In what is going to be our last raid before the Cataclysm is ultimately upon us, we packed our lunch boxes and went to Ulduar. Some of us did not have a chance to see most of it before, some any of it, some only getting to visit random bits and pieces. And so this visit had two purposes: getting those who had so far missed out on it a coherent experience of at least a significant part of Ulduar and – very importantly – finally making it to Algalon, for which we only needed to knock down Mimiron’s Firefighter hard mode. The plan was to clear up to and including the other three Keepers on the first evening and then to come back on the second for Firefighter and Algalon.
And off we went on the first evening, knocking down all fights in their respective hard modes, with the exception of Flame Leviathan (it’s easy to get caught up in it and then spend hours trying to drive your vehicle away from fire, so we skipped it to ensure sufficient time for the other fights). That, I dare say, was very much fun. Sure, to a large extent you can now power through them (like us using only one tank on the majority of encounters), but all those hard mode mechanics are tricky enough to keep you on your toes. Sure, Steelbreaker’s blow-up-tank-after-one-minute move fails to really impress, what with him dying within 40 seconds of being the last one standing (so the tank is affected with a debuff that makes him deal 300% damage while being consistently punched hard enough to keep Vengeance at or near full – hmm!) and allowing me to amuse everyone including myself by running around in a huge shape and then blowing up spectacularly well after the fight ended. But you still have to survive and be healed/dispelled through those Fusion Punches, not exactly made easier by Decursive failing to display the DoT component. We sacrificed a druid to Kologarn to ensure Disarmed and a paladin to Auriaya to .. uh .. apparently mostly because paladin sacrifices seem to please the gods. After frequent and popular request we received a second performance of the Worm Song on the way to Hodir, whose hard mode (speed kill) is actually rather hard not to get in the post-4.0.3a-era. Thorim remembered us, then forgot us, then remembered us again, while Yogg was posing as Sif, yet forgetting to inform Thorim that defence rating was removed from the game and thus his signature attack does close to bugger-all. Freya, strengthened by her Elders, told us to get off her lawn, and then we came back and told her to get off her lawn – funnily, the new raid lock info is still showing the Elders as “Available”, which makes me imagine them lurking in their corners for all eternity, slightly devoid of purpose, and also makes me wonder if we could just go back in and maliciously kill them, just to be mean.
On the second evening, welcome back to Mimiron – a few attempts spent relearning the methods we had previously developed to deal with all the added mechanics of Firefighter (mostly, coordinated movement through the room), then, finally, a very controlled and … well, it’s never smooth on Mimiron, but it was controlled and he went down .. that is dropped the crazy act, although I managed to get myself flattened by a Shock Blast in the last phase – luckily late enough. A train ride and some running and talking to Brann Bronzebeard (who may just have been the coolest NPC in Wrath) later, we were opening the doors to the Celestial Planetarium and going all oooh and aaah, as it should be.
The original design for Algalon has been that he’s only available for one hour, 60 minutes sharp, per raid lockout period after the first aggro. This being the last raid lockout before Cata, that would have meant “one hour or bust” for us. I say “has been” and “would have meant”, because relatively recently that restriction was lifted. However, we’ve not been aware of that, and had prepared in advance for a “sprint-fight”. And, tell you what, I don’t want to have to do such a thing ever again.
I like a bit of stress in the gaming experience. Challenge and stress are not just siblings, they are, in a way, the same thing, one being effected through the other. But it’s a delicate tuning of both quantity and quality that tips the scales between what is being perceived (subjectively, too!) as challenge or annoyance. The end part of ICC offered a good example: while Sindragosa felt punishing, the Lich King fight felt rewarding. While being undoubtedly harder, the latter just felt better (I rhyme, yo). You were fighting Arthas on endorphins, and Sindy on “oh shit”, at least that’s what it felt to me, or to us – it’s subjective.
Similarly, some people or groups may thrive on the time limit pressure. But for me, and I think for us all, it was highly unpleasant. Yes, we had all prepared and read up, discussed specific roles and assignments before the first pull and were all aware of the necessity of swift corpse runs. But the resulting atmosphere was just not the most enjoyable. Not to mention that you need a good bit of time alone to adjust your eyes to being able to make out all the crucial encounter elements in the uniform sparkle-sparkle of the setting. Speeding on, hurrying everyone, buff, eat, position, go, military discipline, no time to really think about alternative approaches (we ultimately did, but with little deliberation, “okay, let’s try four healers” – yes, ladies and gentlemen, if you got used to manhandling everything in Ulduar with T10-gear, I’ll tell you that Algalon dishes out stellar amounts of damage – see what I did there? – to the tank, and the encounter mechanics are as unforgiving as you’d expect from a hard mode only fight), no time to let the impressions settle, no time for a jest.
No time for a jest. You know, sometimes, sometimes I feel our raid is going a little bit too far with the banter, that we lose a little bit too much time with jokes and silliness. But then, whenever a very “dry” raid takes place, or a time limit forces us to Cut The Crap, I realise that we need it. That we need those distractions, those humorous emotional discharges, those things that don’t do anything but cost time, time that could have been spent killing something, progressing further through the dungeon. It turns out we’re not as good when we don’t waste time. In the past, we’ve had .. tensions about this in the guild. We don’t have them now mostly because those people are not part of the guild anymore. This is in no way a commentary on their value as human beings, but when it came to raiding, they didn’t want any of this chatter and clatter during a raid, they wanted us to stick to a stricter discipline, wipe, run back, buff, pull, shut up and get it done. I don’t say “they” to vilify them, it’s just how they were used to doing things since way-back-when, and while they sincerely adored our warm and cosy atmosphere, they didn’t want it to cut into raiding time. I think, the thing about our guild is, that it’s inseparable. We are who we are and we can accomplish what we can accomplish (however much or little it may be) not in spite but because of the way we fail, outright refuse, to be at our most efficient.
Athletes often claim that sports are won through an effort of the mind more than the body. While this may seem unnecessarily esoteric to the purist, and unintentionally spiritual to the .. well .. esoteric, the truth is likely that the physical limits of the athlete’s body are fixed, through predisposition and training. Those are all long term effects, and in the short term of an actual competition, the arm won’t become stronger and the reaction won’t become faster. The resources are fixed, so to speak, the athlete knows his sport and its basics, he doesn’t need to remember “how to run”. The only variable is the ability to utilise that technical potential, to call upon as high a percentage of the possessed abilities as possible. “Do you think that my being stronger or faster has anything to do with my muscles,” is a question that, when you think about it, has lots of validity not only inside The Matrix.
And nowhere is it more valid than in online/computer gaming. You can build up experience, you can have slower or faster reactions, you can train your muscle memory, you can tweak your hardware, but that’s all long term and amounts to a potential with which armed you sit there, facing a raid boss, and the question is not whether you possess the physical capability to press buttons, but whether you are mentally able to implement your own intentions. A breather, a few moments to calm down and let things sink in, a jest, a good laugh, they do an incredible lot to strengthen your mental state and to empower you to shine.
It is, I’ll boldly claim, no coincidence that after an hour of blundering into black holes or closing too many, getting blown up or tossed in the air, running out of range or sticking too close, on the very first attempt after realising that Algalon isn’t going anywhere and Google-confirming that the time limit has been lifted, that on the very first attempt where we allowed ourselves to stop, to breathe, to joke, he went down. Our warlock switched to the Collapsing Stars and our mage switched to Algalon instead, and we cruised in. The world is saved once more, by joke, by song and dance.
Cataclysm, you can come. I can’t wait to learn which dungeon we’re going to be silly in next.