On Monday Larísa made what I thought was a very interesting post ranking the WOTLK raid bosses by difficulty. I immediately thought about how I would rank them myself, since I experienced a lot of them in quite a different way from everyone's favourite pigtailed gnome. From a healer's point of view I couldn't believe that she ranked Festergut as one of the easiest bosses of the expansion for example... However, after thinking about it some more I realised that me making such a list would be a bit long and full of boring repetition, seeing how my likes and dislikes in regards to raid bosses are mostly the same across the board, whether we're talking about Naxxramas or ICC. So I decided that I would rather make a general post about mechanics and fights in this expansion that I thought were fun to heal and ones that weren't.
Making choices: Yes, please.
Let's start with the good stuff, with encounters that I thought were both challenging and fun to heal. One feature that I liked a lot was that of being forced to make intelligent choices while healing: using different spells throughout the fight, timing large heals and cooldowns properly, choosing the right targets. Examples of this kind of thinking were Loatheb in Naxxramas, Ignis and Mimiron in Ulduar to an extent and Lord Jaraxxus in Trial of the Crusader. In ICC Deathbringer Saurfang, Professor Putricide and the Lich King offered some interesting challenges in terms of choosing the right spells for the job.
The only sad thing is that this is something that has to be pointed out as special at all. Unfortunately some of our healing spells have become too smart for our own good in this expansion. Yes, Circle of Healing and Wild Growth, I'm looking at you. Has Chain Heal always been raidwide too? I didn't know much about shamans before WOTLK. Anyway, if multiple people in the raid are taking damage these days it's almost a no-brainer to use one of these spells, just target someone and everyone will get healed (or at least as many people as you can heal at once). It's great to be powerful, but it's also kind of boring. I want to have to pay more attention to who needs healing and when, and switch between different spells more often. Supposedly Cataclysm is going back to that; let's hope that it's true.
Do split the party!
A mechanic that wasn't exactly new in Wrath but that I saw used more often than in BC anyway was that of "splitting the party" - that is to say physically forcing the raid apart into smaller groups that have to tackle tasks independently. Prime examples of this were Gothik the Harvester and the Four Horsemen in Naxxramas, Thorim and Yogg-Saron in Ulduar (and to a lesser extent the Assembly of Iron), the Twin Val'kyr in TotC if you did them "properly" with two tanks, and in a way Valithria Dreamwalker in ICC.
I like this mechanic because it enforces a certain personal responsibility (the healers in the arena can't help you in Thorim's gauntlet, you have to be able to do it yourself) without relying on gimmick abilities that require fast reactions or you'll wipe the raid (coughdefilecough). Splitting the raid in different groups than the traditional tanks, melee, ranged and healers also increases overall group cohesion and encourages you to pay more attention to what part people in other roles than your own are playing. Or in other words, it allows you to work with a small team while still facing off against the boss as a large raid, which is a nice way of allowing everyone's contributions to be acknowledged while preserving the epic feel of bigger numbers.
I'm not just a healbot, you know.
When I'm a healer I want to focus on healing and not on dpsing, but nonetheless the way some fights won't let me do anything but spam healing spells non-stop can get kind of boring at times. Kudos to the few fights that let me use other spells on my bars on occasion by having periods where raid damage is low and I can make myself useful by dispelling debuffs or casting a holy fire or smite during a dps race. Examples of this include Loatheb's aura, Razorscale's ground phase, Deconstructor's heart phase, and Yogg-Saron's phase two where I pretty much always did more dispelling and tentacle-smiting than actual healing.
Environmental awareness: a double-edged sword
As Tobold has been complaining for a long time, WOTLK raids are very focused on generic environment-related tasks like moving out of the fire instead of class-related skills. I'm actually not sure how I feel about that as a healer. On the one hand it's nice to be pulled out of my world of green bars occasionally and be forced to pay attention to what the boss is actually doing, and mastering the art of keeping an eye on everyone's health while also moving to the right place is an achievement to be proud of. On the other hand I feel that some fights in this expansion have been pushing things a bit too far. Sindragosa and the Lich King in particular are quite movement-intensive and extremely unforgiving of even one person standing a few feet too far to the left or whatever. Which is hard enough for your regular old dpser, but as a healer I sometimes feel like I'm about to go cross-eyed, trying to keep an eye on my position at all times while also dishing out heals and monitoring debuffs at all times. Give me a break.
