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Reflecting on the Dragon Soul Nerfs

Posted by Malevica on June - 19 - 2012

The Dragon Soul nerfs have now reached the 25% mark. How has the experience been?

When the Dragon Soul nerfs were first announced I wasn’t thrilled. They changed the experience when we didn’t need it changing. We were still progressing, still improving both gear-wise and skill-wise, and what we really wanted was more time.

An Anecdote

We’d spent a couple of weeks sat at heroic Spine at 10% and were consistently getting to the final lift of the fight before a healer or tank would die and the game would be over. We went away on the Sunday, had a good rethink, really sorted out a few things and were all set to go back in and kill it once and for all. Unfortunately we’ll never know if we really did have it nailed because the fight got nerfed that week; we went in the following Wednesday and 2-shot it.

That did rather take the edge off the achievement.

As did two other guilds on our realm killing it on the same night.

Levelling the Field

Sometimes a boss will come along which provides a serious challenge to a raid team. Guilds will “bunch up” at this point as they work on it, but eventually one will manage to get past it and move ahead for a while. That’s good, because it helps to space guilds out and feeds into the sense of competition. Nerfs undermine that.

Lower the bar and suddenly the leader is whoever gets organised and pulls earliest. That’s not good for competition. I don’t raid for a ranking but I do pay attention to it, and having your ranking determined by the time of the evening you raid, or whether you extended your lockout or re-cleared, or whether one of your raiders had internet problems that night just doesn’t feel right.

What’s more, often you’re not actually solving the problem but postponing it. A guild that’s stuck on heroic Hagara will just get stuck on heroic Blackhorn instead. By not allowing them the time to figure out the solutions (improve DPS, coordinate better, etc) on their own, you’re giving them the metaphorical fish, when it would be better to teach them to fish.

What Does Heroic Mean Anyway?

On my fairly small server 11 guilds have defeated heroic Madness, and 30 guilds are at least 5/8. 91 have killed at least one heroic boss. According to WowProgress almost 10% of the guilds recorded globally have killed heroic Madness. Go back to WotLK, and only 2% of guilds killed heroic Lich King on 25-man, and less than 7% on 10-man despite the gear advantage.

I know 10% is still a minority, and the raiding population is also a small fraction of the playerbase, but I can’t help feeling that the “heroic” tag has lost some of its lustre at this point.

For me, “heroic” should mean difficult to the point where less than 5% of guilds (and maybe a lot fewer than that) can defeat the final encounter. It should mean that you acquired pretty much the best gear available to you, and still had to reach deep down to get the kill. You need to bump up the skill side of the gear x skill product to pull it off. Nerfs that kick in before the gearing process is even close to complete just serve to undermine this.

A Surfeit of Healers

The new collective noun for healers: a surfeit.

Nerfs play merry hell with raid composition. We’ve dropped from needing 3 healers for most of the fights to solo-healing several of them, and at least one of us is stuck either sitting or DPSing each week. Believe me, that’s not something any of us especially enjoys.

The trouble is that nerfs don’t usually affect the number of things to be tanked, and more DPS is rarely a problem (Madness is the exception to both of those rules), so their roles are secure and relatively unchanged. But as the fights get nerfed there’s just not enough healing to go around and it directly affects our play experience and our fun level.

Incidentally, 2-healing heroic Madness last week was the most fun I’ve had in ages! Talk about running on fumes!


It wouldn’t be fair to grumble and mutter without at least trying to be constructive.

First off I can accept the argument that the raids need to be almost overtuned initially to provide a decent challenge for the top teams and then perhaps renormalised for the rest of us. We see that happen every time after a famous team snatches a world first with some crazy tactics. I’m fine with that. But once that adjustment is made the heroic bar needs to stay where it is. Give the teams who like to work for a challenge a stable set of goalposts. Once the gearing process is complete, then consider rebalancing.

If it absolutely has to be a progressively-increasing nerf it would be nice to be able to select the levels rather than just having an on/off switch. It’s a small change but an important one. My guild have talked about going back and trying some of the encounters without the buff, but 0% is a big jump from 25%, or from the 5% and 10% at which we got our first kills. But if we could select 10% to start with that might be more realistic and we could work our way up from there.

I’d like to find a way to solve the problem with the lack of damage to heal, but unfortunately I’m coming up blank. I think it’s a fundamental problem with healing being capped where DPS just isn’t. I don’t like the idea of just splitting the healers up spatially so that you have to take 2 or 3 anyway (the tank solution), because it doesn’t really help with the boredom problem.

Suggestions would be welcome.

