There has been a lot of talk amongst the Alpha/Beta testing community about the concept of leveling as a healer.
The main driver behind players feeling like they must level as a healer if they want to play a healer at end-game is the Artifact Weapon system that Legion will be introducing. When the expansion drops, players will be asked to select one weapon for one spec that they wish to pursue, and that will be the weapon they will use in that spec for the rest of the expansion.
Players are worried about what this Artifact Weapon means for tanks and healers, who traditionally have chosen to level in DPS specs while accumulating gear for their intended role. Will they feel penalized for choosing their end-game-spec’s Artifact Weapon straight away? The devs have said that they’re giving healers stronger damage-dealing capabilities to make leveling as a healer viable, but in a lot of our community the mindset for every activity in the game is “optimal or GTFO”, and almost nobody believes that leveling as a healer will be optimal.
In short, there’s a lot of concern, and a lot of confusion, and I’d like to help clarify what I can.
/cast Unleash Facts
When we were first granted access to the Legion Alpha, the Artifact Weapon system had not been fully settled upon yet by the dev team. We’ve seen changes to how much Artifact Power it costs to buy traits, to where the traits are positioned within the trees, to what the traits provide, to how much Artifact Power you can gain from doing in-game activities, to how the Artifact Power is provided and applied to your weapon, to even the name of the Resto Artifact Weapon.
Unfortunately, one thing that tends to happen in our overly connected community is that information gets disseminated quickly, and it’s incredibly hard to correct the community perception once new or revised data comes out. We’ve seen this for several things already in the Alpha/Beta process, and the Artifact Weapon system is no different. There’s been a lot of iteration, but I still see information that’s been outdated since 2015 floating around out there offered up as Truthfact.
From my questing in the current Beta iteration, here is how things work:
- Each spec has one lore-infused weapon they obtain at the start of Legion and wield for the entire expansion
- You may choose Artifact Weapons for your other specs upon reaching Level 102
- Artifact Weapons have two parallel progression paths: Artifact Traits, which are purchased through Artifact Power; and Item Level, which is increased by socketing Relics into Relic Slots on the weapon
Because you can gain another spec’s Artifact Weapon relatively early in the leveling process, there is almost no penalty to starting out with whatever spec you feel most comfortable leveling in. Most of the Artifact Power you will gain as you level can be banked and applied to your preferred weapon at your discretion.
- As players quest, explore, fight rares, open treasures, and do dungeons, they will gain consumable items
- The items will empower your currently equipped Artifact Weapon with Artifact Power when they are used
- Examples: Questor’s Glory, History of the Aeons, Glittering Memento, Crude Statuette
- Applying Artifact Power to your weapon allows you to purchase Artifact Traits
- The traits’ cost increase each time you purchase, so the entire weapon is going to take thousands, if not millions, of Artifact Power to fully empower it
As the bolded statement implies, there are some sources of Artifact Power that are immediately applied to whatever Artifact Weapon you are currently wielding. So far I have only found two cases of this happening: once in a rare event inside my Class Order Hall, and one quest while passing through Aszuna. In the case of the rare event, this was not well communicated, so I was lucky that I had the right weapon equipped. Quests give you plenty of warning, though:
Because I was currently wielding the Elemental spec Artifact Weapon when this quest was offered to me, I simply declined it. After reaching level 102 and obtaining my Restoration spec Artifact Weapon, I’ll come back and complete it in Resto spec. It’s a very slight inconvenience.
Relics are more intimately linked to your weapon than Artifact Power is, but there is still a lot of room to quest in the “wrong” spec and still obtain the Relics you want for your “right” weapon by the time you hit max level.
