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Kulldam

All things are difficult before they are easy.

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For a long time now, I've thoroughly enjoyed writing blurbs about my WoW Guild progress and challenges we've faced and, on occasion, even overcome. However, I realized with the advent of this new Blog feature on our site, I now have the opportunity to write about more broad topics of self-interest. I have no doubt these postings will be all but entirely ignored by the WoW and web community as a whole, and that's fine by me in truth, but on occasion, a man needs a place to vent, rage, and generally spew forth what is on his mind, and this seems the best place to do so.




I've recently stumbled upon some interesting discussions about the level of difficulty that currently exists in WoW for raiding in Wrath of the Lich King, compared to the older Classic- or even Burning Crusade-level encounters. As with any "internetz argumentzlol", opinions are divided, but I'm actually fairly shocked at the number of players indicating the current raid encounters are easier by comparison, using rehashed mechanics. These arguments have turned into a frenzy with the recent availability of Icecrown Citadel Hard Modes and high-end guilds like Paragon and vodka plowing through the majority of non-attempt-limited bosses in the first night or two.

The crux of the argument is best summed up by this quote, taken from the Elitist Jerks message boards:

Quote Originally Posted by JamesVZ
Things like Firefighter are so badass because you know where you need to stand, there's a big line of fire telling you where not to. But there's bombs and rockets and shockblasts and spinning up and a whole bunch of other shit going on at once, and you had to figure out how to maintain X healing, Y dps, and Z tanking within 25 people. Encounters like that are the rarity today, but were pretty much the rule back [in Classic].
This is the most succinct argument I found, and the essential point many players, especially from the "high-end" community, are eluding to is that the encounters of today, are by and large, not as complexly designed or tightly tuned as the encounters of older WoW raiding.

In fact, I would argue the complete opposite to JamesVZ above and others like him, that Firefighter levels of complexity were so far from "the rule" back in Classic and even large parts of Burning Crusade, that most fights could be broken down into very basic terms by today's raiding standards.

Lets look at Molten Core, the first true 40-man epic raid zone, and examine how, in terms of encounter complexity, these fights really stack up against the encounters of today.

Lucifron

His mechanics consisted of casting Impending Doom on the raid quite frequently, which had to be dispelled or would deal AE damage to the raid. Also Lucifron's Curse, which doubled the cost of abilities, and was also generally removed by a decurser. Finally, the pull came with two Flamewalker Protector adds that had a cleave attack and would Mind Control players for a short time.

In terms of complexity for the individual, there were literally 3 important jobs for the fight.
  1. You were a de-curser and removed Lucifron's Curse nearly the entire fight.
  2. You were a dispeller and you removed Impending Doom.
  3. You were an offtank and had to pull the two adds off the Main Tank quickly before he or she became charmed.


If you weren't among those people, your job literally consisted of standing far away from the MT/Lucifron and killing the adds or healing the OTs. You had no required positioning, no movement checks, no enrage timer to beat, no mid-fight adds, no bombs or fire to dodge; virtually nothing that a modern encounter, such as Firefighter, requires.

Once the adds were dead, a common tactic was to have DPS run into range of Lucifron for a while until debuffed, then run out until they could be decursed/dispelled, and run back into range, repeating the process. I cannot fathom how anyone can compare the so-called complexity of this kind of fight, where literally 20% of your raid force had the sole duty of standing still 50 yards from the actual battle and spamming decurse/dispel on anyone that ran up to them, to a current-day encounter. If such a requirement existed today, or a fight that allowed that much of the raid to contribute nothing in the form of healing, DPS, or tanking, the streets would run blue with the blood of Blizzard developers, while the mob chanted outrage because Johnny McPriest has a boring ass job the entire fight and never moves or casts more than one spell.

Baron Geddon

How about a more complex fight, such as Baron Geddon. Here we have a frequently cast Inferno that in almost all cases, required melee DPS to run in and out of melee range frequently to avoid death. There's also a random-cast Ignite Mana spell that was dispelled by resident Priests who were spread around the HUGE room somewhat evenly to hopefully be in range of the appropriate mana user in need of removal. Then of course was Living Bomb, the ability everyone remembers about this fight, which debuffed a random player and caused that person to explode to nearby players and knock them high into the air, dealing a good chunk of fall damage.

