“Death can take me if I can’t be free. I am not like you, I’m a dying breed!”-Five Finger Death Punch
It’s hard to remember back to the time when there were no achievements in raids. We’re coming up on nearly two full years of raiding with those little 10pt boxes flashing on our screen after (or even during) boss fights.
The playing field for the whole game changed with those little boxes. Now, we are no longer raiding for perfection, we’re raiding to check off boxes on a list of things we need to get done. The necessity of being able to easily repeat a boss fight is now distilled down to one encounter: Lich King Heroic. A raid group needs to complete the heroic mode versions of Professor Putricide, Blood Queen Lana’thel, and Sindragosa to move on and use their remaining attempts to work on the pinnacle challenge of WotLK.
So it affects about 200 guilds. Cool.
The problem that this creates, in conjunction with Strength of Wrynn, is that gear is no longer a factor in progression. It certainly provides an edge to those that collect it and min/max their kits to squeeze out every last drop of DPS, but it isn’t required to progress nearly as much as it used to.
This has moved most of the hardcore raiding community off of the race track and onto a go-kart track. Someone might win the race, but it’s only about the ride and not the result. The choice we make to raid in a hard core environment and compete with other guilds is watered down, and has little in the way of actual competitive measurement.
After the jump my thoughts on Cataclysm, raiding, and moving back to a raiding system that melds the traditional with the contemporary.
Back In My Day
Progressing through the raiding content was, to be frank, as hardcore as this game has ever been. When I got into raiding in late 2005, Ahn’qiraj had not yet been released, and we were trudging our way through the Molten Core.
It was a pretty simple system. You geared up in Molten Core, and then you went into Blackwing Lair. You kept running Molten Core to continue collecting gear as you progressed further up Blackrock Mountain until you stood in front of Nefarion. Dropping Molten Core off of the raiding schedule was not an option. Having players in your Blackwing Lair raid sporting some dungeon blues was not uncommon or rare (pardon the pun).
I can still remember an officer meeting that we had in my old guild after defeating Nefarion to decide whether or not we were ready to step into Ahn’Qiraj (AQ40). Would we still have time to do Molten Core, Blackwing Lair, and progress in AQ40? Did we even still need the gear or do people just want to complete their 8 piece sets?
All were valid questions and the resistance to stop going to Molten Core was very strong. We ended up doing all three instances during the week and got relatively good at moving through them very quickly.
There were problems with this system, and they were many.
Molten Core housed 10 bosses. These 10 bosses dropped 22 epics for 40 people. Compare that to ICC25: 12 bosses, 37 epics, 25 people. There were no 10 mans or supplemental badge gear. The sentiment to continue to go to MC to collect items that never dropped was heartfelt. There were some guildies that had been there since day one still rocking really crappy gear because all we got was paladin and warlock stuff.
Eventually, though, there just becomes too much to raid for one raid week. For us late comers, it ended up being too much to raid for an entire expansion. We never killed C’thun and we never killed a boss in Naxxaramas. When I left at the end of WoW 1.0 and joined BRM, I entered a raid that was killing 7 of the Naxx bosses, hardly close to finishing the instance.
The Era of WoW Jutsu
Raids were reduced to 25 and 10 mans, the loot tables were beefed up, but raiding still wasn’t all that different than in WoW 2.0. To give yourself time in your raiding schedule to work on a new boss, you needed to get better at the content you had down. If you spent a day and a half wiping on Hydross, you weren’t going to get to attempt Lady Vashj that week. It became increasingly important to be able to play at a high level every night.
This was enhanced midway through the expansion with the release of WoW-Jutsu, an automated guild progression tracker that read the Armory. The caveat here is there were no achievements. The only thing they had to track a boss kill was gear. If several guild members received loot from a boss, they were flagged as having killed it.
The ranking also rewarded extra points (although a very small amount) for repeat kills. Still, these “farm points” were enough to separate those guilds that were closely ranked. Guild A might have killed The Boss first, but only did so once. Guild B killed it the week after but has repeated the kill 3 times while Guild A struggled or worked on a parallel instance. So with the linear style of progression, guild ranking was even determined by how good you were at getting that boss a second time
Achievements and “Checkmark Raiding”
Rankings today are based on achievements and time stamps. All of that is now stored in the Armory and your kill of a boss, achievement, and loot are nigh-instantly populated on your character’s page.
