Friday, 21 May 2010

Thanks for a difficulty tuned perfectly, Blizzard

So .. after all the success we had yesterday (and a good bit of sleep, and a sandwich and a cup of tea) it's time for a thoughtful post. Which basically means a long one, where you'll be wondering what the hell I was talking about at the end. So there.

I expect we've all seen the occasional "this is too easy" or "this is too hard" posts / [2] chatlines in the past months of playing. There are rebuttals bouncing around blogs, there is shouting and rage and all sorts of amusing things going on.

I think I'll go ahead and just post my own thoughts on the subject, instead of trying to argue around someone elses argument (Note the cunning passive agression in the link right there?)

After killing the Lich King, I feel that the difficulty of WotLK was actually perfect (Note: I'll be talking about raid10 content unless otherwise specified).

It started comparatively easy in Naxxramas - possibly too easy, as no one really goes there any more. At the time, though, it was sometimes rather challenging. We had our share of wipes - not many on each boss, admittedly, but they were there. I seem to remember even giving up on Kel'thuzad once in frustration, because we just could not get him down. Overall, a good instance difficulty to aim for after the leveling rush of the early days.

It was (and still is) my feeling that people forget how to raid - even if they were doing well in TBC raid groups, the working-together and the instinctual-knowledge-of-what-the-tank-is-going-to-do-now was gone.

The fight mechanics, even, were new to many of us (I'm tempted to say all of us in my guild, but I never really asked at the time). Some of them (the tactics, not neccessarily the fights) were rather old-fashioned (Patchwerk) or easy (Maexxna), but there was things we had not done before (Iceblocks to break LoS on Sapphiron? I can't remember a fight like that from before).

Ulduar was exciting when it came out. Hard, for many of us. We still had not gotten used to vehicle fights properly (Eye of Eternity being too short for a full raid night and too hard for a quick "let's do this before we do the real raid" - we only raided one night a week). Flame Leviathan was a new mechanic (I liked it - some people in the raid group didn't - some of them hated it with a passion *waves to Stereotype*).

We had to actually work on the dragon and I remember giving up many weeks on Ignis because he just was too hard. The tankspot tactics at that time (here) were too difficult - and I still think that ... a three spot tanking pattern with no movement of the ranged dps is much easier. We were slowly making progress through the instance - weeks after the top raiding guilds, obviously, but somehow each week a new boss fell.

I seem to remember that around that time the raid-lock extension also came out. It made a hell of a lot of difference to a guild like ours (I mentioned the one raid a week already, didn't I?). Suddenly we could concentrate on doing something new, without having to slog through the same old stuff again.

Historical Interlude:
Do you have any idea what I would have given for that in Mount Hyjal back at 70? We'd use our four hours to learn the first two fights, get to boss number three and then have to give up for lack of time. Next week - same fights, slightly different people, some wiping and the exact same result.

Unfortunately we didn't quite manage to finish Ulduar. The new "One Room Raid" came out - and we had learnt by then that better gear covers for our lack of "perfect gaming skills". I'm not worried about admitting that more healing power, more health and armour and higher damage stats make our raid group able to overcome individual mistakes. Someone trundled into a fire? Happens - but with enough gear we can heal them up and shout at them until they are out of the green and the raid does not collapse at this point.

Onyxia was another one of those - a quick gearup raid with no exceptional difficulty but very good gear. I like how they came in to allow raiders a quick gear-up when they have to fill a hole in a raiding roster now near the end of the expansion. Some people don't play any more, others want breaks, others play alts - if you need a healer quickly there are now options to get them onto a comparable gear level for ICC without too much hassle.

Not that I liked Ony and ToC. I just appreciate the forward planning here - and even saying the one room raid was bland (which it was) - the first time round those fights were actually quite fun. Three bosses in a row without breaks? Haven't had that before. Faction Champions? All the whining about pvp notwithstanding, that fight is actually quite interesting. Or at least it was, once I figured out they were normal monsters (and could be taunted, for instance) just with diminished returns on CC. A good bit like the Val'kyr, really. Preparation for the Lich King fight? Maybe. The dark and light twins were a nightmare - until we had grasped the concept of what aura to pick, what orbs to dodge and what to do when they did a special ability. For our group this was a fight that took repeated attempts - but once we mastered it, it was actually consistently repeatable.

And then there is Icecrown Citadel. Of course we were there right at the start. Going into laggy hell from hell in the first week and getting more disconnects than ever. The first fight we actually won - which surprised us all a bit, I think. We struggled on the following ones for a bit (although my wife and I managed to sneak off on christmas holidays and let everyone else work for it) - I distinctly recall wiping on the Gunship battle at least twice. And yet again - those fights worked after a while. The mechanics were predictable and manageable.

We needed gearing up before we killed Festergut. There was a dps race there. We needed practise on ooze kiting - and whenever our favourite bear was not there and we had to replace a tank we struggled.

Through it all, I think each fight made us wipe a few times (some more, some less) before we completed it. That is - from the start of WotLK raiding up to the end. Personally I feel like the difficulty was tuned perfectly. The majority was not too easy, some of the fights were downright hard, but it all got entirely possible over time.

Historical Interlude 2:
Surprisingly this was not the case with TBC. If you didn't have 25 people, some raids were inaccessible. If your 25 people were not all very very good, you didn't see the last instance. Our guild managed 3/4 in Tempert Keep, 2/6 in Serpentshrine Cavern, 2/5 in Mount Hyjal and 5/9 in Black Temple. Some of that is certainly due to the raid lockout mentioned before. Probably not all. Notice that we never even set foot into Sunwell Plateau? Well ... we didn't. Not even just before WotLK came out and talent trees got buffed and it all got easier. It took me until the 1st of May 2010 to actually finish SPLAT.

Now the final steps are still open. The Lich King instance is getting a stacking buff each week. And it's a bloody good thing. Did I mention it took us 93 attempts to kill him? Those random elements can be lethal. We all know the fight by now (practising for more than all kills in Ulduar combined does that - I have 98 total boss kills in Ulduar) but just a little mismanagement can kill the raid. Especially in raid10, where a single missing person usually does doom the raid.

In the coming weeks more people will get up there - raid guilds that are a little slower than us, near the end of the expansion probably even very casual players.

Well played, Blizzard. I, for one, am very grateful I actually got to see it all for once. And for the better players there are the hardmodes. Which are harder. Oh yes they are.

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