Ah, Blizzard. Just when I’m beginning to despair of my ability to actually complete any of the half-dozen posts sitting in my drafts folder, they drop a magical gift-wrapped present into my lap.
This post isn’t all about healing per se, but I’ll add some healing commentary along the way. As a raider, the recent announced changes to raid progression are of huge interest to me, so I wanted to formulate, record and share my thoughts at this stage.
The Announcement – Annotated
The first of the refinements being made is that we’re combining all raid sizes and difficulties into a single lockout. Unlike today, 10- and 25-player modes of a single raid will share the same lockout. You can defeat each raid boss once per week per character. In other words, if you wanted to do both a 10- and 25-person raid in a single week, you’d need to do so on two different characters. Normal versus Heroic mode will be chosen on a per-boss basis in Cataclysm raids, the same way it works in Icecrown Citadel. Obviously the raid lockout change doesn’t apply in pure Icecrown terms though, as this change goes hand-in-hand with a few other changes to raid progression in Cataclysm.
We’re designing and balancing raids so that the difficulty between 10- and 25-player versions of each difficulty will be as close as possible to each other as we can achieve.
In essence you get a single lockout per raid per character. 25-player raiders will no longer need, nor will they be able, to also raid the 10-man version on their mains. To support this Blizzard will aim to balance 10- and 25-player content to have equivalent difficulty to each other, rather than the current model where 10-player is designed to be easier.
My first reaction? I love the change, I’m excited almost beyond words (only almost!).
I raid for the challenge, for the teamwork, and for the sense of achievement. 25-man raiding is currently the only place to find the most difficult challenges and it’s where the prestige is located, both in the form of the signature items and the achievements. But I much prefer the sense of teamwork that comes out of a 10-man raid. If this change truly delivers and provides the same challenge in 10-man, and the same achievements (look at the “Kingslayer” title for an example of this in action, it’s the same for 10s as 25s), then it removes a large chunk of the advantage to 25-man raiding from my perspective.
But wait, there’s more!
That closeness in difficulty also means that we’ll have bosses dropping the same items in 10- and 25-player raids of each difficulty. They’ll have the same name and same stats; they are in fact the exact same items. Choosing Heroic mode will drop a scaled-up version of those items. Our hope is that players will be able to associate bosses with their loot tables and even associate specific artwork with specific item names to a far greater extent than today.
Dungeon Difficulty and Rewards
10- and 25-player (normal difficulty) — Very similar to one another in difficulty; drop the exact same items as each other.
10- and 25-player (Heroic difficulty) — Very similar to one another in difficulty; drop more powerful versions of the normal-difficulty items.
We of course recognize the logistical realities of organizing larger groups of people, so while the loot quality will not change, 25-player versions will drop a higher quantity of loot per player (items, but also badges, and even gold), making it a more efficient route if you’re able to gather the people. The raid designers are designing encounters with these changes in mind, and the class designers are making class changes to help make 10-person groups easier to build. Running 25-player raids will be a bit more lucrative, as should be expected, but if for a week or two you need to do 10s because half the guild is away on vacation, you can do that and not suffer a dramatic loss to your ability to get the items you want.
There will just be raid achievements, not 10- vs. 25-player versions in most cases. The achievement won’t care if you complete it in 10s or 25s. If we do meta-achievement mounts, it’s possible we’d still have different colors of mounts, or maybe even different mounts; but for some players that might mean that 25s feels mandatory again, which would be a potential problem.
Way back when WotLK information was being drip-fed to the community and the parallel 10-man and 25-man progression paths were being described Blizzard were very clear that they wanted to compensate 25-man raiders for the added complexity of the organisation, and they did this by keeping 25-man raiding a tier above 10-man raiding in terms of difficulty (arguably), gear rewards and badges and by providing separate achievements for each mode. One expansion later, with the 25-player only days a more distant memory, 10-player raiding is a lot more accepted in the community and so the next small step is being taken towards truly equivalent paths.
