Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Field Report - Firelands in Retrospect

As Firelands probably is coming to its end quite soon (pre-post edit, I actually wrote this just days before they announced 4.3 would be released), I thought this would be as good a time as any to share some thoughts on What I've thought it's been like.

Ironically, because everything that has gone on around me, I'm probably among the people who dislike the place the least. I never had a good chance to get into it, which also means I've not really had a good chance to get utterly bored with it either. It started out "bad" as it was launched while I was on vacation, so I didn't have a chance to get right into it as I have with basically all the other raids since BC. Then when I got back I had a huge mess with my guild, which meant I had to switch, joining a guild that was far into heroic modes already whilst I had barely even touched normals. I've written about all those issues already so no need to get into any length about it again, but it does mean I've had a very special raiding relationship with Firelands.

It meant having to jump straight into the heavy shit
, without the warming up that normals often offer. This wasn't just stressful out of a skill point of view, it also meant I had a lot less good gear and experience overall to tackle the situation. It hasn't been all bad though, as it did give me an entirely new experience on raiding and a possibility to evaluate myself as a raider as well, with new insights to what I could improve. I have often relied on normals to actually learn a fight, not bothering much with reading tactics and watching videos. Don't get me wrong, I always prepare for a fight by reading up and watching vids, but definitely not as much as probably most other serious raiders do. What I do is get the general idea of the fight in advance, then I actually learn the fight by doing it. Normals are usually well tuned that way, allowing me to get into the "mood" of the fight before stepping it up to heroics which usually introduce a butt load of mechanics that require me to think about more than just the healing. This time I had no such breaking in and it forced me to learn how to tackle the fights in a whole new way. I can't say I liked it, but it was interesting nonetheless.

Firelands to me has been a lot like what Trial of the Crusader was in Wrath of the Lich King. I really liked that instance, but I can't say I really got it. What was it about anyway? To me it felt like a "filler" raid to keep us satisifed until Blizzard could release more content that was actually connected to the expansion. I am not saying that is the case with Firelands, but that is how it felt like to me since I had such trouble getting into the raid. With all previous raids I've eventually ended up doing each boss a trillion times and know them all inside and out, and that just never happened with the Firelands raids. Since I got into a group that had so much more experience than me, I didn't get to learn it with them, but rather tag along and do my best as they did their thing. It means I still haven't fully understood some, very important, aspects of some fights - like how the healing really works on Baleroc. How is that even possible you might wonder? Well, I just walked in there, got my assignment carefully explained to me and did just that. I didn't need to understand the buffs and debuffs, and I haven't had to since. And since I haven't been able to become an important part of the raid team in my current guild in this particular content, I just couldn't really be bothered with it either. It is handicapping, and I don't like it, but it just turned out that way.

I've felt more isolated in my playing throughout Firelands than ever before
. Like a child put in a corner with some toys, told to do this part but not move anywhere and just trying to behave as well as possible. I am not saying this to throw blame or complain, I have been enjoying myself in raids. But it has also been a completely new, and quite odd, experience to me, and it has made all of the Firelands raiding also seem quite unreal. Not something I have dedicated myself to like with previous raids, but something I've just gone and done because... why not?

It has left me quite ambivalent. Objectively (as much as I can be) I quite like Firelands. I think the fights are interesting, well designed and varying. I think some of them have become a little too faceroll after the nerf, removing a lot of what was once considered the sole challenge - I remember our first kill on Staghelm, with three healers and taking 7ish stacks in each scorpion phase, that actually made that fight fun and challenging. Then when we realized how much easier it is done with only cat phases it is so much faceroll we can basically fail on everything and still not wipe. I know this is an inevitable path that raids have always gone, but it has affected me more than before since I didn't really get a chance at the fights as they were originally. I only got to see them a handful of times before the nerfs, and I don't feel like I know much about Firelands at all. If someone were to ask me explain the tactics of any fight, and actually follow my advice, they'd probably die very fast. I have never been this ignorant and out of the loop about raiding and it feels odd.

