7.3 precursors

The final wing of Tomb of Sargeras for LFR opened yesterday. I could not face what I knew was going to be a poop show, so I did not venture in with any of my alts — didn’t even consider doing it on my main — but some of my guildies did, and they came away either laughing themselves silly or dazedly shaking their heads, depending on their personal reactions to LFR in general. The forums, predictably, are full of comments ranging from outrage over how hard it is to outrage over what idiots everyone is except the poster of course who is actually the best player in the history of WoW.

As I said, I have no first hand knowledge of the LFR Kil’jaeden fight, but it sounds about the same as the LFR Archimonde fight in WoD — wildly hard until most of the LFR population gains a group understanding of the mechanics, then somewhat better as crowd proficiency improves. I do know from experience that KJ is very challenging on both normal and heroic, and we all read about the problems Method had on mythic. So we can stipulate that KJ is crazy hard, even on LFR.

Blizz has wobbled around a lot on LFR ever since its inception. Game Director Hazzikostas admitted this in the most recent Q&A, when he stated there was no longer a desire — presumably on Blizz’s part — to make LFR “tourist mode”. You will recall that this had been the original intent of LFR — basically a low-pain way for people who chose not to raid with a regular team to experience some end game content and story lines without committing to the demands of regular raiding. It was in fact designed to be ridiculously easy. Now, it seems, that is no longer desirable.

The other historic thing about LFR is that Blizz at one time indicated it should have all the same mechanics as normal and heroic but way less demanding. That way, if players wanted to preview and/or practice for harder modes they could do so. But of course that was back when Blizz’s philosophy on raid levels was that the mechanics should not change, only the damage levels.

But now apparently “tourist mode” — formerly a good thing — is a bad thing, and changing mechanics — formerly a bad thing — is a good thing.

I don’t run LFR often enough any more to really have an opinion on the constantly changing Blizz design philosophy on it. However, it does strike me that there are limits to how “challenging” you can make a raid composed of 25 strangers, some of whom are conscientious and do their best and some whom simply do not give a shit. Some are pretty proficient at their roles and some have no clue what buttons to press, much less where to stand so as not to die. Some are there for accomplishments and gear and some are there just to screw with everyone else.

The group you get in LFR is the ultimate RNG. (With the added benefit that you can keep rolling a new one simply because people lose patience and drop group, so that you are in effect constantly rerolling the group composition until you finally get a winning combo.) So to be honest I am not sure how useful it is to, for example, keep the dark phase of Kil’jaeden where no one can see anything and you have to run around in pitch darkness trying to find the safe zone — hoping you do not fall off the edge in the process –and then venture out for a few seconds to find and kill adds. Some people in LFR will never be able to do this, just as some people will never soak the meteors, either because they don’t understand the mechanic or because they are ass hats. Time will tell if KJ is overtuned for LFR, but I think I will wait until it’s a bit less chaotic before I venture in.

Blizz has a habit of setting up major parts of the game with a clearly-stated design purpose, only to completely reverse that purpose in short order for no apparent reason other than some dev doesn’t like it. There is something to be said for flexibility and for the willingness to remake the game frequently, but there is also something to be said for keeping implied promises. I really don’t know if I would call the constant swings of LFR breaking a promise, but I wonder exactly who the target player group is for it. I think Blizz wonders, too, and I think every time they rethink the question they change LFR tuning.

There is a sizable group of players for whom LFR is their only participation in raiding. It is their endgame. I have the feeling these players go into it trying to do their best, trying to deal with mechanics, trying to improve their proficiency, in the same way as any other raider. Hazzikostas indicated Blizz is trying to tune LFR for this group of players. I guess we will see if the effort is futile or not, given the large number of morons and jerks who also run only LFR.

Here’s the problem with constant re-evaluation of LFR’s purpose: If people consider it “tourist mode”, then it attracts a large number of players who think it is a big joke, who think nothing of going afk for most of it, who disdain mechanics, who do whatever they can to pull every trash mob, who think it is funny to wipe the raid, who consider it fine to have no idea how to play their class. So when Blizz tries to change the “tourist mode” approach to make it more challenging, the perception of it being a cakewalk persists, thus those same undesirables keep running it. Which of course becomes increasingly frustrating to those who want it to be something more. Maybe over time Blizz can change the popular notion that LFR is a total joke, but it is not going to be an easy transition.

As a related event to opening the final wing of ToS for LFR, the giant imploding planet Argus is now visible in the sky to everyone instead of just to those who have killed KJ on normal or higher. As I have mentioned before, I am not really overjoyed at the prospect of Argus for our 7.3 venue. What I have seen of it, it seems pretty much to be a rehash of the depressing nothingness of Broken Shore. It might turn out to be terrific, but I am not encouraged by the ever-present specter of a planet in its death throes. Just does not seem likely such a planet will yield hours of pleasant exploration and idyllic excursions to scenic overlooks.