- Each Artifact Weapon has 3 Relic slots into which Relics can be socketed, but the 3rd slot is unlocked after players reach level 110
- Relics have three attributes: their Element type (e.g. Life, Shadow, Fire, Blood, etc.), their item level bonus, and an Artifact Trait rank
- You can only slot a Relic into a Relic slot of its appropriate Element
- Placing a Relic into a Relic slot upgrades the item level of your weapon by the indicated amount (e.g. if your Artifact Weapon is empty of Relics, a 3-item-level Relic will raise its item level from 750 to 753)
- Placing a Relic into a Relic slot grants you additional ranks in the associated Artifact Trait
- Relics are attuned to whatever Artifact Weapon(s) you owned when you obtained the Relic
- You cannot slot a Relic into an Artifact Weapon that it is not attuned for
- Applying a new Relic to a currently occupied Relic slot will overwrite the previous Relic, similar to gems in gem sockets
- The higher level you are when you obtain a Relic, the more item levels it will grant your weapon
The fact that Relics are not cumulative means that, no matter what you want to be doing when you actually hit max level in Legion, the only Relics that matter are the most recent Relics you slot in to your weapon. Relics you obtain while leveling up will be overwritten and discarded just as easily as any other questing gear. They’re irrelevant.
While you’re leveling, the only relevant stat on a Relic is the item level boost it will give you. There’s no leveling content that will be made significantly easier by having an extra rank in one minor trait compared to another. It is literally meaningless min/max – you’re just going to overwrite that Relic with whatever Relic you next find that has a higher item level boost!
Finally, the gold cost for changing specs has been removed, so there is now no material restriction on you swapping back and forth between a DPS and a healing spec at will.
What I’m trying to get at here is, there is no *game system* reason why you *must* level as a healer if you don’t want to.
If you want to level entirely as a healer – dump all the AP items you get immediately into your weapon, slot in every Relic you obtain that’s an iLvl upgrade – that’s fine.
If you want to level entirely as a DPS – bank all your AP items until you obtain your healing Artifact, occasionally swap specs to check out a Relic quest reward and throw your AP into the healing weapon – that’s fine too. Just be careful not to complete any quests that dump AP directly onto your equipped weapon until you hit 102 and obtained your healing weapon. You may also wish to avoid dungeoning until you obtain your healing weapon, but that’s not necessary – a good HFC weapon will get you through any leveling dungeon just fine, and dungeon Relics you obtain from leveling dungeons would just get replaced by questing or dungeon Relics later anyway, so all you’re missing out on is the opportunity to overwrite those Relics later.
At the end of the leveling process, two players who follow the two paths I laid out above will have indistinguishable healer weapons from one another.
With that in mind, the only thing that really matters when you’re choosing whether to level as a healer or as a DPS when Legion hits is: Which is more efficient? Which feels better to play through leveling content? Which spec will get you where you want to go?
To try to answer that question, I have done a little bit of Beta experimentation.
Preliminary Trial: Larva Burst
The very first thing I did was test the difference in damage between a Resto Shaman and an Elemental Shaman. I wanted to look at three things:
- Damage dealt by an Artifact-wielding Resto Shaman, representing a player leveling in their healing spec; this includes having purchased several Artifact Traits.
- Damage dealt by an Elemental Shaman without an Artifact weapon, representing a player who chose the Restoration Artifact first but wants to level as Elemental anyway.
- Damage dealt by an Elemental Shaman with an entry-level Elemental Artifact weapon, representing a healer who has chosen to begin their leveling journey in their DPS off-spec.
Because I strongly suspected that an Elemental Shaman and a Resto Shaman would perform similarly on extremely short fights (the kind that begin with Flame Shock – Lava Burst – Lava Burst and then the mob dies), I went in search of some relatively large mobs. I remembered in my early Alpha days that there was this quest in Highmountain with some Overgrown Larvae that took forever to kill as a Holy Priest, so I thought I’d head out there and kill one Larva with each of the three above-listed setups.
