Category Archives: Raids & Dungeons

Myth Busters: Heroics are Hard

Widely accepted thesis: Cataclysm heroics are hard, much harder than Wrath heroics. Conclusions range from being excited about it to quitting because of it. Unsurprisingly, I’m here to challenge the thesis itself.

Wrath heroics were easy, right? Like, really, really easy? Are you sure? Let’s have a history session. The Dungeon Finder, and with it the practice of running heroics in high volume, was introduced in patch 3.3, i.e. at the tail end of patch 3.2, also known as the TotC era, which, in itself, primarily served the purpose of gearing up absolutely everyone to where it could be guaranteed that they’d be able to take on ICC and Arthas, because this was going to be the conclusion of a 15 years old storyline, the storyline that made Blizzard into what they are today, and they didn’t want anyone to have to miss it. Prior to the dungeon, during patch 3.2 itself, we already had daily dungeon quests that would, via emblems, effectively reward us with raid gear. Saying that everyone entered the Dungeon Finder ridiculously overgeared would be an understatement. Everyone? Let’s go further back in time .. maybe a month or two.

During that time, in the middle of the TotC era, I reached level 80 and was just starting to run dungeons, together with a fixed group of friends, who, like me, were just beginning to learn the finer details of WoW group play. And you know what? Those dungeons were pretty hard! The first heroic we attempted was Violet Hold – yes, the same Violet Hold where later the timers between waves were hotfixed to be shorter and shorter, because everyone was just standing around bored, the same Violet Hold which I came to hate because the mobs were dealing so little damage I would be constantly rage starved. That Violet Hold. It was freaky hard. Granted, we pulled a tough one with Xevozz, and wiped, and wiped, until we finally managed to get past him and with much cheering and rejoicing completed the dungeon. We were cheering about beating Violet Hold, picture that!

We were really fighting our way through those heroics. We were using CC, following a kill order, taking breaks between pulls. I remember being proud of avoiding Loken’s Lightning Nova by breaking line of sight, which was more efficient than running all over the place – later you would just stand there and take it, a minor scratch on the health pool, giving you at least some rage and releasing the healer from total boredom. I remember us executing the complicated positioning tactic to get Consumption Junction – something a few months later was dinging on every run (assuming there would be someone who didn’t have it yet) simply by blowing him up in under 20 seconds. I remember racing hard to get the Bronze Drake in CoS. I remember the terror that was the Black Knight when you fought him in appropriate gear. I remember how half a year later, all that was gone, nothing could put much of a dent in our huge health pools a Rejuv-tick wouldn’t fix, and every group member would be putting out damage comparable to what an entire group once used to do combined.

Wrath heroics were not easy per se. I don’t know how they compare with BC hard hitters like Magister’s Terrace or Shattered Halls, but would like to suggest that during BC it was much more common to “design to niche”, essentially leaving you in the dirt if you didn’t have the specific set of abilities to handle a particular encounter/dungeon. Also – and importantly – even toward the end of BC, high quality gear was much less easily available than even at the start of WotLK. To anticipate: no, I do not mean to say that gear is all that matters – what I do mean to say that it helps a lot. Back to Wrath heroics – for those who had not, pre- or post-3.0, acquired a set of high quality BC raid gear, they did pose a rather reasonable level of challenge. However, lots of people brought their legacy equipment over, the quality jump having been much smaller this time around, crafted epics were more accessible than ever before (not BoP to begin with), and Naxx was deliberately accessible and over-rewarding. Thus for most active – and vocal – players, the phase of challenging heroics passed pretty quickly.

Most importantly, by the time the Dungeon Finder rolled around and transformed heroics into the sort of gaming popcorn we perceive them as today, that phase was long, long, long in the past. By the time dungeon groups went from manually organised to automatically matched, an estimated 80% of the participants were overgeared to the point of being able to just power through. Even new characters were not exempt from this, as rewards were – deliberately – coming in so quickly, that after a week or two of running along with overgeared others you’d already be overgeared yourself. This is the “Wrath dungeon experience” that we remember. This is, curiously, what we compare Cataclysm heroics with.

Cataclysm reset us to zero. The gear jump was so big again, that whatever you acquired in Wrath raiding, wouldn’t matter. It didn’t give us a shortcut to superior gear, but kept us honest. Cataclysm heroics were brutally hard … back in December and early January, when I was carrying spell plate shoulders, an agility cloak and a self-crafted PvP piece in my bags to make the 329 item-level requirement – and everyone else in the group was doing the same. When we didn’t know the fights and were still getting to grips with how our abilities changed. We used excessive crowd control, we treated every trash pull like a significant battle, we really worked together. For a month or two. Come March and 346+ gear with some raid loot sprinkled in, a tank would typically say “I would ask for CC, but it’s better I pull the entire pack, that way I get more Vengeance, makes it easier to hold aggro”, a healer would say “hmm, it’s getting boring” and we’d go off, rampaging and destroying.

I’m not exaggerating, nor am I showing off. Except when having fresh 85s in the group, our guild heroic runs have long began to increasingly resemble the “Wrath dungeon experience”. Not quite there yet, but certainly on our way. It turned out that Cataclysm heroics are not “clever hard” – they’re “numbers hard”. Klep wrote about this in January already. To sum up his post very briefly, there are two very different kinds of reasons to use crowd control: to counteract an encounter mechanic, or to reduce incoming damage. The latter becomes obsolete as soon as you gear up a bit. Quite evidently, what we got in Cataclysm, after much advertising and discussion, was pretty exclusively of that second sort. So, here’s the thing: Cataclysm heroics do not require crowd control any more. With every passing week and the increasing average gear level of the population, they require less and less coordination. By design.

Heroics are not hard – not all that hard, at least. It’s just that it’s the first time the Dungeon Finder exists in a time when there is no vast difference between player gear and dungeon level. And it’s been a culture shock to many having to relearn that a dungeon run can be something other than a trip to a vending machine.

Myth Busters: Tanking is Hard

First, my credentials. For the vast majority of my time in WoW and for nearly the entirety of my time at level 80, I have been a tank – primarily because it was fun. I tanked every single encounter of WotLK, all of them. Having said that, I am here to tell you now: tanking is NOT hard.

I’m writing this because all the usual suspects have crept up again to elaborate how incredibly hard tanking is, how tanks are actually gods in human disguise, who shoulder the entire responsibility, carry the entire load, rule over life and death. Healers are their archangels, who help the tanks to right the wrong, and everyone else is clearly worthless, exchangeable, irrelevant. It is being stated as indisputable fact, and most people boggle at the notion that the tank is not the cornerstone, the pillar and the rooftop of a group all at once. And I am going to once again tell you that this is nonsense.

I wrote about the difference between skill and entry barriers before, and this is pretty much a continuation of the reasoning, which is based on the following: it is no more difficult to be a good tank than it is to be a good damage dealer. The difference is that as a tank you are required to be at least decent (if we cyclically define “decent” as “sufficient to beat the encounter”), while as a damage dealer you can get away with less than that. It is much harder to compensate for a sub-decent tank than it is for a sub-decent damage dealer. But it is not inherently harder to be a decent tank than it is to be a decent damage dealer. It is equally demanding to be a good tank as it is to be a good damage dealer. And being an excellent tank requires the same effort and dedication as being an excellent damage dealer.