It doesn’t matter if your guild dropped a boss once, twice or one hundred times. If you did it at least once, that’s all that matters.
Repeating a kill is made easier by two things:
- Confidence in your ability to perform the strategy
Strength of Wrynn has removed the need for number 1. This means that the only thing making a kill easier is your raid’s confidence level.
Does any of this really matter, though? I mean, who really cares if a guild repeats their Heroic Dreamwalker victory? It’s true. Most guilds that are in the 9-10-11/12 range just do the fights on hard mode and have little to no trouble doing so.
But that isn’t because they got any better at the fights. Their gear is relatively the same, but the stacking buff has supplanted the need to get better and fine tune a strategy.
A lot of the challenges that I’ve faced in the past as a raid leader have been repeating a kill. You come back for week 2 and what do you have? Maybe a couple more epics sprinkled throughout the raid and the exact same players. Little has changed from when you were wiping and when you killed the boss.
Your confidence is up, you know you can win, but maybe you got lucky. Maybe you never had a fear line up with another random ability more than once. Maybe your healers are the ones that keep getting targeted with something and taking them out of commission.
It’s time re-evaluate your strategy for your raid composition and maybe tie up some corner cases you just never had to deal with before. With the zone buff and the ability to step the difficulty down, this is now no longer the case. Have a couple subs that have changed your raid makeup? Why wipe a bunch of times?
We’ll just take a free pass and move on to the next boss. If you know it is definitely going to take some time to re-learn, you’re better off pushing though and giving yourself progression time on the later bosses. You killed that boss once, you got your achievement/progress check mark, so the only thing you’re losing is a few gear upgrades that aren’t that big of a deal.
- Reduced dependency on gear and gear resets each tier
- Reduced impact of farm content on progression raiding
…have changed the raiding scene a lot for those us that have been around since Tier 1. There used to be a time when you needed to be efficient and have the ability to collect gear from lower tiers in rapid fashion. From a progression stand point, your path through an instance was clear: straight forward.
Cataclysm needs to address these issues:
Getting better at the content and actually completing it should be important to progression. Attunements and the need to complete an instance before moving on is something that WotLK got right: you don’t need to do either one. Mini attunements like the Sapphiron and Algalon keys are the right way to do it. Only one person and it’s basically a guild effort.
What needs to change is a separation between the heroic and normal modes on an instance-wide level. At the start of Icecrown Citadel there should be two NPCs with options:
- Varian Wrynn in his current form
- Muradin Bronzebeard
Muradin should provide an option to remove heroic mode. On or off. Those are your choices for the reset. Once heroic mode is turned off, you are stuck with normal until the following Tuesday.
What this grants is a path through the instance that rewards improved, consistent play. The option is still there to back out and finish up if you’re working on a new boss, but now there’s no deciding on whether or not to do Lady Deathwhisper this week because she’s so difficult. We can skip her and work on the easier bosses instead.
Advancing further into the instance (and being able to do Gunship) means that you’ll need to be able to kill Deathwhisper, repeat that kill, and get better at repeating it each week.
Limited attempts on the end-of-wing bosses would be removed because the time limiter is no longer a finite number. The better you get at the first 11 bosses (on heroic mode) the more time you have in your raid week to work on Lich King Heroic.
Reintroduce significant gear progression from tier to tier. The gear gap between instances is just too small. When you finally collect a good portion of that gear, you start to feel the power and traveling to old instances is significantly easier, but not immediately. I kept gear until heroic mode icc25 because it was better than anything in normal mode. The gap between Trial of the Grand Crusader gear and ICC25 Normal mode was 6 iLevels (258 to 264).
Moving that gap to 277 creates “mudflation,” I guess, but what ends up happening is the gear dropping in the next instance’s normal mode is very blah. It’s a new graphic (sometimes) with a couple more stats. The big upgrades are found in weapons and trinkets.
This gear gap means that bosses will need to be harder. Lord Marrowgar might take you several attempts and a bit of luck to get down your first night, but that’s what it should take. When you walk into ICC25 with a Tier 9 average raid, you should feel stressed.