These results will not surprise anyone:
An Elemental Shaman with an Artifact is the clear winner, with higher DPS and a much faster kill time than the other two options. If you care about the numbers:
- Overgrown Larva has 1.06M HP
- Elemental Shaman with Artifact: 30.8 seconds to kill, 34415 DPS
- Elemental Shaman, no Artifact: 44.6 seconds to kill, 23767 DPS
- Restoration Shaman with Artifact: 44.7 seconds to kill, 23714 DPS
The big takeaway from this experiment is: There’s really no point to level in your DPS spec unless you have a strong weapon. It’s possible that a Mythic Hellfire Citadel weapon would have made the Elemental-no-Artifact more closely resemble the Elemental-with-Artifact outcomes. But if you have a crappy off-spec weapon, just take the Resto Artifact and quest in Resto, or take the Ele Artifact and quest in Ele. Don’t try to have it both ways. 🙂
It’s also important to note that survivability was vastly different for the three trials:
- The Elemental Shaman with Artifact finished combat at 59% health.
- The Elemental Shaman with no Artifact finished combat at 31%, had to use Astral Shift and Gift of the Naaru, nearly died.
- The Restoration Shaman with Artifact finished combat at 76% hp, having used Healing Stream Totem and Riptide to replace Lightning Bolt casts.
Given that the quest I was doing required me to kill three of these Overgrown Larva, it becomes clear that only the Restoration Shaman could achieve this without stopping. The Elemental Shaman would need to pause between at least two of the fights in order to heal. Since Elemental does not have any instant healing, this would mean the DPS Shaman has to either eat food or use a weak, strictly-mana-limited Healing Surge to restore health between combats. This is a factor that the extremely limited analysis above simply cannot correct for.
Additionally, this brief test didn’t include any evaluation of AoE ability at all. While Elemental and Restoration have fairly similar single-target tools and damage abilities, the Elemental Shaman really pulls ahead with talent support for AoE damage, and they also have Earthquake Totem to provide both AoE damage and AoE CC. The question becomes, does the higher AoE capacity of the Elemental Shaman outweigh the greater survivability of the Restoration Shaman, and how can I test this?
Extended Trial: Quest-Chain Lightning
The simple fact is, testing time-to-kill on a single mob doesn’t really simulate the leveling process very well. There’s so much more to consider – a varied set of abilities you’ll be up against, the many different ways that packs of quest mobs can be structured, travel time, survivability, etc. Small differences in the speed or efficiency with which one spec or the other accomplishes these tasks can add up to a lot over the course of a long leveling process, so something short and simple just doesn’t cut it.
The only way to really see how Elemental versus Restoration leveling will pan out is to actually level. You all know how much I hate doing it, but just for you, I ran an extended leveling trial with two fresh new 100 Shamans – a Horde Troll Elemental Shaman (talents), and an Alliance Draenei Restoration Shaman (talents).
Before I began my trial, I ran each Shaman through the Broken Shore opening and the Artifact Weapon scenario, through setting up the class hall and selecting my first assault point on the Scouting Map. This gave each character an Artifact Weapon with the initial active ability and a single trait purchased (Elemental Artifact | Restoration Artifact), as well as the starting items of Broken Shore gear (Signet of Stormwind/Mark of Orgrimmar; Accolade of House Wrynn/Accolade of the Banshee Queen)
I chose to do my leveling trial in Aszuna because I had already leveled a character through that content earlier. This means that I already knew the zone layout, which quests I wanted to target, what rares I’d find along the way, what bonus objectives I’d encounter, and so forth. There’s always an efficiency gain from doing a task repeatedly, but the gain from 1st to 2nd repetition is typically much greater than the gain from 2nd to 3rd, so I hope this eliminates some of that bias.
Because my Test Elemental Shaman had a lot of rested XP, and my Test Restoration Shaman had very little, I couldn’t just set a level-based goal like “how long until they both reach level 102”. Instead, I leveled my Elemental Shaman until she hit 102, and then I did those exact same quests, rares, and bonus objectives on my Restoration Shaman. I even tried to take the same quest rewards from every quest just to avoid any additional bias.
Upon reaching level 101 with each character I immediately went back to The Maelstrom to do the Class Hall questline and open up Combat Ally options. On my Elemental Shaman, I assigned Duke Hydraxis as my Combat Ally; on my Restoration Shaman, I assigned Stormcaller Mylra. I took different Combat Allies because the two specs have different leveling weaknesses, and I wanted to use the Combat Ally system to combat (eh? eh?) those weaknesses.