I have the same ambivalent feelings regarding the role of the priest healer. Disc priests have been good enough this tier, and loads of fun to play. I feel like many fights are well designed to pick out the strengths of disc healing and eventhough some fights have been a lot about spamming my PoH button, I still feel like disc priest healing has been kept versatile and interesting this tier. On the flip side we have holy priests who have ended up pretty much in the opposite corner. I am happy to hear that there are holy priests out there who think they do a good job in this Tier, but the area in which they can shine has become very specific. Preferrably 25 mans and preferrably normal modes. I never thought it would be an issue, but Firelands has been so much about raid cooldowns that not having one has become quite noticeable. Add to that that holy priests can't really compete with druids for aoe healing or paladins for point healing anyway and you've got a priest that is decent at everything but good for nothing, a place I feared priests might end up in eventually - they've managed to stay out of it for all this time, being (according to me) probably the best designed healer for years, so it was bound to change around sooner or later.

It's difficult to say what could've saved holy priests this tier. A little more oomph overall probably. Some cooldowns that actually were useful and just a tad bit more healing output. Firelands was not designed for holy priest healing, or maybe it's actually rather the other way around - holy priests were not designed to work well with Firelands.

A little addition since I now know that 4.3 is coming out - it will definitely be interesting to see how Blizzard will have managed to bring holy priests back into the game, which I pray they have. I would really like it if they moved away from the big raid cooldowns and focused more on personal cooldowns, leaving more into the hands of each player instead of having one player saving everyones ass. It's a nice idea, but it usually means bringing that player (or class rather) is quite vital for the raid group, kind of like how shamans always have been able to join simply because of their Bloodlust. Right now I am getting kind of sick and tired with the big raid-wide cooldowns and would definitely like to see more personalized and individual cooldowns, especially cooldowns like Power Infusion, Dark Intent and Focus Magic that can (or must) be cast on other players but still only affect one or two players and not the entire group. It does require more teamwork and not just good timing, and I would love to see more of that.

This time I am going to throw myself headfirst into the new content as I normally do, reading up on priest changes, checking out fights and tactics and planning my play style well in advance (maybe more than I usually do actually!). I am keeping my fingers crossed that the fights will be as versatile and fun as the Firelands ones were, but that the raid cooldowns will take a step back in favor for more personal responsibilities. I doubt that will happen, but one can always hope.

Friday, November 11, 2011

We're ready for Class Transfers

I read a post by Tjsonntag over at Melted Faces which was a reply to a post by Cynwise of Cynwise's Battle Notes, which in turn was a reply to a post by Vidyala over at Manalicious (still with me?) regarding the troubles of investing time in characters and being able to play whatever you enjoy most.

During my years playing WoW I've definitely come across two major types of players - the ones who play their character and the ones who play their account. Me and Love are good examples. Eventhough I've mained Zinn for the vast majority of my WoW-gaming, it's never bothered me the slightest to accomplish something or receive items on another character. When they wanted to do Glory of the Ulduar raider and needed a shaman I gladly came with my shaman. To me the importance was in me experiencing it, not which character ended up with the mount. I've focused on Zinn because I've loved priest healing, and if I was for some reason forced to play a completely nother priest with no achievements or cool vanity items I'd be only slightly upset because to me the main thing would be to know that I had a way of enjoying the content with the class I enjoy most, not necessarily the character I enjoy most. Love differed quite a lot from this. He always had a huge problem with bringing alts to raids for example because he'd be so annoyed when something happened or dropped that he wanted to "collect" for his main. My brother had a similar attitude. When he was forced a name change on his rogue he basically completely lost interest in playing, since the character was dead when its history i.e reputation was lost.

Most people probably don't know who Zinn is on my server eventhough I have been around for 5 years and it's never bothered me. But to some people all that effort is worth a whole lot and not something easily dismissed. So what happens when the time spent on a character is all that keeps you to it? When nostalgia, and not the class itself, is the only reason you still make yourself play a certain class?