Tobold designs a hypothetical encounter which, by intentional design, challenges tanks and healers more than damage dealers and, despite being an actual scientist in real-life, goes on to claim that this scenario, which has precious little in common with any currently available non-trivial encounter, proves the higher difficulty level of playing a tank. I don’t think it proves anything, because there’s a difference between hypothesis and proof. Encounters like that don’t exist. Actually existing encounters these days require the damage dealers to mind where they stand, group up, spread out, to quickly switch targets, burst on cue, AoE on cue, don’t do this, do that, interrupt, don’t interrupt, etc. It is not more or less difficult than what tanks have to do, it’s just different. What does the tank do, for example, when everyone needs to “spread out, spread out!”? Stand in place, of course, and not be bothered. For some reason you rarely see bloggers citing this as evidence for “tanks having it easy”, although that was pretty much always what I thought when I was tanking and everyone had to run somewhere while I could just stand where I wanted. Of course it is, in many cases, easier to slack as a damage dealer than it is to slack as a tank, as long as there are enough others to pick up the slack for you. That makes it more urgent for a tank to be good, but not more difficult.

Rhii makes an ad-hoc list of things different roles need to be aware of and goes on to observe, without any mean intent, I shall add, that the list for damage dealers is the shortest. Well, sure the DPS awareness list is going to be short if you sum all of “fight mechanics” up in a single bullet point – it’s understandable, in fact, because hers is a pretty strictly healer point of view, so for her, most of what’s happening is pretty much “all that wicked stuff that’s going on”. Goes back to healing being broken. By the way, damage dealers also have to coordinate cooldowns, among themselves as well as with encounter events. Sure the lists for tanks and healers are going to look more impressive if you include items like “everybody’s threat”. I can’t remember, when tanking, being overly interested in the threat of the fourth-highest person – you only care whether anyone’s creeping up on you and not to inadvertently pull off each other in tank-swap fights. Healers don’t actually care about threat at all, they only care about aggro (i.e. who has it). Then, she concludes the listing with an interesting phrase: “and of course, raid leaders have to watch EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL THE TIME”. That is interesting, because I would claim that being more or less aware of all crucial parts and element of an encounter is not characteristic of only a raid leader, but of a good raider. In different encounters, different roles (not necessarily always the damage dealers) are able to get away without concerning themselves with what the other roles have on their plate. But ultimately, every problem is everybody’s problem. Why would a tank, for example, be always more concerned about healer mana than damage dealers? There is very little a tank can do about healer mana, while on the other hand damage dealers can adjust to healer mana expenditure, both by avoiding taking damage (it’s not universally always bad to risk some extra damage, if you can do relevant good stuff in return, but you need to be aware whether your healers can afford to keep you up through it) and by realising a necessity to dial up the damage output to shorten the fight duration. Or the other way round, realise that things are fine and care is more important than speed. Good damage dealers (in a game that is deep enough to provide them such options) can do that, EJ-monkeys can’t.

Every role has its challenges. Tanking is not inherently harder than dealing damage, it is simply less forgiving at the low end. It is possible to be a good tank, and it is possible to be a good damage dealer. It is possible to strive for excellence in both roles. Bad tanks usually have a greater (negative) impact on the group than bad damage dealers, but on the other end of the spectrum, the one which should matter, very good tanks and very good damage dealers have a very similar (positive) impact, varying mostly due to encounter mechanics. Being a very good tank is as hard or as easy as being a very good damage dealer. Not being a good damage dealer is less consequential than not being a good tank, but that should not be mistaken for one being harder than the other. Climbing the curve is equally hard, and the one who did expend the effort of climbing will make your life easier, in either role.

I shall conclude quoting a former friend and companion from LotRO. She played both a damage dealer and a tank character, both at very good raid-level, and once quipped, half-joking half-serious:

“Tanking is easy, you just spot the biggest thing in the room and thwack it ’til everything’s dead.”

Don’t let your heads grow too large for your hats, dear (fellow) tanks.

So we’re bribing the tanks now

Blizzard finally caves in and pulls the Oculus maneuvre. Remember how all the whining about getting Oculus in the random dungeon finder abruptly disappeared when they added a small chance at getting a rare mount from the end boss, but only on random runs? Remember how the dungeon itself didn’t become any less annoying, but the complaints stopped anyway?

Now we get Call to Arms, which is supposed to do nothing other than bribe people into tanking dungeons. Much rejoicing to be expected from those who long ago suggested that tanks and healers are shiny and special and thus should receive special rewards compared to those filthy damage dealers who are totally exchangeable and surely contribute nothing to the success of a run.

The Oculus experience shows that this can work. Since WoW distilled itself down more and more to a purely reward oriented game, people will do everything for a reward. I would expect queue times to become shorter indeed. Not sure how much shorter though – or at what cost. It seems obvious that the club of “wanted to jump queue”, “wanted to help a friend jump queue”, “wanted to try tanking, can anyone tell me what rotation to use?” and others will get a new member in “wanted to get the mount lol”. The whole thing is about as bizarre as the demand for Blizzard to “fix the tank shortage” itself, because what’s happening here is that people who don’t want to tank or heal are being bribed into doing it anyway.

Are you happy running with a tank who doesn’t want to tank and a healer who doesn’t want to heal? Remember, their class had the spec for that role before, but they weren’t using it. Now they are. Not for the experience or because they’re interested, but for the mount. Exaggeration? Look at it this way, if you are a damage dealer and your queues became half as long as they used to be thanks to Call to Arms, that technically means that there are twice as many tanks and healers now. Which means that 50% of those available are doing something they don’t like, aren’t really interested in and consequently are probably not very good at. 50%. And that still leaves you with a 15-20 minutes queue.

The problem is not that tanking and healing are not rewarding – they are already more rewarding due to the high horse you automatically get placed upon, instant access to everything you want included. The problem is that most people find these roles boring, and not without a reason.

Healing goes from this nerve-wrecking experience with barely being able to keep people alive while going stark OOM to a ho-hum process of hardly having to do much within a few weeks of gearing. There’s only a brief period of time during which it feels “just right”, when it’s challenging but not exhausting, when you make interesting decisions rather than going through the motions or hectically jumping all over the place. And let’s not even talk about being forced to stare at little green bars for all eternity. Or actually let’s talk about it, but not now, because it’s too large a topic in itself. Healing is broken, fundamentally. A rare drop mount won’t fix it.

Tanking fun scales inversely with gear. Always has, because tanking gear is not exciting. Oh, being highly survivable is exciting. But you never know or feel what’s effecting it. When a damage dealer gets a higher crit chance, bigger numbers pop up more often on their screen and their crit-response procs trigger more often. When a tank gets more survivability stats, well, they can pull an additional mob. Which is why tanks end up overpulling, because it’s the only way to still get the kicks. And then the aforementioned healer suddenly goes from “ho-hum” to “oh my god, what just happened!?” and no one is really amused. And let’s not even talk about Vengeance.

