Heroic Coven of Shivarra — bring your bookie

Last night our guild took another stab at Heroic Coven of Shivarra in Antorus the Burning Throne. It was our second venture into it, and we were unsuccessful. It’s not like we have run up against a brick wall or anything on this boss — think we only have something like 25-30 Heroic wipes so far. And I suspect we will kill it next week. But there is something about this fight that just feels wrong — a frustrating powerlessness that makes it more akin to a game of chance than the kind of tough boss fight Blizz used to design.

For those who have not been on the raid, Coven is a council-type boss fight, with three bosses that switch out so that you fight any two of them at once. At intervals, various types of large adds appear around the room. The adds are quite powerful, and failure to deal properly with them will wipe the raid, as will failure to deal with the various continuous damage powers of the bosses. At any given time, the raid is dealing with 3-4 or more simultaneous mechanics, and it can get quite hectic.

This in itself is not bad — kind of standard fare in modern raids. What strikes me as different about this raid is the extent to which raid composition and pure luck play a role in success. Yeah, I know there have been other tiers where certain boss kills were somewhat dependent on luck, but Coven seems to be in a class all its own for its dependence on these factors. Two examples:

  • Location of safe spots during the storm AoE. This AoE will kill you unless you are standing in one of several randomly-located safe spots for the duration. If most or all of these safe spots spawn on top of other one-shot mechanics, the raid will wipe. And this happens regularly.
  • Order of adds. Certain types of adds are much more difficult (ok, almost impossible) to survive if they spawn at certain points in the fight (Norgannon adds during Storm, for example, or during the targeted freeze mechanic or during the mass-slow mechanic). There are only four types of adds, so the chances of drawing a raid-wiping combo of them are pretty high.

The above are the major RNG factors, but there are a ton of minor ones, too. If a player gets more than one random targeted debuff — which seems to happen with distressing regularity — and happens to not be at full health when they hit, the player will almost certainly die. If a player happens to get the frozen debuff during Norgannon adds, that player will almost certainly die to the adds. And there are countless other debuff combos that will insta-kill you, all of them the result of random targeting.

Also, as I mentioned, the raid composition heavily influences your chances for success. One that is heavy on melee has almost no chance of killing this boss, and in fact any raid that is not nearly all ranged will have significantly more difficulty than one that is. Classes with shorter defensive cooldowns are at a distinct advantage over ones with, say only 1 or 2 long defensive cooldowns. And druids and DKs are really the classes of choice for their exceptionally efffective cc abilities for the Norgannon adds. Blizz is once again rewarding us for bringing the class, not the player.

When you add all this up, you get a raid boss that seems — more than any other thus far in the game — to require more luck than skill to beat. (Interestingly, in Mythic — so I am told, I do not know it firsthand — the order of adds for this boss is fixed instead of random. Can’t be introducing uncertainty for the professional players, can we now? After all, they are the primary target audience for this game.)

As I said above, we will almost certainly kill this boss within a week or so, and eventually we will outgear it so that we can roflstomp through. But that is not the point. The point is, that while the mechanic design for this boss may have been relatively decent, the RNG implementation of nearly every aspect of that design — along with the cascading effect on raid composition — is terrible.

Most raid teams consider Coven to be the most challenging boss in the raid, harder even than Argus, the final boss, another indication that it is badly implemented. Sorry, but I belong to the camp that still believes the final boss should be the most difficult one…

I have complained before about what I consider to be Legion’s over-reliance on RNG for nearly every aspect of the game. But the introduction of large-scale randomness even in a raid boss seems to be approaching a jump-the-shark point in the game. It is not fun™ to be put in a position in a boss fight where you know either you as a player will die or the raid will wipe and there is nothing you can or could have done to prevent it. You can ignore it to an extent if it is an exceptionally rare occurrence. But when it happens with the frequency it seems to in Coven, it is a worrisome trend. This is not the WoW raid design that drew me to the activity in the first place.

When Legion is in our rear-view mirrors, will we see its RNG pervasiveness as the point where Blizz recognized they had gone too far, or as the jumping-off point for a new genre: the Massively Multiplayer Online Game of Chance?

On that low note, it is time to start the weekend. See you on the other side.

More Antorus

We have had another week of the new raid tier, Antorus the Burning Throne. On Tuesday, Mythic and the first wing of LFR opened. I still have not seen anything to change my initial opinion of it: Great artwork, a few interesting boss mechanics, but not a tier that will wear well enough to last almost a year until the next expansion.