Now both instances are of equivalent difficulty they can drop the same loot and grant the same achievements. I’m totally fine with 25-man raiders getting some advantage. Organising 25-man raids is harder, and there’s a fair amount more patience required to stay in 25-man raiding long-term, so I don’t mind if they get geared up a bit quicker. We’ll all get the same badges and the same items. In fact, since 10-man teams will probably work together better and have a better shot at taking down content early, 25-player raids might actually need the gear head-start to keep up. It’ll be interesting to watch the ranking sites in the early days.
It’s also nice to see there’ll be further “class changes” with 10-player raiding in mind, which most likely refers to a bit more spreading of Replenishment, Bloodlust and other key buffs.
We recognize that very long raids can be a barrier for some players, but we also want to provide enough encounters for the experience to feel epic. For the first few raid tiers, our plan is to provide multiple smaller raids. Instead of one raid with eleven bosses, you might have a five-boss raid as well as a six-boss raid. All of these bosses would drop the same item level gear, but the dungeons themselves being different environments will provide some variety in location and visual style, as well as separate raid lockouts. Think of how you could raid Serpentshrine Cavern and Tempest Keep separately, but you might still want to hit both every week.
This is interesting, and shows that they’ve thought quite deeply about this. I think this is a positive change, as long as they don’t go quite as far as Obsidian Sanctum and Eye of Eternity too often.
Looking back, Naxxramas combined with EoE and OS was a strange mix: a 15-boss raid along with two single-boss raids. The trouble with this model in Cataclysm is that you only get once chance to do the content per week; in WotLK if your Naxx-25 PuG had broken up after a wing or two you’d be able to go back on 10-man to at least see the content. In Cataclysm you’d be locked out of raiding for the week.
I’m generally slightly in favour of reigning back the ease of PuGging, insofar as it serves to seriously undermine the concept of a guild, but a change to an even-split multi-instance model is good for the whole game. I don’t want to punish PuGs, just increase the incentive to stick with a guild run.
This also should keep the raids more interesting. I didn’t hate To(G)C as much as some people seemed to, but it did get a bit repetitive fighting the same five battles week after week. Icecrown’s environments are fairly varied, ranging from the cave-like at the beginning to the three main wings, the openness of Deathbringer’s Rise and Sindragosa’s Lair, and of course the Gunship battle, but it’s not the same as being able to swap between Ulduar and Icecrown in a week.
We do like how gating bosses over time allows the community to focus on individual encounters instead of just racing to the end boss, so we’re likely to keep that design moving forward. We don’t plan to impose attempt limitations again though, except maybe in cases of rare optional bosses (like Algalon). Heroic mode may not be open from day one, but will become available after defeating normal mode perhaps as little as once or twice.
I’m pretty neutral on the limited attempts thing. It’s annoying to lose one because someone goes LD, or because the boss decides that a crucial player needs a double dose of Malleable Goo at the same time as the Volatile Ooze decides to single them out, but I’m also strongly in favour of mechanics which encourage people to take a wipe seriously.
I’m a verbal type of learner: I can picture an encounter and plan my approach in advance based on ability descriptions (which is why I tend to prepare my guild’s raid strategies. It was bordering on soul-destroying at times watching people frittering away our attempts by needing not only to see a mechanic but to fail to respond to it before they figured it out.
That said, I don’t mind gating either. Especially since they have said they won’t necessarily require the whole instance to be cleared before you can start on heroic modes. The heroic mode has been a bit of a slippery beast in WotLK when it comes to defining it. Naxxramas didn’t have heroic modes at all; you did things the “hard way” by ticking off achievements, things like speedkills, doing Sapphiron without frost resistance, by pulling extra adds on Kel’Thuzad. Ulduar shifted things slightly by allowing you to change some of the bosses in some way, typically by adding abilities to the fight. Then To(G)C and Icecrown came with fully-fledged heroic modes.
The intention Blizzard seem to be signalling is that normal mode is for most guilds, for PuGs, or if you want or need to pass by a boss more easily to get to the end of an instance; heroic modes are for the top X% of guilds who find normal mode lacking in challenge . I really like the Ulduar/Icecrown model, where difficulty is switchable on a boss-by-boss basis.