The entire age old concept of the Holy Trinity is to blame. It comes in with the foregone assumption already that damage dealing is the “fun” role, and then introduces two other roles and offers them a Devil’s Contract: you’re going to be really good at This Essential Thing, but in return your damage MUST be rubbish and your play style WILL often be boring. Ever since, and Call to Arms is a great example, developers are mostly busy trying to coax players into signing that contract, rather than addressing the rubbish and boring parts.

Many people already enjoy many aspects of tanking and healing. Many more people could be encouraged to those or equivalent roles if the promise was interesting gameplay rather than inalienability. Everything else is merely a band-aid.

Achievement earned!

Remaglar has earned the achievement [Jaw-Dropping!]: Impress your random dungeon group to the point of openly complimenting you.

Thank you guys, you’ve been pleasant and competent group mates (the tank marked pulls and communicated, rather than expecting us to telepathically pick up on his intentions!). Sadly, you didn’t end up on my friends list, since we’re on different servers and will never see each other again.

Together in the Darkness

It was a Saturday night on which I actually intended to be grumpy and not to do much. Then, a certain paladin found out that the weekly raid quest is XT and suggested some Ulduar silliness, to which a certain sleepy bored huntress happily agreed. Grumpily, I joined the party, a bit disappointed that a deeper run seemed unlikely, as we were just 6 people. And then, bam-bam-bam, people came online and back from AFK and all of a sudden we had a full raid standing in the icy winds of Storm Peaks. “What’s the plan?”, asked one of those who just arrived. “Full clear. Yogg dies tonight,” responded I. Because there’s little I could not get ambitious about.

Our setup was very much ad-hoc. Some new members, some who have never raided before, some who have never raided Ulduar, some who were now playing a different class/role than in Wrath. Technically, that last part includes me, because for the first time, I entered Ulduar as a damage dealer. Most of our forays into Ulduar (not all, but most) have been cases of “we don’t have the numbers/composition for ICC, let’s go to Ulduar instead”. One of the reasons not to go to ICC could of course be a shortage of ICC-ready tanks, which meant that in the replacement activity Ulduar I was most certainly required to tank. For very similar reasons, I don’t think my favourite druid got to do anything but healing in Ulduar. Okay, to be fair, it’s not like I cared much about doing anything but tanking during Wrath, so even when there were alternatives, it would just make more sense for me to stick to tanking. Anyway, this time I was Fury. Yay!

Not entirely planned, we triggered Flame Leviathan’s hard mode. I’m not a friend of lengthy wiping on him trying to get the 4-towers achievement, but it turned out, you can overgear Lev when you only overgear him enough. The vehicles do scale – with item level. And as our item levels were close to 150% of what Ulduar was built for, he actually went down on the second attempt, after the first attempt brought him to 1%. Achievement! And a rather sweet feeling, as previous attempts to get that achievement didn’t end all that well for me.

Ignis, speed kill – check. On Razorscale we decided to try for the boring achievement. And failed. The plan is to carefully bring the iron dwarves in question to low health (about 10%, it seems) and then position them in her breath, which occurs only at the end of ground phases, i.e. fairly rarely (the progress on that achievement is “sticky”, so it can – and probably has to be, considering the enrage timer – completed over several attempts and even raid lockouts). Now, the problem with “carefully bringing to low health” is that while 100k used to be a sizeable amount of health back in the day, today it’s the equivalent of a weakly quest mob. Which means that they constantly ended up with either too much health, or our attempt to get them sufficiently low just ended in premature death. After a while it really got too silly, so I suggested to reset so we can at least get the speed kill achievement. Except, she wasn’t really up for being reset by such a mundane thing as us running away. We had to get out of the instance. Picture the distance from Razorscale’s lair to the entrance. Now remember that in combat, you cannot use mounts or teleporters. The result was a fairly prolonged Platoon-esque sequence on which we were running, running, running and she was spamming us with what looked like giant Frostfire Bolts, explosions and fire and everything included. And then .. then she enraged .. and the bolts started to hit .. really hard. We were running .. and running .. but there was no escape. Not for all of us, at least. I was hit and could only lie there, expecting the inevitable. I can still hear the screams…. Ahem. Luckily we’re still talking about a computer game here, and thus “the inevitable” was hitting the release button and flying back in. And since we’re rather vengeful, we went back and killed her on the first ground phase.

XT, Heartbreaker, boom, very bad toys. It was becoming apparent just how overpowered level 85 DPS is for Ulduar. Off we go into the Antechamber. Let’s go right, I say, so those who have not yet, can take a look at the corridor that leads to Algalon’s chamber. Because it’s pretty. Let’s kill the mob guarding the door so we can run around unworried. Hey, I’ll open the door to the Celestial Planetarium (why is it that even the location names in Ulduar are so awesome, you just want to say/write them?), so everyone can have a look. Because it’s pretty. Let’s watch the pre-encounter interaction. Because it’s cool. Hmm. “Can we kill him? Please?”, asks the aforementioned huntress, who was forced to pull out of the raid on which we killed Algalon in the last week before Cataclysm. “I think we’ll just wipe,” I say. Because there’s little I could not get sceptical about. I mean, come on, half of the mechanics on that fight are borderline insta-kill, and you need a while just to adjust your eyes to the visuals. Well, I was wrong. The combination of gigantic health pools and sizzling hot DPS basically meant that we had only one Big Bang, just before the phase transition, and then we just finished him off. Observed! And much deserved Reply Code Alpha for the yet again aforementioned huntress. Pints are on me.

Onwards to the Assembly of Iron, hard mode, Steelbreaker last. Steelbreaker goes down, we stand around waiting quite a while for our tank to explode. Then the Data Disc finds a new (and mysterious!) owner, and it all begins anew. On Kologarn, we didn’t go for achievements – in hindsight we should have had. In hindsight, when you send someone who has never been there yet forward for the scare effect, you are kind of relying on their sense of taking a few steps back again when that giant pops up in front of them. In hindsight, that reliance is not always justified. Hindsight is 20/20, as they say on the other side of the pond, and it’s not like we didn’t blow up Kologarn in less than a minute even without preparation, but for achievements, some coordination would have been required. We did better on Auriaya, went for the achievement that is part of the meta, which pretty much means “blow her up, don’t touch the cats”. According to WoL, she blew up in 37 seconds. Or, as I described it, “it’s a bit weird when you just about settle into your rotation and the Execute button already lights up”.