This was actually something Love occasionally mentioned. I know he loved to play feral druid, but I also know that whenever he for some reason felt a drop in interest in that class he probably suffered a lot more than I did in the same situation. Maybe just knowing that he was "stuck" with his druid sometimes made it worse, especially during times when druids would struggle to perform and most people would be happy to be able to join the raid as something more useful. It's awful to feel like a burden to everyone else just because you've happen to play a class that Blizzard isn't loving at that moment, and feeling that it is basically impossible to switch - it just doesn't feel right. He probably didn't identify with the class as much as he identified with the character and everything he had done with it in the game. Cynwise actually puts this way of thinking really well;

"There's no opportunity to say, hey, I like this character, I identify with this character, I want to experience the game through this character, but from a different role. "

In a sense, switching character would negate all that effort put into it, and what good were the last 5 years then? Achievements and past experiences really matter in this game, and even if I don't care which character they're on, everyone around me do;

If you ever decide to level a character on a server completely removed from the empire you've might've built up wherever your main is, you'll notice insane difficulties to advance ahead once you get to max level. At least compared to whatever your alts on your main server usually have to go through - this is also something I have written a post about. A guildie of mine is currently playing an alt on another server to play with a friend of his and has told us some of the difficulties he is currently facing. Eventhough he's an extremely skilled arms warrior (the same class as his main), has killed Rag on heroic and probably knows more about the raids he's trying to join than anyone else in the group, it is basically impossible for him to get to even prove it. Most people won't let him join because his gear level is "only" 359 ish, and when he has no achievement to show they "know" he's bad. Without even getting to join he can't prove that he'll probably out dps and generally outperform most other people in the raid, or in any case definitely not be a boost object, and he'll never get the achievements he need to be able to get in to be able to prove himself. You see the evil circle here?

I had the same issue when I leveled a prot warrior on an off-server. Eventhough I had full knowledge of how to play my class and how to do the fight, it was basically impossible for me to convince people of it because all my "proof" was on the wrong character. My only option was to hit the farming cycle, gathering enough money to get some crafted gear, and doing the older tier of raiding content. Which still wouldn't allow me to get the achievement which seems to be the only thing people really care about nowadays. It's a huge C.V we're walking around with, and we need it one way or another - so maybe it should be easier to use.

In short, the problem is that Blizzard might have made it so enticing and rewarding to invest time in a character that they've also made it very difficult to move out of that comfort zone. So what happens when a person doesn't enjoy playing that role anylonger or wants to try something else somewhere else? The first category probably end up rather quitting WoW than doing what would feel to them like throwing all that time and effort in the gutter. The latter find themselves with the only option to do realm transfers, which is a clunky way to move around your comfort zone if you ask me.

Now, I heard a rumor that Blizzard actually intended to make achievements cross-account, meaning you could link your awesome achievements from any character and not just the one that you were on when you achieved it. I think it's a good idea, because eventhough succeeding with something on one class doesn't mean you'll succeed with another, it would definitely allow people to move away some from the curse that achievements have turned out to be to many.

But that would be far from enough for the people who identify with all their characters achievements. Tjsonntag proposes class-transfers, in which you basically just swap your characters class but keep everything else, and asks "why the hell not?". It is something that has been discussed before and probably will be discussed until they either implement it or WoW ends, but I completely agree - why the hell not?

Blizzard originally intended for your choice of class and even spec within a class to be a very definite choice. Not as definite as in Diablo 1 and 2, but not far from. Throughout the years they have realized that a great way to battle the constant inequalities there are between classes, that there always will be a FotM, and satisfying players need to do something new occasionally, was by letting them  freely (or close to) swap between specs. This is a huge step from their initial design idea, and I can barely imagine how much shorter the life-expectancy of Wow would've been without those changes. Try to imagine playing WoW with those ever increasing respec costs that we had from the start? I know they would be a huge problem for me, and I don't even respec that often. Some, often hybrids, are up in the hundreds of respecs by now, something that would be completely impossible with the old system.

So doesn't it seem like the next logical step would be for people to be able to swap classes? One day you're a warrior, the next you're a mage. Sure, there are practical things to consider (how to swap gear?) and I am sure there will be plenty of doomsday prophecies about how this will be the end of quality and skill among players as we know it, an argument we've heard considering just about any change made to character development (faster leveling, dks starting from level 55, dual-specs etc). There is some credit to those concerns, but I still feel like the gains would outweigh the drawbacks. Like I said, having downed rag hc on your hunter doesn't mean you have a clue on how to do it on a warlock, but it still says a whole lot about your skills in general (because by lord, that is not an easy fight).

