What defines a holy priest?

So, Blizzard has released the first thirty-one point talent trees in the beta and WoW.com duly reported what they look like.

Now, I know that this is only a first draft and will still change drastically until release, so there's no point in getting too excited about any individual talents and the like but... honestly, I couldn't help but feel incredulous when I saw what Blizzard apparently considers "spec-defining" for holy priests. All talent trees now come with a little description of what they specialise in, and the one for holy priests says:

A versatile healer who can reverse damage on individuals or groups and even heal from beyond the grave.

"Reverse damage on individuals or groups"? Really? What kind of weird wording is that? All you're saying is that holy priests heal people, both with single- and multi-target spells, which is something that all other healing classes do as well.

Holy paladins "invoke the power of the Light to protect and to heal", resto druids use "heal-over-time nature spells", resto shamans "call upon ancestral spirits and the cleansing power of water", discipline priests "shield allies from taking damage"... but holy priests just "reverse damage"? Could they possibly make the spec sound any less interesting?

But wait, you say, holy priests can "even heal from beyond the grave"! I'd still argue that that's less cool than actually having a properly definable healing style, but I agree that it's something. Spirit of redemption is quite an iconic ability for holy priests, even if we have a bit of a love-hate relationship with it - see nicknames like "fail angel" or "improved death". Except... spirit of redemption is still a talent and not actually what Blizzard considers the spec's defining ability. Instead the spell that you get at level ten when you decide to be holy, at the same point when arms warriors get mortal strike and feral druids get mangle, is - hold on to your hats - desperate prayer.

I struggle to express in words how much I boggled when I saw that. Desperate prayer is about as optional as a talent can get without being completely useless. I've been a holy priest for years and have never specced into it; in fact I still remember when it used to be a racial ability for dwarves and humans only. I know a lot of priests like it, but personally I never considered it more than an overglorified health potion. However, regardless of whether you like the spell or not, I don't see how anyone could possibly consider this a spec-defining ability. Hell, I'd rather have lightwell, and I've never specced into that either, but at least it's vaguely related to reversing damage on healing others, which is what I thought being a holy priest was all about.

I know this may seem like a petty thing to get wound up about, especially when it's most likely going to change completely before release anyway, but this is something that definitely hit a sore spot for me, and it kind of hurts that Blizzard could ever consider this a good idea at this point in the game. The times of vanilla WoW where holy priests were the only viable healers and thus didn't need any definition beyond "the healer" are so long gone now it's silly. With five viable and versatile healing specs you can't just define four of them as healers with a special flavour and then call the fifth one "someone who reverses damage".

In the current game, holy priests are powerful crowd healers using the Light. Don't just throw that identity out of the window again please. I don't see why other healers should get important talents that used to be thirty, forty or even fifty points (penance) down their main tree at level ten, while holy priests still stay locked out of circle of healing until level sixty or so. I mean, I'm not even saying that CoH has to be the spell we get at level ten, but something, anything actually related to what we do best - group-healing - would be nice.

I just loathe the idea of seeing holy priests once again get kicked into the dust as the one healer that can't do anything special. I've already seen it happen more than once and I really think that this is something that Blizzard should have a better grip on by now. This isn't a question of fine-tuning and game balance, it's about identity... and the notion that the developers still don't know what they want holy priests to be beyond "generic healers" after all these years is kind of terrifying.


  1. While I totally agree that desperate prayer is a joke of a signature spell, giving holy priests a group healing spell instead doesn't sound too good either. Group healing spells were necessary in a raid healing context. That means you need them at max-level and no second before that. What do you want to do with circle of healing on level 10?
    Personally I would like to see holy get a comeback in single target healing. Back in TBC my holy priest did single and group healing quite well and I was using every single heal in my repertoire. In Wrath Holy degenerated into a pure AOE-Healer who used 3 different spells and two of them only because COH had a cooldown.
    All that would be needed would be using less aoe-damage from bosses up to the point where pure AOE-Healers won't be necessary anymore, making HP-Bars shrink slow enough for Greater Heal to be viable and making sure that Holy can keep that kind of healing up as long as Discipline.

  2. Sorry, but I can only disagree there. Even while I was levelling my very first character, prayer of healing was a godsend while running five-man instances. Same with spells like tranquility and chain heal when I levelled alts of other classes. Group healing is useful as soon as you start grouping, and if you levelled as holy you'd want to start doing that as soon as possible.

    I don't mind if they want to make single-target healing more viable for holy again, and they generally seem to want to push healers of all classes towards a wider variety of spells again, but this whole thing just reeks of cluelessness, not of a plan to change the way holy plays either way.

  3. Priest, particularly Holy Priest identity is really difficult.

    I think the reason that Holy Priests don't get the "POWER OF THE LIGHT" label the same way Paladins do is that for a lot of Priests that doesn't really make much Lore sense. Night Elf priests presumably get their power from Elune, for example, and Troll Priests get it from their Voodoo gods.

    But yeah, the problem with Holy Priests is that, because they're the default healer, they don't really have much of a niche. They're sort of like humans in every fantasy or space opera setting you've ever seen "oh, yeah, they're ... like, versatile or something like that."

  4. I was considerably less than impressed when I read Desperate Prayer too. I love my Priest and I really want a reason to keep playing her come Cataclysm but Desperate prayer, no word on a new and useful Lightwell and well the whole state of the tree (even though it's an early draft) make me sad.

    Yes, Ghostcrawler said that Desperate Prayer will be changing but we'll still need to use talent points to make our "class defining" spell at all useful. So if that talent point isn't in the bottom rung of the talent tree, baby holy priests will have to wait to make their shiny spell even half decent. To me that's not good enough. I'd rather have Lightwell, at least that way I could train all the people I dungeoned with at low level to use it. Maybe by the time they hit the level cap, some of them would remember to click it.

  5. @Shintar: Don't know how it is in your realm pool, but in mine most PUGs grasped the basic functionality of the holy trinity and you can usually assume that only the tank will get damage.
    Generally there are only two ways to die on low level:
    1.) Tank overestimates himself and pulls way to many groups at once, his health drops faster than you can heal it up

    2.) You go OOM before the fight is over.

    In both scenarios I don't usually think "We would have survived if I had CoH". In scenario 1 it wouldn't change anything and I doubt it would help much in scenario 2, because there it is usually better to just keep the tank up and make sure the rest doesn't die (but don't keep them topped).

    Another idea nobody seems to have thought about yet: Maybe Desperate Prayer gets a revamp, changing it into something actually useful.

  6. I'm not saying that CoH is absolutely needed at low level, but few of the suggested changes are. But it's definitely a signature spell of the class and would already be useful to have at lower levels. Even if people let the tank do his thing there is AoE damage in lower level instances too. Only last night I ran Deadmines and I had forgotten how many casters in it love to spam spells like flamestrike and frost nova. Gnomeregan is another instance that I remember being a prime offender, especially towards the end where the dark iron dwarves lay mines all the time and you hardly have the space to avoid them.