We’ve had a rough raid night the past few nights. Our raid leader had heard (and I had no reason to doubt him) that Garalon was the big blocking point in Heart of Fear, and we had hoped after downing Garalon that we would be able to clear the rest of Heart of Fear without too many problems.
Wind Lord Mel’jarak put that assumption to rest, as we had more trouble with him than with Garalon. Still, he was not too hard a fight — we certainly had less trouble with him than the Stone Guardians — and so this week we had every expectation of clearing Heart of Fear. Our raid lead decided (and everyone agreed) that we should extend our lockout on Heart of Fear, with the intention of downing the last two bosses in order to open up the Terrace of Endless Spring. (This had the side effect of killing our valor for the week, but oh well.)
This did not go as planned.
Sunday we faced Amber-Shaper Un’sok for the second time, with a fair bit of confidence. One of the nice things about Jana’s raid group is that even the people who are relatively bad on DPS are still pretty good at executing mechanics. Amber Shaper could be an absolute nightmare for any group trying to carry a player who doesn’t pay attention to mechanics, because anyone can get transformed during phase 2 and need to perform jobs (admittedly simple ones) that would wipe the raid if not done correctly. Because I had confidence in every member of our team to be able to get those jobs done, I figured this fight — which seemed to be about those mechanics — would be relatively simple.
It was not to be. Attempt after attempt we wiped for various reasons. We discovered fairly late in the process that our bear tank’s armor made it far more difficult to break her out from being an amber monstrosity, which was the cause of a few wipes. We had a lot of trouble when one of our healers was transformed in the middle of phase 2 (we were two healing the fight, as we had done for all fights, although I’m now convinced that was probably a mistake; I think we would have been better off switching our paladin from ret to holy for this fight). We were doing really well on one attempt until phase 3 when both of our healers were transformed as the Shaper’s first two choices. It was a mess, and tensions were high.
So high, in fact, that our warlock, one of our best dpsers, decided to call it quits after that night. I do not blame him at all.
Last night brought a new strategy, one that seemed a bit jokey to me. An important part of the strategy was to not touch the Amber Shaper at all during phase one. For me, for a significant part of the phase, this meant twiddling my thumbs waiting for the Amber Scalpel to give me oozes to fight. Generally I don’t like strategies that involve me sitting around doing nothing. This strategy, however, eventually worked. After eight or so attempts, we got him down by the skin of our teeth.
More on that fight later.
Then came time for the Grand Empress. We didn’t have much luck with her, never actually getting out of phase 2. After several attempts, our raid lead decided that this fight was one that could not be two healed, and so he asked our paladin to switch. He did, and that helped considerably. We never had enough practice with phase 2 to get things down, and our best attempt failed when the wrong mob got trapped. I think if we had another couple hours to work on it, we would have gotten her down, but I can’t be certain of that.
So that was my raid week. One boss down.
Now I’d like to talk more generally about raiding in Pandaria. To do that, I’d like to give the expansion some context by talking about my Wrath and Cataclysm experiences.
The early days of Wrath brought us Naxxramas, Eye of Eternity and Obsidium Sanctum. Despite a slow start for me, I managed to get into those raids, clearing them all and getting myself a reasonable amount of gear. But when Ulduar came out, I found I had little interest. I had burned out. I didn’t run Ulduar at all and didn’t pick up raiding much until the Trial of the Crusader raid came out. And of course, as you’ve seen documented here, I raided intensely once Icecrown Citadel came out.
When Cataclysm came out, I had every intention of raiding with my Wrath team. But I just couldn’t manage it; the effort of leveling and gearing up my characters just to be ready to raid were too much, and I was having fun doing other things. I didn’t get back into raiding until very late in Firelands, and I really only raided Dragon Soul extensively.
Which brings us to Pandaria. My experience with the expansions so far has given me the idea that the early patches of the expansion — the .0 and .1 patches — reserve raiding for the truly dedicated. In later patches, raiding opens up and becomes more accessible. I can’t prove this for Wrath; since Wrath heroics dropped ilvl 200 gear, which was the same as in 10 man raids, I think it certainly was more accessible than my memory would serve. In any case, it strikes me that Blizzard aims their early raids toward the hard core players.
