So, I’ve been on trial in the new guild for a week now, and it’s, er… well… going quite well as far as I can see. I had to get out of Old Guild before I went nuts with boredom and pretty much just jumped at the first floating object I could see instead of doing the groundwork and making sure I was striking out for something seaworthy, but there’s only so far you can take the ship metaphor before you have to shut up and actually explain what you’re babbling about, so here we go:
New Guild was recommended by a friend who used to raid World of Warcraft during The Burning Crusade and convinced me to send in an application. They were recruiting Scoundrels and that ruled out Calli (Consular Sage) and Aluriel (Jedi Guardian) so I filled out an application on Kessler. He was a Scrapper spec Scoundrel, and for those of you who have no clue what that means, think of a Rogue who backstabs with a shotgun. You also get to kick people in the happy sacks a lot, which is pretty much what sold the whole deal to me. Seriously, you do. It’s great! Levelling as a Scrapper was silly amounts of fun. Unfortunately it turned out that while they were advertising for “a Scoundrel” what they actually wanted was “a Sawbones spec Scoundrel”. Yeah, a healer. Despite that, they were sufficiently impressed by my application to offer me a trial anyway, so I bade a sad farewell to Old Guild as it steamed inevitably closer to the rocky shores of “No-one Left In The Guild Land” and boarded New Guild at the next port, proving that crappy metaphors are harder to get out of your head than you’d think.
Almost immediately, I was asked if I’d consider switching spec to healer. It’s a fair question, but the answer’s not quite as straightforward as you might believe. First of all, I was sick to death of hardcore raiding. It’s the number one reason I left World of Warcraft. New Guild appeared to be a hardcore raiding guild from the little (and that’s a seriously small amount) I could tell of the SWTOR raiding scene. They’d killed the last boss in Eternity Vault on Nightmare mode, that sounded pretty serious. On the other hand, if I did ease back into things it wouldn’t be the same “work, raid, eat, sleep” burnout pattern I’d suffered last time. I’ve got a lot more free time now to do stuff other than raid or prep for raiding. On the other hand, Kessler’s gear was really not ready to heal anything because he’d never done an instance, let alone a raid, since level 11 and was melee dps, and here he was being asked to step into serious raiding again and keep people alive while doing it.
So naturally I agreed to give it a try.
In case you’ve been keeping track, that’s three hands, by the way.
So of course I did the responsible thing and started a) learning how Scoundrels heal and b) trying to sort out some more healing-relevant gear. Off I went to Ilum to do some of the dailies with Corso, but this time instead of him tanking while I happily kneed everything in the nuts, I let Corso do the killing while I just tried to keep him up, and this is a good point for me to digress into exactly what Scoundrel healing is like. See, if you play a Consular Sage you’re pretty much playing a World of Warcraft Priest. There are some cosmetic differences but you may as well be casting Power Word: Shield and Greater Heal for all the practical difference it makes. This isn’t a bad thing, Sage struck me as being an incredibly well-balanced healing class. Scoundrel on the other hand (four hands now, that’s a serious mutation!) is a bit like playing a Restoration Druid in World of Warcraft. Except you’re stuck in Cat form and have to heal from your energy bar. Think of yourself as a healing Rogue, because funnily enough that’s exactly what you are, and yes it’s every bit as fucked up to get to grips with as that sounds.
In theory, you have a bottomless pool of energy to draw from, so you can keep healing forever. Energy recharges, right? Well, right, but the lower your energy bar goes, the slower it recharges, so you’re fighting a battle not just with everyone else’s health bars but your own energy bar too. After a while it even stopped being pants-wettingly scary and started to feel like being set free from conventional healing strictures. You’ve got your instant cast Heal Over Time which stacks twice. You’ve got your No-Cost But Completely Shit Filler Heal, and you’ve got your Big Heal But FUCK ME WHERE DID ALL MY ENERGY GO???? In addition there are two other heals which are only active when a certain buff procs on you, called Upper Hand, which stacks twice. When you get the Upper Hand there are four things you can do with it. Consume it to buff your energy regen, consume it to cast a quick heal that costs energy and heals a medium amount, consume it to cast an instant, free heal that heals a medium amount and gives you Upper Hand back if the target’s below 30%, or let it ride and enjoy a small buff to your healing while it’s up.
No it’s not a hard choice. Especially since the energy regen buff lasts 45 seconds and only has a 35 second cooldown. So you keep that buff up at all times and spam the instant FREE medium heal as often as it’s up, while laughing heartily at the crappy medium cast-time heal as it stares forlornly at you and all of your healing friends enjoying a good dinner from out on the cold street where it belongs. And no I don’t want to buy your fucking matches, get a job!
“Right!” I thought. “That’s me sorted. Do a few flashpoints to get into the swing of things and I’ll be ready to ease into raiding again in a few days.”
If you’re laughing hard at this stage, congratulations, because I didn’t see it coming. I log in the next day and within ten minutes I’m healing a Karraga’s Palace 8 player Operation. On Hard Mode. Wait, whose Palace? Wasn’t I… AAAAH EVERYONE’S HEALTH BARS ARE DROPPING!
