When I wrote my guide to 4.1.0, I commented that most Priests wouldn’t really notice the change because we weren’t blanketing the raid before. This is true as far as end-game raiding in concerned, but as I’ve been levelling my new Priest through the 80s I’ve found myself becoming very aware of the change.
Here we have a classic example of a change to end-game balance having enormous knock-on effects elsewhere in the game.
On the positive side, in most of the levelling content game you can bubble yourself and be all but invulnerable against modest-sized groups of mobs; they just can’t break through your bubble. The downside of that is that while previously they had 30s to achieve this, and usually got there eventually, now they only have 15s and quite often they don’t. Every PW:S you cast on yourself costs a ton of mana, and there’s no Rapture to recoup some of that very high cost.
You can of course pull larger groups, but if you do then you run the risk that they will break the bubble and then make short work of you before you can recast it, since by definition if the bubble breaks early then you’re still afflicted by Weakened Soul and can’t re-shield yourself. The balance here can be quite delicate.
So that’s problem number one, shielding while solo is extremely mana-inefficient, and no one likes drinking!
The next problem comes when you join a dungeon group. There’s two problems here.
First, you have the issue of mobs not having time to break the shield before it fades as described above, which means that most packs are just not capable of giving you any Rapture returns. This makes shielding tanks in instances, especially those before the mid-80s, extremely inefficient and expensive, and you end up having to avoid it.
I have no problem with changing and adapting your healing style as you level in principle, but I’m usually thinking about adding in new spells as you learn them; this is training people out of using a bread and butter spell that’s a standard part of healing at 85, and that just feels wrong to me.
The other problem arises when you try and pre-shield your tank for a pull. You want to do this because it’s a great way of protecting him from the big up-front hit when the mobs all notice him, and stops you getting aggro immediately when your first heal or shield lands in combat. However 15s, while it sounds like a large window, is very easy for a tank to squander; 30s is a lot more reasonable. A shield expiring a few seconds after the tank pulls is a waste of mana, certainly isn’t going to proc Rapture, and when you recast you’re back where you started in terms of threat.
Let’s be clear, I agree with the change in raids at 85, and I accept that that’s where Blizzard have to focus their efforts to balance things. I do think this is one of many really good examples of unintended consequences, where a perfectly reasonable change to one area of the game causes problems elsewhere. (For more, see PvP!)
Unfortunately I don’t have a simple solution. You could attack the problem in multiple ways, but none will solve things completely.
You could make mobs deal more damage, but then you’d need to change every other class’s damage and healing numbers to compensate, either to boost self-healing or to allow them to kill the mob quicker.
A better approach might be to change the spell: You could have a longer duration for most of the game, and then shorten it progressively as you approach 85; Or you could come at it from the other side and weaken the bubble at lower levels, scaling it up to full strength as you get to 85.
You’d have a huge backlash in the community though, whichever option you chose, and you still have the problem of a spell which changes form dramatically as you level up. Perhaps that’s acceptable as long as the usage remains consistent, but I think there’s a risk of confusing players with a mechanic like this.
Really I’m out of ideas at the moment. I’d be interested in what people think could be a solution to this little issue.