I logged everything with Warcraft Logs (Elemental Shaman | Restoration Shaman). Unfortunately my first approximately 8 minutes or so of the Restoration Shaman trial were lost because I DCed on a flight path and forgot to re-enable logging until I was already partly into the trial. But everything else is there; you can check and see. I’ve also listed all of the quests, bonus objectives, and rares that I completed at the very end of this post, so you could even check my work with your preferred healer/DPS combination if you’d like!
I also recorded information for both runs:
- The time at which I began and ended the trial
- Starting XP and rested XP bonus for each character
- Time and duration of any bio breaks/RL interruptions
- Any time I died, or had to either heal or stop and eat before I felt comfortable to continue questing
With all that out of the way…
The Results Will Flame Shock You
You know, it’s funny. When I sat down to start my Restoration trial, every time I encountered a mob in the world I couldn’t help but lean my head back and drone “Uggggghhhhhhhh this suuuuuuucks.” I was positive that Resto leveling was going to take for. freaking. ever.
In fact, though, my results were … remarkably similar.
|Questing Trial Results|
|Eat or Heal||14||1|
*Remember, I’m missing 8 minutes of this log, so I probably had to deal a little more damage as Resto than I did as Ele.
I was completely flabbergasted. How? How did this make any sense at all? I’m still not sure, to be honest, but I have some ideas.
:: I am not as skilled at Elemental Shaman as I am at dealing DPS as a Resto Shaman
Despite the similarity of their basic toolkit, one of the Legion design principles has been to put some space between healers and their caster DPS specs’ gameplay. Elemental Shaman has a new secondary resource, Maelstrom, to manage – and I’m not yet that great at predicting when I need to Earth Shock to bleed off my Maelstrom before I cap out on it.
You can see evidence of this in the logs in other ways as well – I did not use Ascendance on CD, instead saving it for upcoming rares/”quest boss” mobs. I didn’t use Stormkeeper optimally (or much at all). I forgot about my Troll racial! (I’m like never Horde, okay? I wrote a macro for Heroism during the Artifact Weapon scenario and it didn’t work 😦 )
Of course, a person who main-specs DPS would have a much faster leveling experience than I had as an Elemental Shaman. But that’s not who I’m writing for. I’m writing for main-spec healers who aren’t as comfortable in their DPS specs. People like me. All four of you out there. Hi. How you doin’?
:: Elemental Shaman kills fast, but recovers slowly
This is the defining factor. I found Elemental Shaman leveling to be extremely risky. You’ll note in my table above I had to stop to eat and heal more as my Elemental Shaman than as my Restoration Shaman. Let’s talk about that a little bit.
First, here is my Elemental Shaman’s HP graph over the course of the leveling trial:
While questing, I died twice (the first time I died, the low dip before the 15:00 mark, I Reincarnated, but since I was out of combat the log didn’t really record it properly), and I came scarily close at least one or two more times. It started happening less and less as I got used to the idea that I had to be more careful pulling enemies when questing as Elemental.
This survivability problem seemed like the thing that was holding me back the most, so when I hit level 101, around 1:36:00, I picked up Duke Hydraxis as my Combat Ally. Once I had access to his heal, I could be a little more reckless. But dying costs a lot of time, so whenever Hydraxis was on CD, I took it easy.
Meanwhile, my Restoration Shaman’s HP graph tells a completely different story:
Yes, I dropped low initially – and even died once, the big dip around 0:30:00. Basically what happened was, I was doing so well with my health management that I completely forgot to heal for a little while, because I just didn’t feel like I was in danger. Once the reality-check of death hit me, I managed my health much more proactively for the remainder of the leveling process.
Echo of the Elements (for extra charges on Riptide and Healing Stream Totem) were the healing MVPs here. But I also used Earthen Shield Totem when I couldn’t avoid pulling AoE packs, and I even used Ancestral Guidance’s DPS-to-heal conversion on a couple of rares. The key here was proactivity. I kept HST down so that I’d stay above 75% health. When I dropped below 75% health I’d Riptide myself – the boost to its up-front heal from Torrent would spike my health back up pretty quickly.
