Adversity Makes You A Better Player: Leveling Without Healing
If you had been sitting in my computer room around January of this year when I was leveling my Jedi Knight, you would have heard the swears flying, and it mostly sounded like this:
Why the fuck don’t we get a healer until Balmorra? That’s like level 35! It’s not like knights even have the option of healing themselves, ever, no matter how we spec. And those cheater sith warriors get theirs at like level 16. How is THAT fair? Stupid Bounty Hunters get their healer before they even leave Hutta. Fuck you, sith cheaters. (Devolving into incoherent grumbling).
I died. A lot.
See, I’ve never leveled a non-healer in any serious fashion because heals are my security blanket. Even when I was planning to DPS on a character, it had to be a heal-capable toon. Not surprisingly, my highest level toons in WoW were a priest, druid, and shaman.
My first character in SWTOR was obviously a healer, so I wouldn’t have to worry about healing because I was the one doing it – and my companion could stand in front and I, as a control freak, would take care of the health aspect of it. I created a scoundrel, a commando, and a sage – but of course I ended up falling in love with my throwaway melee dps alt, the future sentinel, before even leaving Tython.
So I convinced myself, “Self, you can branch out and not play a healer and still have your security blanket because the companion can heal….” not realizing that for the knight, that was a good ways off. Remember, in the beginning, we barely knew when we got which companion. Or maybe (probably) I was just an idiot and didn’t know where to look.
I became a better player through not having that security. Being without a healer (or roflstomping with another player) I had to know very early on where my damn cooldowns were, and you’d better believe that I still use every single one of them. No “Lol, I always forget that I have that!” or “That isn’t even on my bars.” Fuck, no. I had to use all my defensive and offensive cooldowns in the mad race to pwn the thing in question before it pwned me.
I also had no room for derp. By that, I mean I couldn’t eff up my rotation too badly or choose kill order poorly or survive accidentally pulling another group or patrol. I had to interrupt every bad thing I could, because one missed interrupt could decide the encounter right there. If I screwed up, I was dead. Period. It’s very unforgiving and there’s little wiggle room to recover from bad decisions or sloppy playing.
Now, when it became time to level a dirty imperial, however, and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to lean on my guild to help me if I got in over my head with storyline battles, I chose Bounty Hunter in part because we get Mako first. I’ve pretty much ignored the option of running with any other companion. And, honestly, I’m a mediocre mercenary, because if (when) I derp up a little, it may take longer to kill the thing, but we usually survive. And when Mako occasionally falls behind in the healing, I do fumble for what to do. I don’t have a practiced “finish off quickly even if you burn all your resources” DPS sequence in muscle memory (at least my defensive cooldowns roughly approximate the keys where they are bound on my knight, so I can usually hit those in time.)
Lately I’ve been playing my gunslinger, that I was hesitant to start specifically because I’d be leveling the whole way up without healing. The healer companion is Guss Tuno from… Hoth, which is way late in the game, but, regardless, I don’t plan to level with him even when I get him. Based on the class itself and its long cast times and dependence on cover, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for a gunslinger to be out front taking the hits while the healer cowers in the background. Bowdaar dies a lot. Fortunately, when that happens, I’m usually within a sliver of finishing off the mob. Better Bowdaar dies and I rez him afterward than I die and we have to start the whole mess over (and indeed, when I’m leveling with a healer companion, I’m out front taking the hits and croak before my companion ever would.)
With any luck, leveling to 50 without any healing will train me to play my gunslinger in a similar manner as I was trained to play my sentinel: interrupt all the things, use your cooldowns, no mistakes. Throwing off your security blanket is a little daunting, but ultimately rewarding.