One of those nights

Last night our raid team made a Three Stooges comedy look like a PBS documentary in comparison. We — and I include myself in that — stunk. It was just a really bad night, one of those nights most guilds have from time to time, but it was tortuous.

Ever since we completed our heroic progression, we have routinely been clearing Antorus in something a little over two hours on our regular Tuesday raid nights. We know the fights, we all know our jobs for each one, and we have all gotten some decent gear which also helps. But not last night. We probably should have just called it when we carelessly wiped on the first boss, Garothi. Garothi! Just an aberration, we said, we were a bit short on healers, we said, a couple of our regular players were not there yet, we said. Pffft, no worries. Similarly, we overlooked problems with the next few bosses — sure, execution was a little rough, but hey we killed them so no harm no foul.

Then we got to Varimathras and wiped repeatedly. Varimathras, the Patchwerk boss of Legion! To be fair, a large part of the problem was Blizz’s extremely piss-poor raid design, in which Coven is visible (and at time inadvertently targetable) through the hole in the ceiling. In the past, we have had a little problem with this, but it has not usually been a big deal. But last night several times a wayward Sidewinder shot from  one of our MM hunters went into heat seeking mode, targeted one of the Coven, and then transported the hunter up into the Coven area, causing a cascading set of damage that wiped the raid. Individually, the glitch was kind of funny, but when it happened repeatedly it just compounded our already high level of frustration.

Design stupidity aside, though, even when Coven did not gang up on us, we were bad at the mechanics. After many frustrating wipes, we finally gave up and decided to just go to Aggramar and Argus and be done with the torture.

HAHAHAHAHA! Aggramar, too, was a comedy of errors for us. Our dps was down, small adds kept getting their cc broken out of turn, people died to fire and other easy mechanics…. the list goes on. Finally our usual raid leader got home from work and logged in, and we killed the boss by the hair of our chinny chin chins. Argus was not as horrible, and we did one shot him, though it was not our most elegant performance. A couple of people wanted to go back and get Varimathras, but as soon as Argus was down people bailed as fast as they could. (I was one of them, even though Varimathras is one of the very few bosses that have loot useful to me. I, along with most others, had had enough.)

I don’t have an explanation for why we were so bad last night. It is true we were missing a couple of our usual top damage dealers, but most of our problems did not stem from lower dps. The glitch with Varimathras and Coven was bad, but it was not the cause of our wiping every time on that boss. People — myself included — just were kind of sloppy, and it had an effect. I know for myself I am pretty much done with Legion in terms of being excited about anything, and I feel  burned out on Antorus. The only reason for me to run heroic at all any more is to help some of our guild non-raiders get their AotC. I am happy to do this, but curiously very few have expressed any interest in getting the achievement. The GM put out an announcement that anyone wanting to get it should contact an officer, and we would carry a couple of people each week. I don’t think more than one responded. I think quite a few players, raiders or not, are feeling expansion burnout.

One other thing happened last night that had an effect on me, and possibly on some others. We have a guildie who rarely logs on after maybe the first couple of months in a new expansion. (I will refer to this person as “they” so as not to categorize them, even though it will result in very tortured grammar, which I apologize for in advance.) This person is the Significant Other of another guildie, and they are not especially interested in the game but they play once in a while, apparently to please their SO. Interestingly, they seem to play only when the guild is doing something that will result in loot or a mount for them, and as soon as the guild has enabled them to get the thing, they disappear for weeks or months, uninterested in helping anyone else get the thing. (Also, whenever they do decide to play, their SO is always begging for loot for them — “Do you need that tier piece? [Name of SO] could really use it.”) To each their own, I suppose. They are not a bad player, and they are pleasant to chat with, but they clearly are out only for themself.

So last night when this person showed up for raid, I assumed they wanted to get the AotC achievement. Maybe they did, or maybe they just wanted the mount from Argus, but it turned out they also wanted something else. About halfway through the raid it came out that this person was streaming it. It seems they are trying to establish themself as a popular streamer, and apparently they thought streaming a raid would give them a good platform to add a few more followers. This may or may not be an effective strategy, but I — and a couple of others in the raid — felt duped and used.

It would just seem to be common courtesy to ask the raid before it started if it would be okay to stream it. I have not watched the stream, and I do not intend to, so I do not know what options the person has in place. I assume they do not have name plates visible, and possibly they have music playing that more or less keeps raider verbal comments from coming though clearly. I have no idea if raid chat is visible in the stream. I also do not know if the person streams under their character name, and I do not know if anyone watching would figure out which guild was performing so abominably. It does seem kind of low to stream a raid on a night when everything is going wrong.

Still, all other considerations aside, there is something very unsettling about someone using the raid for their own personal gain, about someone assuming they can just capitalize on my game play for their own advancement. I don’t know if I would have played differently or made different comments if I had known up front about the streaming, but it is the principle. And now that I think about it, I am not sure I would have participated in the raid at all had I known about the streaming in advance. I am not a public person, I have spent most of my life actively avoiding publicity of any kind. That aversion to being in the public eye transfers even to virtual avatars, and I am decidedly not comfortable with someone putting my game play out for public comment regardless of how many or few followers they may have.

Like I said, one of those nights. I am glad it is finally in the rear view mirror.