Doing Hodir without having a Worm Song was, of course, dangerous, but we managed. Hardly surprising that the hard mode of beating him within 3 minutes was crushed with 1:08 minute. Thorim, is no secret, was actually more effort not to do on hard mode even towards the end of Wrath already. No surprises here. On Freya we decided not only to knock down her hard mode, but also to get the achievement for defeating her within 20 minutes of engaging the first creature in the Conservatory of Life. We did. Mimiron Firefighter is always scary. Until you realise that health pools of 120k+ turn “constant heavy raid wide damage” into “mild inconvenience for healers”. Which, in turn, is mostly irrelevant, since you rip through phases like it’s going out of fashion. Rocket Strike, however, is still insta kill! And no, it wasn’t me to find out. Not this time :D. Thus the quest for the Algalon key was once again completed, and we now have 3 of those in the guild.

With the Keepers beaten back to sanity, it was time for yet another awesomely named section: Descent into Madness. We were facing a predictable problem with the Vezax hard mode – not killing him (long) before the Animus could even spawn. Funny aside: he looks exactly like Erudax (end-boss in Grim Batol), and you are tempted to say “Erudax on steroids”, until you realise that Erudax actually has more health and hits harder. So, everyone on auto-attack only, sitting there, cycling interrupts, while healer mana was being slowly drained, as there is no regeneration during the Vezax encounter. Then, finally, the Animus formed, we destroyed him and, racing the OOM, ripped through Vezax.

Shall we attempt One Light in the Darkness? Of course! Shall we even attempt Alone in the Darkness? Why not! And there we were. On one hand, overpowered beyond overpoweredness. On the other hand, hardly anyone knowing anything about the fight at all. I was the only one who was also present on our first and only previous Yogg guild kill from last summer. Raw power versus one of the most complex fights ever designed in its most unforgiving mode. Of course some of the previously important details just didn’t matter anymore – the explosions of the adds in phase 1 is barely a tickle now, constricting tentacles die from a single hit already. But others, like sanity, brain links and brain portals still need to be regarded and figured out. On the first attempt I was pretty much the only one taking the brain portals at all. On the second attempt others came with me but were profusely confused by what exactly to do. On the third attempt we were being a bit chaotic inside. And then it was so late that lids started falling already. One more attempt, we said. Just one more. No shame in not killing Yogg, it’s a very complex fight.

Now knowing and understanding what exactly needs to be done in each vision (I admit it wasn’t until yesterday that I finally understood where the tentacles in the LK-vision are hiding), we split directions and assignments and .. and it worked! So well, in fact, that the outside team remarked on a lack of tentacles. The trick here being: when you kill off the tentacles inside, no more spawn outside until the brain phase ends. In the second brain phase we pushed the encounter into phase 3, where the plan was: tanks keep the Immortal Guardians away and everyone else blasts Yogg, ignoring Luniatic Gaze and sanity (in hindsight, I should have recommended the healers to permanently turn their backs on Yogg – hindsight, aren’t thou great). It was looking good. Then we started falling, one by one. And it was still looking good. And then it was just myself and our tank neither dead nor mad, my sanity and Yogg’s health racing each other to the bottom. Sanity: 3. One last Execute. One last Death Strike from our tank. One last poison tick from the now mad rogue. And there goes Yogg-Saron, down into the nightmare he created himself. Much jubilation was had at the late hour of the night. Together in the Darkness.

Why write about it? Why write a lengthy and, admittedly, not very interesting post? For one, because while it’s certainly not as exciting to read as a 3 screen-page long rant about some random douche bag refusing to do something on a PuG run no one forced the author to go on in the first place, it is a good story in the sense of being a story about good events. For another, it meant a lot to me, personally.

I started playing WoW pretty much when Ulduar was just released. It was the grand mystic place one could dream of going to when one would grow big and strong. Of course, by the time I grew big, strong and raid ready, everything but ICC was “old content” already. But the mysticism of Ulduar stuck around, with all its outstanding names. Like “Alone in the Darkness”, which I always found a fantastic name for an achievement, on so many levels. Getting that achievement, even now, was almost as emotional as defeating Algalon to me. Those were the things I dreamed of when I thought about becoming a WoW raider.

Furthermore, from the team that achieved our guild-first Yogg-Saron kill back in summer 2010, only 4 people are still members of the guild. The others left under not necessarily the happiest of circumstances when we were gunning for the Lich King, and the guild and the raid team have been rebuilt rather significantly since then. It always bugged me that Yogg is on our kill list, but most of those people who really proved their worth and loyalty through tough times, who really put an effort into making it work, were never part of what a lot of veterans (of the game) are bound to describe as an outstanding encounter for a long time. We improved that situation last night.

The journey ended in Dalaran, with all of us present on the ceremonial handing in of the Algalon quest and looking up at the sky to witness the light show. Together in the Darkness. As it should be.

Heroic “nerfs” addendum

For one, for the sake of completeness and because the Dungeon Finder finally sent us there yesterday:

Shadowfang Keep

Baron Ashbury
Sadly, in his hubris he has forgotten how to Mend Rotten Flesh.

That’s the controversial one. Undoubtedly, this makes the encounter simpler. But as with Beauty, we have to ask: in what way? The difficulty of the Beauty encounter scales inversely with the number of CC-capable party members; Ashbury’s difficulty scales inversely with the number of interrupt-capable party members. The key, the bread and butter of the fight is the Asphyxiate / Stay of Execution mechanic, which requires not just interrupting but specifically timed interrupting. That’s what it’s all about. If we had a dungeon boss who did that and would otherwise simply melee the tank we’d call it an interesting encounter design already. Ashbury however also casts Pain and Suffering and (yet) Mend Rotting Flesh, both also interruptable. Of course, undoubtedly, Mend Rotting Flesh adds difficulty to the fight, but not so much in itself as mainly by making it more risky to blow interrupt cooldowns on Pain and Suffering, an indirect threat so to speak. But that is, again, simply a numbers game. Got 3 interrupters? Give everyone one spell to take care of (as a tank I like to watch over Stay of Execution, as I can monitor my own health and react accordingly) and that’s it. Taking Mend Rotten Flesh out of the equation, as in the case of Beauty, simply means that the encounter difficulty scales less dramatically with group composition.

Lord Godfrey
He should now face a random target when casting Pistol Barrage.

That’s a buff compared to him currently always doing it in the direction of the tank. A needed buff too, as in its current form the ability is not much of a threat and he seems generally undertuned for the end-boss anyway.

Lord Walden
Conjure Poisonous Mixture now deals more initial damage.
Frost Mixture is now area-of-effect damage.
Toxic Catalyst now deals less damage over time.

A bit more here, a bit less there, mechanical adjustment yonder. Neutral change, key mechanic untouched.

Overall, Ashbury gets a bis simpler, Godfrey gets a bit harder, makes for a better difficulty curve for the dungeon overall.

What keeps amazing me and triggering two posts in two days is that the community at large seems to have totally assumed and accepted that with this patch Blizzard is nerfing the dungeons to the ground. It’s a foregone conclusion. Some like it, some don’t, some justify it, some criticise it, and one particularly remarkable specimen comments on Larisa’s post I linked yesterday:

These changes are too little, too late. I think most players have given up on heroic 5 mans, never mind raids, and are just kind of milling around waiting for the boredom to get strong enough to allow them to penetrate their WoW addictions and cancel.

