Paging Doctor Bob

Anyone who’s played an MMORPG for more than a few levels has learned that there is a wall you hit. That wall is what you can solo. Once you hit this wall, you need help to pass over it. And unlike every swords and sorcery book you’ve ever read, you don’t call the muscular guy wearing the do-it-yourself loincloth and very sharp sword or the wizened old dude with the book and wand. Nope, you call for a healer. Nothing can change the dynamic of a group like having someone who can refill your precious hit points.

Then there’s that whole supply and demand thing that really tosses the whole plan out the window. Let’s face it – there’s just not enough people out there willing to follow you around and heal you. Slackers.

Depending on your game, this can be frustrating. A few games have decidedly solo fixations. AO is very much this way. My adventurer never needed a healer, and even my wimpy nanotech could survive handily with simple storebought kits. WoW is similar with its multitude of healing pots, plus post-fight you can sit down to a quick value meal of healing and mana regeneration. However, most other games require you to really have a healer along to make true progress. Some people will be quick to reply that they have a level 95 Flufflenogger in some game that has no problem soloing anything he likes, which means either they are in end-game gear, or you’re leaving out that “whatever he likes” just happens to be stuff he has some sort of bane weapon/skill/ability against that lets you eat them up. Paladins against undead or some such. I played a necromancer in EQ for 7 years – I know all about finding the right angle to solo stuff that shouldn’t be soloed and about picking the right targets to grind on.

But let’s say you really want to get the Holy Enchanted Backscratcher of Glowyness. You want it more than you wanted that Big Wheel when you were 6. Except you’re not powerless anymore like you were then, oh no. You have a wide assortment of pointy sticks, magic powers, powerful potions, and really shiny armor. However, he’s a named, or elite, or ^^^, or however your game of choice declares that he’s Billy Bad-Ass. You know that if you go mano-a-mano with him, you’ll be playing “Find the Body Part” later. So you put out a call for a man ‘o the cloth. A healer. A guy who’s got your back more than anyone else. Because when it hits the fan, this is the guy who’s going to make sure you don’t hit the floor.

Now I hear tell that in Guild Wars you can actually contract an NPC to follow you around and heal. I have no idea if that’s true, but that would be a killer cash sink in these games. Because there’s a simple reason that there are so few healers in any given game. They are boring as heck to play. I also played a cleric in EQ and it was as much fun as sticking forks in my eyes. In raids I made a point to joke with the raid clerics as much as possible since I knew their ENTIRE JOB was to push 1 or possibly 2 buttons over and over for 4 hours. It boggles the mind. You log into your game to have a good time and end up being George Jetson. This is why they burn out fast. The majority of healers solo poorly, or at least slowly, and end up at the end having to just push one button for the rest of their digital life. When they want a group, it tends to be there, but when a group isn’t open or they choose not to group up…zzzzzzzzzzz.

So what I’d like to see is a more interesting Priest/Cleric. Give ’em some spice. I wonder, what could we do to make the healer’s job more fun? Because we need to get more people playing these classes, since they are required to truly accomplish anything. And I need one in my Scholo group like yesterday…


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Jaded old gamer, and father of gamers, who's been around long enough. Still, he's always up for giving the Next Big Thing a whirl.

20 thoughts on “Paging Doctor Bob”

  1. Yes, in Guild Wars there are NPCs that you can add to your party. They take a portion of the xp and gold. They also mostly suck at their job, but once you figure out their “program” you play to their strengths. All classes are available “for hire”.

    It is awesome though, if you die, that someone is there to rez you. Saves a lot of running around time on occasion, providing it’s not a complete party wipe. It does seem to me, that the NPC henchmen are getting a little better with various patches, but it might just be me learning their limitations.

    P.S. We have a super casual guild in Guild Wars: Prophecies/Factions. Send me an email if you want to join up.

  2. That sounds like a really interesting mechanic. Sometime I must try that game. To follow the string of my thread along, I’ve been reading up on WoW’s priest class this morning. I might just roll up a “face melter” and try it for myself.

  3. “I might just roll up a “face melter” and try it for myself. ”

    Yah they are fun for non group play. But of course soon as you get in to raiding most guilds are going to start hinting you need to “respec”. Which is one of the things I love about my guild. We raid but we have never told anyone they have to respec to do so.