Of course, having to start all over if you want to switch class is a completely intentional time-sink on Blizzards part, and not necessarily a bad one. In fact, I don't think WoW has been ready for a class-transfer function before, because making things too easy also has the danger of making it boring. But I do think it is now. Somehow we might have to take into consideration that WoW is coming to an end, probably sooner than later, and this might be the perfect way to squeeze that last interest out of all those people who have now played the same role for several years and would love to "free" themselves from their class and try something else. Would it save everyones interest in WoW? Definitely not, but it would at least give it a chance. Because the option as Tjsonntag puts it;

"I think the only way to save her would be for Blizz to introduce class transfers. I mean, why the hell not, at this point? I could make her a Male Human with a different name on another server; the class is the only thing I can’t change. And that makes me really sad, because I love her. We just don’t have that much in common anymore."

Having to see a loving relationship end like that is just a shame.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Killing the zeros

A recent blue post addresses the issue of constantly increasing the stats in a game like WoW. It is a subject I have pondered myself, trying to figure out a way to navigate around it or preferrably solve it completely, since with each new expansion it feels like the numbers are ridiculous and bloated. What bothers me about it is that eventhough I get 100 more strength from one item to the next, I know that my character hasn't actually advanced at all, when compared to the challenge offered by the surrounding. In fact, to keep us interested, Blizzard have to make it look like we take a step forward, and invisibly in the same time make sure we take one step back. Because if we really only took steps forward, as the gear make it seem, we would soon own everything we see just by looking at it, kind of like going back and soloing Karazhan as a level 85.

So eventhough we get better, so does everything else. No progression is really made. We only get new content and the impression that we constantly overpower content. We are overpowering content, but only current content. Until it's not current anymore and we have a new threshhold to climb. And we do this over and over. Like I said in my old post;

"Cataclysm will have my character just as good/bad compared to the npcs as all the other expansions have. In fact we're rebooting ourselves. Come Cataclysm even those with über ICC gear will have to start out fresh again and start dressing up in greens, struggling in instances and become overjoyed when some "cool" blue item drops. Doing the first raids and getting that first really good epic item, until we're all epic geared again and start replacing epic items with epic items and... Wrath and BC all over again. "

I don't mind it, it is what makes the game still fun after six years, to constantly feel like there still is some challenge in this game and a reward for overcoming it (which isn't just glory, but pretty purple pixels as well). The sense of progression, however imaginary, is clearly a very strong motivator that keeps us interested. But there are casualties of this war, of this constant battle of telling us we're moving ahead when we're really moving back and forth. And the bloated stat numbers are one of them.

If you had told a new WoW player in early Vanilla that characters would once be able to level up to 100 (if we get there) and wear gear with stats that valued up to the tenth of thousands he'd have laughed spittle all over your face. Because everytime there is a new expansion and the new gear is announced I find the new stat values crazy. And those items are usually just the first, measly greens of the expansion. Then we have the epics and whatever item that comes towards the end of the expansion. In fact, I chuckle at my own psychic powers when I guessed what stats we'd be having in Cata in the post I wrote a year ago;

"What can we expect to have in Cataclysm? 10k spellpower? 100k hp on a caster? It might sound ridiculous now, but I'm quite sure these are numbers we'll be working with soon."

We quickly grow accustomed to the new values, but practically there is no difference between an item that has 1000 strength and one that has 10 strength, as long as it is used in current content. The things you fight now will somehow magically take as long and be as difficult to kill as the monsters of the previous expansion. We wouldn't want to have it any other way. So do we just accept that the numbers must increase?

Blizzard tell us they know about this problem (it's kind of hard to miss, so I wonder if anyone thought otherwise), which isn't just aesthetical, but practical as well and they offer two possible solutions - although of course they tell us these are just examples of ways to handle this. Both solutions are similar, and aesthetically close to identical, they do however have different practical values.

"Mega Damage
The first solution could include changes like adding commas and the like to large numbers. We could also compress all of those 1000s to Ks and all of those 1,000,000s to Ms, much like we do with boss health today. Internally, we have been calling this the “Mega Damage solution” because instead of your Fireball hitting for 6,000,000 damage, it would hit for 6 MEGA DAMAGE (queue the Arcanite Ripper guitar solo)."