This is such a remarkable mix of doomsaying, incompetence, resignation and generalisation as well as “Anonymous”, I could not resist the urge to quote.

Hardly anyone challenges the notion. Does anyone actually read those patch notes before forming an opinion on them? Or do we all get our information about the game from blogs who opinionatedly repost opinionated impressions they gathered at other blogs, creating a snowball-opinion-effect of sorts? That’s what troubles me – it’s urban legend now. An adopted fact. And due to how the game works, that impression will not be contradicted, simply because heroics start getting easier already, because we already start overgearing them and even alts come in with a much higher competence regarding both the dungeon and the game mechanics, as well as inevitably being twinked ever so slightly. December heroics were really, really hard because we crawled into them barely equipped, too curious to wait, still coming to terms with how our classes work now and barely learning to read those new environments. That’s gone. But the urban legend will stay. And a year from now, when we’ll be raiding T14 and waiting for infos about the next expansion, “Blizzard nerfed heroics to hell in 4.0.6” will be treated as historical fact and a point after which life never was the same. Those Cata-babies just don’t know what it was back when the game still felt epic, amirite?

Back to Ghostcrawler and the supposedly “unfortunate” timing of his Wow, dungeons are hard blog post coinciding with the supposed nerfs. The apparent contradiction of messages is being criticised. There is no contradiction at all. What both Ghostcrawler and various CMs always said whenever the subject of dungeon difficulty was raised was, and I’m quoting from memory but nearly word for word: we will make adjustments where we think the encounters are not working as intended, but we will not issue blanket difficulty nerfs (at least not at this stage of the game). That blog post reiterated it. And this is exactly what they did (or are going to do).

They adjust encounters they think are not working as intended. Some mechanics are getting buffed because they proved negligible. Some mechanics are getting changed because they ended up being difficult in unintended ways. Both things happen in this patch. Fine adjustments to get the encounters to where Blizzard envisions them to be. Not some sort of “health and damage output of all dungeon creatures and bosses reduced by 20%” you’d think was in the patch notes based on the community response. That would have been a nerf “across the board” – let’s keep our terms clear. What we get is something completely different, and it’s called adjustments and fine-tuning. I wish we, as a community, would not have immediately jumped into our pre-programmed doomsay-mode.

Nerfs – what nerfs, actually?

They’re nerfing heroic dungeons “across the board”! It’s all over the tabloids. “Across the board” being almost as popular a forum-phrase as “slap in the face”. Which makes me imagine two people sitting at a board (i.e. table) and then one of them reaching across and slapping the other in the face. Slap in the face across the board. Or, heroic dungeon nerf. Larisa is puzzled and saddened. So, they lasted only a few weeks before they caved in and made everything faceroll again. Gone are the good times and from here on we’ll always have to say “I did Stonecore pre-nerf” and be immeasurably proud of it.

Or maybe not. Let’s take a look at the actual patch notes, across, so to speak, the board.

Blackrock Caverns

Beauty now spawns with only two pups in Heroic difficulty.

Okay, we start with a nerf indeed. But a nerf to what? To CC – and not to quality, cleverness or execution of CC, but simply to the amount of CC you (need to) have in your group. Frankly, as soon as the number of applicable CC spells available equals the number of puppies engaged into the fight, the rest is mostly a long winded beating up on a big dog. Got 3 applicable CC spells available? Take out the puppies and DPS the boss, if you get somehow punted or feared into Runty, control him instead and kill one of the puppies, then finish the boss. Only 2? Control two puppies, kill the third and hope Runty doesn’t get playful before you’re done with that one. Only 1 or even none? Well, best just skip Beauty, as she’s optional and you probably don’t want to bother. So, yeah, it’s a nerf to the optimality of the optimal group composition. Arguably, it places more opportunity for clever play and strategy into players’ hands.

Deadmines

Foe Reaper 5000’s health has been reduced slightly. In addition, he now enrages at 40%, up from 30%.

Fight slightly shortened, difficult part of it slightly prolonged. Hardly a change at all.

While in Helix’s Nightmare during the Vanessa VanCleef encounter, Helix is now larger and a little easier to see.

Being able to see what you’re fighting is hardly a nerf.

The final rope swing while fighting Vanessa VanCleef has been removed. Players no longer need to swing off of the boat at the end of phase 3.

That’s entirely difficulty-neutral, as it doesn’t affect the encounter at all, being at a point where the encounter is actually over. Okay, I don’t know whether you still lose if you manage to all get flattened by that explosion, but as long as at least one person in the party performs the swing (not too much to expect after you did it twice previously in more peculiar situations), you still win. I agree it’s rather hurting the fun factor of the fight to remove that final swing, but it has nothing to do with difficulty at all.

The ship teleporter now activates when Ripsnarl is first engaged, rather than when he is defeated.

Convenience, not challenge.

Grim Batol

Faceless Corruptors now move 10% more slowly.

Yes, this will make the encounter easier. And by “easier” I mean less effin’ frustrating. Some ranged types might not notice, but trying to deal damage to something that moves quicker than you is not challenging, it’s a royal pain in the bum. Oh yes, of course they can be slowed down – so we do. Of course, once again, you need two slow-down-effect-appliers in your group or you’re screwed, but that aside, if your Charge takes you too far (which is more than a little likely on fast-moving targets, and following up with an Intercept only gives me one additional attack I can land), if your latency spikes for a moment, if your hamstring-equivalent-spell misses (because at least in pure theory it is imaginable that someone does a heroic while not being hit-capped because they’re gearing up or something silly), well, you’re basically screwed, as you’ll only be able to catch up to them again once they start casting. You see, using a slowing ability to win time and improve the outcome – that’s clever. Using a slowing ability to enable you to do your job at all – that’s imbalanced (bring the player, not the ranged).

Players may still use spell and abilities while afflicted by Forgemaster Throngus’s Impaling Slam.

This also will make the encounter easier, both by allowing healers to continue healing and by letting damage dealers contribute to their own saving. Basically it reduces the Impaling Slam to a “the tank is legging it, so someone else needs to be taking damage in this phase” thing. Which is fair enough. The encounter remains reasonably complex.

Valiona’s Devouring Flame damage has been reduced by 20%.

Yeah, that’s a nerf. Particularly to those situations where you’re caught between a Flame Spark Thingy, bad stuff on the ground and said Devouring Flame. There’s a lot going on in that fight and it won’t all fall apart because the dragon breathes for 20% less damage. But a nerf is a nerf.

Halls of Origination

The duration of the Flame Wardens’ Raging Inferno has been reduced by 80%.

That’s a nerf and, in my opinion, an unfortunate one. It promotes “stand in, heal through”, which is rarely a nice lesson to take away.

Anraphet’s Nemesis Strike now does 75% of weapon damage, up from 50%. In addition, the damage-over-time effect applied by this ability does 15,000 damage every 2 seconds, up from 9,000.

Certainly looks like a buff.

Earthrager Ptah’s Flame Bolt now deals more damage per second on Heroic difficulty.

“More damage” sounds like a buff, too!

