In my experience, healers are regarded as the backbone of a party; if the tank(s) die, then the rest of the party is sure to follow, and keeping the tank alive is the healer’s responsibility. Who doesn’t have a story about the healer that wiped the group, or a story about how replacing a bad healer made the run so much easier? It’s not hard to imagine it’s a high-stakes role.
Players who are new to healing or considering sharing the hugs-and-cookies tend to be afraid of the horror stories I mentioned above. It’s not uncommon to see them seeking whatever advantage they can get. Add-ons tend to be seen as one of those advantages. It’s not uncommon for me to see the following question: “What addons should I get for healing?”
“None,” I want to say. I have to wonder though, are addons mandatory for healing at this point? It’s a more nuanced question than you might imagine. And really, it all comes down to the mouse and accessibility.
The focus of every healer’s UI is his or her unit frames. Thus, I typically see players answer the question with “get Grid” or “download Healbot.” I disagree with responses like these. Being able to see the status of your wards helps, but that’s not as important as being able to cast your spells.
I employ several macros to help condense my action bars to as small of an area as possible. For example, I have Heal and Greater Heal on W, with Greater Heal being accessed by holding down the Shift key. These spells are set to target whomever is underneath my mouse cursor by using the @mouseover parameter; these are mouseover macros.
I try to run with a minimalistic addon setup: Dominos, Gnosis, and Raven are really the only addons I feel like I need. Of those addons, the only one I’d consider mandatory for me to be an effective healer is Dominos. I hate clutter, and with Dominos I can place my many macros on non-standard action bars and hide them like I’m sweeping dust under a rug. Additionally, I prefer Dominos’ more intuitive rebinding solution to Blizzard’s rebind UI, as it allows me to bind a key to whatever action button my mouse is hovering over; it makes rebinding more accessible.
I have my W key bound to DominosActionButton55. If I wanted to play without Dominos, the healing macro I use would be on an action bar reserved for a Druid’s Moonkin form. Since I play a Priest, this poses something of a problem. I would have to place my macros on one of the four additional action bars. However, Blizzard’s rebind UI uses an arcane naming system.
Let’s say I put my healing macro on the seventh button down on the Right Bar. Which button would I want to rebind to the W key? If you guessed something like RightBarButton7, you’d be completely wrong. No, Blizzard’s rebind UI names that button as MULTIACTIONBAR3BUTTON7. It’s so obvious! This creates a new problem, as I keep Shift + “1” through Shift + “=”on Dominos’ third action bar, which means I would have Shift+7 and W bound to the same key.
Deciphering Blizzard’s naming system is a trivial matter. Despite the scenario outlined above, I could convert my UI to be Dominos-free with minimal effort; these days, I build all of my UIs and lay out my abilities around the contingency of not having addons available. However, if I didn’t use keybinds, parting with Dominos would be a slightly more difficult affair.
See, it’s considered standard practice to keep the party and raid frames in the center of the screen, close to where the action is. Healers who keybind can get away with this because the location of our action bars doesn’t matter as much. However, healers who click-cast live and die by how quickly they can move their mouse between raid frames and action buttons. Minimizing that distance is the key to success.
It’s not possible to move the action bars without an addon, so the next best thing is to move the raid frames closer to the action bars. The best location for the raid frames in an addon-free UI would be the bottom center of the screen. However, that space is where achievement toasts appear, they too are unmovable without an addon. Click-casters would have to work around all of the static elements, which is very difficult to pull off. The only addon that would be mandatory in this case is something that allows those elements to be moved out of the way.
There is some middle ground, however! The appropriately-named Clique turns unit frames into action buttons. I used Clique in the past and had all my single-target heals bound to left-click. I had group heals such as Circle of Healing bound to one of my mouse’s side buttons (mouse4). You can’t bind actions to left-click with either the default UI or Dominos. Furthermore, @mouseover macros don’t work on unit frames when bound to mouse4. So even though it’s an amazing addon for click casting, it also supplements players who use keybinds rather well.
The mouse is the most important tool in the game, regardless of role or play style. We use the mouse to look around, loot dead creatures, talk to NPCs, and sell our various bits of trash. It is the primary tool in a healer’s arsenal. It doesn’t matter if you’re clicking a heal, mousing over an ally, or laying down an AOE effect. Thus, the only addons mandatory for healing are those which assist in mouse operations, either by moving elements or adding functionality.
Disabled players who can only use the mouse find it difficult to play the game. MovePad, the only addon ever signed and released by Blizzard, came out in patch 2.0.3—The Burning Crusade expansion. In patch 4.2, the MovePad became an official part of the game. The MovePad allows players to click buttons on the screen to move around, much like an on-screen keyboard. It’s a little feature that is virtually useless to 99% of players, but makes the game more handicapped-accessible.
Patch 4.3 added another feature which made the game more accessible, even if it has nothing to do with healing. Players affected by protanopia, protanomaly, deuteranopia, deuteranomaly, tritanopia, tritanomaly, achromatopsia, or achromatomaly can enable a shader that changes how the game displays colors. It’s something of an advanced feature, as enabling this shader requires entering a /console command into the chat window. Additionally, this command is poorly documented in the patch notes—that is to say, it’s not documented at all. But the option does exist, and that makes it easier for colorblind players to play World of Warcraft.
To answer the question presented by this article, I would have to say that addons are mandatory for healing. Being able to move the action bars or use mouse-buttons to their fullest potential is a huge boon. I’m sure many players would appreciate being able to rebind keys without confusion or experimentation, as well. Frankly, these features should be part of the default UI simply because they make the game more accessible to all players.