For some reason game blog folks have been talking lately about their favorite WoW raids, past and present. (See Klep and Doone, for example.) While “best raid” is a pretty subjective title, and one (as Klep points out) that is probably heavily swayed by one’s guild at the time, there are a few names that always seem to pop up in these lists.
Karazhan is a huge fan favorite, and with good reason. While the change from 40-mans in Vanilla to 10-mans in Karazhan to 25-mans everywhere else in TBC was kind of a pain in the butt as a guild leader, the instance itself was beautiful, sprawling, and had some mechanics we had never seen before like the random Opera House boss.
Ulduar is another raid zone that comes up often in these conversations. Again it’s huge and thematically very interesting. The bosses were memorable (“In the mountains!”) and the hard modes in Ulduar were probably the best Blizzard has ever done, both in technique and integration. Also, Firefighter, a.k.a. Mimiron hard mode, remains one of the most fun fights ever in WoW raid history.
I come to you today, though, to talk about a raid instance that doesn’t come up very often in “best raid” lists, and yet is the nearest and dearest to my heart: Serpentshrine Cavern.
Certainly a great deal of the joy I experienced in SSC was a product of my guild. We had a great group, many of whom I still talk to and play with today. (And if you are reading this and we haven’t talked lately, say hello!) Our guild had some amazing in-jokes from SSC, like warning people about the “veranda hole” outside Leo’s cavern that newbies always fell through, or everyone popping their sprint abilities to be the first one to activate the bridge to Vashj.
However even beyond the awesome people I was there with, the bosses themselves were also really fun. The Lurker Below had to be fished up to start the encounter, and diving underwater to avoid spout was pretty unique at the time. Hydross had lots of running around to stay on the right side of debuffs, and Karathress was one of those crazy council-style fights with a ton of bosses and tank assignments. Morogrim (who we called Karl for some reason) had a giant ship wheel as a belt buckle which inspired a million “Arr, it’s drivin’ me nuts” jokes, and Leo not only allowed for a warlock tank but also had the potential to let us kill mind controlled guildies.
(We had an enhancement shaman named Doomikov, and everyone knew that if you didn’t kill your shadow and got mind controlled the last thing you would see was Doom’s giant mace.)
And then there was Vashj herself. While Kael’thas in Tempest Keep actually took us much longer to learn, I think Vashj was probably the more complicated fight. Everyone in the raid had to be assigned an area. While killing adds we tossed “cores” around like a basketball, trying to position someone to dunk it. In the middle, a couple of kiters ran around in circles, tossing nets and stuns and being followed by gigantic fen creatures. And then once you did THAT, you still had a DPS race phase where people would avoid standing in green stuff and get horrible debuffs.
Vashj in her day was a crazy, crazy, crazy fight, and killing her the first time was satisfying in a way that probably no other boss aside from Kael would ever match.
SSC had everything I liked in a raid zone — difficult and interesting encounters, killer elevators, and good friends.
There seems to be a feeling of regret floating around old school WoW raiders lately. I’ve seen it in other places, but this post over on Raging Monkeys does a great job of summing up the conflict. Syl writes,
“To this day, I am deeply resentful; resentful of Blizzard, of the game’s later raid designs that presented my own guild with such a reality. [...] Most of all, I resent them for making me that different person. A person with less and less tolerance for team diversity.”
Reading that passage the first time was striking because I lately have been feeling almost the exact same way. But is the “hardcore” raid culture really to blame?
The Cats were never traditionally hardcore, not even in our peak raiding days. I always believed (and still do) in recruiting smart raiders and then getting out of the way so they could do their thing. We didn’t yell or insult people for performance, and attendance was always optional. But as time went on, we — I — started getting more and more picky about who was and was not considered an essential part of the team.
That nice guy with a newborn who could only raid once a week? Accomodating him felt less important than keeping the experienced people together when faced with night 3 of Heroic Putricide. The woman from Australia with bad latency but awesome attendance? Taking her on a cloak run of TotGC put everyone on edge. Granted, in TBC we got a little more serious about raiding as a guild, but the folks who found themselves on the outside were generally the people who didn’t care that much. They didn’t have enchants, or “forgot to train taunt”. But in WotLK in particular I definitely started leading the guild in a more serious business direction.
So, why did that happen? Part of it was that I personally wanted to keep the ol’ progression train rolling along, and certainly the increased emphasis on fights where individuals can kill the whole raid was a factor, but I think there is another obvious culprit: Casuals. Yeah, that’s right. I said it.