I did not even bind my Healing Surge or Healing Wave keys. Didn’t need ’em.
As a result of feeling so confident in my health, I was able to chain more mobs together, pull two at a time, and face more high-powered enemies than I could on my Elemental character. In fact, one of the mobs that killed me as Elemental?
I killed him successfully – eventually! – as Resto.
:: Elemental spec has more variety and interest than Restoration spec, making it feel more exciting and fast-paced
Like I said, I felt incredibly slow as Resto, until I reached the first notable benchmark and discovered I was keeping pace with my Elemental spec. But it was a false perception – influenced by psychology and preconceived notions.
I’ve described the Resto DPS toolkit before as “Level 30 Elemental Shaman”, and it really does feel dull. The addition of Lava Surge! to our toolkit has done wonders for making us feel more dynamic, but we’re down to only four DPS spells, and one of them – Chain Lightning – just doesn’t feel particularly great to use. Being limited to only 3 targets means it doesn’t even hit everything in most multi-mob quest packs you’ll be exposed to!
You don’t get cooldowns, you don’t get pets or totems that help you offensively. You don’t even get to talent into Elemental Blast anymore. The only talent that affects your DPS throughput is Echo of the Elements (and it does make a huge difference in leveling speed!). Everything you do when you’re leveling as Resto feels “flat”.
Meanwhile, Elemental has at least some complex decision-making in Maelstrom management, and it has Earthquake Totem, Fire Elemental, and potentially Ascendance on offer. It’s fun to take Path of Flame and spread Flame Shock via Lava Burst. And it’s cool to pull out the Earth Elemental just to pick something up if you pull more than you’d intended. Elemental questing has varied texture, both in its damage-dealing and survivability aspects.
To be fair, we can’t expect a healer to have a DPS toolkit as interesting or flexible as that of their DPS spec counterparts. That would do dangerous things to the game.
These preliminary results seem to indicate that leveling as Restoration or leveling as Elemental are equally efficient. Obviously, this was only one trial, on only one spec, but it’s the best I could do without clawing my own eyes out because leveling augh blarg. It’s also a low-level, low-gear trial, which is all I can do on the Beta for now. But the first two levels are the levels that matter the most – once you reach level 102, you can go grab the other Artifact Weapon and from there it’s just a matter of personal preference.
|Pros and Cons to Leveling As…|
It’s worth noting that the difference between Elemental and Resto speed might be more significant in Mythic HFC gear compared to the really awful 680-iLvl gear we’re given on our Beta premades. If I’m feeling up to repeating this challenge again when Character Copy is available, I’ll let you know how that pans out.
I’m not sure if these results will extend to other healer/DPS pairs. Elemental and Resto Shamans have the same utility (Wind Shear, Lightning Surge Totem, Hex, Purge), which comes in handy for questing. Resto isn’t challenged by a mob with a healing buff or a healing cast, because it can Purge or Wind Shear to prevent the healing. This won’t be true for a Resto Druid or Holy Paladin, for example. But an Elemental Shaman is so fragile, and it’s possible that a Balance Druid or Ret Paladin would be able to pull larger packs or chain mobs for longer periods without having to be as careful. I’m not familiar enough with these specs to be able to say for sure.
Finally, we shouldn’t overlook the psychological factors. For some players, it may be much more enjoyable to level in a DPS spec. There’s more sources of damage to manage, a secondary resource, burst CDs, and danger! For other players like me, who aren’t as confident with their DPS specs, or for players who intend to do most of their leveling in dungeons rather than in outdoor content, it may be simpler and more relaxing to level as a healer.
Play what you want. You won’t lose any important Artifact Weapon progress by picking up your healing Artifact at level 102 instead of 100. You won’t lose any significant time leveling as a healer even if your DPS is lower, if that’s what you really prefer. And if you try one and don’t like it, you can start leveling in the other spec once you hit level 102 anyway. Just do what makes you happy.