Allowing guilds to make the switch earlier, perhaps once you’ve completed a wing, perhaps once you’ve downed a boss, means that those guilds who really ought to be fighting heroic bosses can go straight there without spending weeks farming the normal mode. Our guild spent several weeks working on the Lich King, during which time the first raid of the week was a farm of the first 11 bosses and the other two raids were Lich King attempts. Opening up heroic mode earlier would have been vastly preferable for us.
This would provide a headache for guild ranking sites though. Currently you need to complete 12/12 normal mode, but in Cataclysm the decision will need to be made about how to compare a guild that sticks with normals with a guild that might be 8/12 normal and 6/12 heroic, for example.
In terms of tuning, we want groups to be able to jump into the first raids pretty quickly, but we also don’t want them to overshadow the Heroic 5-player dungeons and more powerful quest rewards. We’ll be designing the first few raid zones assuming that players have accumulated some blue gear from dungeons, crafted equipment, or quest rewards. In general, we want you and your guild members to participate in and enjoy the level up experience.
Interesting. I wasn’t decked out in 8/8 Absolution coming into WotLK, so I needed to run heroics to get suitably geared up for Naxxramas. I remember hours spent farming the Red Sword of Courage from Utgarde Pinnacle for our MT. I got my tailoring high enough to make craftable gear for a few of our raiders, and we got together groups for the 5-man quests in Icecrown for the sweet blues on offer. Happy days.
I don’t want heroics to be a grind like they were in TBC, but I’m encouraged to see them gaining greater prominence again. What seems to go overlooked is that heroic bosses very often use simplified or slightly modified versions of mechanics that you later encounter in raid bosses, so learning to tank, heal or DPS in heroics is a great testbed for raiding. Not to mention everyone will need time to readjust to some quite fundamental changes to your talents and abilities and to game mechanics.
I’ve never been keen to skip content or to be rushed through the levelling process.
The goal with all of these changes is to make it as much of a choice or effect of circumstance whether you raid as a group of 10 or as a group of 25 as possible. Whether you’re a big guild or a small guild the choice won’t be dependent on what items drop, but instead on what you enjoy the most.
Needless to say, there’s been something of an explosion in the WoW community lately. If you want it in raw form, you can try the EU or US threads about the changes on the official forums. If you feel like you have nothing left to live for, go read the MMO-Champion forums (I won’t link to them because then I’d have to read them).
Elsewhere on the web, there’s a range of views. Here’s a small selection from my blogroll:
Karatheya at Cold Comfort has got some initial thoughts from a leadership perspective, and I’m sure a more in-depth analysis of the implications will appear in due course.
Avalonna at Tales of a Priest offers a refreshing perspective from someone who is a hardmode raider. She says:
Maybe – just MAYBE – this change won’t be the end of raiding. You want to know what this Elitist prick thinks? I think this change could rock. Yes, you heard me right. Do I have concerns? Yup. But’s look at the possible positives
Larísa at The Pink Pigtail Inn takes the opposite view, worrying about the effect this will have on 25-man raiding, especially if the incentive structure doesn’t support 25s enough.
Pewter, the Mental Shaman, not content with stealing my section title (“the rise of the alt”, I swear I wrote it first, I just post slowly!) also put forward a very measured take on the proposals from the point of view of an officer in a 25-man raiding guild.
I’ll illustrate this with a quite from the EU thread:
Reading this gave me a bad feeling about the future of wow, casuals and hardcore players will be the same with this change. There will be no reason to do 25 mans because you can get the exact same things from both modes, unless blizzard makes both modes actually hard and the hardmodes would actually be hardmodes.
There’s so many things wrong with this logic, but this (albeit stated more eloquently) is a fairly common sort of feeling, so let’s examine it.
First, there’s an implicit equating of 25-man with “hardcore” and 10-man with “casual”. Go join a 10-man strict guild and tell them they’re “casual”.
