Having done all the encounters at least at the LFR (and the later ones at the Flex level) level, I want to present some thoughts on this expansion’s raiding tiers.
With the additions of LFR and Flex, you could say that raiding regained a great deal of prominence in Mist of Pandaria as more options to play the end game content presented itself to a wide variety of players. I think having multiple levels of difficulty in the long term is a great thing and that the way the mechanics should be structured are more of a layering effect as the difficulty ramps up. Each difficulty level essentially prepares you for the next one. However, one thing that needs to be addressed is the difficulty escalation in raids. I felt that there are too many spikes in this expansion that created large numbers of early walls and possible frustration for a large number of guilds. For instance, Garalon and Horridon were pretty unforgiving fights for many guilds but their positioning prevented people from hitting Terrace of Endless Spring, etc.
Another problem that has evolved in raiding is the number of mechanics per fight. Although over time fights do become simpler, I think the problem is that most people simply do not want to deal with the majority of the mechanics. Some fights feel overwhelming to the point where the dungeon journal servers no purpose outside of another mysterious button people tend to forget exist. Fights like the Paragons from Siege of Orgrimmar are so ridiculous due to the number of entries. For myself, I think that fights should work along the lines of 3-4 total at the LFR level, 4-5 for Flex, 5-6 for normal and a higher amount for Heroic. I suggest the Diablo 3 model where you add one major mechanic per difficulty.
The main idea I want to present in this progression mode is building confidence in players to try higher levels of difficulty. Each level should inspire players to give the next one a try, not just from a linear raid progression but game play as well. If we were to take the Paragon fight from Siege of Orgrimmar as an example, you could layer it such that perhaps at the LFR level only 5 need to be beaten while Flex requires 7, Normal 8 and Heroic 9. Or something those lines as opposed to this massive dump of small bosses where the vast majority of mechanics get ignored on the LFR level but slam people on harder levels. For me, it makes for more sense to just remove mechanics completely if people intend to ignore them and just focus on a few core ones that build up as the difficulty increases.
Another idea which I’ve been thinking about is simply ending the idea of 10 and 25 mans. Since Flex raiding was introduced, we’ve seen how a raid difficulty can scale based on the number of people. So rather than imposing these artificial limits for normal and heroics based on the amount of people you have, you would make all raids flexible in terms of available people. The difference would be choosing a difficulty setting that would apply the mechanics idea I described above (i.e. 3-4 mechanics for easy mode, 4-5 mechanics for regular, etc.)
I think part of the reason why Flex raiding was introduced was to provide Blizzard better insight into the optimal number of people for a raid. Some people have speculated that we’ll eventually see the end of 25 man raids and be left with 15 man raids. To me, it’s really absurd to create difficulty levels on mechanics purely based on how many people can show up. The damage, health of a boss, healing requirements, etc. are things that can be tuned based on the number of people because those can be easily calculated. But for instance if someone gets injured or takes a break, that shouldn’t halt a raiding group’s progression. At the same time, you really don’t want people on the bench if they’re available and ready to go.
Another thing that this idea of Flex should be applied to is LFR. While a lot of people bemoan LFR as a loot pinada mechanism or a spot where people cannot get along, it does have a purpose: it allows for ad hoc raids to occur when a person is mostly ready. The real issue with LFR is that the way it pools people together is ineffective. oqueue and OpenRaid are more towards what the aim of LFR should be, but tools like this need to make an appearance in the game as a feature supported directly by Blizzard. The thing about LFR at the moment is that many feel Flex is slowly overtaking LFR, causing the lack of need for tanks in LFR, creating high queue times and groups which have a great deal of problems with mechanics. Part of the issue also is the dependency for 25 people to hit a ready check (even though that really isn’t always the case). In short, LFR needs a major overhaul after Mist of Pandaria.
Here are some things that need to be adjusted in the future for LFR:
- Removing the 25 person requirement and making it adjustable a la Flex.
- Providing more levels of difficulty rather than the present one.
- Adding better loot based on higher levels of difficulty.
- Re-thinking the Vote Kick system such that people who cause multiple offenses are simply banned rather than rewarded over time for the misbehavior.