"Item Level Squish
The second solution actually involves compressing item levels, which is why we call it the “item level squish solution.” If we can lower stats on items, then we can lower every other number in the game as well, such as how much damage a Fireball does or how much health a gronn has. If you look at the item level curves, you can see that most of the growth occurs at the maximum character levels for the various expansions. This is because we keep rewarding more and more powerful gear to make the new raid tier and PvP season in an expansion reward significantly better gear than the previous one. However, those huge item level jumps don’t accomplish a lot once the character level has increased again. Very few players notice or care how much of an upgrade the Black Temple loot is over the Serpentshrine Cavern loot when their characters are level 80.

With that in mind, we could go back and compress the big item level increases that occur at level 60, 70, 80 and 85. The Mists of Pandaria gear would still grow exponentially from patch to patch, but the baselines would be a lot lower. Health could go from 150,000 back down to something like 20,000. The big risk of this approach is that players will log into the new expansion and feel nerfed… even if all the other numbers are compressed as well.

In other words, your Fireball will still do the same percentage damage to a player or a creature that it does today, but the number would be smaller. Logically, this seems like it would work, and it does. But it feels weird. When we tried this internally, everyone agreed that it just felt off throwing a spell for hundreds of damage when you are used to it doing thousands of damage."

We either have the Mega Damage or the Item Level Squish. Aesthetically they both do the same thing in that they devalue the numbers. Instead of a lot of zeros, you have either no zeros or hide the zeros behind the name "Mega". Practically it differs between actually removing those zeros in the calculation or keeping them.

When I first read about these two propositions I thought it was ridiculous that one would feel better than the other. Would adding "mega damage" to the end really make all the difference? Would it bother me if I did 100 damage or 100 Mega damage? I'm not sure how much I'm concerned with the numbers of the skills I do. I want them to be good, but good compared to what? Compared to the numbers I did with this character before I switched weapons or compared to the numbers everyone else around me are doing? I'd like to think the latter, in which case the size of the number in itself is irrelevant, as long as it is on par with what everyone else is doing and as long as it gets the job done. would I feel weak doing 100 damage with my Eviscerate if I knew 90% of all the other rogues only did 90? I'd like to think not.

But I shouldn't underestimate the power of progression and especially the power of suggestion. Getting a bigger power than what I had previously suggests that I have improved - in a way I have, only so has (or rather will) everything else. It is quite possible I will think it is completely horrible that my renews only tick for 50 health, although the tank only has 6k hp. On the other hand, I do remember Blizzard actually devaluing stats before, half way through Burning Crusade they revalued the spell power numbers (or healing power as it was called then for healers), making us end up with roughly half of whatever we had had before. Fortunately, as I recall, it didn't nerf our healing output with half, but it did nerf us somewhat. I was freaked at first when my numbers had dropped by such a significant amount but I quickly got back into rythm when I realized that I could still do my job. And I'd like to think that eventhough people would be freaked at first, what really matters is whether you're winning against the evil guys or not.

I have been pondering whether it would be a good idea to scrap the whole value-based stat system all together. Blizzard initially started out with solid numbers - say, 2% crit - on items, but quickly realized that as they gave better items more stats, it would eventually lead to everyone having 100% of everything. So in a sense they did scrap the value-based stat system when they implemented ratings, a system where the value is completely dependant on your current level. I was writing about something along those lines already in my other post;

"What if gear worked like inverted BoA - the further away from it's required level you are, the less stats it gives. That means only the gear with the right level requirement for you will be really good. So level 60 gear will be really good, but only around those levels and then you have to switch it."

This is actually kind of like how ratings work, but we still have value-based stats, like spellpower, strength, and all the other primary stats. Maybe the next step would be to make those into a sort of rating as well, giving us 15 agility rating which would be valued less or more depending on level. The problem is, ratings aren't there to solve the bloated numbers issue. As it is now, Blizzard can shove as much rating in our faces as they want since the usefulness of the rating usually diminishes the higher level you get, which explains why I actually become less and less good from level 80 to 84, eventhough I have the same gear. The drop isn't proportionate to the increased skill of the mobs, but actually goes downward. Ratings are there to prevent us from capping our secondary stats, not to prevent us from having lots of zeros on our gear. And like I said in my previous post;

"It is clear we need something to differentiate good gear from bad gear. And some sense of individual progression is obviously a really important part of mmorpgs. Maybe numbers really is the only way to make that in an easy to understand way. 10 strength is better than 5 strength (or in WoW rather; epic color is better than blue color). Easy maths. "