This is an observation, not a complaint: the raid is easier than either Tomb of Sargeras or Nighthold. I say that even though our raid team has only done 4/11 Heroic bosses. Of course, the remaining ones could be impossibly hard on Heroic, but judging by the progress of guilds on my server — which is decidedly not a raiding server — within a couple of weeks there will likely be several guilds that are 11/11 (H). I would venture to say that within a month the top 10-15 guilds on the server will have heroic on farm. Whether they decide to farm it for the raid trinket system or the somewhat puny tier gear is an open question.

My initial concern that the sheer size of the raid would hinder farming seems to have been unfounded. We have some Thursday scheduling problems, so last night instead of continuing with progression on heroic, we did normal with about 20 people. We had no problems completing a full clear in less than our normal 4-hour raid time.

We had fun last night, and it is good to be back into some actual problem-solving raiding again, but I still don’t see this raid holding my interest once we have heroic on farm. For one thing, of course, we are at the end of the expansion, and there is a certain amount of burnout that inevitably takes place. For another, the gear from this raid does not excite me much. Honestly, what is the point of grubbing out every piece of gear you can get when this is the last raid of the expansion?

Blizz buffed a couple of specs’ t21 bonuses this past week, but most of them are still uninspiring. And the special trinket system seems like a self-licking ice cream cone to me: you get it by raiding so that you can be more efficient at raiding. The only reason I can see to keep running this raid is to eventually upgrade the “regular” special trinkets as a back door to being able to equip three legendaries. (Assuming you do not get the one legendary trinket drop from Argus, which I am absolutely certain I will not.) Even that seems a stretch, given that there is not another raid tier to prepare for.

I wonder if, after a few guilds have this raid on farm, that the group emphasis in Legion will shift in a big way to M+. If that is really the only challenge left after Antorus, it seems likely. (And would force some continuing gear farming from the raid, since gear is an important factor for high level M+ runs.) This, of course, creates a bigger esports audience for the next M+ tournament, which in turn fuels Blizz’s emerging game focus. We have a few people in our guild who are hooked on M+, but it is not really my thing. I run one or two a week, mainly to get the weekly chest, but I do not generally enjoy timed activities.

Back to the Antorus raid. I still think the last three bosses are the most fun and engaging. (And I still think the tower defense Eonar is annoying to the max.) Argus especially, with the planned wipe and the smart use of death as a raid weapon, seems to be one of the most innovative bosses Blizz has given us in a while. Even after Blizz up-tuned it earlier this week, it was a fun fight on Normal last night. It definitely requires some raid planning and some decent team coordination, and when that comes together it really is quite satisfying.

Short post today and one with no profound thoughts, but there is lots going on in my real world schedule. See you all on the other side of the weekend.

Friday scattered thoughts

It’s Friday, it’s been an especially long week, and my brain does not seem particularly focused, so today’s post is just some scattered thoughts on this and that.

Antorus the Burning Throne. Last night our raid team finished up the Normal raid. We had done 7 bosses on Tuesday, and the last 4 we downed certainly did not disappoint, in my opinion. I found the last 2 (Aggramar and of course Argus) to be great fun, they just seemed to be well designed and had some interesting mechanics. And the artwork, especially for Argus, is simply spectacular. Whatever other shortcomings we may eventually complain about for this raid, the visual design will remain, in my opinion, one of the best Blizz has ever done. Do yourselves a huge favor when you first get into the Argus area, and look behind you up into the skybox. It is not only beautiful, but it gives you a sense of the entire story of Legion — even me, who generally has no interest in lore.

And, without revealing any spoilers, the cinematic after you kill Argus is excellent. It rivals, in my opinion, the Battle for Azeroth cinematic we saw at Blizzcon.

We had enough trouble (something like 4-5 wipes) with both Aggramar and Argus that I think they will be quite tough for us on Heroic. As with many of the fights in the raid, there is a definite team learning curve

Overall, from a very limited point of view, it seems to me that very few of this raid’s bosses are even close to friendly to BM hunters. They seem either to involve single-target pew-pewing or a lot of very scattered adds. Several of the fights involve phases with high-priority adds placed all around a room or platform, and I really noticed a drop in my DPS just due to my melee-bound pets taking their time getting to the next target. Even switching to Blink Strikes as a talent did not seem to help much, partly due to the cooldown on that ability, and also to the ambling nature of Hati. Classes with robust DoT abilities and wide cleaves will shine in many fights in this raid.

