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Heroic Firelands

Posted by Malevica on October - 8 - 2011

Assuming you’ve not been living under a rock, you’ll be aware that just under three weeks ago the Firelands was hit with some pretty chunky nerfs, with 15% and 25% decreases in damage and health combined with reductions in the danger of some of the trickier mechanics (Alysrazor’s Tornadoes, for example).

My Context

How you feel about the nerfs is going to depend very strongly on your situation, so before I go and give my opinion I’ll explain where I’m coming from.

My guild had been pushing pretty hard, since forming up at the beginning of September, to work our way through the content and we were starting on Ragnaros when the announcement was made that we’d have a final week to down him “properly” before the nerfs arrived. We duly took him down on the Sunday night, and I have to tell you it was a big relief to all of us. You could feel the pressure on the raid to get it done and get it done quickly, before it wouldn’t feel like something to be proud of any more.

In the 8 raid nights we’ve had since the nerfs we’ve gone from 0/7 to 6/7 heroic bosses killed. Majordomo took a meagre 5 attempts, Baleroc took two. The rest took around a dozen pulls each to get down. Whew!

Now, and this is important, let me not take anything away from the team here. I’m not saying this isn’t an achievement to be proud of, because these fights aren’t (generally) a walkover and there have been some strong performances, some extremely quick learning, and good teamwork on show. And there are plenty of teams that haven’t progressed this much even post-nerf, we’ve leap-frogged several on our server. So I’ll say a huge congratulations to everyone involved.


My Sense of Achievement

When I’ve thought in the past about what makes a kill worthwhile for me, and therefore what makes me really value my achievements while raiding, I always put it down to the feeling of progressively learning to overcome a challenge, where that learning might be personal or collective.
For example, maybe I learned how to squeeze out a bit more healing to get the raid through a healing-intense period, or the healing team nailed our cooldown usage, or the raid’s positioning was spot on and no one got hit by the bad, or perhaps we finally beat that pesky enrage timer. Whatever the trick might have been, we started off not able to beat the boss, and ended up in triumph.

That could obviously account for being underwhelmed by heroic Baleroc who was more or less a push-over, but we spent a dozen or more attempts downing Shannox, Beth’tilac and Alysrazor and there was undoubtedly some progression involved there. So there must be something else that contributes to my sense of achievement that’s not been stimulated by the more recent boss kills.

Well, I’ve done some thinking, and I’ve come up with two prime candidates:

My Elitism

I’ll say it, I’m an elitist. I’ll also explain what I mean by that: I’m okay with the idea of content that’s graded and graded such that most people won’t see everything (myself included). People find their level and raid the content that works for them.

Myself, I want to be able to look at my raid achievements pane, or my titles, or WoWProgress and compare myself (or my guild) to others. I’ll be honest and say that I enjoy seeing which progression percentile I’m in, and how many people haven’t managed to see and do what I’ve seen and done. It makes me feel good, and I doubt I’m alone in that.

That “elitism” is a strong driver for me to put the time and effort into raiding, both inside and outside the game, even when it’s hard work. But when I look at WoWProgress and see an extremely flat field, with 10 guilds currently at 6/7 heroic and probably more to join us shortly, that ability to rank myself is diminished and with it some of my sense of accomplishment. By contrast, before the nerfs the half-dozen or so guilds raiding heroic content were pretty well spread out between 1/7 and 6/7.

We have been jumping up the rankings this last fortnight as we took down bosses so I have enjoyed a little of that feeling, but very quickly we’ve found ourselves just one of the pack again.

Which leads me on to the other factor:

My Pacing

This is the big one, I think: time.

I’m talking about the time it takes to down a new boss. It’s so quick that there’s just no real need for the poring over of logs or the researching of strategies or the discussion on guild forums. And I enjoy all that stuff!

I’m also talking about the time it takes us to acquire new gear and progress our characters. Like it or not WoW is a loot- and gear-centred game, but the speed at which we’ve taken down new bosses means we’ve had no sense of that progression. Whatever gear we started heroics with would probably have been enough, it’s just about getting the hang of the execution.
What I realise is that I actually enjoy seeing bosses get noticeably easier as we gear up, but I find that that once a boss is sufficiently easy to defeat the gear ceases to make much of a difference to the challenge, and so that point of reference is lost to me.

And I’m talking about the time we get to actually enjoy a new kill. It’s nice to get a new boss down and then enjoy basking in that feeling for a few days. Getting another new boss down an hour later has robbed me of the pleasure of savouring the first kill for more than that hour.

And finally I’m talking about the simple fact that time translates to effort, and that the more effort we put into something, the better we feel when it’s successfully completed. Simple, but true nonetheless.

My Conclusion

As I said right at the start, this is all a matter of perspective. I’m an individual, with a particular set of values and motivations. I’m also in a particular guild with a particular average skill level and particular progression.

For me in the position I’m in now, the nerfs sucked. Having worked our way through the not-especially-challenging normal-mode bosses, we were just about to deal with Ragnaros so we could start really testing our mettle against the heroic modes. What actually happened was that those promised heroic modes provided little challenge, so instead of a series of challenges we’re effectively left with just one, heroic Ragnaros. Maybe this is how Paragon feel every patch?

On the other hand, there is now a good spread of guilds between 5/7 heroic and 7/7 normal, so for those guilds the nerfs might well have been pretty sweet. And amongst the teams who were struggling with some of the normal modes, there might well be some happy faces there too as they can move beyond the two or three bosses and see some new content. I don’t know though, I’m not them.

Perhaps the Raid Finder will solve this problem. Move the “everyone should get to see the end boss, at least in some form” into the LFR mode, and you effectively have a third difficulty level to play with: Heroics for the Royalty and Aristocracy to complete or work through respectively, normals for the Gentry and Bourgeoisie to complete or work through respectively, and LFR for those without the time, skills or structure (and I’m not saying those are linked in any way) to handle the medium difficulty level. And alts. Lots of alts.

Or, and this is far more likely, it’ll just mean the problematic cases are moved to somewhere else on the spectrum, and they can moan about the state of the raiding game instead!

Also, I’ve been watching way too much Scrubs 😉

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Categories: Opinion

On Gimmicks

Posted by Malevica on September - 7 - 2011

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.

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Categories: Opinion