It seems whatever idea I come up with it always ends up with numbers somewhere, because it is difficult to show why item A is better than item B without using some kind of value which always ends up being some sort of numbers. Maybe we are simple minded and can only understand "more is better than less", so maybe numbers indeed is the only way to go about it.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

MoP Healing Priest Talents

I was really happy about all the cheer me ups I got on my last post, it has really helped me a lot, so thank you guys! Although it's only been 3 days since that post, it's been nearly three weeks since the incident actually happened (which, I can tell you, is about illness, but not my own) and I have had some time to pick myself up. I have good days and bad days at the moment, but I feel that the urge and joy to write is still there. I write to take my mind of things, and because of that my writing will be more randomly posted and slightly less proof-read than before - the topic stays the same however! If I've ever needed this blog, it's probably now.


I've been out of the loop more than ever concerning WoW. First I had the guild issue, then the raiding issue, then the vacation and then the life changing disaster. When I finally crawl back up and peek over the edge of my table and onto my computer screen I notice that shit has been going on while I was gone. Who'd have guessed it? Suddenly I feel like them people who seem to have no clue whatsoever when a patch hits. I usually think "how could he not know?". Now I know how. You know, them people who go;

"Druids have chicken form now?"
"What are these Death Knights I see running around?"

Yeah, that's gonna be me during 4.3, and maybe even Mists of Pandaria if I don't get cracking on reading up on everything that was announced during Blizzcon. Or maybe, I'll just let it be a surprise this time. Maybe I'll just let myself be clueless and bedazzled, kind of like the first time I set foot in WoW.

I have been checking up on one thing though. When I left for vacation, tier 13 for priests hadn't been announced yet, to my great annoyance. I was betting they'd announce it last just to make sure I wouldn't be able to see it until I got home, although I don't actually know if it did come out last or not. Either way, I've seen it now, and I love it. I thought I loved tier 12. I realize now that that was only because I really hated tier 11. When I didn't hate tier 12 I mistook it for love, such an easy mistake. But I knew true love when I set eyes on tier 13.

I'm not even sure just exactly what's so great about it. It feels unique, interesting, cool. It feels like it perfectly suits both the caring (?) healing priest and the not so caring (?) shadow priest. It feels like the designers hit the spot about what I think about priests for the first time since tier 8 - like they managed to put what being a priest is all about into clothing. But maybe even more so since it doesn't actually yell "priest" the way some other nice priest tiers have done. Maybe I am just being delusional. Either way I love it. Now I can only hope that it looks half decent on a goblin (pff, yeah right).

But the tier 13 isn't actually what I wanted to talk about with this post. Because I've been naughty and sneak-peaked on one other thing (oh and I know pandarens will come in Mists of Pandaria). Someone told me the talent trees were getting a complete overhaul, and I initially thought "Sure, for the tenth time in a row". But this time around it actually looks like Blizzard have tried to make a complete overhaul. I know they've been trying to present us with difficult choices since they designed the very first talent tree, and it has been Blizzard wettest dream to have players choose to play different styles of the same spec. In some cases they have succeded, like discipline priests who use or don't use Atonement. But in nearly any other case there is a cookie-cutter spec, and in end game raiding there is just little to warrant using anything but whatever will give you the best chance at killing that ugly boss.

Designing fights and talents that allow for personal style must be a nightmare, frankly I get a headache just thinking about it. It is basically impossible to make two things worth equally much, so how on Azeroth do you make someone choose the lesser choice? The only answer I can see to that question is that you make the choices good enough to warrant some taking the lesser just because it is also needed in the big picture. That way you'll have some people who can do A and some who can do B, and eventhough A might be better than B if you had to choose, having both in a raid is still the best alternative of all. This seems to mean that the one-direction orientation style class specs that we've seen for the last six years are gone as we know it, and I can't say I'm very sorry. I'm usually interested in giving new things a shot. Now, we can only really talk about the class, as each player can choose freely between different style talents. It will indeed be very interesting to see if Blizzard succeed this time around.

I am sure plenty of posts have been written about the choices we can make, but no Jinxed Thoughts post has been done yet! As always most of the talents will probably change until they go into action (whenever that is), but musing about what we know is fun nonetheless.

Now remember that I jumped straight into this and probably haven't really understood it all just yet. I'll just go through the different tiers and discuss which choice would be the best or most interesting from a healing priest perspective.