    Oh and if you roll a face melter, don’t forget that you CAN still heal…nothing quite like gettign group together have a priest (Shadow) and he replies I don’t heal because it lowers my DPS right in the middle of a fight…..


    As for healers in general i’ve tried playing them…but i’m not very good at it. It as you said gets boring, and to be perfectly honest there’s only so much yelling I will take from a 12yr old because I didn’t heal him in time because the tank was more important, and he died.

    I’d love to see a way to make a healer fun and not gimp his healing abilities, but I really don’t see how one can get past the [tgt player hit button repeat ad nauseum]


    Oh and at AO and not really needing a healer…try a soldier, you will need a Doc or adventurer pretty quickly unless you are quite a bit higher level than the mob.

  4. Actually, GW monks have some offensive potential too. They have Smiting Prayers which deal holy damage, and some decent combat potential.

    In fact, in Guild Wars you have 2 proffesions. Your primary one defines how you look and what armor you can wear. It also gives you the unique class ability (for example Necromancers gain life when something dies nearby, elementalists het extra mana and etc…).

    Then you take your secondary proffesion. You don’t get the class ability, but you gain access to all the skills and spells of that class.

    In GW the most common combination is of course W/Mo (Warrior Monk). So as it is, every tank in your team may have some healing skills. You just need to make sure that at least one of them equips few healing skills for the mission.

    And yes, you can hire henchmen for free. They act as full members of your team, so you split the loot down the middle just like with human players. The only difference is that henchmen do not get items assigned to them – so all the drops that are not gold are yours.

    You can solo most of the NPC quests with a group of henchmen. They provide a very good meat shield for a non-mele classes. The main story missions on the other hand are best done with other humans – as human players usually know how to kite towards the healer on low health, how to buff the tanks and how to herd enemies to exploit AoE spells.

  5. Any GW Monk Primary running a Smite build unfortunately gets ragged on because they aren’t a Healing Monk. Most of the PUGs just want Monks to heal, and they don’t care how you want to play the game.

  6. This might be one of the weaknesses of a class based system. It would be more fun if there would be no pre-selected class corsets but an entirely free development path (Like it is in EVE Online):

    At level one you equip the rusty knife you’re provided with and kill some mice and while levelling you learn the basics of wearing armour. Later on you acquire the neccessary skills for casting a self healing spell and some buffs as well. There has to be a drawback though as nobody should be able to be an expert in all kinds of weapons and spells. Maybe skills diminish over time if one doesn’t use them enough or whatever.

    So every one could skill their character to their needs. And if at any time you discover some weaknesses, you can learn the neccessary skills. If you’re a soloer, you will see that you are somewhat balanced between damage, tanke and healing. If you later join a guild, and they are short of healers, you can advance healing skills to give your group the needed support.

    You simply cannot gimp your character and you don’t have to reroll if you have chosen the wrong class for your personal style of gameplay – because there is no class at all.

    While such a system might be most flexible and interesting, ist comes with the penalty of being somewhat complex in the beginning and the average Player might have to learn much more as with class based systems.

    But after I played EVE Online for almost two years I really like class- and level-less systems.

  7. AO has lots of… different ways it works. If you’re a Doc, you have DoTs, fast-casting uber heals, perks that you can pop to augment heals, HoTs, and they have mob slows. Docs can be high-end soloers – one infamous Doc has a tale of soloing one of the mobs from the high-end raid zone in Pandemonium… only took him an hour and a half.

    Now throw in Adventurers to the mix. They have high evades with the right perks, they have self heals, slower-casting high heals, perk heals, absorb shields, fast damage… lots of tricks.

    Then comes MA and Shades. They are capable of evading attacks primarily, as well as have different ways of healing themselves (MAs have heals, Shades of lifetaps).

    And it goes on and on from there. Keepers have soloed Mercs raid mobs before, etc. etc. It’s a mess, actually. However, the game’s been borked time after time, which is why these things can happen.

    Like everything else, it depends on the luck of the draw. Rand is right when he says you’ll need a healer – because eventually you will. However, at the end of the day, some high-end items can be soloed. *shrug* Some people like it, others bitch endlessly and call this class or that one the “dev’s favorite class.” We all play MMOs here, we know the whining game.