Setesh seeks a portal every 25 seconds, up from 20.

Ah, nerf. By the way, with a well organised group that knows what it’s doing Setesh is far easier than I expected him to be. Slower portal spawns give more breathing room in case you happen to not have brought your prime-DPS-squad to the party.

Lost City of the Tol’vir

Lockmaw no longer tolerates fighting in his treasure room.

Exploit-fix, it seems.

Shadowfang Keep
Gotta admit, not been there yet, so won’t comment.

The Stonecore

Stonecore Earthshapers’ Dust Storm does slightly less damage.

I think we try to CC them anyway.

Corborus

The warning time for Thrashing Charge has been increased by 1 second. In addition, Thrashing Charge now happens 4 times, down from 5.

I think they should have kept it at 5, but an additional second of warning is a good thing, not being caught by it is more a case of luck than of skill at the moment. I just keep moving all the time (which coincides with my goal of picking up the adds anyway).

The visual for Rock Borers spawning during the submersion phase is now different from the Thrashing Charge visual.

Needed adjustment. “Very important dust” and “mostly negligible dust” should not look so much the same. That’s not making it easier, it’s giving you the opportunity to actually interact with the encounter properly.

High Priestess Azil

She grew! She’s now 175% the size of a human, up from 125%.

Yes, things should be visible and distinguishable.

Gravity Wells should kill Devout Followers more quickly.

Yes, they should! Not because it’s omg-so-hard, but because at some point it otherwise becomes not worth the effort to mess around with them.

The cast time of Force Grip is now 1.5 seconds, up from 1.

Nerf, yes, but frankly, reaction games are only that much fun.

The size of the warning visual for Seismic Shard has been increased to more accurately reflect the area it affects.

I doubt anyone is a particularly pronounced fan of the time-honoured “the effect is larger than the visual” concept?

Slabhide

The ground phase lasts longer and has fewer stalactites.

Gives melee types more opportunity to participate in the fight in more meaningful ways than hiding.

Ozruk

He now does more melee damage.

More damage – a buff. And a needed one, I think, with all the other craziness going on the good old fashioned “punch you in the face” felt a bit missing with Ozruk.

There is now a precast visual on the ground to make it clear how far away a player must get to be clear of Shatter.

Seeing things is cool. Considering we use lots of addons that let us see things better, it’d be rather insicere to complain about it. Or is anyone here voluntarily doing Ozruk without DBM or another addon that’ll scream alerts about Ground Slams and Shatters? Didn’t think so.

The cast time of Shatter has been increased to 3 seconds, up from 2.5.

Reduction in difficulty, yes, but an arguably justified one, especially as it also lets melee do some more stuff rather than “you know what, just start running ahead ahead of time, just in case”.

Shatter damage is now reduced by armor, but has been increased by 33.3% (repeating, of course) as a result.

Tanks can survive with cooldowns, everyone else gets 1-shotted. Not really much of a change, but an added aspect.

Throne of the Tides

Commander Ulthok now does more melee damage.

More damage – not a nerf.

The damage done by Lady Naz’jatar’s Shock Blast and Naz’jar Tempest Witch Chain Lightning has been reduced.

Less damage – a nerf. Should those not be interrupted anyway?

Gilgoblin Poisoned Spear impact damage has been reduced slightly.

Nice not to be spontaneously blown up. A nerf, I guess. As there is not really any clever way I’d be aware of to counter it other than hope you don’t blow up (and yes, I sometimes pop Shield Wall before pulling the particularly nasty group), not a big deal.

Tainted Sentries Swell damage has been reduced.

Nerf. Do we count trash nerfs? Okay, a nerf is a nerf. And that little gauntlet is kinda fun.

The damage of Blight of Ozumat has been reduced by 25% per stack.

Nerf, yes. But let’s be honest, that’s not exactly the exciting or decisive part of the fight. All the interesting mechanics and events are before. When you make it to that point, all you need is not to panic and you’re golden. Far from crucial.

The Vortex Pinnacle

Creatures

Desperate Speed cast by Temple Adepts has had its duration reduced significantly.

They have an ability called Desperate Speed? Cool. On our runs they spend most of their time polymorphed, feared, repentanced, hexed and subsequently interrupted, silenced, stunned and otherwise abused.

Altairus

The visual effects in this encounter have been adjusted to make the wind direction easier to read.

And that’s about goddamn time! If you think trying to figure out the wind direction while that silly internet dragon obscures the view with his nearly-same-coloured internet breath that also hides those nasty little internet cyclones from your view, if you think that is the right sort of challenge, I don’t like you!

Cyclones now knock players straight up, and players hit by a cyclone cannot be hit again for a few seconds.

Nerf, because it allows you to actively recover from a mistake. Good, because it allows you to actively recover from a mistake! If those cyclones were meant to be instakill, they’d have made them instakill. Chain-screwing you in a roundabout way is, apparently, not what Blizz had in mind for that encounter. As with the previous point, this is less about difficulty but more about annoyance. I wish these two would make it into a hotfix rather than a patch.

Asaad

Skyfall Stars are now summoned to help him defeat players.

Oho! An added fight mechanic!

Static Cling has had its cast time increased to 1.25 seconds, up from 1.

Uh .. does that .. actually matter…?

Grand Vizier Ertan

His health has been reduced slightly.

Well yes, but…

He now knocks away players standing too close to him when he retracts his Cyclone Shield, which now inflicts Nature damage if it touches players.

Heh .. the trick with just standing in the middle won’t work then. So, the mechanics are adjusted to make us pay attention to them. QQ about favouring ranged. Certainly not a nerf.

So, after this somewhat exhausting and very futile exercise, let’s summarise.

37 changes in total.

8 do not affect difficulty at all or negligibly little.

8 rebalance mechanics – this instead of that.

7 address annoyances and conveniences.

8 actually reduce the level of difficulty.

6 increase the level of difficulty.

So, out of 37 changes, 8 are indeed nerfs – hardly “across the board” and not one of them being severe or encounter-changing. I don’t know if there will, indeed, be flat-out nerfs to heroics, or if we’ll be left to nerf them ourselves by good old-fashioned overgearing, as Ghostcrawler says, but this was certainly not it.

It also won’t do much to reduce the time spent on a heroic run, as a lot of that time is expended on trash rather than bosses. And I think I’ll now go and play the game some rather than analysing its patch notes!

You are… out of time

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.

And it was such a good attempt

In 1997, Nintendo in cooperation with a large department store chain organised a German National Mario Kart 64 Championship. What you may not know is that I qualified for the final round. I had a Nintendo 64, I had the game, thus plenty of opportunity to practice plus a somewhat skilled hand at racing games in general. How I fared in the final round? Didn’t get there. Don’t know if it was simply bad luck, but it’s entirely possible it was a result of my off-the-scale nervousness, but the morning I was supposed to get up and drive to the tournament, I instead got up with fever and abdominal pain in my right side. And in my family you immediately know what that means: appendicitis – soon confirmed at the hospital, where I spent roughly the next week post operation. During that time Diana had her fatal accident. Which is just coincidence as far as I know! A friend who has been visiting that competition later told me that the winner time was worse than what I’ve been regularly clocking in in practice – of course, practice and competition is not the same, as very evident in this very example.

