Sunday, April 24, 2011

Raiding and the Red Queen's Race of Heroics

(Note: I posted this on the official forums, but I wanted to memorialize this here as well)

First off, I respect Blizzard’s right to steer WoW however they see fit. With what I write below I’m trying to say why it doesn’t work for me, not that they suck for what they are doing and must stop immediately. I hope adding my voice to these discussions gives them another insight or data point that allows us to find a common ground that makes things work for both of us.

I’ve taken a break from WoW and below are some of the issues that keep me from wanting to come back. I’ve enjoyed raiding as it has been some of the best fun in the game for me, but the current situation just leaves me indifferent about the game.

A part of the problem with raiding is the lack of chances to practice without involving others. I can go practice my PVP skills (such as they are) without dragging guildies or friends into it. I can’t try a new strategy for tanking the Omnotron Defense System without involving 9 or 24 other people’s time and effort. Having a ‘practice mode’ for raids that let you try with a few friends or solo with a set of bots would be a big help. (Ironically, making 10 and 25s share the same lockout on a boss means many of us have less chance to work on a fight than we did in Wrath.) You can explain a fight, but for many doing the fight is the best way to learn the ‘muscle memory’ that’s going to help us down bosses. I realize that practice mode is ambitious enough to be more a next-expansion-feature, but I do see it being a useful tool for helping new raiders.

Given that the ‘practice mode’ is very ambitious, perhaps it would be better to have the trash teach people about the various boss abilities they are going to be dealing with. Give them something to relate to when their raid leader says “This boss does ‘x’, ‘y’, and ‘z’” because they’ve seen those three things with the trash they’ve cleared. As it is, WoW bosses are like being given a teacup, a harpoon, and a bagel while standing in the middle of a bull ring with no explanation of what you’re supposed to do. It’s very difficult to determine if I’m being skillful or just lucky when I don’t know the rules of the game. Leaving it to the community to provide that information is problematic. Those who work through the encounters often relay the sizzle, but not the steak of the boss fight. People tend to cover their part of a fight without touching on the roles. If more information was provided by Blizzard in-game then all the roles would be appropriately covered. The community could build on that base instead of kind-of, sort-of working on the base itself.

Another issue is that a number of fights in the current tier seem to be more about reversing the Wrath idea of accommodating the player before the class. Granted there are always going to be some classes and specs consistently on the top of the various charts, but Cataclysm raids really seem to be tuned for more ranged and/or DoT heavy classes over melee (and elemental shaman). Building a static 10 man while letting folks play the characters they want becomes more frustrating for all involved because of encounter design. Add to that the increased difficulty of the encounters for those that might only be able to raid one or twice a week for three or four hours at a time and the problems compound. In Wrath you could still be successful and have fun. In Cataclysm it feels more like you’re not wanted as a raider. I know that’s not the intent, but Cataclysm has to live with the consequence of the broader group of Wrath raiders.

All that said, the biggest reason for me not to come back to raiding is something that isn’t raiding. It is running heroics for points.

A little background, first. I don’t mind grinds. I don’t necessarily like them, but reaching a goal is doable for me. You can check my achievements for evidence that grinding out something isn’t daunting for me.

My issue is mostly with the running of heroics for valor and justice points. Once you’ve gotten the gear you want out of heroics they become a chore. They aren’t a grind as a grind has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Heroics are a Red Queen’s race for valor points.

We’ve been running heroics for badges and points for four years now. People are burned out doing that. I think the biggest problem people have with the increased difficulty with the Cataclysm instances is not that they are harder, but that they take longer and that we’ll be running them for two long years over and over and over…

Even moving the target from a daily run to ‘seven on Sunday’ doesn’t help. As a tank, I can get instant queues, so let’s say I get great pugs each time and each run is thirty minutes or so. That means for me, I just spent three and a half to four hours working for valor points. I wasn’t raiding, I wasn’t working on skills that help me beat a progression raid boss, I was doing a chore. I basically spent the equivalent of half a day of overtime doing something that wasn’t fun. If I queued as a dps then my times get that much worse. Queue lengths for dps are around forty-five minutes on my LFG group. Keeping the same instance run time, we end up spending eight and three-quarters hours on Sunday just trying to get our valor points!

(If my numbers are off, please feel free to let us know what the actual average queue times and instance run times are. I’d rather have accurate numbers and discuss those than my anecdotal experience.)

Adding the 4.1 troll instances as a separate tier makes it even worse. People will be trying to run those *two* instances seven times. As soon as the tanks and healers can move up a tier the bottleneck you’re trying to avoid with the Call to Arms is going to reappear making longer for newer dps to get the gear / points to the higher tier instances.

It has been said that Blizzard wants us to play more alts (with how the raid lockouts are working), but given the amount of time it takes to run heroics there’s less incentive to want to run heroics for your main and then turn around and try to do the same for one or more alts. (Assuming you’re wanting to get and keep an alt raid-ready at the level of your main.)

Oh, as far as the Call to Arms goes, the incentive doesn’t motivate me to tank more. Having to solo queue for the bag is anti-guild. Normally as a tank I want to include as many of my guild’s dps so that they have short queue times. Given I’m already burned out on running heroics, I’m not going to run twice as many heroics, so I can either alienate some guildies or have strangers bitch if something goes wrong that all I want is the bag. :sigh: Still, I’m glad to see Blizzard experimenting, but I don’t think the Call to Arms will work that well.

As a side note, reseting people’s valor points when a new tier of raiding comes out is just insulting. We earned those points. Why be so dismissive of the time we put into earning them by devaluing them? It just becomes another reason why trying to build up valor points via heroics is so unpleasant. Yes, they become justice points, but justice points aren’t a difficult thing to get.

Honestly, I wish you got all your weekly valor points when you defeated your first raid boss of the week. That would at least tie the valor points to raiding and not running heroics.

At the risk of generating enough heat to melt a few glaciers, I’d rather see this endless rush after gear go away. I’ve been changing gear since Diablo 2. It would be nice for once in an expansion for the first heroics be the intro raiding gear for the entire expansion. Then have the various raiding tiers stay at the same item level. Go for more varied gear at each tier. This way the player can decide when they have the set of gear they like without feeling like they are gimping their raid. It becomes more of a choice of what to use than a ‘I must upgrade no matter what’ situation.

A side benefit is that all throughout an expansion a fresh 85 could run the heroics and get geared enough to step into a raid without having to run a sequence of the initial heroics, then the next tier of heroics (the troll ones for Cataclysm), then whatever other heroics that get added. The way it looks now is that if we want to gear an alt later in the expansion we’ll have to run all the tiered heroics in order to catch up to the then current raiding tier. Adding more plateaus just eliminates more folks from endgame raiding later in the expansion.

I know some will just tell me that I need quit my bitching and go kill more raid bosses. :shrug: I’m not in a twenty-five man raiding guild nor were we killing enough bosses in my ten man guilds to even make that much of an impact on valor points. Heroics are what many of us have to use to make up the difference. We’re trying to see the content when it is appropriate, not get stuck on waiting for the next tier to come out so that we can clear all of the current tier.