Okay, that was a bit sensational, but I genuinely think the drive to increase the accessability of raiding actually made the culture of raids more focused on performance.
In TBC, after a certain point you had to raid to earn PvE upgrades. And because there were multiple tiers at once and no outside way to obtain the gear, you had to work through the tiers in order. Many tiers of content were valid at the same time. The lean, mean raiding machine with the army general leader could log on and work on their upgrades in Hyjal, while my guild with our not-ungenerous portion of dorks and drunks ( <3 ) could log on and obtain our upgrades in SSC. Usually by the time we worked our way to a boss it was ~10% easier beween nerfs and class buffs and we were loaded up with gear from the previous tier.
My guild, anyway, was quite satisfied with this system. I did not worry what Raidy McRaiderson was doing in Hyjal, because I was too busy securing a resist tank for Hydross attempts or other goals appropriate to our raiding dedication and ability.
In WotLK, Blizzard added two big (and totally successful!) initiatives to improve raid accessability in WoW: badge gear (technically introduced in TBC, but right at the end) and the LFD. The effect was, of course, people being able to gear up faster than ever before, almost to the equivalent of the latest raid content. Running previous raid tiers became obsolete overnight, and out with it went guilds clearing content at thier own pace.
Now every guild started the same raid at the same time, and stopped the same raid at the same time. The sense of being in direct competition, somehow comparing ourselves to them all, began to get hard to ignore. Additionally, the introduction of the simultaneous badge/raid system meant that raids were no longer released en masse, but one at a time. Instead of looking at a handful of raids and thinking we had 18 months or so (we averaged a new boss every couple of weeks), the window of opportunity for current content seemed to become smaller and smaller. Ulduar, for example, had 14 bosses, some of whom had 3 different difficulty modes, and a whole giant mess of achievements. It was current for 5 months.
So not only were we all forced to raid on the same timetable in WotLK due to having a badge system tied to raid tiers, but that time got a lot shorter. Is it any wonder that some of us started to get a bit squirrelly about failure?
Before you accuse me of being a jerk about raid accessibility, let me assure you that I’m all for it in theory. Play the game, raid the raids — I don’t care if you have better gear than I do or whatever it is I’m supposed to be all elitist about.
However, the specific ways that Blizzard chose to implement raid accessibility actually alientated a lot of the players they were trying to help, and encouraged leaders to be more stringent about individual performance. Sure, we did it to ourselves, but Blizzard paved the way.
Here is a post I read this morning on a WoW discussion site. I chose it because it is a good representation of many similar posts I have seen in the last couple of days:
I have a Deathwing kill on my Hunter and I’m already finished. But, for the first time ever, I unsubscribed for a positive reason. I came back to learn and gear my Hunter, get a transmog bow, and kill Deathwing. Done, done, and done. Time to move on to other games.
And herein lies the problem with easy content. This player’s reaction would be great if Blizzard’s business plan was to run an MMO for a week after a content patch and then shut down the servers, but that is clearly not the case.
The LFR version of Deathwing can be one-shot in a pug (as I did last night) and then Shaman Ex Machina Thrall shows up in the post-kill cinematic to declare “The Cataclysm is over!” (I’m not making that up, he really does) and millions of players say, “Oh sweet, later guys” and go play League of Legends for the next 8 months.
At the end of the day the Looking for Raid feature will be a monumental reminder of why uber-easy, no risk, “casual” raiding doesn’t work beyond a week or two.
I have fallen back in love with WoW this week. Part of it is that I stumbled into a nice little group of folks in my guild with whom I can run instances and get into trouble, and of course the arrival of Patch 4.3 helped a lot. It has not escaped my attention that the patch that returns Azeroth to a state more resembling the oh-so-casual Wrath of the Lich King expansion is the one that has everyone talking and playing. Is returning to Wrath’s difficulty level the answer to Blizzard’s subscription problems?
To be fair, the three new heroics are not pushovers. They are short, have interesting mechanics, and are easy to die in if you’re not paying attention. Healing some of these fights is a little intense right now, but the risk seems even with the reward. It reminds me a lot of the three “lore” heroics that came into the game with Icecrown Citadel. They are a happy medium between the early ICC heroics, which were so boring I would come up with gimmicks to amuse myself like only running backwards or wearing costume clothes, and early Cataclysm heroics which were very tough and in many cases very long.