Tier 1
Void Tendrils: Summons Shadowy Tendrils out of the ground, rooting all targets within 10 yards for 20 seconds. Killing the tendril will cancel the effect.
Psyfiend: Summons a Psyfiend that stands in place. The Psyfiend casts a Psychic Scream on a nearby enemy within 40 yards every 2 sec lasting for 10 sec, preferring anything attacking the priest or her friends.
Psychic Scream: The caster lets out a psychic scream, causing 5 enemies within 8 yards to flee for 8 sec. Damage caused may interrupt the effect.

None of these choices are aimed at healing, since all seem to be about crowd control (for some reason) - something healers aren't known to use very frequently in a pve setting after level 80. I could probably count the amount of times I've found fear to be useful for my healing in a raid on my left hand fingers, which means both Psychic Scream and Psyfiend don't come off as very interesting choices for the pveing healing priest. That leaves Void Tendrils, which basically is a sort of Nature's Grasp/Roots. As I know nothing about how the raid fights will be designed in MoP it's difficult to say how useful this will be, but assuming that Blizzard keeps somewhat the same style as they have for the last couple of years, it still feels like some roots could be more useful than a fear.
Pvpers are going to have a field day with these choices though, and it is also interesting to note that this means Psychic Scream won't be baseline for priests anymore.

Tier 2
Body & Soul: When you cast Power Word: Shield or Leap of Faith, you increase the target's movement speed by 60% for 4 sec.
Path of the Devout: Increases your movement speed while Levitating by 25%.
Phantasm: Anytime you fade, you remove all movement impairing effects from yourself and your movement speed will be unhindered for 3 sec.

To me, the choice lies between Body & Soul and Path of the Devout. What we really got to choose between here is whether we want to be able to give run speed or have it ourselves. Experience tells me run speed is a really nice thing, and I do like Body & Soul. Unlike PotD, Body & Soul is something we can both use ourselves and cast on other people. On the other hand, PotD is a buff that lies on for a lot longer than B&S, unless you're in a fight with continuous aoe damage (and we all know they aint that uncommon). And B&S is handy, but how often do I really use it? In all honesty I use it more often to save my own ass than anyone elses, because giving someone a 60% speed increase without them knowing it doesn't always mean it will be put to good use. In the end I think it comes down to just how many of the MoP fights are about continuous aoe damage, because otherwise I think I would prefer having that 25% runspeed for myself even more than being able to hand out some speed on occasion.

Tier 3
From Darkness, Comes Light (caster form): You have a 6% chance when you Smite, Heal, Flash Heal, Binding Heal or Greater Heal to cause your next Flash heal to be instant cast and have no mana cost.
Divine Star: Fires a Divine Star in front of you, traveling 20 yards doing damage to all enemies and healing all friendly targets in its path. After reaching its destination, it will return to you also dealing damage and healing all targets in its path.
Archangel (caster form): Consumes your Evangelism, increasing your healing done by 5% for each Evangelism consumed.

Two oldies and a newbie. I've never been a fan of Surge of Light the way it was redesigned in Cata. I realize it was perhaps a little too good in its earlier forms (especially when it was bugged to proc from other priests crits!), but nerfing it to the ground wasn't the right way to go. Blizzard have tried to repent by making it proc from more and more spells, but I am still not very satisfied with this talent. Unless they change it to proc more often I still don't feel like it is something I would want.

Throughout Cata, I've had pretty much the same feelings for Archangel. As it is now, Archangel is a nice but not very needed buff to our healing. For MoP however, Blizzard are upping the incentive with 5% extra healing per stack, making the Archangel buff 10% more effective than it is now. 25% extra healing when you need it could actually make a difference, like when say the tank is really taking a pounding and you need that extra oomph, or there is some heavy aoe damage that needs to be healed up quickly. It might just be what Archangel needs to be a real healing tool and not just for funsies. There is also the question as to how you gather Evangelism stacks in MoP, the same way as today or a completely new way? Will that suit the raiding style of MoP or not? If gathering stacks becomes too much of a hassle, it might not be worth it.