Additionally, this was the first fight where tanks were introduced to the concept of a Resistance Gearset and many (myself included) had to use Fire Resist to tank. Beyond that, however, there was virtually nothing for the tank to do beyond stand in the center of the room and run out of Inferno if they wanted to save healer mana a bit, but that was hardly required.

Moreover, like Lucifron, the majority of the raid spent the entirety of the fight in a single position, casting their appropriate DPS or healing spells, and only moving if they should get Living Bomb cast on them, where they then usually ran away from the raid near a wall to explode. Even then, it was almost entirely irrelevant if the Living Bomb target succeeded at that simple process of running away from the raid or not, because even if they died, and even if they blew up/killed 3+ other people in the process, and even if this happened 2 or 3 times over the course of the fight, it was near impossible for the raid to not win. There was no DPS check to speak of, no massive healing requirements, and nothing reactionary required of the healers. Healers largely ignored Living Bomb targets until after the player ran out of the raid, blew up, and came back to the normal positions. In short -- there was no inherent danger in any of the mechanics and the only possible way to lose was to have healers never be dispelled when Ignite Mana was cast upon them, which rarely happened since dispelling was so trivial as the dispellers had literally no other concerns to think about.

Now again, compare this to current-day encounters, such as Firefighter. There are massive amounts of movement required by all raid members, everything that's worth avoiding (fire, rockets, Phase 3-bomb bots, pew pew lasers, blast, etc.) will absolutely destroy any raid member not intended to deal with them if caught in one of these effects too long. Imagine Firefighter if melee could just sit in-range full time and eat the blast similar to Living Bomb from Geddon, and get healed up lazily afterward. Imagine of Rockets were not omgwtfbbq-rape-style-damage but hit for 60-70% of the Mage's health and could be bandaged fully afterward.

It's ludicrous to even remotely compare the complexity of encounters today to those of Classic or BC raiding, because the mechanics of today are flat out more in every sense of the word -- more damage, more dangerous, more frequent, more numerous, more complicated, and more demanding.

Another fight heralded as uber-challenging that has no counterpart these days is the Twin Emperors from Temple of Ahn'Qiraj. Again, a quote to explain the conclusion best:

Quote Originally Posted by http://elitistjerks.com/f30/t69110-patch_3_3_augh_just_augh/p389/#post1556811
I like that Twin Emps was brought up because I had the opportunity to work on that before boss mods existed for it. It took a couple of pulls to figure out what did what, and after that it was just razor edge tuning. You had a bug team, split healing, rough tank damage, split second tank swaps, and frequent DPS target swaps. You had exploding bugs, uppercuts, and blizzards that all had to be managed so that even one of your DPS didn't blow the fuck up. The challenge was figuring out the synergy required within your raid to cover all of the bases and beat the enrage timer. This was no easy task, and if the encounter existed today as tuned as it was then, you can bet your ass it still wouldn't be.
First, let me acknowledge that I do believe Twin Emps was one of the most challenging encounters to date at the time of it's release. It introduced a few new mechanics that were not really seen up to that point (caster-based tanking, forced mob-splits, raid segmentation for various roles, etc.) and I'll also conclude that it was because those mechanics were new or at least different enough from previous incarnations, that the fight was so challenging for many raids.

However, again, the argument is not whether older fights were challenging in their day, but that the current generation of encounters are not as complexly designed as those fights of yore. With the Twin Emps, I cannot fathom how the concepts of that fight could seem complex to any high-end raider these days:
  • Multiple tanks? Check.
  • Raid segmentation (healers assigned to part of the raid or one or two tanks and ignore the others)? Check.
  • Area of effect cast (Blizzard) that must be avoided by nearby healers/ranged? Check.
  • Area of effect cast (Bug Explosion) that must be avoided by nearby melee? Check.