However, this is not about nervousness possibly screwing up with competition results. This is about what I mentioned fleetingly – practice. Technically I’ve just been playing the game and enjoying it, while also apparently being pretty good at it. Until I heard of the competition, at which point I began to practice the specific track the qualifier would be held on (over the course of 5 days). Often together with the aforementioned friend. In fact, we had a bit of a geographical competitive advantage, as I was living just a few bus stops away from the department store where the qualifier took place, so we could even go as far as drive to my home, practice a little more (new techniques we’ve seen for example), then drive back and perform again. I’ll spare you further tales of our prowess and the dramatic competitions that took place. I won.

Back to the topic of practice. You see, when the competitive criterion is a timed solo lap, then all you’re actually practising is driving a perfect lap, finding the exact amount of risk you can just barely control, hitting the shortcuts in the exact sweet spot when they win you the most time and slow you the least down, firing the boosters when they yield you the largest effect. Also, as it’s solo, you can restart any time. Combine perfection being the only viable goal with the unlimited restarts available (not in the competition, of course, but in training), and you immediately end up restarting the moment you make a mistake – any mistake. The entire training process is all about evaluating “how far can I go”, and once you screwed up, there is no way for you to evaluate the rest, so you can just as well abort and restart. After a mistake the rest of the lap is worthless. It’s a waste of time.

This led to the emergence of the self-deprecating “and it was such a good lap” saying between my friend and me. You see, it makes sense to say that when you’ve been driving at the top of your awesomeness and then two turns before the finish you lose it and crash or swerve. But with the increasing perfectionism you more and more often end up aborting early into the race. Very early. Like when you botched the start. And thus when you had a good start, you already had something to lose. And then the thumb would twitch slightly in the first turn and we’d restart saying “and it was such a good lap” … and then we’d realise how ridiculous what we just said was, which was when the saying became self-deprecating and we took to using it outside of that context, for when you abandon something without having properly tried it.

Connection to WoW? Oh yes! Wipes. Called wipes and failed attempts. Some people – a lot of people – believe that as soon as a wipe becomes inevitable (and indeed in most cases you know you’re going to way before you do), one should do the efficient thing: stop dragging it out, die and restart. Sometimes people can even get quite upset about not doing that. They feel their time is being wasted. Technically, they are right. After the point where it becomes apparent that the attempt is going to fail, all additional time spent is spent unnecessarily. Like those laps that just won’t give you what you need after you’ve made a mistake. Abort and restart.

Except when you say “screw it” and drive out the botched lap. Just because, you know. And maybe you’ll try something on the way, free of pressure, and maybe it’ll teach you something. I picked up a number of valuable clues while finishing worthless laps just for the sake of it. Similarly, yes, it’s going to be a wipe, but sometimes it can be just fun to see .. I don’t know .. how long you can survive anyway, or how far you can take it. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll have some idea along the way. Maybe you’ll learn something. Not very probable, but possible.

I don’t like called wipes very much. Oh, I do appreciate the occasional collective jumping off the edge of Arthas’ platform in a “you won’t get us!” gesture. But when you start doing it too liberally, there’s a point where part of me wonders – was that really necessary? Or was it “such a good lap”? Where does one draw the line? Again, I’m not saying it’s always the wrong thing to do. Often enough it’s the right one, and often enough I’ll still be calling for just that. One just has to be careful and not start calling wipes due to overzealous perfectionism. I shall try to be careful. And we should try to be patient. It is said to be a virtue.

Transferably applicable knowledge

A long time ago, when I was just getting into raiding in LotRO, I remember excitedly telling a friend about all those exciting raid boss mechanics I was encountering and learning. My friend, who, not at all coincidentally, was the person who initially convinced me to try LotRO and MMORPGs in general, but never “seriously” got into the whole end-game thing himself, asked me a question. It was a hard question I had trouble answering at the time. Now I know how troublesome and central that question actually is in musings on all things MMORPG. What he asked me – and I am not quoting verbatim – was this:

When you raid, when you learn how to defeat a raid boss and get better at defeating that raid boss, do you actually acquire transferable knowledge? Do you learn how to play the game better? Or do you only learn how to raid better? Or do you only learn how to beat this particular encounter better?

I felt it was an important question, and I felt that yes, raiding experience makes me a better player overall, but it was very hard to empirically back up that feeling. Certainly, having to run away when Barz would yell “I’ll gnaw your bones!” as well as not to run away when he’d yell “No power is stronger than Barz!” instead, taught you to pay attention to events and to react to them appropriately. The lever rooms during the Balrog encounter would teach you how to kite, Mordirith would give you a very unforgiving lesson on positioning, phase 3 on Thrang would give you the ultimate “deal damage on the move” experience. Bunch up for mobs with random aggro, spread out for mobs with AoE attacks, don’t stand in cleave or swipe, focus fire by following a kill order or the main assist target, all that and many more.

The thing is that with LotRO’s end-game being rather small and isolated, while you had the feeling that you were learning somehow generic skills, practically many of them just did not find themselves applied to many other cases. Yes, you’d keep your back to the wall when fighting something with an affinity for kickbacks, but, frankly, that was something you’d learn from fighting simple cave trolls already (and you’d apply it mostly to cave trolls as well). When you’d be in a group you may have looked for opportunities to crowd control and focus fire, and that was it, for the most part. I would still say that raiding, even back then, made me a better player, improving my situational awareness, ability to recognise encounter patterns, understanding of group synergy, and simply teaching me to better use the right ability at the right time as well as remembering the less frequently used abilities. But it was hard to practically explain, and even harder to make a case that it would actually matter anywhere outside of raids, for it mostly didn’t.

If my friend has asked his question to Tobold, he most certainly would have gotten a negative answer regarding raiding in Wrath of the Lich King. I won’t link a particular entry, both because I’m lazy and because it’s kind of spread out across several things Tobold writes, but he’s of the firm opinion that WoW raiding as it is today is all about “learning the dance” (a reference to the godfather of gimmick-fights, Heigan) for every single encounter and then moving on to learn the next dance, taking only little with you. You learn the encounter, not your class, says Tobold.

There are two things that I’d like to remark on that. For one, WoW raiding is pretty old now, and the lessons in “playing your class” have been taught many times over since the times of Molten Core. Today’s encounters don’t teach us much about playing our class because we (in general) became so damned good at playing our class already. For another, while I’m certainly not one to tell people that they are “doin it rong”, I think Tobold’s perception is strongly affected by the way he experiences most current encounters. He’s fallen out of step with his guild regarding raiding for entirely understandable reasons, so when he raids these days it’s an off-night fun-run with tactics presented in a nutshell and bosses on farm. The thing is that on paper, or in explanation, or during the singular attempt, every encounter appears incredibly gimmicky. It’s only when you do it, and redo it, when you start recognising patterns and applying experience.