- Providing a means in which people can consistently group up with others from a pool that they enjoy (don’t tell me that using whispers after a raid ends is the best way; that chat piece of shit needs to be deleted and revamped too)
- Provide profiling tools to ensure that those who enter in LFR are capable and ready to get the job done (not just prejudicing people based on ilvl and so-called progression alone)
- Making loot shareable at the discretion of the individual player
- Providing more than a crappy loot bag as incentives for classes like tanks and healers to queue
- Enforcing more ways to prevent ninja boss pulls (something similar to what has been done to Spoils in Siege of Orgrimmar)
- Adjusting the amount of trash based on difficulty
Next, I want to delve into the environment of the raids. One thing that I felt got lost over time was the supposed Asian flair in Pandaria. The mantid might resemble some distant Japanese 70’s Godzilla-like insectoid robot fight while the Mogu could be something like a cross between a samurai and the Mongols. However, I felt part of that started to fall off, especially as Throne of Thunder entered into the scene. Don’t get me wrong, I think Throne of Thunder was a pretty cool raid instance, having a nice gloomy feel. But we essentially go back to the troll empire, which I didn’t really understand. And when I mean by I didn’t understand, I feel that Blizzard attempted to tie things back to the familiar of the core World of Warcraft universe as opposed to expanding more upon the Asian theme that originally was intended.
Sure, you have Lei Shen, the Consorts and Iron Qon but the other encounters were more random. It felt like Throne of Thunder aimed at an Amazon type of theme, which, imo, aligned more towards what was being developed in the Krasarang Wilds (which felt horribly out of place). I think there were some heavily missed opportunities for raids using Asian history such as the Shaolin temple, the Boxer Rebellion, samurai, ninjas and other cultural elements that other RPGs have managed to incorporate. Matter of fact, Lei Shen reminded me more of Tesla than any known Asian figures.
Probably, what bothered me the most environmentally about the raiding scene was the return to Orgrimmar. Despite having the end boss of Garrosh being announced at the start of the expansion, I think the split storyline ruined a lot in Pandaria. I felt that Pandaria should’ve been more of an introspective type of land of adventure where this other area in the world and their people teach something about themselves to the Horde and Alliance. This aspect of the storytelling comes off extremely weak towards the end and the raid encounters from Siege of Orgrimmar for the most part do not enforce a great deal of this idea. I think it sucks that too much emphasis on the location of Orgrimmar was placed and was not well balanced for the Alliance (this coming from a Horde player). Beyond loot, there honestly is very little motivation for the Alliance doing anything to help the Horde out deal with their own problems.
The lack of balance seems to contradict the overarching idea of having a semi-Buddhist type of flavor. Instead, we have this trigger that’s just waiting to be pulled at any second and when it goes off, we’re simply aiming directly for our head. In short, what’s the point. Any true lessons in this game has less impact from the weak elements in the environment that try to hold together these themes.
If anything raiding taught us in this expansion how much more important loot is. Loot practically is the name of the end game at this point. The emphasis on rolls and re-rolls, valor, gear gates, upgrades, etc. all amount to the only remaining element of progress. You might rhetorically ask, “What about boss progression?” LFR essentially has eliminated the idea of boss progression and have made the game into loot progression. As a long term RPG fan, I like neither idea. But the exclamation point probably has hit home on the loot aspect of the game more in this expansion than any other. The thing about loot is that it drives a few things home: 1) It inflates our numbers rather than focuses on raw skill; 2) It’s one of the few things that makes a person feel they are evolving their character in some semi-meaningful way; 3) It keeps us going for the above two reasons.
Unfortunately, loot is such a controversial topic and sadly so. Certain groups of people cling to the notion of epics and legendaries as belonging to a tiny elite group. However, I think the game was designed in the early days very poorly and lacked a sense of direction. Those that were indoctrinated at that stage feel a sense of entitlement as well as been “environmentally educated” as to what the purpose of things like loot represent. That said, the game still has a long way to go when it comes to loot distribution. I think the game has done a great job of making this aspect more accessible and slightly less controversial with the introduction of the random personalized loot drops. The problem though is that even this mechanism needs a lot of tuning.
Mob-wise, I think that the trash has become excessively annoying. Some people seem to have desired more challenging trash encounters. For myself, I find that on more than one occasion the trash ended up becoming far more challenging than the boss. For instance, Heart of Fear part 1 had some of the worst trash and to this day still causes group wipes. Yet the boss is one of the easiest around. That makes no sense to me whatsoever. Trash should contribute something to the raiding environment but at this point I feel that they serve mostly as time wasters to allow cooldowns to reset. With cooldowns resetting automatically after a boss kill, there really isn’t any point in using trash as a device for wasting time. If anything, the trash’s only purpose now is demonstrating some possible abilities for the next boss.