And the Doomsayers are back. Whatever the hell those are. I never understood what the point of them was when we saw them at the end of WoD, and I don’t understand them now. I always thought a doomsayer was that one kid in grade school who, when we had to go into the basement because of a tornado warning, would tell us all in somber tones that we were probably going to die. Kind of a less-cute Eeyore. I never thought of it as a professional calling, which is apparently what it is at certain times in WoW. I also don’t get the whole pamphlet thing and why dying repeatedly is desirable, or why there are periodic breathless announcements in trade chat about the location of this or that doomsayer, followed by a player stampede to that location.

In other words, regarding Doomsayers: Huh?

At any rate, opening the final LFR wing in this raid tier, along with other factors like announcing the end of the PvP season, weirdos wandering the streets of Dalaran,  and a big honking fire planet in the sky all point to 7.3 going live sometime around the end of this month. Legion moves on.

Impossible odds and imbalance?

I am sure most of you already know, but Method successfully downed Kil’jaeden to claim Mythic World First for Tomb of Sargeras. They did it after 653 wipes, which follows their 400+ wipefest for Fallen Avatar. I don’t know the record for these kinds of things, but I am suspecting that over a thousand wipes for the last 2 bosses is in itself a World First title. Whether you think a pursuit like this is a good use of one’s time or not, you have to be a little bit in awe of the commitment and sheer stubbornness it takes to accomplish it. I am not a big fan of Method, but there is no doubt that hearty congratulations are in order.

So the number of wipes is pretty mind-boggling and causing not a few comments in the WoW blogosphere. The other thing causing comments is the composition of the 20-man Mythic team. Among some of the noteworthy items: 5 druids, 5 rogues, 3 hunters. Classes absent were mages, monks of any flavor, death knights, and demon hunters. Two of the druids were Balance spec, and all of the hunters were MM. The melee DPS consisted entirely of rogues and two warriors.

As you might suspect, there is a river of speculation as to The Future of The Game based solely on this one event. Much of it is overblown, of course, but I do think there are a few valuable insights we can derive from it — at least from the little we know of the actual tactics so far.

For one thing, it strikes me that 653 wipes is way more than these elite players need in order to learn a fight. We are talking about people who live and breathe this game, who have genius-level reaction times, who have almost uncanny “raid sense”, who have raided together so much that they know each other’s reactions as well as their own, and who have been preparing for this fight since at least the early PTR days of 7.2.5.

For a team like this to wipe 653 times tells me that the fight is essentially unwinnable, but that there is a small random chance every mechanic will work out to the team’s benefit. If the team can put together a flawless performance when that happens, they can beat the boss. It is not about being world-class good, it is about being world-class good every single time, so that when favorable RNG finally happens, the boss goes down.

This takes nothing away from Method — it is no small feat to achieve consistent performance perfection. But I do think it takes away from Blizz’s tier design, because it renders ludicrous the baseline assumption that raids allow players to progress as a character and as a team. To beat this boss, Method on average had to outgear the loot — average gear level over 933 for a raid that awards 930 level gear. And let’s be honest, any kind of team esprit or group learning occurred long before the ultimate win.

Eventually, Mythic ToS will be nerfed, and it will be attainable by non-World First kinds of guilds, the ones that are hard-core raiding guilds (think realm-first levels) but not necessarily the ones who dedicate their entire waking existence to it for weeks at a time. It might even be nerfed enough so that a few of the early bosses become beatable by guilds such as mine — after we greatly overgear it. I don’t know what that says about raid difficulty levels, but I think it is safe to say we have gone beyond the LFR-Normal-Heroic-Mythic model. It’s almost as if we now have two levels of the four-level model — one version early in a patch and another sinmpler version later in the patch. And it definitely says that Blizz is more concerned with hyping World-First competitions than it is with setting a difficult but attainable goal for regular raiding guilds. (They’ll fix that shortfall after they have milked the hype…) Also, possibly, that they have signed on to RNG as a viable raid mechanic.

As to the other notable aspect of Method’s victory — team composition — I am not sure what to make of it. We will learn more of the reasoning behind it once we can see a video, and as Method speaks more freely about it. I do not think it should be news to anyone that Blizz has completely abandoned the “Bring the player not the class” philosophy, nor should it come as a surprise that the current state of class imbalance has given us superstars and losers in the class/spec lottery.

What gives me pause is how much of this philosophy and actual state of affairs will filter down to the majority of raid teams, and what effect it might have on player perceptions of “winner” and “loser” classes/specs. Certainly guild teams such as mine that raid for fun not profit will remain largely unchanged, especially since they rarely run Mythic level and are thus not bound into a strict 20 players. I suppose some realm-first guilds may decide to reorganize their rosters, but that will not affect a lot of players.

We have seen backlashes before, mainly in pugs, when certain classes/specs are deemed inferior, even if the perceived inferiority is only for certain fights under certain circumstances. Such backlashes can result in unhappiness among players, and unhappy players tend to switch specs to be the flavor of the month, to just quit the game, or to gripe loudly in forums and other communications venues, demanding their now-unpopular class/spec be buffed enough to be “competitive”.