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Categories: Opinion

12 Responses so far.

  1. What exacerbates the issue is the manner that the nerfs are implemented. By implementing flat 5% steps based off of 100% health, each successive nerf actually has a bigger impact on than the one before it because it’s reducing a larger and larger percentage of the health and damage relative to the week prior. What this is creating is the situation where an encounter that seemed difficult to progress on the previous lockout becomes nearly trivial, and with each step, that gulf will catch more and more guilds into its maw. What was intended to be a 5% nerf becomes a 6% or 7% nerf, and all those thrilling 4 seconds into the enrage first kills suddenly become routine and farmable.

    Further creating problems is that many of the fights have mechanics that are based around timed phase lines, rather than being based on health levels. Ultraxion is the most egregious. The hardest problem with Ultraxion is healing deep into the fight, but the nerf directly cuts that final phase out. The hardest part of the fight simply doesn’t exist anymore, and we went from needing a disc priest to meet the DPS check before we ran out of time loops, to solo healing it and killing it before the green buff goes out. Madness, Hagara, and Zon’ozz also suffer from this problem.

    Ultimately, the nerf doesn’t mesh well with what was already a mediocre instance from a design perspective.

    • Malevica says:

      That’s a good point about the effectively increasing size of the nerfs.

      It’s not just the increasing size of the steps, but you’re right that the character of the encounters changes too. Ultraxion is a great example where the fight gets made easier by more than just the 5% (or 7%) of the nerf itself because you also kill it before some of the difficulty.
      The same is also true of Zon’ozz (you can take fewer bounces and still hit the enrage, and you spend less time with high stacks in the Black Blood phase).

  2. Browncoat says:

    I agree the nerfs came too soon and are much bigger than they should be by this point.

    I’ve found myself wishing that Blizzard would introduce a set of achievements for those who killed each heroic boss w/o nerfs (disabling the nerf). This would allow 10% of the guilds to progress, yet still allow for differentiation between the guilds who have really played at a very high level and those who require the nerfs to progress.

    This would be something that could be tracked by wowprogress and the like, and it would revive the sense of competition between guilds that is so much fun (even if it is just bragging rights).

    • Malevica says:

      This is definitely an interesting idea. It would be good to have a specific achievement for a 0% kill because it would enable guilds to compare themselves on a level playing field.

      But even without progressive nerfs there are still small nerfs applied, like the tweaks to the Burning Tendons on heroic Spine. It’s not a truly level playing field if we can’t compare ourselves properly to the guilds that went through on the original difficulty.

      For that system to work as intended you need to keep the fights absolutely pristine from the moment they launch until (at least) the end of the tier. As players we would then need to accept that some tiers won’t necessarily feel as “balanced” as others if we don’t permit Blizzard to make any changes at all.

      The other thing is that you’d probably need to award the achievement for first kills at 0% to be truly fair. Is it the same to compare a late 0% kill of Spine when your team is equipped with heroic Madness weapons and heroic Spine trinkets to the early kills when those aren’t available?
      A 0% kill for my guild now would not be the same as the 0% kills by the top guilds in December.

      I still think the idea has merit though, and I’d probably accept the downsides for the opportunity it would present. It’s a better solution than we have now, certainly.

  3. AliPally says:

    We are currently stuck on Spine of Deathwing, and I would like to think it is as much down to our poor class composition rather than our dps just sucks.
    We have 2 boomkins and a warlock in our ranks, so we lack the burst damage we need, and we also don’t have a resto shaman either, so on the healing side we do have it harder.
    I think this is the problem with 10 man raid design. If you have the best classes available for an encounter you are going to find it easier than if you don’t.

    I think the problem in DS has been that due to the small number of bosses, the step up required between them has been too big. Blackhorn was a massive step up from the previous bosses, and Spine has been another.
    As for the nerfs, the first 5 bosses are now completely faceroll for us, and even Blackhorn is at most a 2 or 3 shot for us, yet because we can’t get the tendons down in 2 goes, we can’t progress on Spine, no matter how much we try. This means we either have to wait for another nerf, or we give up.

    If you want say only the top 10% to kill the end boss on heroic, I don’t have a problem with that, but for the other 90% of players, you have to give them something else to do instead once they can’t get any further with the current instance.

    Back in BC we were stuck on Kaelthas for some time, and it was quite depressing really, because we knew that we just weren’t good enough to beat him. When Blizzard removed the attunements, we were able to raid BT and Mt Hyjal instead, which I think was a lifesaver for our raid group. If something is too hard there has to be an alternative available.

    • Malevica says:

      I think you’re right that there’s some pretty big steps up within Dragon Soul; that’s a contributor to the stop-start progression we see whenever a new level of nerf hits. The other thing a small raid like this lacks is options. ICC at least had multiple wings so you could take a break on Professor Putricide to go and deal with Blood Queen Lana’thel if you found that one better suited to your team than another. You had to get them all eventually, but you had more to work on.