Divine Star looks really interesting, but there is no saying how useful it is (which on the other hand, goes for all the skills since we don't know how they'll work in MoP). Being a cone effect basically, it has all the drawbacks of Light of Dawn, like the paladin constantly having to reposition to get the most out of it. This makes it mostly useful for situations where there is a lot of aoe damage and the raid group is huddled. If it is weak like Sanctuary has been most of Cata, there really isn't much use to it either. I don't like LoD, but I know many paladins do, so Divine Star is a pretty open card. Looking at what I do know about these talents I'd probably initially try Divine Star, but keep a very close eye on Archangel.

Tier 4
Desperate Prayer: Instantly heals the caster for 30% of their total health.
Angelic Bulwark: Increases the effectiviness of your own shield effects on yourself by 30%.
Final Prayer: Anytime a damaging attack brings you below 30% health, you gain an absorption shield equal to 20% of your total health lasting 20 sec. This effect cannot occur more than once every 90 sec.

This seems to be the ego-tier, seeing as all talents are aimed at saving your own ass. So which will do that best? Which one equates to the most healing? Depending on how useful shields will be in MoP, seeing as they have climbed up and down the useful ladder pretty frequently the last year, I feel like Angelic Bulwark is a really interesting choice. Assuming shields will work the way they do in Cata, with a 15 sec "cooldown" in Weakened Soul, 30% is quite a lot and will add up to a pretty strong shield. I think it will be more useful than a 2 minute and 90 sec cooldown. I prefer "weak but often" over "strong but rare". "Strong but rare" is usually better for tanks, "weak but often" usually works better for everyone else.

Tier 5
Twist of Fate: Increases the damage and healing done to targets at or below 25% health.
Power Infusion: Infuses the target with power, increasing spell casting speed by 20% and reducing the mana cost of all spells by 20%.
Serendipity (caster form): When you heal with Binding Heal or Flash Heal, the cast time of your next Greater Heal or Prayer of Healing spell is reduced by 10%/20% and mana cost reduced by 10/20%.

To me the choice is fairly simple in this tier. I am a huge fan of Power Infusion, always have been. It is an awesome healing cooldown, or dps cooldown if you want to use it on a fellow caster (like if). Yet again, it will depend a little on how the fights work in MoP, but if these choices were given to me today I'd go with Power Infusion without hesitation. To me it seems like the best from both Twist of Fate and Serendipity, in giving that extra oomph just when I need it.

Tier 6
Vow of Unity: You create a Vow of Unity with the friendly target. whenever you heal the target through spells and effects, you are also healed equal to 20% of this amount. In addition, when the target is attacked, 50% of the damage is redirected to you over 6 sec. if your target is victim to an attack greater than 30% of their total health, the Vow of Unity ends.
Void Shift: You swap health percentage with the current friendly target. After this effect ends, you are instantly healed for 25% of your total health.
Vampiric Dominance: When you deal damage or healing, 15% of the amount is healed to up to 3 low-health nearby allies.

When Blizzard talked about giving us tough choices, this is what they must've meant. Until now I've felt like the choices haven't been that difficult, but these actually all seem very useful. Vow of Unity seems really interesting, although maybe a little too dangerous to be really useful. Taking 50% of a tanks damage as healer could be devastating (like when I used Hand of Sacrifice on the tank on Baleroc just before a Decimation Blade). Would we want to use it on anything else than a tank? Difficult to say. I really like the idea of Vow of Unity, but it seems a little too much out of control to be good in pve.

Void Shift is dangerous too. Saving the tank (or someone else close to death) is a good thing to do, but it also means you instead will be close to death for a short while. How much will this be an issue? Difficult to say, but it means we won't be able to use it at leisure as with most heavy cooldowns, but have to make sure we're not using it just before a huge aoe slams down on us.

Vampiric Dominance is basically a 15% increase to our healing output, which looks insanely tasty. Eventhough both Vow of Unity and Void Shift look good, I'm not sure about their practical usefulness. 15% extra healing however, is always very useful and makes sure that we can do some aoe healing even when focusing on point healing, something priests haven't been very good at during Cata. For tier 6 I'd most likely go with Vampiric Dominance (which probably will be nerfed to 3% or something, before it goes live).

So there you have it! We can be 99% sure that the talent trees will look nothing like this in a couple of months, but I will be following the progress closely. One thing is certain: Blizzard mean serious business about making talents a real choice for us now. I really hope they succeed.