Interestingly enough, every one of those checkmarks is present in a good example of a current-level fight, The Iron Council from Ulduar. It required multiple tanks, had the raid segmented (DPS doing one thing, some healers healing raid, some one tank, some the other tank), AE effects for melee to avoid (Overload) and for ranged/healers (and also melee) to avoid (Rune of Death). Yet, the difference is all these things were only during the first 33% of the fight for The Iron Council, after which it got even harder. There were more effects to avoid and contend with (Fusion Punch, Chain Lightning, Overwhelming Power, Static Disruption, etc.) for The Iron Council, and if a tank fucked up on Twins and didn't taunt right away after teleport, it was irrelevant because the massive automatically given threat boost to the nearest player made it no big deal, whereas a tank fucking up the Taunt timing on Steelbreaker means the raid wipes or doesn't beat the Berserk timer.

Speaking of Berserk, that's another similarity, as both The Iron Council and Twin Emps had tight Berserk timers. However, with Twin Emps, losing one, two, or even three people was not going to make or break your success for beating the timer, whereas during Hard Mode Iron Council, even one or two DPS would likely cost the win.

Healing, too, was much more forgiving in the Twin Emps, whereas healers had to virtually spam the Steelbreaker tank and roll constant hots or emergency heals on the raid to prevent burst kills. For Twin Emps, while the tanks took fairly high sustained damage, the raid as a whole barely took any damage. Further, there was no healer movement requirements on Twin Emps if the raid knew how to position ranged properly to force Blizzard on the same target for each side of the room, whereas Iron Council healers have to move to avoid Rune of Death at the very least.

“Difficulty is the excuse history never accepts.” Edward R. Murrow

While I could go on and on listing examples of how current-day encounters are far more complicated and demanding of all involved raid members than virtually all the Classic-era encounters, instead I'll iterate what my own thought is on the subject.

People learn with practice.

There we go, easy as pie, lets all go home.

In the most basic sense, that truly is the simplest argument. The raids of today have the illusion of being more simplistic because those observing them have a skewed understanding of what does and does not a challenge make. Even though players discussing the subject will swear up and down that no, they themselves have not become a better player over the past 4-5 years of raiding, the fact of the matter is it is inherently human to learn through repetition. On a very basic, genetic level, we are programmed to recognize when we have seen that dark, damp cave entrance before, and recall that last time we entered such a place, we came out with a grizzly bear gnawing on our femur.

Perhaps that's a little to corollary to the survival instinct in my example, but while WoW is a game, I suspect our brains interpret our in-game actions very much the same way. We remember that in the past, standing in Fire was bad for our virtual health, so we avoid doing so in the future. This rule continues in fight after fight, instance after instance, until not only have we mastered the concept of "Fire is bad", but we have, in a sense, metaphysically journeyed beyond the known into the realm of the unknown -- we recognize that even though this swirly dark thing looks nothing like the red, hot Fire we are used to, it is almost certainly a dark, damp cave entrance and to be avoided for fear of limb amputation.

Moreover, the tools available to the average player are far more advanced than was available in Classic-era raiding, which are expounding upon every nuance of a raid encounter before the player even has to think about what to do themselves. A message will tell you when an important event is about to occur, is happening, and afterward, what, if anything, it did. All relevant data is at our fingertips -- we know how much threat each player has on any given target, which lets us determine when a threat-wipe occurs, a concept dating back to Shazzrah from Molten Core but not fully understood by most at the time because it was entirely unnecessary to have such knowledge. It didn't matter why Shazzrah behaved so strangely after a Blink and the tank had to frequently spam Taunt and chase him around the room, because there was virtually no inherent danger to not knowing why. Shazzrah could blink and spam Arcane Explosion for 10-15 seconds and sometimes a person or two would die, and more often than not they would survive and the tank would eventually get agro back until it repeated in another place elsewhere in the room. In the end, the raid could drop 10 people and the fight would still be successful, so the why of it all was ignored.