That’s not to say that there shouldn’t be long, arduous heroics available (I really feel for non-raiders who want challenging content), but it’s nice to have some that are short, fun, and will kill you if you slack off too much.
My guild doesn’t raid until Saturday, so I haven’t had a chance to see Dragon Soul on normal mode yet but judging by the results of others it seems to be going back to ToC levels of difficulty. Average raiding guilds are killing 4+ bosses on their first night in the place. The Looking for Raid finder is even easier: I walked in on Wednesday night and one-shot the first three bosses and wiping once on the last one.
I think the difficulty (or lack thereof!) in the LFR is fine. That is what it’s for, and I think it’ll be a great way to level alts. Additionally, average raiding guilds will benefit greatly from having their members check out a fight in LFR before doing it on a guild run as well. However, I think once again Blizz has fallen into the WotLK problem of alienating their middle of the road guilds. It seems like most will have cleared normal Dragon Soul in a month. An average raid guild can kill roughly half of hard modes in any given instance, which means that yet again most guilds will have maybe 4 bosses to reasonably work on for the next six months. I’m glad recruiting in that situation is no longer my problem.
I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on my time as a raiding guild leader in WoW, and in retrospect I think the biggest mistake I personally made was falling into the trap of heroic raids. The Cats were never about being top 10 or better than our fellow players, but were mainly concerned with just seeing the content. Instead of agreeing with the Blizzard that heroic raids were progression, I think focusing on achievements would have fit better with our “be prepared, but not too serious” ethos. Run normals, do heroics if we want, but make achievements our “progression”.
Given the option between normal modes that are pushovers and hardmodes that are overtuned recycled content, I feel like an achievement-oriented raiding guild would be the best way for a mid-level group to navigate between the two.
Hey guys! Anything interesting in MMO-land happen this weekend?
Okay, okay, I kid. If you’re reading this, then you more than likely already know that on Friday Blizzard announced that the fourth expansion pack for World of Warcraft will be Mists of Pandaria. The reaction to this announcement has generally been derisive, and bloggers in particular have been deleting their characters in protest and declaring that they’re moving on to other games.
My reaction has been mixed. I’m not a fan of the furry races although much of that can be attributed to the fact that Blizzard artists cannot stop fetishizing the female form of any species. (Yes, that is an official concept drawing of a mantis lady with no arms and the rack of a Playboy bunny.) However, I totally dig the addition of a hybrid melee healer class in the monk, and I think the proposed talent changes are a good direction. There was nothing said at Blizzcon that convinced me to rededicate myself to WoW but I will likely end up buying MoP and playing it for a few months.
Mostly, though, Blizzcon just made me kind of nostalgic and sad for the way things once were. We had guildies there in person from 2007-2010, many meeting face-to-face for the first time. I went myself in 2009 for the announcement of Cataclysm and the sense of community and excitement in the convention hall was palpable. While I couldn’t make it to Anaheim last year I did buy the feed and had a few folks over for a Blizzcon party.
This year the Cats are far-flung around the gaming universe and while a lot of folks checked in to talk about Pandas it made me very much miss the good ol’ days of all being online together. (Sema, if you still read this.. I hope you’re well.) To some extent that applies to the MMO community as a whole, too: I’m not arguing against diversity in the game pool, but I do feel a little sad that we’ll probably never again be united as we once were.
And in truth, some of the complaining got on my nerves. My IM list lit up like a Christmas tree on Friday afternoon with people who wanted to talk about how WoW is a stupid game for stupid people, and it started to irritate me. I played it for six years, and I liked it. Were we all stupid then? Some Cats still play WoW. Are they stupid? I mean hell, Blizzard has made some decisions that I don’t agree with but the glee with which people tear into the game now is off-putting, in my opinion.
So anyway, yeah. I’m supposed to be all outraged about pandas like the cool kids when in fact I’m more just kind of sad that the MMO scene is a big ball of aimless wandering and negativity right now.
Much to the dismay of my guild leadery tendencies I can now totally see the appeal to just subscribing to WoW when there is new content to be had and not worrying about it when there’s not. My casual goblin self had a fine time this weekend trying to remember what buttons mean and doing the Molten Front quests.