Disconnected thoughts

Today feels like kind of a disconnected day — we have a few flakes of snow, so of course most things in Northern Virginia come to a screeching halt. It is both amusing and annoying, since it inevitably entails rescheduling, postponing, cancelling, etc. So while my brain is multi-tasking those things in the background, here are a few scattered thoughts on WoW.

Addendum to my manners post. One other “rude clod” type that annoys me in the game is the raid slacker. I am not talking about actual raid performance, but rather the person who is chronically unprepared. You all know such a person. They always want to “borrow” flasks or talent books. They forget to update DBM. They never remember to get their seals before raid so have to go back for them and then demand to be summoned back to the raid. Even in progression, they are chronically short of Defiled Augment Runes, and they have never troubled themselves to get the permanent one from the Army of the Light.

If the raid usually provides feasts, they never ever contribute anything towards making them, and in fact frequently complain bitterly if a feast is not immediately set down, saying rude things like “Feed me” or “Where’s the feast?”. Same with repair mechanisms such as hammers.

On our progression team, we usually provide everyone with a weekly vantus rune to be used for the toughest boss of the week. But once we have the heroic raid on farm we stop doing that. Last tier, after we had downed KJ a few times, the GM announced that we would start doing the boss without handing out vantus runes. Our usual slackers were incensed when a few people used their own, claiming the GM had said we were not to use them. When someone explained that no, only the free ones would not be handed out, there was slacker indignation and piteous cries of “But I don’t have any gold, I’m poooooor!”

So yeah. Ill-mannered clods abound.

Patch 7.3.5. I have not actually done much yet with the new patch. By the time the servers came back up yesterday, it was already past our raid start time, so we all hurriedly logged in and started raiding. I did not do the new quest line or try out any of the old world zone changes.

New zone levels. I am still on the fence about the zone changes. I see why many players would be happy that they can now quest in a favorite zone for much longer and not be penalized in leveling. But beyond that, I think Blizz has pulled a fast one on us. Basically, by increasing the amount of xp needed to level in these zones, and by increasing the health and hit points for mobs as well as for instance and raid bosses in these zones, Blizz has stretched out the amount of time necessary to level a new character or to farm old content for mounts and transmog.

It’s all about the MAU, baby.

I do not know about you, but I actually liked being able to roflstomp through a zone with a new character. I have done nearly every quest so many times that they no longer offer any real entertainment value to me, they are just a means to get passingly familiar with a new class, and to get that new class or alt to a decently high level where the actual fun starts. The faster I can get through them, the better.

As far as I know, Blizz has not improved the mess of low-character spells and abilities, either. A couple of expansions ago, they changed the way/rate at which characters get certain key abilities, and the result for many classes is that you are stuck with one or two useful buttons for a pretty long time. This was annoying but not terrible when all the mobs died quickly and when you could rapidly level up and get a few more abilities. We will see how it plays out now that you cannot level as rapidly and the mobs are more deadly.

Also, if I am farming old raids or instances for a mount or some special transmog or old recipe, I couldn’t care less about “the experience” — I am interested in getting through the thing as fast as possible so that I can be disappointed again and quickly move on.

Basically, I feel like Blizz is testing out techniques for vanilla servers, and they are pretty much shoving “the classic experience” down our throats. And they are ensuring no one can rush through leveling allied characters when they become available, thus stretching out the inevitable end-of-expansion thin content.

Not to mention, if these changes annoy enough people, Blizz’s sales of character boosts will skyrocket. What’s not to love?

”More” bag space. What a scam this is. Ion Hazzikostas had the chutzpah to really hype this at Blizzcon — better sit down, here’s a big announcement: We are giving you more bag space, whoopee, just like you have been asking for!!

It’s four lousy bag spaces, for crying out loud. It doesn’t even begin to make up for the ton of gear and “things” Blizz now makes us carry around.

And if no one noticed, it comes at a price. Not only do you have to add an authenticator to your account (not a bad idea even if you do not get extra space), but you must also subscribe to Blizzard SMS Protect. Thus Blizzard gets a ton of very valuable phone numbers for the paltry expense of a small amount of server storage.

Blizz may have lost a step in game creativity, but they are making up for it in marketing genius.

Ulduar timewalking. Meh. I suppose I will run it once when my guild does it, but I was never very excited about this raid even when it was current. It was too long then and I am certain it will be tedious in its reincarnation. The only fight I thought was interesting was the first one just because of the vehicles (although I rarely got one of the motorcycles, the coolest vehicle….).

Once again, the people clamoring for this, I suspect, will not really love it — their nostalgia for Ulduar almost certainly stems from circumstances other than the raid itself.

Coven revisited. We took a few more shots at Coven last night in raid. Interestingly, we got Army of Norgannon as the first set of adds every time, even though the other add sequences remained random. It could have been a fluke, but it is possible this is an unannounced nerf. It is undeniably easier to get Norgannon out of the way very early, before the really uncontrollable mechanics kick in.

We had gotten a late start on the raid due to the server outage, and we cleared all the bosses up to Coven, so we only got a few pulls (maybe half a dozen) before we called it for the night. People were having a lot of lag issues, and even some weird bugs such as falling through the floor to the boss below Coven. Even so, our last pull — frustratingly — we got the boss down to less than 1% before wiping. Pretty sure we will get past this one Thursday.

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.