MMO Mechanics: Making healing interesting in MMORPGs


I was reading a recent Daily Grind article on the topic of unique healing classes and it prompted me to think about the variety of mechanics on offer for healing in MMOs that go beyond the World of Warcraft model. There are few MMO mechanics that run the risk of being diluted down by mods and add-ons in the way healing mechanics can be, which makes the area a fantastic area for a thought exercise in keeping healing interesting in MMORPGs.  Pair the lack of immersive interaction with the mechanics presented by the existence of click-heal and other ‘easy-heal’ overlays with many people’s general wish to be the more extroverted hero character instead of the less flashy but also very much needed party healer and it’s easy to see the need for more incentives to be presented by development teams.

In this edition of MMO Mechanics, I’ll take a look at some of the class suggestions from the Daily Grind article mentioned and will attempt to summarise what makes those classes so unique and interesting, hopefully in order to find a commonality between some that goes beyond the basic healing mechanics we know from more traditional MMOs.

Tree of Saviour multiclassing min-maxing build

My D&D-obsessed self was thoroughly impressed with the ToS multiclass healing build presented by commenter Ian Wells. Although I’ve not played myself, having a look at the classes list and the wide range of builds and resultant skills makes it clear that there is plenty of scope to create impressively complex synergies that play very nicely together. Ian layered Cleric with Priest, Bokor, and Plague Doctor: When I used the online rank up tool to check out the toolset available to players who choose this uncommon but nevertheless useful combination, it’s clear to see that fun can be had with the combination of utility skills and indirect offensive capabilities offered by the blend.

Ian pointed out some healing and damage prevention synergies offered by his class choices, including the ability to stave off all party damage for 20 seconds via 100% damage resistance, which is then dealt in one blow after the dot runs out and is then effectively negated by the build’s ability to autoressurect the party to 50% health. The indirect offensive skills within this build’s toolset also intrigue me: Blending in the Bokor zombie handling capacity means that the healer using such a build must adeptly manage minions to maximise damage output while also strategically placing healing circles and timing the use of preventative utility skills — such as the aforementioned Mackangdal skill — to facilitate the most efficient use of mass revive and heal waves. Add to this Ian’s choice of direct damage skills such as Hexing for a well-rounded, more-than-a-healer healing build. It has to be an interesting balancing act and I would love to test the build for myself, so thanks for the new summer plans, Ian!

Decrements and increments in Warhammer Online‘s healing

I was reminded by commenter Arktouros of the nature of Disciples of Khaine: The healing mechanics of the class relied heavily on increasing Soul Essence when the character dealt damage and decreasing the same whenever a heal was used instead. The relative strength of healing or damage was tailored via stat choices, with those who wished to focus on healing prioritising Willpower over Strength. Some abilities simultaneously healed while dealing damage, so you can imagine how solo-friendly this class actually was, just as commenter James Mock pointed out. Consume Essence was one such skill, and I particularly appreciated the mechanical layering caused by having a simultaneously damaging and healing ability: This ability would trigger the incrementing of Soul Essence (beyond its base cost) and thus could help this class keep up a continual moderate damage and healing stream wit minimal breaking required.

What was so enjoyable was the combination of traditional healing mechanics such as heal over time skills, cast heals, and group heals with detaunting capability and moderate damage ability that powered healing abilities was that even those who went for a very heal-heavy DoK build would benefit from dealing some damage, meaning that the player needed to stay more focused on the battlefield than the somewhat traditional healing mechanics underpinning the gameplay would have you believe. Knowing when to deal damage and when to take a step back from combat was a vital skill: Staying too long on the frontlines as a DoK was usually a death sentence for your character due to the class’ relatively low armour protections. Likewise, even those who specialised in DPS were widely expected to heal since the damage dealt was incomparable to the damage output of true DPS classes.

Use of a Familiar in Blade and Soul

Rafael12104 pointed out how unique the Summoner’s use of a feline Familiar is in Blade and Soul, especially with its unassuming aesthetic and flexibility in its build. I particularly like how self-sufficient the Summoner can be: The Familiar can act as a soft tank provided the Summoner can adequately employ its control-heavy skills and escape mechanics to correctly maintain the battlefield balance. The defensive mechanics used by the Summoner class are far-reaching and also can apply to party members, meaning that those allies who don’t happen to have a loyal kitty friend as a damage sink can benefit doubly from having a Summoner around. The double act is a perfect choice for those who enjoy soloing since the Familiar is a fantastic defence line that gives the player an extra life of sorts to lose since a Summoner or Familiar can resurrect the other should they fall.

I love that the melee DPS from the Familiar and the control and healing capability of the Summoner possess some degree of separation: Not only does it seem far more impressive when a player strategically employs the use of two characters simultaneously (even if the skill degree is largely the same as it is for any other toon), but it also satisfies the immersive needs of a wide group of playstyles and opens up healing to a much wider pool of players than the role usually attracts. Distracting opponents with a cat is rather clever, especially since it makes what should be a rather squishy back-of-the-line sort of class much more capable of greatness.

The common thread seems to be a lack of healing!

When you give honourable mentions to some of the other commonly mentioned builds in the discussion thread, such as Age of Conan‘s Bear Shaman and Guild Wars‘ Ritualist, a picture of healers that are more than back-line supporters in a world of muscle-bound heroes emerges. It seems to me that the best healing mechanics are those that still allow a character to feel powerful to the player, and I suppose no matter how brilliant raw heal numbers are, there’s a lot to be said for the adrenaline of rushing straight in and clashing directly with an opponent. Mechanics that enrich the experience and elevate the role of the healer beyond that of a lowly field medic don’t have to be fancy to appeal either: Simply linking damage to healing output or delivering some periphery skills that step outside the usual heal toolset is enough to grab interest.

Over to you!

We’ve discussed the most interesting healing classes through a Daily Grind, but I’d love for you to think of all the unique healing mechanics you have found in MMOs and share them with us in the comments below. How did they elevate the healer role, and did this have an impact on the rest of the game? What entices you to play a healer if it isn’t a role that usually appeals to you?

MMOs are composed of many moving parts, but Massively’s Tina Lauro is willing to risk industrial injury so that you can enjoy her mechanical musings. MMO Mechanics explores the various workings behind our beloved MMOs. If there’s a specific topic you’d like to see dissected, drop Tina a comment or send an email to
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