  8. “Like everything else, it depends on the luck of the draw. Rand is right when he says you’ll need a healer – because eventually you will. However, at the end of the day, some high-end items can be soloed. *shrug* Some people like it, others bitch endlessly and call this class or that one the “dev’s favorite class.” We all play MMOs here, we know the whining game. ”

    AO simply put the heals are too powerful in solo play. If you are a healer in the end game you can solo most of the non raid stuff. it may take a long time to do so but you CAN do it.

    but conversely those same heals can be not enough for raid instances.

    Funcom instead of trying to fix anything just keeps adding mobs based on their already broken system.

    I don’t think they have a “favorite” class I just think Funcom doesn’t want to spend the time and money to fix the game when they are trying to push Age of Conan so hard. They realize AO is a dying game. Which is a pure shame as it is one of the few non fantasy MMO’s out there (Eve is out there but it has it’s own issues which I won’t go in to here).

  9. I agree, healers need new tricks. Maybe there could be multiple types of damage, more status ailments, tradeoffs in which healing spell you use (do you cure the poison or heal up the hitpoints knowing that the next attack could be a big one). Alternatively maybe a healing class could need to do damage in order to heal. Basically, as you say, we need to step away from the numerical health bar and try some alternatives.

    This was my problem with EQ2, the healing was just too damn easy. There was a reactive heal that I could cast once every 30-40 seconds and I never had to worry. It was rediculous, and incredibly mind numbing and tedious.

  10. Of course, shadow priests can heal, but their version doesn’t make them so much a ‘healing class’ as a ‘person who’s there.’ Vampiric Embrace, sure, it heals everyone for all shadow damage done, but that’s not quick pinch ZOMG FLASH HEAL; essentially, you’re just along for the ride.

    I wonder if there’s any way to make healing sexy. There has to be. Damage is sexy, even though it’s simply the negative of healing. No one ever complains about being pigeonholed into a ‘damagebot.’ While some of that surely is the Freudian ego stroking born from SHOVING YOUR GIANT SWORD INTO THE ENEMY FOR MASSIVE DAMAGE, I must think a lot also comes from the damage skills and spells being inherently more interesting. Warlocks with their curses and mages with their AOE and rogues with their slicediceping and – means of health reduction are simply more interesting than health replacement’s ‘click the button and wait 2 seconds and health goes up a number woo.’

  11. It’s not about making it sexy; healing is sexy. It’s about making it fun. If the team is going well and it’s past your bed time and the tank’s life bar only moves noticably in the boss fights, it’s like an easy game of wack-a-mole. “ZZZZZZ” indeed. Adding more healing choices seems unlikely to do it. In WoW I basicly have fast-light heal, heal over time, slow heavy heal. (Any Shadow Priest who doesn’t know how to fill in when you don’t have a Holy Priest, well, he should have rolled a mage.) You could add Remove debuffs, but that’s just more of the same (and makes priest more required instead of useful.)

  12. I like City of Heroes/Villians because of this. You can reach the level cap solo, and in the end-game (mainly hamidon and task forces), healers aren’t king. Hamidon raids are called off more often due to lack of mez or damage(!) or even AoE mez protection than lack of healing. Task forces don’t even need a ‘h3al3r’ – you can take down even the worst non-raid challenges with good inspiration (read: potion) use and careful tactics, regardless of team makeup (although some do become irritatingly difficult without specific characters).

    It also focuses more on damage mitigation than actual healing, so interesting powers like Hurricane or Radiation Infection (both debuffs that reduce enemy chance of hitting) or Speed Boost (increases ally energy and recharge rate).

  13. Funny that you mention CoH. When I played it, which was my normal first few months of release playtime, I found most instances to be impossible without a Defender (the main heal class). So much so, that the Defender I rolled got much more groupage than my Scrapper, who was much more fun to play. Despite the fact that my Scrapper could solo AV’s, the Defender was the one in demand.

    Again, that was many months ago. Last time I played CoH was during the free “come back!” period when the halloween/wicca themed island was released, and I only played the weekend so I could get my new pointy hat and finish the quest series there. It entirely possible that the game has been rebalanced since there. There was, I recall, much debate on the boards about how overpowered a Bubble defender was, or a Empath defender could effectively half your mission time and difficulty.

    I was Empathy/Dark, which I thought would be a “sexy” combo, wbut wihch turned out to be semi-laughable unless I really got creative. I soloed very slow unless I was careful (avoid Freakshow, for example), but I rarely lacked for groups or TF’s.