I expect to see an uptick in the number of Balance druids, rogues, and MM hunters in the next few weeks, simply as a result of Method’s raid roster for the KJ kill. It is not logical, but it almost certainly will happen. I also expect there to be some amount of unfair discrimination against a few classes for pugs — possibly some against non-bear tanks, mistweaver healers and tanks, maybe BM hunters. And some of the forums will undoubtedly light up with demands for buffs — pretty much the same forums as the classes omitted from Method’s roster. (There are already buffs in the works for some of these classes, so Blizz may get off easy on them.)

But I still think it way too early to make any sweeping inferences about class balance based just on Method’s team roster for this kill. It was a special circumstance, a fact that will almost certainly elude many people. On the other hand, I do think it is appropriate to think about the stunning number of wipes involved, and what that might say about Blizz’s current approach to raid development.

 

When jokes become reality

Some years ago, Blizz published a particularly funny April Fool’s joke about a proposed new raid called the Tomb of Immortal Darkness. It was clever, and at the time we all yukked it up over the comic creativity of such an absurd notion.

Well.

Last night our raid team completed 9/9 (N) Tomb of Sargeras. The final boss, Kil’jaeden, demonstrates what happens when absurdity becomes reality. If you have not yet done it, there is one phase where in fact the Tomb of Sargeras becomes the Tomb of Immortal Darkness. Your screen goes almost completely dark, resembling the April Fool’s “video”. You in fact stumble around blindly, hoping to find first Illidan, then a healer, then one of several adds to kill. You are in total darkness beyond about five yards until all the adds die and the phase thankfully ends. If you do not find Illidan, you will die. Even if you find him, you must keep coming back to him periodically to refresh his magic juju on you, or you will die. If you do not bump into a healer, you will die.

The devs have been talking about this in interviews. Bragging, really, high-fiving about how brilliantly cool they are for using new technology to turn an April Fool’s joke into an actual raid! Bwaaahaahaa, they are technical and comic geniuses!

From now on, I will be scrutinizing all Blizz jokes very closely, trying to guess which new idiocy will find its way into the game.

I am sure there will be players who like this particular phase of Kil’jaeden, who will think it is great fun. My recommendation to them would be to have even more fun by taping a newspaper over their screen during their next raid — same basic effect, low-tech enough for home use.

We got through the phase by having whichever raid member stumbled upon Illidan mark his location with a map ping, then the healers congregated there and we all ventured out a ways in different directions and made liberal use of tab targeting to find and kill adds, darting back to the ping location every 15-20 seconds lest we die. However, if no one was lucky enough to find Illidan in the first place, we wiped. (Hint: While hunter flares do not work in the phase, DH Spectral Sight does, sort of. Not going to get into a Blizz-loves-them-best snark here, but yeah.)

This technique was spookily foretold in the original joke page when Blizz wrote:

Now this dungeon is finally seeing the light of day, we’re happy that all the hours we spent on it were worthwhile — over 9,00 on the “tab targeting” system alone!

This, to me, is not only a joke taken too far, but it is RNG taken too far. We have all experienced boss runs where RNG plays a wipe-or-kill role before, but those have been relatively few and they are based on things like who gets which debuffs at what time or bad luck with the timing of adds — that sort of thing. This seems different. Basically, if you are not lucky enough to randomly bump into crucial NPCs or adds or friendly players, you will wipe. Maybe there will be some clever addons (that Blizz will angrily declare “unfair advantages”) to help teams, and someone may stumble on to a sure-fire strategy, but there is no getting around the notion that Blizz has finally made a boss overtly dependent on a single RNG mechanic.

While there are a ton of other mechanics in Kil’jaeden, all but the April Fool’s joke gone bad seem eminently manageable in normal mode. There were long patches of 30 seconds or so where nothing was happening and we could concentrate on heaping damage on the boss, and conversely there were long periods where the boss became essentially untouchable and we only had to concentrate on mechanics. I haven’t looked at the heroic version yet, but I am betting in that mode those stretches will be filled with adds or other madness.

Once we had killed hm, I did find the final cutscene absorbing, with some great cinematography. I won’t spoil it for you (there are video spoilers out there already), but suffice it to say it is a nice reward for downing Kil’jaeden. (Good thing, too, as all I got was gold and an AP token as loot and bonus roll. 😡)

Tiny spoilerette: It also lingers for presumably the rest of the expansion, as it changes the Dalaran scenery for the characters that have completed it.

After finishing normal mode ToS, we went on to down a couple of the early heroic bosses before we quit for the night, so all in all it has been a great raiding week for our team. For me personally, it was terrific fun to get back into the part of the game I find most rewarding. I still expect this raid tier to quickly become routine, but for the next few weeks it will be, I think, a rewarding challenge.

And now, let the weekend begin!