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.

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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!