In this guild, apparently being accepted for a trial means they try to murder you. It was like I’d taken a wrong turn and wandered into a Steven Seagal movie.
Yeah, I made some stupid mistakes. Yeah, I was totally being carried by the rest of the raid. No, I didn’t have much of a clue about what was going on other than “make the green bars go up and don’t stand in Bad Shit.” But… it wasn’t hard. It certainly wasn’t easy by any stretch of even Billy Liar’s fertile imagination, but it definitely wasn’t harder than anything I’d seen before. I mean, Kael’thas in The Eye before the nerfs, shit that was hard. This was merely… challenging, and probably only that due to a complete lack of a clue. About halfway through I felt something I’d not felt raiding since Karazahn and Ulduar in World of Warcraft.
Is that… am I… yes I do believe that’s fun. It’s been a while, and it’s hard to be completely sure, but yeah, I seem to be having fun again. Cool.
Wait, I got another one!
Okay, that’s all I got.
The thing is, raiding in SWTOR seems to be a lot like raiding used to be in World of Warcraft. I’m talking about vanilla raiding here, by the way. I’ll explain what I mean. There is no UI customisation in SWTOR. None. Nada. Zip. You play with what you’re given, and for a healer that can be an incredible pain in the ass, because that includes mouseover macros. You can’t heal directly onto the built-in raid frame. Its just there so you can see health bars and select who you’re going to heal next. Now back in the bad old days of Warcraft, there was a boss in Molten Core called Lucifron. One of his abilities was to drop a curse on random raid members which would double all your ability costs. Just by way of an example, since Rogues had 100 energy and Backstab cost 60, any Rogue with the curse was completely boned. I’m sure you get the picture. Anyway, since it was a curse, you needed Mages to get rid of it back then. Without UI mods, this meant you needed one Mage in every group or they couldn’t even see who needed to be decursed. There was no built-in raid frame back then. It was directly because of stuff like this that mods like Decursive were written and everyone who wanted to keep their raid spot was ordered to go out and install something like CT Raid Frames. So everyone got used to raiding with UI mods, so Blizzard wrote more complicated boss encounters, so everyone wrote more sophisticated UI mods, so Blizzard wrote more… you get the idea. Eventually you had bosses with umpteen phases and seven different abilities in each phase that needed an addon folder the size of Wikipedia and reflexes like a rattlesnake on crack to keep track of.
Bioware, on the other hand (five hands, what monster have we created?!) are firmly against UI customisation. I can sort of see why. Frustrating though having to heal like an Amish may be, you definitely feel like you’re fighting the bosses, whereas in Warcraft I felt like I was fighting my UI. It’s a subtle difference, but I feel it’s an important one, and I believe this is exactly why Bioware are drawing the line in the sand over this one. They don’t want to allow UI mods because then they have to start making things more complicated not because it’s fun but because they have to keep ahead of the UI modders in the boss mechanic arms race. Let’s give you a really basic example.
First boss in Karraga’s Palace is a Rancor called *coughsplutter*. Or something. He will occasionally randomly target one person and pound the snot out of them. The complicating factor here is that he also does a vicious cleave, so you can’t be standing anywhere near the person with aggro. And I mean anywhere near the person with aggro, that cleave is fucking HUGE. Seriously, Overlord Saurfang wishes he could cleave like that. So I immediately go into Warcraft Raiding Mode and park myself on the boss’s ass. The theory being that if he turns to cleave someone, I can just run through him and be safe. Makes perfect sense, right?
Yeah but you’re not playing Warcraft now, sonny Jim! There is no target of target focus in SWTOR. You cannot tell who the boss is fixating on until he already started hitting the poor bastard. And if you’re all clumped up on his ass waiting to find out who won the lottery, you’re all going to get cleaved. Sitting staring at your raid frames in WoW Healer Mode will get you killed, you need to be watching, and I know this is an alien concept to any healer in a WoW raid, you need to be watching the fight. Yeah, you can react to health bars dropping and find out who’s in trouble that way, but isn’t it better to know who’s in trouble in advance? You can only do that in an SWTOR raid by taking your eyes away from those fascinating green bars and looking at what’s going on around you. The raid is not your UI, it’s in the environment around you. And that’s not something I’ve seen in an MMO in years. Oh, it’s also fun.
So no, I don’t anticipate Bioware doing anything drastic with the UI other than tidying it up and allowing you to resize or move it around a bit. No, I don’t think they need to do much with it either. Sure I’d like to be able to click cast heals directly onto the raid frames, but if the price to pay for fun raids and low stress is a basic UI and being forced to appreciate what’s going on around me instead of marvelling at the clever coding in the latest release of Essential Boss Raid Decursive Healing Frames v7.1 rev 04561171, fuck it, I’m Amish and proud.
Also, I almost never die from standing in Bad Shit because I was staring at damn health bars.
And yes, I know health bars are red. Thank you Doctor Cooper.