Even Marrowgar, considered the easiest ICC fight by nearly all raiders, has an identical mechanic after his Bone Storm. However in this case, if the tank takes 10 or 15 seconds to properly react, many people will be dead. The fight is still likely winnable, at least in Normal-25, with 3+ people dead, but only if this occurs once (instead of every Bone Storm). In fact, the Marrowgars of today require much higher skill thresholds by all involved or the Tank will not Taunt soon enough and a random ranged DPS will be gibbed outright.

If a tree falls in the forest...

I'm not immune to nostalgia, and like many high-end raiders, I find the memories of times-of-old are often among the best I have. I remember defeating Ragnaros or Nefarian and rejoicing, because it was truly epic at the time. The fights were hard, the road was long, and we were but sheep led to the slaughter more often than not. It would be a blatant lie to try to pretend I am not a better, smarter, more intelligent raider than I was 4 years ago doing Classic-era raids. I've grown, and all those around me have grown as well.

Ultimately, encounter difficulty is limited by the design elements Blizzard developers have at the ready -- how many knobs they can tweak and to what degree. We, as a collective raiding community, have seen and experienced the vast majority of those knobs first hand (not, not an innuendo), many multiple times over, in many multiple incarnations. Original Four Horsemen is eluded to as a pinnacle of raid design because of the vast majority of tank swaps and raid movement required, but nowadays tank swapping is so common, over half the fights in ICC require it, and of course they all require raid movement. Now, the modern ICC examples may not appear as tightly tuned as Four Horsemen, but we as a playerbase have simply learned to overcome these requirements because we went through the first Four Horsemen.

Something has to lead the pack, and be the first, in terms of innovative design that hasn't been seen before, and examples of this kind of ingenuity from Blizzard devs are found in every single raiding zone since Molten Core. Vehicle fights, Saurfang Energy, Valithria HealDPS, collapsible environments, portal-based rooms, eye beams, ground-tentacles, void zones, doomfire -- it was all a new and interesting mechanic at one time or another and there is no indication Blizzard will stop coming up with new ways to challenge the players as a whole.

Comments

  1. Nigma's Avatar
    I fully agree and like every new addition to the way the game is played. It keeps things interesting. I am sure if the game had stayed the same as it was in classic Wow i would have quit long ago for something fresh that could keep my interest.
  2. Colio's Avatar
    Ouro anyone? That fight was one of my favorite classic encounters. The biggest beef I can have about the raids of today is, raids should not be pugable. Period. You should be able to grab a few friends and guildmates and make a decent group and get through an encounter. But when you have to deal with the constant spam of raid groups forming in trade chat, that says something. Casual players are shitting epics and yet Blizzard keeps giving them more. If only there was a Razorgore type fight in the beginning of every raid zone, or a mechanic that if one person dies it explodes the raid, then raids would feel special again. Or at least I would feel that.

    I'm just venting
  3. Kulldam's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Colio
    The biggest beef I can have about the raids of today is, raids should not be pugable. Period.
    So basically "Normal" mode as it exists in Ulduar, ToC, and now ICC should be removed and "Heroic Mode" should just plain be the Normal, only option? While I can't say I'd be against that on a personal level, since while I don't mind ignoring the trade chat spam, I can't imagine Blizzard is ever going to revert back to the more extreme hardcore method of designing raids now that they've seen the sweet success by broadening the access.

    I too long for the days of the epic feeling raid at times, and Ouro was a great example of something that would rape the face of anyone who screwed up. But in terms of complexity I don't think it holds a candle to today's raids, and I'd imagine if Ouro was toned down to be 25- or 10-mannable, PuGs would easily drop him.

    C'thun, on the otherhand, might be a different story...
  4. Khrash's Avatar
    I agree with Ugra for the most part. I long for the truely epic feeling of days past. I also think that our own feelings on the matter are coming from a very mature gamers standpoint. Its tough for Blizzard for come out with something we havent faced in some way or another.

    Making raiding more accessible to the masses is, I think, a good thing for the company, but for the elite it tends to dumb the game down too much thus I hope they continue with Hard Modes to give us a true challenge as well as better loot for our time/efforts.

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