I had the opportunity to see Firelands for the first time with a semi-pug. I hadn’t raided in seven months and hadn’t played a holy spec in longer than that. I skimmed over the Tankspot videos for the first two bosses and just kind of winged it and lo and behold at no point was I instakilled by a dance move. In all fairness perhaps the complaints about this refer to later bosses, but SpiderLady and PathyTrashGuy seemed not unduly reliant on twitch movement to me.
As I mentioned in a previous post, there has been much hand-wringing over what is now being termed as “the dance” in WoW raiding. From what I can tell, “dancing” refers to more twitchy, agility-based boss encounters that require being quick on your feet and moving in required ways at required times during the fight.
Leading the charge in this current complaint is Gevlon, the WoW blog scene’s favorite libertarian, and his post today is all about why the dance is inaccessable and wrong. Now, just to be clear, I haven’t done Firelands but I have at least seen if not killed every boss and mode that came before it, as well as watched videos of the Firelands fights and spoken with others who have done it themselves. I do not see how movement-based boss encounters are a new thing, and I do not understand how this would limit a player’s access to raids moreso than previous dependence on gear or output.
Are movement-based boss fights anything new? Gevlon thinks so: “While “fire on the ground” existed since Vanilla, it was straightforward and non-obtrusive.” Non-obtrusive fire! His argument is that previous raid bosses had elements that required movement, but they were straight-forward. I think an example of this that everyone would agree on is the fel infernals that dropped during the Prince Malchezaar fight in Karazhan. The infernals dropped out of the sky at a somewhat random pace onto a somewhat random location, but once they landed the damage could be easily avoided.
However, there are many, many examples of chaotic environmental damage before Cataclysm. This is hardly a new phenomenon. Archimonde had doomfires sweeping around the raid (not to mention the twitch mechanic of clicking Tears when tossed in the air). Felmyst’s air phase required some pretty fast and tricky movement, and anyone who failed would become mind controlled and have to be killed. Mother Shahraz in Black Temple had very little movement for tanks, but at random moments three players would be teleported and had to run like hell or they’d pretty much drop dead and take someone else with them. Heigan (in Vanilla and WotLK) is famous for being the “Dance Fight”, but Thaddius is an even better example of bosses that require moving correctly for success. (I’m purposefully not mentioning hard modes, but these mechanics have always been extremely popular there, like dodging fire on Mimiron or rotating the plague debuff for Putricide.)
“Move fast and smart” boss mechanics are nothing new.
But, for the sake of argument, let’s be kind and say that while this has always been around, it’s more prevalent in Firelands than ever before. Would this in fact be more limiting to casual raid accessability than previous tiers? Gevlon certainly thinks so, going so far as to say that “Brutallus was more casual friendly than Alysrazor.” The reason given for this is that output based bosses like Brutallus allow a completely new person the opportunity to succeed their first time in the fight due to work done outside of the raid (collecting gear and practicing rotations, basically).
Would someone brand new to the zone be able to survive and contribute to a Brutallus kill? To be fair, Brutallus was the pinnacle of DPS race bosses in his day but even he had a movement/awareness component from the Burn debuff that could be spread to surrounding players. I don’t think it’s at all reasonable to assume that a raider who has a problem with movement and twitch play would easily be able to note if they or someone around them had Burn and quickly move appropriately.
It’s also worth noting that the only way to contribute to Brutallus as DPS was to have top-of-the-line raid gear from previous encounters, which was hardly casual friendly back in TBC days. I think everyone who played WoW then and now would agree that it’s much easier to gear up a character now, whether they think that’s a good thing or not.
This is all hypothetical though, so again for the sake of argument let’s pretend that there are more movement requirements in Firelands bosses, and someone new to the fight is more likely to die the first time they see a current fight than they would in the bad old days. My response to that is: so what? The expectation here seems to be that someone completely new to a boss should be able to walk into the fight and ace it 100% of the time. A newbie died the first time they saw a fight? Oh no! A brand new tank had to try a few times before they mastered the movement associated with a boss? What?! That’s 10 minutes of my life I’ll never get back!
Why should a player expect to be awesome at a fight they’ve never seen? Grinding badges for gear until your fingers fall off is acceptable raid behavior, but actually practising the fight is, apparently, not.
Movement and fire “dancing” is not new to Cataclysm. Not having to move is not the final absolute arbiter over whether a new raider survives a fight or not. And even if it was — I don’t really see why it’s a problem. Chill out, take a deep breath, let the new guy learn the fight, and move it, move it.