The other extreme are the venerable “ah, that’s just like in Black Temple” veterans, who will always be happy to let you know that this particular mechanic reminds them of just that other mechanic they experienced over their year-stretching WoW raiding career. Every single mechanic. Which is also not really surprising because, quite honestly, there’s only so much a raid boss can do to you in terms of variety. Yeah, a Bone Spike is essentially the same thing as a Snobold or an Iron Root; you need to kite Blood Beasts, Blistering Zombies and Swarm Scarabs; the Debuff of Tank Swapping really got somewhat overused this expansion; there’s always something on the floor and you should either stack together or spread out, and so on and so on.

So, we are left with “it’s all just gimmick fights” and “it’s all the same gimmicks” at the same time, which is, as it usually is with contradicting negative statements, probably not such a bad place to be in. And it leads us to experiences such as the one that provoked this post in the first place. Read on…!

As you may have read on the blogs of my wonderful guildies, we finally defeated Professor Putricide this last Tuesday! What can I say, it’s an amazing fight, very complex and thus very fun and (positively) taxing, with a high demand for conscious execution, especially on the phase transitions. I probably would rank it as the best encounter we fought in WoW so far, although I shall openly add that this is only because as a tank I had a more interesting job than on Yogg-Saron. That factor aside, Yogg would definitely win, but, hey, I am a tank after all, so that’s my perspective. And here we’re edging ever closer to the topic. Tanking Putricide proved to be an incredibly interesting, involving and diverse affair. Well, probably not for Vael, our trusty slime slurper Abomination tank, but for me, most certainly.

On our first attempts (a few weeks ago) someone jokingly pointed out how half the raid was struggling to beat the tank’s (mine, that is) DPS. The reason was obvious. While everyone was still figuring out what to hit, when to switch and where to run, I was the only one enjoying the unrestricted comfort of pumping my rotation into the perfectly debuffed boss all of the time. Over the course of our later attempts (still before this week) I slowly began wondering why that would be so and whether that’s such a good thing. Technically, I’d be standing there, with the boss, in a relatively abstract spot, watching everyone wrangle with an Unstable Experiment and .. well .. not contributing much. And then I’d have to get the boss to the other side, but would have little in terms of rhythm regarding when would be the best time for it; consequently the healers also found themselves in a somewhat abstract space, where the tank would spontaneously decide to run over to the other side of the room at the same time as they’d have to be healing a raid damage spike. It all felt rather disconnected (to me) and in particular I was feeling like I was sleeping on the job.

I began trying to assist on the Experiments a little bit, positioning myself such that when it’d pass I could Cleave or Shockwave it. Which for one wasn’t much and for another often ended with me taking additional damage (from the Experiment reaching its target) for little benefit. However, over time I was, of course, doing other things as well. Lots of other things. Like Gunship Battle, mostly as the “boarding tank”. What does the boarding tank do on Gunship Battle? Well, you jump to the other boat (wheeee!), aggro Saurfang (or Muradin if you’re Horde), debuff his damage output and then .. uhm .. then you stand there, hitting him for no real reason. Until, of course, you realise that that one Shield Slam already generated all the aggro you will ever need, that there are Axe Throwers who are being a pain for the healer who’s keeping you up from back on your boat and that as long as you keep Saurfang in front of you, you can just as well do damage to one of said Axe Throwers instead. Maybe you can kill him, but at the very least you’ll make sure he’s killed faster, while damage done to Saurfang, on the other hand, is completely wasted. And when your boarding buddies are on their way back, they’ll stop and help you finish the job happily – just make sure they don’t get cleaved!

Then, this happened. The plot thickens, as you see, parallels all over. So when the “good news!” arrived this week, I ultimately and definitely found myself thinking “you’re doing it on Gunship, you did it on Freya, why would you not be doing it here as well?” – and so I did! It came close to backfiring at first, but I kept learning and adjusting. So, here are a few things to keep in mind.

  • Really, really avoid turning your back on Putricide in the process. He’s no kitten. Whatever relative worth avoidance has, it’s better when it’s there. You can’t afford taking avoidable damage spikes at the same time as your healers most likely are being on the move, required to heal raid damage, rooted, chased and possibly out of range. Better lose some damage on the Experiment than take additional damage from the Professor.
  • Strafing is your friend. You’ll strafe a lot and yes, you will have to reach over your own fingers more often than usual. Not only was Xevozz a good task master, but the jousting dailies were an even better one. Talk about useless jousting!
  • Refresh Thunder Clap and Demoralizing Shout while the Experiment is forming, that way you don’t have to worry about them while chasing around.
  • Even though you yourself can be sure never to be targeted, don’t take off too early, as you’ll otherwise rip the boss out of the melee range of the DPS who are obediently waiting by the wall for the Experiment to choose. Or you’ll goad them into abandoning position too early. Don’t be a hero, be a help.
  • “But it’s so dangerous!” – actually, if you’re careful, it’s not. Yes, you may out-range your healers, but you will also out-range Putricide. He’s not the fastest one to catch up, and being out of his range is equivalent to 100% avoidance. Or 0% damage. Imagine you’d have a skill that says “Cannot be hit with melee attacks for 2-5 seconds. 30 seconds cooldown” – would you not want to use it on cooldown? Bet you would. Well, guess what, if you’re a Warrior tanking Putricide, you have something very similar. We have amazing tools and abilities, we need to use them!
  • Having the tank helping out on the Experiment and with Putricide tagging along, it means that when the Experiment goes down your DPS (especially melee) will be able to immediately switch onto the Professor for efficient damage output. Win! Especially true for the Clouds, as after the Ooze you may have been kicked back or need to immediately run over to the other side.

So, how did it play out? Well, I started out with the thought that, if nothing else, at least I can put up some Sunders. The log for our successful attempt shows that my contribution on Experiments accounted for 10% of our total damage on them. More to the Gas Clouds, less to the Oozes (the way Oozes move it’s harder to attack them without exposing your back to Putricide). So, Experiments going down on average 10% faster? I would say that is not bad at all, seeing as that’s pretty much the make-or-break mechanic of the encounter. And that’s not even taking into account possible benefits from said armour sundering, or the general feeling of being more “connected” and “fluid”. Oh, and my total DPS output (if you want to go there) did not suffer either – after all, I didn’t stop attacking, it was only about what I was attacking.

So, at long last, there we have it. Raid encounters that in the long run teach you to be a better player – a better raider at the very least. The combined experience of different encounters that appear to have very little in common (you’d never think of similarities when fleetingly looking at Freya, Gunship and Putricide) together with lots of subconsciously accumulated expertise (jousting? jousting!) teach you a pattern that you can adjust and apply to a new challenge and help your team achieve great success. I dare say it’s not all about learning the dance after all.

PS: On that successful attempt, which was our eleventh and announced final of the evening, everything came together perfectly. No deaths, perfect execution, perfect phase transition, smooth and controlled to the end. It was an amazing experience. Huge thanks to our guildies for making it possible. We rock!