I've finally run all the Cataclysm dungeons on normal mode now, mostly in guild groups, but I've also healed and tanked a couple of dungeon finder pugs. Apparently a lot of healers are rather unhappy with them at the moment. I don't want to downplay their experiences, but I really don't think it's all that bad.
First off, I can't comment on the difficulty of heroics yet since I haven't run any so far, but making a judgement about them being too hard less than two weeks after expansion release strikes me as premature. I'd be rather disappointed if the progression curve was completely smooth sailing from beginning to end on day one. Running into some obstacles and not always succeeding at what you're trying to do sounds about right on target to me when everybody is only just barely fulfilling the minimum gear requirements for heroics and half the people have no idea what the bosses' abilities are.
Some healers are also complaining about bad/rude groups... that's nothing new though, is it? The only difference is that your group not playing well and not working together might actually jeopardise your success now, where previously you could just heal through the dps standing in the fire, and if the ICC-geared tank ran off and pulled before you were ready he'd survive without heals anyway. But was that really a so much more fun game, where people flailing in three different directions simply didn't matter?
Related to this, I've also seen comments about healers feeling... powerless. Again I can kind of understand that, especially when I'm trying to "top off" a dps that ate a cleave and he has as much health as the tank so even that simple task feels like a momentous undertaking... but in all honesty, there's also a part of me that really likes it. Yes, being a healer is about being responsible and saving others, but I found that in late WOTLK there came a point where I felt like I was supposed to heal through absolutely everything simply because I could and it just became too much. It's nice to be able to pass on some of the responsibility and be able to say "no, I can't cover that, you'll have to do it differently if we're supposed to defeat this encounter". In fact, in normals it's hardly even pronounced enough in my opinion. I've healed some pugs through Vortex Pinnacle and Lost City in particular where no crowd control was used, three different people had aggro on the pull and still I could keep everyone up without any deaths. It just made me want to facepalm.
Most of my runs have been guild groups though, and while I can heal through messy pug pulls, watching them get executed by guildies who actually work together is so much more fun. I just swell with pride and happiness when I see some of our top dpsers, who had been degraded to AoE bots during Wrath heroics like everyone else, crowd control and kite and help me dispel and generally do an awesome job.
I'm also oddly enjoying the logistics of putting a guild group together. It feels really old school to grab one of the tanks when he gets online, ask in guild chat whether anyone else wants to join and then fly to the instance to summon the people who haven't discovered the entrance or whose gear doesn't qualify for the dungeon finder yet. You could consider it annoying faffing around, but I actually find it pleasant to have more reason to interact with my guildies outside of raiding again. (We're not all real life friends or anything like that, so it's quite possible to lose touch if you never chat in-game.)
In terms of healing as a holy priest, these are some of the observations I've made:
- You'll want to be in Heal Chakra pretty much ninety-nine percent of the time. The AoE healing Chakra is kind of meh in instances because you shouldn't be doing heavy AoE healing for any prolonged period of time; it will just drain you of your mana very, very quickly. In most situations where more than one person takes damage it's feasible and preferable to just top them off with single target spells whenever you get around to it. Heal Chakra is actually pretty good for that too, as you can cycle heals around to refresh Renews on multiple people.
- Heal Chakra also gives you access to Holy Word: Serenity, which is actually all kinds of awesome. I have to admit that I completely ignored it pre-Cataclysm because I just didn't see its use. It wasn't until I found myself increasingly starved for mana after levelling that I realised that it actually costs less than Heal, while healing for more. Now I use it pretty much on cooldown. The increased crit chance on the target afterwards is a nice bonus as well, and reason why it should be cast on the tank by preference.
- I'm really liking Surge of Light again. It still doesn't proc quite as often as I'd like, but often enough to notice. Again it was mana starvation that truly changed my mind about it, because when everything feels like a drain on your mana bar, free instant heals of a reasonable size are quite amazing. Every time those golden curves appear next to my character it's a little "hallelujah" moment. Now I just wish Blizzard would allow us to spend it on smites again, because I get so many procs while soloing and they are all utterly useless right now.
- Echo of Light, the holy mastery, is really growing on me. Again this is something that didn't really strike me as that amazing back in ICC since the heals from it seemed so piddly, but in this new Cataclysm world full of mana constraints where people aren't always topped off all the time, having a little extra HoT tacked onto all of your direct heals is actually quite valuable. According to my Recount it makes up about ten percent of my effective healing on an average dungeon run, and that's with relatively low mastery rating. I'll have to consult the theorycrafters though to figure out how the stat compares to crit and haste in terms of efficiency.
- I'm actually using my full arsenal of healing spells again, which is pretty fun. Then again, I was using my full arsenal of healing spells pre-4.0 too, only with a heavier emphasis on the AoE spells. Now it's the opposite, with the single target heals hogging the spotlight and the AoE heals feeling kind of weak and not worth the mana unless shit has really hit the fan and you're struggling to keep your party alive for even five more seconds (after that you'll be oom anyway). I suppose one thing I do like about that is that the single target heals are the ones that reward intelligent targetting, as opposed to all those AoE heals that eventually became so smart that you just had to click on anyone and all the right people would be healed anyway. I do like my own decisions having more value attached to them again.
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