Whether this was true in Wrath and Cataclysm or whether my memory is misled by my own circumstances, it certainly seems to be this way in Pandaria. Let’s just consider the gearing process for Pandaria. In order to get into the LFR version of Mogu’shan Vaults, you have to have a minimum item level of 460. Heroic instances drop item level 463 loot. Thus, in order to gear up for raids using heroics as your path, you would have to get practically every single item in your gear to heroic level to even get into LFR. Once in LFR, of course, you could theoretically get better gear, but that’s a slow process that in my experience, in MSV at least, offers perhaps one or two drops a week to get you item level 476 gear.
Running heroics until you fill your gear with item level 463 gear is a long and arduous process. Fortunately, there are other methods to get gear above item level 463. There are a few limited opportunities to buy item level 476 crafted gear on the Auction House (or to have a friend make it for you), but in many instances this requires dedicated supplies (like Imperial Silk) that the friend can only make a certain amount of in a given time. In any case, these are only a few items at best and won’t raise your global item level significantly.
The way to get really good gear — gear you would keep through raiding — is with valor. If I remember correctly the concept of valor points was brought into the game around 3.2, and met with much love from the players. Finally there was gear you could get as rewards for doing things you might like to do in the game anyway, good gear that didn’t depend on the harshness of a die roll or the inequities of DKP. And if you weren’t raiding, or were trying to break into a raid, it gave you a way to catch up. Valor gear was a good thing.
Except in Pandaria, Blizzard botched it. In order to get Valor gear, you had to not only have excessively large amounts of valor (over two weeks of capping valor when capping valor meant running four heroics a day for every day), but you also had to have revered rep with certain factions. The only way to get that rep was to run dailies, and even then it was convoluted. To get Shado-Pan reputation, for instance, you had to run Golden Lotus dailies until your Golden Lotus reputation was revered, and only then would Shado-Pan dailies unlock. Thus, if you wanted valor gear, you had to run many, many days worth of dailies.
Not only that, but dailies reward you with Lesser Charms of Good Fortune, usually two per daily but sometimes one. If you collected ninety of these, you could turn them in with a weekly quest for three Greater Charms of Good Fortune. The Greater Charms could then be used as an “extra roll” in LFR or regular raids, in theory allowing you quicker access to better equipment.
(I know you probably know all this, but for the purpose of someone looking back on this in two years, I want to be thorough.)
The upshot? If you wanted to raid, in practice you have to do dailies. Raiding without dailies meant somehow, through purchased items and a lot of heroics, scraping together a 460 ilvl set to get into LFR. And then in LFR, gearing would be slower than other people because you wouldn’t have those extra charms to get good loot. If a 460 ilvl is required for normal LFR, which rewards ilvl 476 items, one could reasonably extrapolate that you should have a 473 item level to enter normal MSV. Good luck hitting that without valor gear.
In short, a person not running dailies is at such a competitive disadvantage to someone running dailies that it’s unlikely they would find a raid spot on a raid team that had the aim of clearing current content in normal mode.
This is what people mean when they technically inaccurately claim that dailies are compulsory. They’re not strictly compulsory. But good luck raiding without them.
That’s one way Blizzard convinces people not to raid. Gearing up for raids means doing week after week of dailies for valor points necessary to buy the few items necessary to get a high enough item level to attempt the raids. People who can’t do this, for whatever reason, will at a minimum be weaker members of a raid and quite possibly a drag on raid progress.
Then there are the raids themselves.
The first boss in Mogu’shan Vaults is Stone Guardians. It’s easy now for me to forget how difficult this boss was with early gear. Jana’s pre-nerf heroic Deathwing killing raid team took all of forty attempts and two nights just to down this boss for the first time. The fight itself requires precise taunt juggling from the tanks, which if not executed properly will wipe the raid. As a dpser (or, I suppose, a healer) there is nothing that you can do if the tanks don’t pull this off. The raid wipes and wipes quickly no matter how skilled you are as dps if the tanks don’t pull this off.
On top of this, there’s all numbers of bad things to stand in that do raid crippling amounts of damage. Once our tanks had finally mastered their taunt juggling, our healers would go out of mana trying to keep people alive because of all the bad things that were hitting us. The worst was jasper chains — these things required people to anticipate where someone else would be moving, sticking with them on the pain of death if you got more than ten yards away for more than a couple seconds.
To top it all off, there was a fairly harsh enrage timer. It wasn’t as though you could just focus all your efforts on avoiding bad things. You had to dps the guardians hard.
