of the best “not going to die now” spells in the game. Early on there was a perception that it was a PvP-only spell since it didn’t buff damage, but really it gets a lot of use in PvE as well (and not just for the mana regeneration).
Q: Would you consider removing the cast time for Mind Blast to make it a more desirable direct-damage spell given that it already has a cooldown?
Ghostcrawler: No. We’d be more likely to mess with the damage rather than the cast time. Obviously if the spell was no cooldown, no cast time then Shadow priests would not ever cast anything else -- it’s a great spell. So the trick is to keep it powerful while giving the player space to cast all those other Shadow priest spells as well. We honestly don’t want too many more instant-cast spells. That suggestion keeps coming up to handle interruptions in PvP and having to move in PvE. But we don’t want you to be able to opt out of those situations -- they are supposed to be challenges. If you’re looking for high direct damage with no cooldown, Mind Flay is supposed to be that spell.
Since this question was asked, I suspect, we have announced the healing debuff component to Mind Blast as well. That’s a nice PvP buff as well as making the spell in general more attractive.
Q: As many players report that Vampiric Embrace and Vampiric Touch lack viability in PvP settings and Vampiric Embrace tends to generate too much threat in PvE settings, are there any plans you can share to improve the functionality of these spells?
Ghostcrawler: Vampiric Touch does a lot of damage. I’d disagree that it lacks viability, and we even buffed the backlash damage a little more. I don’t think the possibility that a spell can be dispelled should be synonymous with lack of viability. It takes a little bit of set-up time to get all of them working in PvE and PvP, but that’s actually something we’re trying to push more classes and specs into instead of going to just instant, burst damage everywhere.
We can look at the Vampiric Embrace threat. That’s not feedback we hear often. Shadow priests pulling off of tanks doesn’t seem to be a widespread problem.
Q: How about increasing the range of Mind Flay?
Ghostcrawler: The glyph improves the range at the cost of the snare, which seems like a reasonable trade-off. We have discussed bumping damage and range, or possibly just removing the snare loss. It was put in as PvP protection early on in Lich King, but at this point we don’t think it would be a problem if the glyph just bumped the range without the penalty. It’s probably too conservative a glyph.
Q: Since Shadow priests focus solely on dealing Shadow damage, do you feel that they can potentially be crippled more easily than other casters who can focus on dealing considerable damage through multiple schools of magic?
Ghostcrawler: It’s just a feature of the class. Paladins have a lot of the same issues. We have discussed giving Shadow priests a Frost spell to use solely in emergency situations like this, but its niche would be only for school lock-out periods. We don’t want Shadow priests to be doing multiple types of damage overall. Now making it easier for Shadow priests to drop Shadowform and switch to healing or even Holy damage is something that we’ve mentioned lately on the boards. We could reduce the mana cost or the like.
Q: Shadow Word: Death was once a spell that priests used frequently in PvE, but has basically dropped off their bar. Are there any plans to improve this?
Ghostcrawler: We think Shadow priests have enough spells to manage as part of their rotation, so we don’t want to necessarily go back to them using it on cooldown. One thing we considered was having the backlash not fire if used on a target within Execute range. Another fix we’d like to make would prevent the backlash from being affected by boosts that improve your damage, as is typical during boss encounters -- your damage would be inflated without the risk of you one-shotting yourself.
Q: Have you considered providing a talent to increase the duration of Shadowfiend as a mana regeneration mechanic for longer boss fights?
Ghostcrawler: Priests don’t seem to have much of a mana problem on long boss fights, and our boss fights are not really all that long. You are supposed to run out of mana at some point. We’d be more likely to reduce the cooldown than increase the duration if it got to be a problem, since the duration would buff Shadowfiend damage as well.
Community Team: I think that last question provides a nice segue to focus on the healing niches priests fill using the Discipline and Holy trees.
Q: While their roles can vary significantly, what makes Discipline and Holy priests effective in a raid environment versus a PvP environment?
Ghostcrawler: The short answer is that Discipline can prevent damage with their shields and do a lot of healing on single targets. Holy on the other hand can group heal with Prayer of Healing and Circle of Healing. Despite our adding some PvP talents to Holy, Discipline is still really popular with players because of the survival talents and the way heals like Penance aren’t quite instant but are hard to interrupt just the same. One of the main priest roles in PvP is to use Dispel Magic and Discipline has many talents that key into it. When we go to improve Holy, things we want to improve are mana efficiency and burst healing.
Community Team: Many players assert that Greater Heal becomes less desirable as their gear continues to improve given the cast time and mana cost required, even with talent points in Serendipity.
Q: Do you feel that, given the risks and costs associated with using Greater Heal, it is sufficient in its current form; and are the benefits of Serendipity adequate?