As to the vaunted Argus trinkets from the final boss, our raid of 20 got 4 drops (not me, I got the useless quest legendary ring along with gold and AP), and none were Aman’Thul’s Vision (The One Trinket That Binds Them All).

Patch 7.3.5. This is up on the PTR for anyone that wants to try it out. I am somewhat disappointed that — at least as far as we know so far — it will not involve any significant class balance fixes, in spite of Blizz’s pronouncement early in Legion that the “dot five” patches would be mainly targeted at class balance changes. Some of the recently-announced changes include:

Patch/Expansion confusion. Honestly, I am kind of losing the bubble on what is happening in Patch 7.3.5 and what is just development for the next expansion. Blizz could probably be a little bit clearer on this. So the following comments may apply to changes coming in the next xpac, or to changes coming in the next patch. Who knows?

Changes to the early leveling experience. Zone scaling is implemented in Azeroth leveling zones, and XP to level is being increased for levels 10-59. I know this is a popular change, but I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, I like the idea of being able to keep questing in a zone I enjoy, and still continue to advance. On the other hand, I find I generally like pretty much roflstomping through a zone at low levels. I have done these quests so often that they no longer hold much interest for me, and the only really fun is becoming familiar with my alt’s abilities. (And remember, Blizz has taken away a great many class abilities at lower levels, so that many specs go through a lot of levels with only 2-3 major abilities.) I don’t know that having every mob fight take longer is really an improvement.

I also get a kick out of leveling quickly, and I am not sure why Blizz thinks stretching that process out is desirable.

It almost seems like Blizz is enforcing a small part of the “Classic” experience on all of us now.

More backpack space. Okay, this is minor, but remember when Ion Hazzikostas promised us we would be seeing more space in our grubby old original backpacks? Yeah. Turns out, it appears, that the extra space will be tied to having an authentication attached to your account. In principle, I think this is a pretty good idea. Blizz wants to do as much as they can to stop account theft, which in turn makes life harder for illegal botters, gold sellers, and the like. So it’s not a bad idea to offer a little perk to people willing to add this bit of security to their account. (I have had the phone authenticator for years, and it in no way hinders my access to the game or my enjoyment of it. It is not an absolute guarantee that my account cannot be hijacked, but it greatly complicates the process for any hackers. Which means, I think, they would be more likely to go after someone who does not have an authenticator. So please, if you think an authenticator is a bad idea, for my sake continue to have an unprotected account …)

The quibble I have with this is that Blizz is really chintzing out on the offer. Their miserly “gift” is a whopping — get ready for this — FOUR extra bag spaces!

Sheesh.

Upgrading 970 legendaries. This is nothing more than a big Blizz gotcha joke, in my opinion. In the few comments Blizz has made about this annoying and tedious process (it will take many people literally months to upgrade all theirs, even assuming they max out Wakening Essences every day), they have rather smarmily intimated that maybe we should just pick a few legendaries to upgrade and forget about the rest.

Really?

After you handed them out like candy, after you refused to back off the RNG aspect of which ones we could get, after you nerfed the “good” ones so that they are all more or less equal in certain circumstances? After all you have done to encourage us to use all of them depending on the fight and our individual gearing and talents, NOW you say we should just pick a couple and stick with them?

If Blizz is going to stick with the system they have on this, the least they could do is make the Wakening Essences more plentiful. They could ensure we get at least 10 in the emissary chests. They could award them for every world quest we do instead of just emissary ones, or alternately they could award several as the actual WQ reward, like they do with gold or Blood of Sargeras or class hall resources. They could give us a shoulder enchant that awards a few bonus ones periodically as loot.

Even better, Blizz, quit nickel and diming us on this stuff and do like you did in other expansions — when the new numbers hit, auto-upgrade the ones we have. What the hell would it hurt to do that? If you really do want us to switch out these items as situations dictate, then you should upgrade them all so we will actually do that, not encourage us to just stick to the two or three we have managed to grind out upgrades for. Put your money where your mealy mouth is.

And on that note of cranky annoyance, I am off to start my weekend. Enjoy yours.