  14. A lot’s changed since i5, both mentally and in-game. People figured out how much weaker fortitude (Empathy’s +defense/+damage buff) became, and ED smacked Empathy pretty hard. Fewer groups can or even want to fight enemies well into purple (no more +5s in normal groups), so that probably changes things a bit too.

    I find it hard to find places where an empathy defender is USEFUL, nevermind needed. An inefficient AoE, a weak rez (only recently fixed), and very short term mez protection just doesn’t bring that much to a fight.
    No offense to those who tried the build.

    I guess it was more popular before I5/ED, when between the old and overpowered Fortitude, permanent +regeneration and recovery auras, and six-slotted heals, you could probably keep a team nearly immortal… but so could a tank, and a Storm Defender or Dark Defender would add a hell of a lot more to team damage and sustainability. NowEmpathy’s considered pretty subpar by anyone in the know (although it remains popular from folks who insist on the holy trinity).

    And /Dark Blast is a very poor soloer for anything but Storm Summoners. It just doesn’t have much in the way of damage, either single-target or area of effect. Energy, Radiation, or Sonic Blast are pretty much the only way to go.

  15. I didnt play GW very long but solo’d every step of the way buy hiring the NPCs. It was really fun and interesting as a Necro/Ele to lead my own groups. They aren’t as good a real players who know what they are doing, but if you play conservatively, you’ll do fine.

    I’m trying to level a preist and so far I find it fun. Currently at level 42, I’ve solo’d 97% of the way thus far. But I’m getting tired of grinding so I think I’ll do a few levels in groups/instances and see how I feel about it. I’m actually looking forward to healing in the big 5 and 10-mans at 60. I’m not convinced that priests are any worse off at the end than any other class. We are all just spamming a 2-3 select spells. As Warlock it’s rare that I get to go all out anywayz. It’s usually controlled damage combined with being the COE, Soulstone, Healthstone and Taxi biotch. I dont think healing will be any worse. :-)

  16. 2 things I like about D&D are clerics can wear full plate, and multiclassing. In the early days of Neverwinter Nights, a couple of poor implementations lead cleric/fighter combos to be the most powerful melee in the game, and they were second only in healing to pure clerics (which meant a couple less slots for heals). Even with the later fix to clerics they are still a very powerful melee multiclass option. And I like the idea of them standing in the thick of it, wrapped in steel, rather than the weak ‘clothies’ of most MMOs. (I reference NWN, because in traditional D&D the DM has a lot more control over how powerful/enjoyable healing is) Also if spells get interupted in D&D, you lost the spell, not an ezymode delay like WoW, which makes positioning a lot more important.

    However, it is still the problem of ‘fun because the healer can dps’ not ‘fun because healing is fun’

  17. I’m playing an end game priest in WoW at the moment and I think Blizz have done quite a bit to make the class interesting. It is however still quite boring. Then again, I found my rogue to be boring too, but required more effort.

    Andrew mentioned adding different ailments that you had to cure, yep Blizz added that and then the community developed decursive so you didn’t even have to think, you are back to pushing one button over and over again…. As an experiment I tried not using decursive for the Chromaggus fight on the weekend. Was a bit more interesting, but it is still more closely linked to a game of whack a mole than anything else…

  18. “poor implementations lead cleric/fighter combos to be the most powerful melee in the game, and they were second only in healing to pure clerics”

    That sounds exactly like an Adventurer in Ao :P

  19. City of Villains cheated somewhat, though. The most successful (not counting framerate) instance-runs I’ve had were large groups of masterminds. They’ve got reasonable amounts of both melee and ranged damage covered, loads of tanking and, with some variance in secondaries, large numbers of buffs, debuffs, and some *very* powerful heals. They’re bards, really… yet useful.

  20. I still remember having 10 people in Plane of Fear, pulling mobs off the druid who ran a group of them around, and not having anyone else there who could heal. Pre-Kunark, Ahhh those were the days.

    Try playing on a PvP server. NOBODY wants to play a healer, they all MUST BE THE 1 CLASS THAT EVERYONE PLAYS. It’s so annoying. The very first EQ server I played PvP on I made a cleric because I knew I would be in high demand. Sad part is I was in such high demand that it wore me out, and I wasn’t having fun anymore because I was “responsible” for everyone when PvP started and if anyone died it was my fault for not healing them faster than those 12 people were blasting them.

    It takes someone who “likes helping people because they’re really stoic” blah blah, and there’s about zero people like that in PvP.

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