However, that really isn’t the case at all times. Instead, trash end up contributing to wipe-a-thons, which just adds a new level of frustration. Most people want to focus on the boss. Maybe if the trash dropped worthy loot that helped mitigate the numerous wipes, then they would have some purpose on that end. I really dislike wasting excessive amounts of time if the end result does not yield anything meaningful, which is why I think the trash mob aspect needs to be reduced massively.
Let’s talk about one of the growing themes in World of Warcraft raiding: personal responsibility. This aspect is becoming the forefront of raiding mechanics. I think that the way it’s currently at it’s a bit excessive. The worst one by far was the Amber Shaper mechanic that converted people into a mini vehicle. I think that personal responsibility mostly should be about surviving an encounter on your own rather than causing raid wipes from one’s inability to handle that mechanic. Part of the thing that I hate is being forced to do something you really don’t want to do. That’s what Amber Shaper was at the worst. Ji-Kun was better in this respect since people can volunteer to handle the nest eggs.
With the Siege of Orgrimmar, we see the personal responsibility theme take it a few notches too high. I think they managed to streamline this aspect a lot better such as the Sha of Pride fight, dealing with defensive stance for Nazgrim, soaking pools up and avoiding breath for Malkorok, kiting the boss during fixate for Thok, etc. Still, I find that it’s still excessive because there simply is just too much going on these days in these fights. If you’re in a good group, these issues disappear but I’ve dealt with too many bad groups that probably have caused me long term health issues, both mentally and physically. I think they’re attempting to make these fights feel more dynamic with the players have more control. Yet I suspect that’s not what people really want out of this game. The thing is that you can’t force mechanics onto players and expect them to succeed if they don’t want it. That’s partly why there’s this gradual drop off since people simply cannot handle this aspect and lack confidence for success.
When it comes to the fights themselves, there definitely has been a dramatic ramp up in difficulty. Looking back at the encounters in this expansion, there were really well done and thought out. Those two are Will of the Emperor and Horridon. Will of the Emperor is the hallmark of where I think the expansion should have been going in terms of raid mechanics and build up of an encounter. Even though I tend to hate gauntlet style encounters where you have adds build up, the fight itself is great because of how people can react to the situation dynamically. Can’t handle the Devastating Arc? Switch to adds. Feel like doing the dance? Hit him close range. The one really cool mechanic in the encounter that I think is excellent is the Devastating Arc. Here, if you do something correctly, you’re rewarded by giving an extra action button to supplement the damage. Doesn’t matter if you’re a tank, melee, ranged. You get this extra action bar to use against any mob, not just the boss. And the thing is that it’s not an overwhelming encounter neither.
Horridon makes it into one of my favorites for similar reasons (except the extra action bar). The fight is incredibly dynamic and how you decide to choose adds, etc. is based on your preference. It feels more like a battle ground with a lot of space to run around and do things. Although there is some level of personal responsibility, it’s not an overwhelming amount and most of what goes on is fairly obvious.
Both of these fights change dramatically too depending on your class and spec. DoT based classes are just a bundle of fun for both. Melee mostly can enjoy the Will of the Emperor fight if they decide to focus on the boss. As a hybrid class, you can help out in the Horridon fight by dispelling and curing people. Elements like that are what makes raiding fun because you can exploit the range of abilities you have.
Again, in talking about what I liked, I also must contrast this with what I absolutely abhorred. I will never fail to mention the Amber Shaper encounter. It’s by far the worst encounter designed in the expansion and all of it is due to the little vehicle you get involuntarily transformed into without warning nor explanation. There is absolutely nothing you can do unless your comrades help break you out. But the thing is that you lose the things that make you special, which is your class. People don’t want to play a complex vehicle that their forced into; they want to play their class. Ulduar’s first fight is an exception but it’s something you can prepare for in advance.
Another encounter that I absolutely dread is Garalon. At this point, I will never have to deal with that encounter ever again. And I’m beyond happy. That encounter realistically is one of the worst encounters in the game. It persists as an encounter people fail on because again like the Amber Shaper encounter, it more or less takes people out of their shell by forcing some silly mechanics with the kiting, the pheromones and the infamous little purple circle underneath it. Even with the overgearing, people still cannot handle this encounter on a mundane level. But it was the first thing that Blizzard needed to evaluate in creating all of their future encounters since it created a huge barrier that nothing up until this moment had done. And that barrier wasn’t just for LFR exclusive people but normal mode people as well.