Antorus the Marathon Burn

Well, last night we dipped our collective guild toe into Antorus the Burning Throne. Following our usual approach of running Normal a couple of times before we pare down the raid team and start progression at the Heroic level, last night’s run was Normal and we had 22-23 players for most of the night. In a four hour raid, first time through with many of us hazy on mechanics and positioning, we only had time to down seven bosses and wipe a few times on the eighth. (More on this below.)

My biggest impression so far is, this is a long, muddled raid with no clear theme other than “here’s a whole bunch of bosses to keep you guys occupied for many months”.

Start with the name of the raid. I know this is petty, but in an era of clipped social media speech, this raid name does not in any way lend itself to a shortened reference. I suppose the WoW model would indicate AtBT, but that seems pretty cumbersome. ABT might end up being the acronym of choice, but something about that seems off to me. I was calling it Ant in guild chat last night, and was — weirdly — corrected that we are calling it Anthony or Tony for short. (Yeah, not sure I get it, either.)

The long and rather cumbersome title seems oddly appropriate, though, in light of the fact the raid itself is extremely long — 11 bosses in what seems at first experience to be a very large indoor/outdoor setting that is pretty stunning in terms of its artwork. (When you go in, you really owe it to yourself to take a good look around — the Blizz art team did a great job on this. At one point I looked up at the sky box and actually missed the pull countdown because I was so blown away by the view.)

The various regions of the raid are so diverse (beautiful sunny outdoor unicorn-and-flowers areas juxtaposed with dark rocky fire-and-brimstone platforms and caves) as to make one wonder if the whole raid setting was designed by a rather inattentive committee unwilling to say no to any suggestion. However, I suppose one could also look at it as a tour of the entire planet of Antorus, taking the fight to the Legion generals in every corner of their home world. The raid environment is stunning, but very confusing.

There seems to be no logical path or flow from one area to another. There are places where we had to jump off rocks to get to a boss, some where we had to go through a portal, others where we had to use Vindicaar-style transporters. Dying and running back was easy and quick at times due to rez locations and handy portals, while at other times it seemed needlessly long and annoying. I am sure much of my utter confusion is due to it being my first time in the raid, but I had a very strong impression that it was designed by throwing together a whole bunch of scenarios and then figuring out technical ways to get from one to another.

As to difficulty, I was surprised that we sailed through the first few bosses one-shotting them, and wiped only a couple of times on the rest. Of course, it was Normal. (I think Heroic will be very different.) Our raid average ilevel was something like 936, which is a few ilevels above the average successful kill for this difficulty, so that may have something to do with it. On the other hand, we certainly did not do much prep for it. A few people had watched some videos, one or two had some web site cheat sheets up for reference, but we worked out superficial strategy on the fly. (That’s one of the reasons it took us 4 hours to down 7 bosses — we discussed strategy for several minutes before each one.)

The interest level of the bosses was for me mixed. Some had some fun mechanics, others just came across as dull and tedious. For what it’s worth, we ended up one-shotting the multi-platform Eonar encounter I described in my last post. However, most of us had zero idea what we were doing, and spent most of the fight running/jumping/flying about trying to find where the targets were, responding to someone crying, “Top level! Big add!” or “Middle! Fel Hounds!” Et cetera. Total chaos.  I really cannot imagine it on Heroic.

(For context, we one-shotted Garothi, Felhounds, Portal Keeper Hasabel, and Eonar. We wiped once each on Antoran High Command and Imonar, and four times on Kin’garoth. We also wiped 4 times on Varimathras but did not kill him before we called it for the night.)

All in all, though, it was a good raid night and we had a great deal of fun. I do think, however, this raid is a bit too scattered and cumbersome to wear very well — for many guilds it will turn out to be a one and done. It does have the standard quest to get 4 gizmos from a late boss and be able to skip parts of it eventually, so that might turn out to be more useful than it has for other raids. But the sheer immensity of it, combined with the mixed bag of bosses and the rather puny loot tables, will tend to put many guilds off. Perhaps that realization is why Blizz introduced the Antoran trinket grind, which is primarily done by defeating the last raid boss over and over again. A few guilds will consider this reason enough to keep running the raid, but I think the majority will judge it not worth the effort.

As always, YMMV.