      […] for the other 90% of players, you have to give them something else to do instead once they can’t get any further with the current instance.

      Back in BC we were stuck on Kaelthas for some time, and it was quite depressing really, because we knew that we just weren’t good enough to beat him. When Blizzard removed the attunements, we were able to raid BT and Mt Hyjal instead, which I think was a lifesaver for our raid group.

      Leaving aside the specifics of Spine and the burst DPS requirement for a moment.

      There’s a number of players in the game who don’t see anything wrong with getting stuck on a boss for weeks or even months at a time. I’ve been stuck on Kael’Thas for ages too; my options were to work with my team and improve everyone to the point where we were able to kill it, recruit different players to raise the skill level or improve the composition, or find a different team.

      Where our perspectives diverge is where you say “can’t get any further”. To me, as a relatively hardcore raider, that’s just progression, albeit with a fairly steep curve. Sometimes progression for a raid team means improving your roster as well as your individual performances. “Giving up”, viewed through that lens, is just a choice you make. Blizzard still has content for you to attempt, to practise on and to (eventually) defeat.

      All that said, progression for months on end is certainly not for everyone, it’s really for a small minority, and in the meantime I can see how many raid teams can perceive a void to be filled.

      I suppose I’m wondering what alternative content you’d like to see. If Blizzard had released another raid instead of nerfing this one, we’d have been complaining about the Ulduar effect (or, worse, the Ruby Sanctum effect).
      I think the solution suggested by ObiChad would be a great solution. Let raid teams pick their own difficulty level week-by-week and boss-by-boss, and let the nerf/buff level be visible to ranking sites and the armoury. Every guild would still be able to progress at something, no need to wait for another nerf, while guild who want more of a stretch can choose that too.

  4. ObiChad says:

    I really feel like the game, and the raiding community, needs another way to compete. Currently it’s just who can down the bosses the fastest. What if you could always buff or nerf the fight? “We beat it at 90%.” “Well, we beat it at 100%.” “You fools, we can do it at 120%.” Have it tracked in game at both a character and guild level.

    • Malevica says:

      You’d have to be careful about the way difficulty scaled (ideally you’d want it to be as close to linear as possible), but I absolutely love this idea!

      I was reading about the Challenge Modes and it seems like they’re just going to be speed kills. They do challenge all of the roles, but I think it’s a missed opportunity to really explore what “challenge” and “difficulty” mean in this sort of game.

  5. Ohken says:

    Healing on overgeared fights is a problem aside from nerfs. It comes up for any content that is relatively on farm. Examples are daily heroics and weekly LFR runs. If you have gear from the raids at the same level, then these weekly runs are a total bore to heal. There’s just nothing to do.

    It seems like the only way to fix the problem is to give healers something to do when the raid doesn’t need healing. The trick is to make it unappealing in progression fights, so there has to be a steep penalty to healing effectiveness whenever the alternative is used. Here are some ideas on what that alternative might be:

    1. Let them do dps, at a tank’s dps level.

    2. Let them buff the dpsers in some way.

    3. Let them extract some totally unrelated resource. For example, make little whatnots pop up on the screen and let the poor bored healers go chase them down whenever they have nothing else to do.

    • Malevica says:

      Fundamentally, if I’m a healer then I want to heal. I don’t necessarily want something else to do, I want to heal things and feel like my healing is needed.

      Perhaps a buff could go out when players are overhealed by a certain amount that buffed their damage done by X%, but it’s a bit of a stretch.

  6. Grav says:

    1 – LFR allows anyone to get tier gear (different color and numbers) and see content. Anyone.
    2 – Normal modes are pretty easy as is.
    3 – Heroic modes and achievements add additional value to content without creating entirely new stuff.
    4 – The game nerfs itself with gear and level ups.

    Heroic modes do not need to be nerfed at all. The whole point is they are supposed to be challenges. If you can’t do it, either accept that and wait to get more gear next tier OR find a better group of players.
    The only exception I can think of this tier is =insane= class-stack fight like Heroic Spine where you needed multiple burst DPS classes pre-15% nerf, irrelevant of gear.

    The actual solution is to put out content faster.

  7. Yuna says:

    ICC’s buff was slightly better in the manner that it increased DPS & Health pools so the fights were still the same. Personally this has prob been my ‘preferred’ variation of the nerfs.

    But my issues comes with the fact that Blizzards reasoning for these are so that everyone can see the content. I disagree with this, I think that Hardmodes should be hard, and take a solid amount of effort to push your way through all of them nerfless (like tier 11 was)
    And leave normal mode easily accomplish able for lower to middleish tier guilds.
    And LFR for those that are less comfortable in normal modes.

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