I think most people who started this expansion and got into the raiding scene early on will cite Lei Shi as their most hated foe. The encounter is by far one of the most annoying. Everything from the terrible voice acting, to the random phase transitions to finally the stab-me-in-the-eye loot table are things that need to be placed into a garbage can. It’s not that the encounter is difficult just horribly annoying. For myself it just makes no sense in terms of placement. Maybe if it was some heroic instance boss, this encounter would’ve been more acceptable. But putting it before the Sha of Fear? I don’t get the kind of mood they want to create here.
Let’s now talk about the infamous Durumu encounter. People have said that outside of LFR this probably is one of the easier encounters and maybe even fun ones. But even now this encounter is a wiper just because of the maze mechanic. And even then that mechanic was made easier. To me whenever I see more than half the raid go down to the eye beam mechanic, I feel that those people are the ones that never put any effort into life. They are the ones that cause the rest of the world to slow down because they lack the mental capacity for independent thinking. I think Blizzard learned a bit about the whole idea of putting mini games into boss fights as we see how the Simon-Says aspect of Malkorok does not cause one to instantly die at the LFR level. Still though, this is another one of those encounters which (excuse the pun) should’ve been an eye opener to Blizzard in terms of mechanic design.
What about Dark Animus? Here’s another encounter that was overengineered. It’s simply an encounter that makes no sense. On paper it makes sense. In execution, it’s just flawed and stupid. You’ll often hear how Heroic raiders will quit World of Warcraft if another Dark Animus style encounter ever makes its way into the game. That tells you a lot about expectations. The thing is that an encounter should have a basic level of intuition without requiring one to read a dungeon journal. The dungeon journal should merely supplement the fine points of abilities for an encounter, not act as a requirement along with videos from YouTube (and I’ll get into this subject in a minute).
Honestly, the encounters that are probably the correct style and tuning are things like Iron Juggernaut, Iron Qon, Ji-Kun, Jin’rokh, Feng, Empress, Sha of Fear, the Twin Consorts, etc. Yes, those are the boring and easy ones but they’re pretty intuitive in terms of what you’re supposed to do. There are other encounters which I enjoy more but I think that the way the encounters should be designed need to move towards a very straight forward, easy to comprehend method. I feel that forcing people to watch YouTube videos, read extensive journal entries and strategies take away from the experience of a game. It’s like being forced to purchase a walkthrough manual just to participate. There is no excitement for self-discovery, no manner in which one can come to appreciate the environment, etc. Instead, it’s just push forward, push forward, faster, faster!
And this idea of moving faster is completely counterproductive to the earlier theme setup in Pandaria of slowing down and enjoying life. You can’t enjoy something if everything around you is nothing but a rat race, clusterfuck. That’s what these encounters are to me. They’re horribly layered clusterfucks that just throw a ton of shit on you that you’re supposed to pick up instantly or wipe.
I think the whole raiding experience would be far more enjoyable if many mechanics would be removed. Sure, it would eliminate the competition aspect but let’s be fair: most people don’t give a fuck and it really has no meaning in the long term. If Blizzard is interested in hosting competitions, just create special events that cater to people who prefer playing at a higher level; stop creating these walls in the game.
Raiding to me should be about the social experience of coming together, bonding and sharing a similar goal. It should not be something that divides people because frustrations and personalities get out of line. And that’s what raiding in World of Warcraft feels like at times. The mechanics themselves just are too outrageous and frustrating at times unnecessarily. There’s just too many special abilities that people end up being forced to watch out for rather than dealing with an inflated ability that people are used to; take a dragon as an example. I don’t understand why each boss dragon needs to be special. I like the idea of making types of dragons rare but just inflating what they can do based on their age. But there’s no need to add 50+ special abilities because it’s a boss. There’s too much “I never have seen this before oh shit!” type of things going on. By the time you reach a boss, you should have already been trained to deal with the vast majority of that type of creature so that you focus on dealing with those particular mechanics on a slightly higher scale.
Either way, Blizzard needs to seriously rethink the whole idea of raiding. The present form and direction are really skewed and not interesting. I think it mostly tries to cater towards high end raiders (sorry Method; I do respect you btw) rather than providing a well rounded social gaming experience. If anything the experience is just really frustrating and is a huge part in why people become burnt out over time. I think people enjoy getting together to accomplish things; but people do not want to be around their friends if they know they’ll be frustrated by not meeting expectations (or having their friends meet their’s).