Saturday, December 5, 2015

WoW Analysis: Discipline Priest Preview

When the Legion class previews were released over time, the Hunter preview was the one that caught most of my attention, hence the lengthy article analyzing the possible future of the class's three specializations. While I read through, and was interested in, other class previews, the Discipline Priest's preview held my intrigue due to how it's a bit of an outlier compared to the other healing specializations. Aside from a heavy emphasis on absorbing damage, which has been stated by Blizzard to be a gameplay issue since absorbing damage is highly proactive and effectively takes priority over other methods of healing, what fascinated me about Discipline Priest since Cataclysm was the Atonement mechanic.

Over the years, Atonement, paired with its smart healing mechanic among others, has run into some balance issues since it effectively hybridizes damage dealing and healing together, meaning it will generally seem very ineffective due to poor output of damage/healing or overpowered due to a high level of output considering the dual role Atonement allows for. However, Legion seems to have a promising future for the playstyle. The preview itself states that Discipline Priest will have a more emphasized focus on it (something I've been hoping for ever since I tried the playstyle) and the mechanics seem promising in terms of delivering a balanced, enjoyable experience. In this article, I will review the preview and provide an explanation for why it has left such an impression:

Atonement Rework

In this part, I will break down the Atonement rework into a few parts, analyzing each piece and providing a brief conclusion at the end similar to how I handled each specialization in the Hunter preview.
Atonement - Passive
Plea, Power Word: Shield, and Shadow Mend also apply Atonement to your target for 15 sec.
At first glance it's already apparent that Atonement is dramatically different from before. The effect at the current time simply applies to some of the Priest's offensive spells, but now certain healing spells apply an Atonement effect, meaning there's going to be some intended synergy between healing a target and activating the Atonement effect.
When you deal spell damage, you instantly heal all targets affected by Atonement for 50% of the damage done.
Much like the current iteration of Atonement, the bread and butter part of the mechanic is converting damage into healing. However, in this case there are some major differences. The first that comes to mind is that if the Priest is healed through Atonement, they are healed for the full amount compared to half as much at present. The second is that the wording of the effect implies many allies can be affected by Atonement, meaning damage dealt can now heal multiple targets, which patches up a weakness where Atonement previously struggled with group healing due to it being sole single target healing with each cast.
Developer comment: Healing is not split between Atonements—the more allies you have Atonement on, the more total healing that a damage spell will cause.
This part to me is especially big. When reading the effect, I was expecting some major diminishing returns on group healing, but as it turns out, this is not the case, meaning healing output can get really intense if the Priest chooses to focus on it. I imagine there are drawbacks to doing so regardless, however.
Mastery: Absolution
Increases the healing transferred through Atonement by 28% (with Mastery from typical gear).
This new Mastery further assures that Atonement is the primary mechanic for Discipline Priest. The days of insanely massive absorb shield health buffers seems to be coming to an end.


When adding all of this together, the conclusion is a rather simple one: Atonement is going to be a really big deal. What interests me the most is that the smart healing aspect seems to be gone in favor heightening the skill ceiling by instead making Discipline Priests have to actively heal their allies before continuing to do so through Atonement, meaning that much like a more traditional method of healing, Discipline Priests will have to choose who they keep alive at any given time.

Twin Disciplines

The next two sections of the preview are split into Offensive and Defensive spells. To adhere to this theme of sorting the two types of spells, I will review them in the same fashion, but reserve conclusions for after both sections are reviewed since they are heavily intertwined due to Atonement.