Undecided: vehicle fights
People have talked about vehicle fights until they were blue in the face, but what always perturbed me a little was the way they often defy the usual role distribution. In Malygos's phase three, anyone can switch between dealing damage or healing at the drop of a hat. On Flame Leviathan there are no healers at all - or dedicated tanks for that matter. Switching to a different role can be fun I guess, and FL is probably the most popular weekly raid ever since you can make a raid out of ten people of any spec and class. But on the other hand... I like being a healer, damn it, and I don't appreciate being shoehorned into another role just like that. (Don't view that as a contradiction to what I said before about wanting to do more than cast healing spells by the way. I want to be able to use as many different abilities as possible, but within the boundaries of my chosen role.)
Oh, and speaking of shoehorning, enough of every other boss fight being tuned for a different number of healers. I thought dual-spec was meant to liberate us, not force us to maintain two gear sets because everyone expects us to be able to fulfill another role on a whim. If I sign up to heal a raid then healing is what I want to do.
Spam spam spammedy spam
The one thing that has been typical for WOTLK raids from a healer's point of view more than anything else is how many fights are designed with the idea that healers should be casting spells non-stop. Cataclysm is supposed to move away from that model again by bringing mana regeneration back into play, but we'll see how well that pans out. Either way I'd appreciate simply not casting a spell for a few seconds being a valid option again, because at the moment it simply isn't in raids. With a nearly inexhaustible mana pool, what's the worst that can happen if you keep casting non-stop? You'll do a lot of overhealing, but that's no skin off your back. What's the worst that can happen if you do stop casting because the tank appears to be at full health anyway? His health suddenly plummets so quickly that you don't even have time to think about starting to cast again. Non-stop healing it is then! Meh.
What's this? I'm taking damage?
Somewhat related to this is how Blizzard has started to use "massive indiscriminate raid damage" as a way of making fights harder, as it can only be healed through by spamming non-stop. You won't even have to worry about overheal a lot of the time. And I dislike it.
At first it was just Sapphiron in Naxxramas giving me nightmares. In Ulduar already a lot of fights had the whole raid taking damage, if not always all the time: Ignis's flame jets, Deconstructor's tantrums, Kologarn's shockwave, Steelbreaker's high voltage, Hodir's frozen blows, Mimiron's heat wave. Then we got the Twin Valk'yr in TotC, whose raid damage output made everyone's eyes bulge at first; same again in Anub'arak's phase three. And in ICC we finally got gems such as Festergut, Blood Queen Lana'thel and Sindragosa with their insane damage auras that more or less last throughout the entire fight.
They make things difficult, but not interesting - only frustrating. I remember needing a break from raiding for a week after nearly losing it during some Festergut attempts during which I was one of only two raid healers for a raid of twenty-five. There isn't even enough time to make conscious decisions when targetting a different group with your AoE heal every time. You either get it right every time, instinctively or due to sheer luck, or people will die and you wipe.
And what's worse in a way: It trains everyone else in the raid to not pay attention to their own health bar. When you have just a particularly damage-heavy phase during a fight, you can at least ask people to save their survival cooldowns for that, but if the damage is there all the time... it might as well not be there at all in the eyes of the dps, because there's nothing they can do about it anyway. They pretty much have to completely let go of all responsibility for their own health and trust their healers to take care of it all on their own. Which is kind of flattering in a way I suppose... but it also creates a certain rift between the healers and everyone else. I remember when we first went for the Blood Queen and our raid leader explained all her core abilities, such as the whole vampire thing. Guess what nobody even mentioned? Shroud of sorrow. 'cause you know, scoff, that's just a healer thing, they'll take care of it. When people died over and over again because the healers just couldn't keep up initially, everyone else was just bewildered.
"Taking damage" should never be the default state of a boss fight, because it breeds bad habits and makes healers cry. That is all.