Ghostcrawler: I think the only cost is the long cast time and the fact that the extra healing it provides isn’t often necessary. The scale is just off -- Flash Heal is big, so Greater Heal is just overkill. Combine this with the fact that there are other spells that are doing a lot of the healing that Greater Heal used to do -- Penance for example. I don’t think many players look at Greater Heal as being too expensive from a mana-per-healing standpoint. They often aren’t in danger of running out of mana. It’s also worth pointing out that max rank Greater Heal has always healed too much. The difference is that priests used to be able to cast down-ranked Greater Heals. We have considered offering say Lesser Heal as a literal 50% mana, 50% healing version of Greater Heal, but at the moment we’re having enough to do getting both Greater Heal and Flash Heal to get used.
Q: Similarly, do you feel that the comparative cast time and mana cost of Flash Heal is appropriate given the amount of healing it provides?
Ghostcrawler: It’s supposed to be an inefficient spell that gives you speed but at a high cost. The intent is that Greater Heal is the default heal a priest might cast, but then switch to a Flash Heal for those “oh snap” moments. Most fast heals in the game use this same model, with the exception of Flash of Light, which is mana-efficient but heals for a very small amount.
The problem is that in the current raid environment, speed is everything while mana isn’t nearly so scary. What I mean is that you are generally at a greater risk of failure through raid members dying than you are for healers going out of mana. The speed of Flash Heal just trumps other issues. Two other things complicate this issue. One is that heals in general are very large compared to health pools. This means that a Greater Heal often just over-heals for more. Second, in a raid in which healers don’t coordinate well it’s easy for other healers to stomp on your big, slow heals. While you are casting, someone heals your target for you. I’m not saying these are bad players -- in my experience it’s just the style of raid. Some players are really talkative and coordinated. “Big heal coming.” “I got Jimmy.” Or else everyone has their targets and won’t heal someone else unless something unpredictable happens. Other raids just heal anyone who is injured and don’t have a lot of assigned targets, except for probably the tanks. Both systems can work. The second one is going to get more use out of faster heals though.
Q: Have you considered reducing the 10-minute cooldown on Divine Hymn?
Ghostcrawler: It was balanced like Tranquility. We basically want these to be once-an-encounter spells. We have considered a mechanic that allows you to use the spell again in the case of a wipe, sort of the same way Bloodlust / Heroism works.
Q: Since Pain Suppression can easily be considered the life-saving mechanic of the Discipline tree, are there any possible improvements that could be made to this spell?
Ghostcrawler: Pain Suppression is more or less targeted Shield Wall. It’s really good.
Q: Lightwell isn’t a very desirable talent for most Holy priests given its current functionality; do you have any plans to improve its functionality?
Ghostcrawler: We’ve tried a lot of different implementations so far. The basic root of the problem is that most dps classes seem unwilling to have to take the time or spatial awareness to make use of the Lightwell, even if it provides great healing. Players will use Health Stones, but Lightwell crosses the line. We’re not entirely happy with that phenomenon in the game as a whole. We don’t like that dps characters focus on dps at the exclusion of even their own survival and just assume that’s the healer’s job (this is similar to the problem I mentioned a week or two ago where some tanks focus on survival and downplay threat or damage dealt). To be clear, Lightwell heals for a lot. The problem is just getting players to use it. Encounters currently are very fast-paced, in terms of both dps and healing required so you have trouble finding room to use it. If we do more encounters where healing is more about deciding who to heal (Firemaw or Shazzrah come to mind), then Lightwell would be amazing.
Q: Are there plans to ensure absorption mechanics are properly displayed and stored in the combat log in the near future?
Ghostcrawler: Technically, we can’t attribute absorption to the caster correctly. We know who cast the spell, but we can’t display easily which of the absorptions counts when there are multiple absorptions on a target. The change we made for 3.2 was to show how much damage was left on each absorption effect before and after the damage was done. This should allow third-party addons to figure out which absorb effect goes with which caster and properly credit them for it. The answer, I suspect they will find, is that shields actually prevent a lot of damage. We have seen priests prevent as much damage as they healed.
Q: In the spirit of similar changes made to other class mechanics recently, how about combining Dispel Magic and Dispel Disease into one spell serving both functions?
Ghostcrawler: We think that pushes dispels too far into easy mode. As I said above though, the dispel mechanic in PvP needs work. I suspect the original idea was that you’d want to dispel magic, curses, diseases and poison, but in reality dispelling magic is what you care about most of the time. Poison you might care about were it not so easy to reapply. But again, a somewhat persuasive argument (which doesn’t mean we’re automatically going to do it) is that a superior PvP system might be that you can dispel crowd control and the occasional protective spell, and that’s it.
Q: Is it necessary that dispels can miss?
Ghostcrawler: It really only misses in PvE for the simple reason that bosses are usually 3 levels higher than you. This is annoying and we don’t really want healers to have to worry about being hit-capped. We don’t have an easy change in hand for this problem though -- it requires a code fix.
Q: Would you consider increasing or removing altogether the charges of Inner Fire?
Ghostcrawler: At that point it just becomes a passive buff and we might as well just say that priests have the armor of a leather-wearer while wearing cloth. It works a little better for mages and warlocks who are at least making a decision about which armor spell to cast. If we go ahead and add alternatives to Inner Fire ("Outer Fire"! "Inner Shadow!") then we might take off the charges. Certainly the spell requires a lot less micromanagement now than it used to.