That stress is immediately rewarded by granting you gear upgrades that you don’t even need to think about. After a few bosses, the power change is noticeable, the earlier bosses get easier.
Bring Back Gear Checks. We don’t need full fledged resistance gear checks, but doing things like collecting common in-zone drops for a cloak needed to survive a mechanic is something that I liked.
You needed to kill Onyxia (classic) not just for her Tier 2 helms, but she also dropped her scales. These scales were turned into cloaks (by Leatherworkers and Tailors) that needed to be worn by the raid on encounters in Blackwing Lair(no cloak = you died). It wasn’t perfect, but it was a soft-attunement that gave the guild something to work towards. People donated mats, it kept Onyxia relevant and something everyone still wanted to go to even if they no longer needed gear (someone always needed a helmet).
Your direction through the instance shouldn’t be directed by the checks. The bosses should be tuned such that if you are standing in front of it, what you are wearing is good enough, but…
…You might have to play perfect to win. That’s the kind of tangible progression that I welcome. Something that not only gets noticeably easier week to week because of strat adjustments, but one that is made easier by new gear.
This does start to cross a line at some point. How far do you go or how tightly do you tune these encounters? If it’s too hard then it becomes difficult for raid leaders to judge when their guild is ready. How will they know if their strat is flawed or their tank’s gear just sucks too bad? That isn’t my department.
I do want normal modes to remain accessible and very easy for the top echelon guilds. All of the gating, the staggered releases, the limited attempts, could be removed by making the instance slightly harder up front. You introduce the buff much later down the line, but keep it off for heroic mode, keeping it at a true hardcore level of play.
The Naxxaramas loot system was perfect. Tier tokens should be available on both bosses and badge vendors for a high badge cost. The badges used to buy the current tier can only be obtained within the dungeon. Other badge items should include:
- Jewelry comparable to the instance drops
- Tradable epics
The last one is a throwback to Sunwell. In short, an offset epic that is very specialized (i.e. a Spell Power Plate Helmet) could be taken to the vendor and traded, with a Sunmote, for a piece of gear for a different role (i.e. Tanking Helmet). This makes it so that gear that only covers one spec of one class has the opportunity to be transmuted into something that another role could use (the item used to trade in would need to be there too, getting Sunmotes would be a bit difficult).
Looking at a lot of the armor/stat changes coming in Cataclysm, this might not be that important, but there are still corner cases out there (spell power plate, ranged weapons with tanking stats).
The Naxx loot tables also have items shared between bosses. Across wings, certain items (trinkets) could drop from more than one boss with the loot piñata boss, Gluth, also included. Instead of making sure each boss is chock full of their own items, maybe share some. You could easily have Rotface and Festergut share a lot of the same items with a couple unique ones between them.
This gives players two shots at a really good item while maybe lopping off some of the bloat from loot tables or one-off pieces that are replaced with tier gear.
More zone quests. This is purely a selfish request. I find the quests for Shadowmourne and the badge weeklies to be really fun (at least the first time), and something nice to break up the raid week. More Black Temple necks and things like that, please!
You can never go back…
All of us have the rose-colored view, jaded opinions of “old timers” in the raiding scene. We love that new people are getting into raiding, but hate that they didn’t get to experience what it was like to really gear up and progress hard-nosed through an instance. Some of this runs counter to what I was discussing in my post on Strength of Wrynn and its benefits, but it’s always good to argue something from the other side.
The one drawback that still exists is it’s (the zone buff’s) affect on serious raiding competition. That boss you killed and worked hard to get down with no buff, is not the same boss difficulty-wise than that boss with the 10% buff in place.
You used to be able to look at one of those old progression trackers and say that every guild that beat this boss went through the same crap to get there. No weights based on attempts or time killed. If you killed more, that meant that not only did you kill it first, but you also are getting better at what you finished.
A system facilitating that kind of instance progression is one that I’m hoping for in WoW 4.0. I want to get back to just going into the instance and working on the next boss in the way. If the second boss in the instance ends up being the hardest, so be it, but don’t let me turn off heroic mode to get a free pass deeper into the zone.
Give me better gear, but don’t overload loot tables.
Bring back competition by making the heroic modes heroic, but keep normal mode in (and progressively nerfed) for everyone to see the content via pugs.
Bring back the fun for those that choose to step up and be hardcore.