With 490ish gear a lot of these things could be forgiven. But with the mid-460s gear that is the most you can reasonably expect from a person first stepping foot into MSV, this was a very difficult fight. It remains the fight that Jana’s raid team has wiped on the most in MSV, and I think challenges Heroic Spine or regular Deathwing for the most wipes before a first kill.
All of this could be excused if the fight were fun. But it isn’t. It’s the sort of fight where anyone could wipe you by being bad, but without any real opportunities to use the depth of your class to your advantage. It’s not a fun fight.
And this was hardly the only non-fun fight in the expansion. Feng, the second fight, also requires arbitrary tanking tasks that if not executed perfectly will wipe the raid. It also offers an opportunity for a less skilled dpser to wipe the raid, by dropping fire or not positioning themselves with arcane resonance correctly.
I could analyze the other MSV fights in the same way, but I’d prefer to jump ahead to Heart of Fear. I could talk about the second boss and his damned glitchy tornadoes (yes, running and dodging tornadoes when your system intermittently lags is not a fun thing). But I want to jump ahead to Amber Shaper.
There are a few things about the Amber Shaper fight that I absolutely abhor. I could talk about our winning strategy, or how our bear tank’s armor works against us in phase 1. Instead I want to talk about the amber monstrosity.
I have a burning hatred for fights where you are required to use and learn abilities that you don’t normally have, in a vehicle type situation. I hated the Malygos fight. I hated the Flame Leviathan fight. I had hoped that Blizzard had gotten away from these fights for good reason. The things that can be demanded of you while in a vehicle are of necessity very simple; it’s impossible to expect someone to transform into something and perform a seven-spell rotation. This makes it not fun. Worse, though, in Amber Shaper is the idea that if the person who is transformed misses their ability, it’s almost certainly a raid wipe. Fail to block your own Amber Explosion? Wipe. Fail to block the Monstrosity’s Amber Explosion? Wipe.
(One suggestion for how Blizzard could make this fight marginally more tolerable: half or remove the cooldown on the interrupt ability when the player is in the Monstrosity. More than once our raid wiped because that move’s six second cooldown was not up to interrupt an Amber Explosion.)
This fight is even worse, because it is so utterly random and can kill you arbitrarily. We were two healing the fight (which I think was a mistake), and if one of our healers got transformed, it almost certainly resulted in a wipe. And one time when we were doing well, in phase 3 our two healers were transformed first and second, leaving no one to heal the rest of the raid. We were left to grouse about the bad luck of the encounter, but if any encounter requires luck to beat it, it’s a frustrating, not fun encounter.
Why were we doing this last night? Because we wanted to get into Terrace of Endless Springs. There lay the promises of sha-touched weapons and tier gear, but we can’t get there without downing Heart of Fear and its last two seemingly arbitrary bosses.
These things combine lead me to believe that Blizzard is trying to convince people not to raid. The hurdles one must go through in order to be able to raid in the first place deter people. Then Blizzard puts arguably the toughest boss in MSV first, making many a raid group (like Saxsy’s) beat their heads on it for weeks with no reward. And finally, it presents bosses that seem to require luck and arbitrary execution of unfamiliar abilities to progress.
I’ve applauded Blizzard for making its end game content accessible. I was thrilled to be able to kill the Lich King, where in BC no one on my server successfully even touched a boss in Sunwell. I thought it was great in Cataclysm how many people could participate in Deathwing kills. But I think Blizzard has now taken a major step backwards, pushing raids and raiding beyond the reach of people who do not have a significant dedication to it. Why?
One possibility is that they see LFR as the answer to those seeking the lore completion aspect of it. Want to see the Sha of Fear die? You can do it on LFR. This is a sad compromise, though. LFR stinks. LFR’s content is so dumbed down that it doesn’t require the communication and coordination a normal raid requires, but even then there can be painful wipes because people are extremely bad, sometimes purposefully.
The other possible reason that worries me is that this is a play toward the “serious” gamer, the person who wants raiding to be an exclusive club. I hate that idea. Heroic modes for the truly elite are something I can understand. But a lot of raiding success now seems to be about time, not skill - time to do the dailies, time to beat your head against bosses to learn arbitrary techniques, time to practice vehicle bosses that offer spells and abilities that have nothing to do with what you’ve learned in the rest of the game, time to get the right luck to down an encounter that depends on it.
I can only hope that the pattern I saw in Cataclysm returns, and raiding becomes more enjoyable and accessible in later patches. Pandaria raiding right now is rather miserable.