I’ve read a few posts recently talking about so-called “gimmick fights”, and the alleged abundance thereof in Cataclysm raiding and Firelands in particular (as a sign of the decline of design standards in WoW, the coming of the End Times, that sort of thing).
Now I’m actually enjoying most of the Firelands fights (with the previously-noted exception of Lord Rhyolith) so reading these posts got me thinking about my feelings on the fight mechanics in the Firelands.
To start with, I wanted to think about when I’d object to a gimmick fight. My personal definition of a bad gimmick fight would be one where the fight revolves around one specific mechanic that will inevitably make or break the raid and that gets handled by a small subset of the raid; the implication being that the remainder of the raid is left with a fairly mundane and ultimately unmemorable encounter. If you’re the one the gimmick is aimed at, it’s great; otherwise, well, maybe the next one will do it for you instead.
Let’s look at the fights (that I’ve done) in turn, in the light of that definition:
- Beth’tilac – Well, you do split the raid up, and only a couple of people get to climb the web to the upper level, but once you’re up there you’re pretty much just tanking/healing/DPSing while not standing in the fire or falling down the hole. I actually think the group downstairs has a more interesting time of it. Personally I don’t mind the climbing-onto-the-web aspect because it’s essentially just two tanks dealing with multiple bosses in separate locations, and we’ve seen that in a great many encounters over the years. And if you happen to lose one of the web people, you can replace them, it’s not an inevitable wipe; I see this as analogous to a player going LD in any other fight.
- Shannox – The trick here is getting Riplimb trapped in one of the crystal traps Shannox puts down. Or you could slow him instead, so the tank has time to lose his stacks while Riplimb is running in slow-motion back to the boss. One of the tanks does have a specific trick that can make things easier, but the whole fight doesn’t revolve around that mechanic alone, so I’m not sure I think this is a bad gimmick fight either. It’s just a mechanic like kiting or CC.
- Rhyolith – I’ve talked about him before, I think this one is a gimmick fight that I object to. It’s a pretty pedestrian (/rimshot!) fight apart from the driving, and if your raid lacks awareness or a strong voice directing things you can easily be wiped by getting it wrong. Perhaps it’s my perspective as a healer, but if the steering goes well the encounter is really dull, while if the steering goes wrong it’s practically unhealable, so the course of the fight is more or less out of my hands.
- Baleroc – Definitely a fight with a strong mechanic to focus on, although not in the negative sense where only a few people are participating. At least on 10-man, where almost the entire raid is involved in handling the various mechanics: tank swaps, healer stacks, DPS positioning to take the crystals. I’d class this as a legitimate mechanic, akin to passing around the plague on Putricide.
- Alysrazor – I’d be very reluctant to write this off as a “gimmick fight” simply because of the guy in the air. Sure, it’s important that you have someone who can do a good job up there, so in that sense the fight hinges on the gimmick, but there’s a lot more going on than just that, at least for the tanks and healers. And you can easily replace the guy up there if he dies mid-fight, it’s not an insta-wipe.
- Majordomo – Definitely not a bad gimmick fight in my book. The whole raid is involved with the positioning and debuffs, there’s no one special person with a special job.
You know when you say a word so many times that it seems to lose its meaning? Just me? OK…
Anyway, what I’d draw out from the list above is that whether a fight is hopelessly gimmicky or mechanically interesting depends very much on how you define the term, and maybe on your perspective and role. Quoting Shintar:
It’s just that it seems to me that unless you get to be the special snowflake to handle the boss’s unique mechanic, most of them aren’t really all that interesting… or maybe it’s just a healer thing.
Well, there’s a couple of things I’d say to that. Firstly, I think that a lot of this feeling comes about as a result of the evolution of encounter design and the player base to the point where “don’t stand in the bad” and “switch to adds” are neglected as mechanics, they’re just baseline aspects of a fight. So an encounter with adds, Bad Stuff on the ground and a funky mechanic is regarded as having a single point of interest for the raid rather than three. Wind back the clock to the ‘glory days’ of Vanilla or TBC and a lot more of the fights are of the simple “stay out of the bad” and “switch to adds” type.
What’s more, look at the list as a whole and you’ll see that the fun stuff is distributed across the group, with healers, tanks and DPS players all getting their share of fun mechanics to play with. As long as you’re not actually bored while waiting for ‘your fight’, then I think the balance is OK. Think about the alternatives: give everyone a special job on every fight and the learning curve could be pretty brutal; on heroic sure, go wild, but at least on normal mode I think you need to limit the novelty a bit. Or you could remove the gimmicks again, but I think there’d be even more complaints about that. At least these days you get to choose who learns to handle the gimmicks too, it’s not random.
For me, the issue of “gimmick fights” comes down to striking a balance: if everyone else is just left to tank and spank and it makes no difference at all if one person fails at their special job (Teron Gorefiend or heroic Anub’Arak, for example), I can see that there might be a problem with the design (although actually I feel that on heroic even these sorts of gimmicks are fair game); but speaking for myself I’m fine with a “gimmick fight” if the rest of the raid has a significant part to play as well (think back to Valithria Dreamwalker – sure, if your healers sucked really badly you wouldn’t win, but you could have plenty of influence on the outcome from outside too), and the spotlight gets spread around enough. None of the fights on this list are tank-and-spank-while-someone-else-does-the-killing type affairs.
Ultimately though, whether you get along with a particular encounter design paradigm is a personal thing and people have a right to prefer different types of fights; ideally there would be a good mix of encounters with new gimmicks and more traditional mechanics so that everyone can find something to love. Let’s hope the final raid in 4.3 lives up to everyone’s hopes.