Antorus – Not with a bang, but a whimper

Late Edit: After I published this piece, I realized I used the exact same poetic metaphor Bendak did in his post on hunter tier and trinkets in Antorus. This was entirely coincidental, but it looks cheesy, and I apologize to both Bendak and my readers for any appearances of literary sleaziness. 

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

T.S. Eliot, The Hollow Men

Tomorrow in the U.S. we will get the new raid, Antorus the Burning Throne. It is the last major raid tier in Legion and as such marks the beginning of the end of this expansion. As I am heartily sick of Tomb of Sargeras, I will be very glad to get into a new raid, and as usual I am looking forward to what I hope will be a lot of “tie up loose ends” time as soon as our raid team has completed heroic Antorus.

I did quite a lot of study and prep for the new raid over the weekend. (I did not try it out on the PTR.) From what I can see, it looks to have some interesting bosses, as well as some that I will undoubtedly hate. In particular, I am sure that I will suck at the mechanics of Eonar — the fight where you continually chase huge groups of adds around multi-level platforms and jump and fly between them. I am terrible at three-dimensional fights. It is a raid team joke about how often I fell to my death on the spider boss Elerethe Renferal in Emerald Nightmare. I never did master any of the older ones where you had to fly for a large portion of any fight — I am basically not able to translate a 2D screen into a 3D mindset, I guess.

The thing is, the Eonar fight seems tailor made for BM hunters — we have some adequate cc (now, though nothing like we had prior to Legion), and of course “unlimited mobility”. Though of course it is not in fact unlimited mobility, as we have a strictly limited number of ranged damage shots and the majority of our damage is bound to essentially a slow moving melee pet or pack of pets. And Blizz has greatly nerfed BM AoE damage over the course of Legion, to the point that if the mobs are not very tightly packed, forget it. We will see how this particular fight turns out, but I am not optimistic.

Still, as I said, I am looking forward to a new raid. From what I could see from my study, it looks like most Antorus bosses will require quite a lot of team coordination — more than other Legion raids. I like this, as it is very rewarding when a team finally syncs and downs a boss because everyone suddenly “got it”.

On the other hand, a team-centered set of mechanics makes it very difficult to switch out players or have raid drop-ins, because inevitably the drop-in players will cause a few wipes before they learn the team movement rhythm. If this happens during the progression phase, it can greatly extend the time required to complete the raid bosses. And sometimes it can be doubly frustrating when the team has the raid on farm, because it makes it seem like you are actually regressing because of multiple and constant wipes.

Anyway, I digress. The main point is, I am looking forward to the new raid, though not for the gear. For many classes — especially BM hunters — you can almost forget about shiny new tier gear that makes you more powerful. I am not going to go into details on this (check out Bendak’s rather dismal assessment of BM tier and trinkets in his latest post here), but suffice It to say I am not excited about the gear possibilities. I hope Blizz is at least embarrassed by their complete failure on the whole notion of tier gear in Legion — it seems incredible to me that, for several specs, gear from two tiers ago is still more powerful than the newest stuff. This situation more than any other speaks to the utter mess Blizz made with the whole complex gear/talent/bonus jumble they created and then were incapable of controlling.

In the coming months, there will be a lot of Legion retrospectives. I think in general the expansion will get a thumbs up from most people. As it should, though possibly it looks much better only because WoD was so awful. But on balance I think it will be judged to have been a good expansion, with a lot of very decent game advancements, including but not limited to Mythic+ instances, zone scaling, improved transportation methods (taxi whistle, shorter commercial flying routes, in-game portals), emissary quests and world quests, and a fast content pace.

The single greatest drawback, though, for me has been the endless grinding — for gear (including the horrible Legion legendaries), for artifact upgrades, for professions. Antorus — with its puny tier gear and introduction of yet another grind (in the form of the Antorus trinkets) is not really a grand finale to Legion, rather it is more a stretching out of an expansion feature that had already far outlived its novelty.

After this week we will likely have seen all there is to see in Legion. It seems like there will be no great final cosmic event like the explosion of Antorus the planet in the Azerothian sky, no victory parade for defeating the Legion, no medals or unit citations handed out, no welcome-home-to-the-heroes celebrations. Just grinding away until the expansion sputters out.

Though I have hated it on my main, grinding away on alts I have had precious little time for is at least a satisfying pastime, and one I will happily spend a few months doing. But it is not very spectacular. With apologies to T.S. Eliot, I would have preferred Legion to end “Not with a whimper but a bang”.