Plea - 1.2% Mana, 40 yd range, Instant
A quick, efficient plea to heal an ally for a minor amount.
This ability seems to be a pretty standard instant heal. While it states it's efficient, it's more likely to be used to mark allies with Atonement as opposed to being spammed to keep allies alive.
Shadow Mend - 3.0% Mana, 40 yd range, 1.5 sec cast
Wrap an ally in shadows which heal them for a large amount, but at a price. The ally will take minor damage every 1 sec, until they have taken half that amount of total damage from all sources, or leave combat.
This ability is rather interesting since it damages allies after healing them for a time, making it unique among healing classes. While it can be useful for marking allies with Atonement, it might end up being the spam heal of choice in emergency situations since the debuff will likely be negligible and cause players to suffer high levels of damage as a karmic effect afterwards since the debuff will be removed due to incoming damage (and the total amount might not stack either).
Power Word: Shield - 3.5% Mana, 40 yd range, Instant, 6 sec cooldown
Shield an ally, absorbing a large amount of damage. Lasts 15 sec. While the shield holds, spellcasting will not be delayed by damage.
Not much to say about this ability since it already does roughly the same thing at the moment. It will probably be a little stronger, but not due to the shield so much as the Atonement it applies. A potentially ideal situation is to shield a target with low health, then heal them with Atonement.
Power Word: Radiance - 7.0% Mana, 40 yd range, 2.5 sec cast
A burst of light heals a friendly target and their 5 nearest allies for a moderate amount, and applies Atonement for 50% of its normal duration.
This ability seems similar to Prayer of Healing, though instead of healing party members (that might not need any healing), this ability will instead heal allies based on proximity (a situation where players are more likely to benefit from the healing). The fact that it also applies Atonement makes it useful for pushing in more group healing.
Grace - Passive
Increases your non-Atonement healing and absorption by 30% on targets with Atonement.
Grace is a more direct healing-oriented talent that effectively works in a similar manner as one of its previous versions. The older version of Grace applied on direct healing and increased further healing on that target for a short time, making this talent a somewhat elegant iteration since it uses the existing Atonement buff that applies on healing anyways instead of bloating the buffs the Priest can throw out by adding a separate one.

Smite - 0.75% Mana, 40 yd range, 1.5 sec cast
Smite an enemy for moderate Holy damage
Much like with how Atonement Discipline Priest works at the moment, Smite will continue to act as the filler spell, though it looks like it will have a contender in the form of...
Mind Blast - 3.0% Mana, 40 yd range, 1.5 sec cast
Blast the target’s mind for strong Shadow damage.
I originally thought this ability had a cooldown when I first read it since I was so used to it having one. However, Mind Blast is instead an expensive filler spell that should increase the intensity of Atonement healing, much like how there's generally a weaker, more efficient heal and stronger, less efficient one for other classes and specializations.
Penance - 2.5% Mana, 40 yd range, Channeled, 9 sec cooldown
Launches a volley of holy light at the target, causing huge Holy damage over 2 sec. Channelable while moving.
The signature ability of Discipline Priest has received some tweaks. In exchange for rolling in mobility similar to what the glyph provides, it can now only be used as an offensive spell to activate Atonement healing. It is worth mentioning, however, that at the time of this writing, Penance can be talented to be used as a heal similar to the live version.
Revelation - Passive
Your Smite and Mind Blast casts have a 30% chance to reset the cooldown on Penance.
This passive is similar to an old passive that reduced the cooldown of Penance when Smite was cast. A 30% chance to reset the cooldown seems much more significant, however, to the point that Smite's efficiency is further emphasized.
Shadow Word: Pain - 2.0% Mana, 40 yd range, Instant
A word of darkness that causes minor Shadow damage instantly, and an additional huge amount of Shadow damage over 18 sec.
When I was trying out Atonement, one thing that seemed like a good idea to add was a damage-over-time effect that adds some additional damage dealing utility and consistent healing (as opposed to Holy Fire). Shadow Word: Pain provides this and I'm going to have a very enjoyable time applying it to many targets at once and watching the healing roll in.

Final Statements

I really like where Discipline Priest is going with the emphasis on the hybridized offensive healer style of gameplay. There also seems to be options for those who aren't as inclined to opt into the Atonement playstyle, easing the transition for veteran Discipline Priests who are more interested in a playstyle similar to the one at the time of this writing. I particularly hope this iteration of Discipline Priest survives to release day in at least a somewhat balanced state, though I might hop onto the beta anyways to try it out. Dare I say I perhaps feel a little hyped?

(Also sorry about the whole lack of articles over the course of November. I should be publishing at the regular rate prior to that time assuming I don't end up continuing to play huge amounts of Old School Runescape.)

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