There’s then a related implicit assumption that 10-mans are easier. Currently they are, because they’re designed to be run with gear almost a full tier behind the cutting edge, so 25-man guilds are steamrolling the content with more HP, more DPS, and faster, more powerful heals than is ‘required’.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. We’ve recently been working through heroic modes in Icecrown, and even with 264 across the board Marrowgar-10H is no joke, while Marrowgar-25H is far, far easier. On the other hand, Saurfang-10H is easier than Saurfang-25H. Different fights scale differently as you increase the number of players available.
Larísa actually captures it nicely, so I’ll quote her again:
If you’re in a 10 man raiding guild you’re likely to say that 10 mans are exactly as challenging as 25 mans – if not more, since the failure of one single player will have bigger impact of the outcome in many fights.
If you’re in a 25 man raiding guild you’ll probably argue that getting 10 people come together and play as a team is a piece of cake comparing to the administrative nightmare of arranging 25 man runs. Apart from that it’s way more likely that one out of 25 will screw up or just get dc:d in an encounter with tight margins, than that someone will fall off when you only have ten people to worry about.
I’m a huge fan of individual responsibility in raids, so I like the 10-man paradigm precisely because one player’s error can be highly significant. 25-man raids feel more anonymous and errors tend to average out; sure they matter, but they get compensated for more easily. One person going LD in a 25-man raid might be more likely but has a smaller impact, weigh those two together and, at least for me, it’s pretty much a wash.
Then raise the relative gear requirements of 10-man raids so that you can’t create yourself an artificial margin by overgearing the place and you have a great environment where everyone gives their best and focuses.
From this healer’s perspective, the big improvement of 10-man raiding over 25-man raiding is that you won’t have one of each type of healer available, so you won’t be able to slot neatly into a standard template, but you need to adapt and work outside your comfort zone a bit.
For example, Saurfang-10H tend to need to be 2-healed. But once you get to 1 Mark of the Fallen Champion you’re already healing two people full-time, and then there’s the raid damage to take care of. 2 Marks is really unpleasant. A Paladin trivialises this a bit with Beacon of Light, but if you don’t have one you need to adapt by stretching yourself and using your multi-target heals as best you can. We have our Shaman Chain Heal the tank through the Marked player(s), for example.
The rise of the alt
More interestingly, this does seem to suggest a subtle shift towards more alt raids. If you’re limited to one raid a week per character, your off-night runs will now need to either be runs to older content, maybe on heroic, or alt runs.
When I was co-leading a guild, particularly after dual-spec was introduced, we enshrined the concept of Substitutes. These were alts or offspecs who gained higher loot priority than regular alts, but agreed in return to maintain their alternative role and to switch to fill that role if we needed it in a given raid. The need for Substitutes was evaluated by the Officers and carefully reviewed, but ended up helping us out a lot when we were short tanks or healers in particular, and provided a more structured approach than letting people develop offspecs as they felt inclined.
Adapting this sort of concept could have strong rewards for either type of guild in Cataclysm, with massively increased flexibility for raid leaders. Taking it further, you could even allow some players to go “dual-main”, although your loot system will need to be flexible enough (or carefully modified) to handle this.
Since I only really play healers, and I prefer to concentrate my achievements on one character, I probably won’t be going dual-main, but the raid leader in me likes the idea.
The death of 25-man raiding?
I’m not convinced the sky really is falling. Will the number of 25-man guilds reduce? I’d bet on it. But the people who leave will be those who do 25s for the loot, the prestige, or the challenge. The 25-man guilds who remain will remain either for the “epic” feeling of a larger raid or role team, because like Pewter they have more than 10 friends, because they have faith in the leadership and want to remain in their guild, or because for whatever other reason they actually like the 25-man format.
If people don’t enjoy 25-man raiding, then allowing them to face the same level of challenge for the same rewards in an environment they prefer can only be a good thing.
Cataclysm is a long way off, but the changes to guilds were already giving me a hankering to get back into guild and raid leadership again. These proposed changes have pretty much cemented this in my mind.
So I’m giving serious consideration to dusting off <Intent>, updating the policies, finding some more dedicated, professional raiders and forging a 10-man path to Deathwing.
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