Blizzard has released their post-mortem on raids and dungeons by their lead encounter designer. Since they’re apparently visiting a morgue run by the Smurfs, I’m going to handle the negatives*. You’re welcome, guys.
It takes longer to explain the boss than to kill it.
Okay, for the purposes of this point I’m going to drop in a comparison to what most “give it to me harder baby” players insist was the heyday of Heroic heroics – Burning Crusade, specifically Magister’s Terrace. Overcoming the slight handicap of a fuzzy memory of the fight I’ll use Kael’thas Sunstrider as my comparison point. Kael has:
– Caster abilities. Cement feet, tanks.
– Adds which spawn unless you wipe out the eggs he spawns.
– A combo whereby he casts a shield and then Pyroblast, which is a one-shot unless the shield is broken and the spell interrupted.
– Gravity lapse. A trippy ability that causes the floor to repulse players and allows players to swim around.
+ Death-balls. During Lapse, players must avoid the spawned gravity voids or suffer massive damage/death.
+ Exhaustion. After Lapse, Kael apparently needs a bit of a rest and perhaps a spot of tea.
To compare, I’m going to pull up Prophet Barim, third encounter in the relatively easy instance Lost City of the Tol’Vir. Barim has:
– Melee preference. Not that tanks move him out of…
– An orbital strike-looking pillar of light that apparently radiates a warm, comforting glow to that guy not moving out of it. Y’know, the guy it’s rapidly killing.
– An AoE curse effect that does a fair bit of damage. Spread like Madonna, ladies.
– A flurry-style thousand lashes ability. Kinky, but you know the clergy.
– A shadow phase where he becomes invulnerable.
– A voidzone that spawns around him in shadow phase, powered by the bitter tears of healers whose DPS go stand in it and continue flailing at the boss.
– In normal phase, spawns a phoenix add which must be kited or killed by ranged. If killed, will respawn from its egg 30 seconds later.
+ The add leaves a persistent fire trail. Bonus points for signing your name in fire.
+ The add pulses AoE fire damage.
– In the shadow phase, spawns a dark phoenix add. This add must be killed to end the phase. YES THAT ADD NOW GET AWAY FROM THE BOSS
+ Shadows will spawn from players, walk to the add and merge with it. To this day I have no idea what this does, since there is no actual indication in the fight.
+ The dark phoenix pulses for increasing AoE shadow damage as the phase goes on.
Go ahead and take a look at those two lists. Barim is not the most difficult or even the most complex encounter of t11, yet he has more mechanics than anything in ICC, and poor old Kael – a powerful magister – ends up looking like the “before” picture in those Charles Atlas ads.
Trash pulls that take longer than bosses.
Quick, think of Grim Batol. I’m betting the first thing that popped into your mind (after the screaming, incoherent rage quieted down) wasn’t any of the bosses, but rather the obnoxious trash that filled the instance. Even better, massive swathes of the trash were immune to most common CC methods, and the dragon run actively discouraged parties from using CC. The blizz post-mortem mentions the dragon run as a point of pride, but most people don’t even recall the free pony ride next to the trauma making up the rest of that instance.
Wrath-style “group co-ordination” wrecks everything.
Let’s be clear here: by late 2010, ICC was a bordello, not a raid. Players came out of an end-expansion setup where pugging for the final raid of the expansion was fairly trivial. A lot of player ego was bound into the no-cc, AoE, flash heal playstyle. The process of easing into Cata difficulty could perhaps be summarised as opening your door to atrail of rose petals leading into your softly lit bedroom, whereupon you were doused in arctic water, stripped naked and forced to fight a rabid honey-badger. This is a problem I expect to see again if they try the same approach at the start of MoP, after we’ve been gearing up and luxuriating in the HoT heroics.
Speaking of the flash-heal style, players expected healers to be the unflappable demigods that they had always been. “Just heal through it!” might as well have been the theme song of 4.0. Backed, of course, by the quiet weeping of former tree druids.
A single player can bring the entire group down.
Encounter tuning was already tight if players were actually playing well. A single player doing autoattack DPS, a single player standing in a voidzone/charge/etc, a single player breaking CC would wipe the group. Over and over again. Want to kick that guy doing 2k in HoO? Too bad, blizz apparently considers such treatment cruel, unusual and unwarranted, and placed heavy restrictions on the kick system in response**.
Dungeons take hours.
All of this combined to turn pugging dungeons into an experience akin to having a beer bottle roughly inserted into one’s nether regions and then kicked until it broke. Tanks all but disappeared from pug queues. Rolled Deadmines? Yeah, see ya in a few hours, friend.
Where the hell are the normals?
ZA and ZG had been in the game for some time, but I’d hazard that most players ingame at the time of 4.1 hadn’t set foot in either in the past two years at least. There was no learning curve for the bosses, trash, etc – no way to get used to the dungeons in normal difficulty first. There was nothing but the heroics.
In the blizz post-mortem, the encounter designer is inordinately proud of bringing raid-type mechanics into 5-mans. What doesn’t get any mention is that casual players had no angle of approach for these new mechanics other than head-on. This is coincidentally the exact same approach used by kamikaze bombers.
Designers are slow on the uptake for difficulty.
Apparently ignoring a massive player backlash against the harshness of the release heroics, the designers decided to take the troll-roics up to 11. ZA trash put Grim Batol’s to shame, Akil’zon was a bastard of an encounter to heal, Kilnara was likewise, and Jin’do was enthroned as the Breaker of Pugs. Hours spent on that encounter alone… and while it was theoretically possible to clear ZA or ZG in half an hour, ZA actually awarded a mount for merely downing the 4th boss out of 6 in that time. Draw your own conclusions.
Recycled content? Whatever.
Common complaint, so I suppose it deserves a place. Having never done the originals, recycling doesn’t bother me.
Two dungeons in the tier is a joke.
Having to run these two pain-in-the-ass instances for months just to keep valour trickling in was soul-crushing. I was among many who decided that it was simply not worth it. Protip for future designers: when people would rather brave /2 to pug a raid than run your dungeons, you have screwed up. Badly.
This is your healer… under pressure.
I mentioned a couple of encounters that were difficult for healers to manage. Truth is, ZA and ZG were trial by fire for healers. It was often easier to heal raids, and any misstep in the dungeons meant that white cross slowly but surely collapsing into its own personal singularity. The first time that my priest ever broke 20k hps was on a trash pull in ZA, where he pulled 23k over the course of the fight and still lost a DPS. I soon learned this would be a standard occurence.
With healers being punished heavily and tanks even less keen to pug, queue times became quite ridiculous. As such, blizzard started offering straight-up bribes for tanks and healers to queue in the form of bags which gave a chance at pets or mounts for in-demand roles. This didn’t have much of an effect beyond causing eminently unsuitable individuals to queue for loot, predictably enough.
Quests tying together.
I’m going to risk a dip into the positive here and mention… the quests. The running quests explaining and tying the three HoT dungeons together really worked a lot better than the isolated quests in some of the release dungeons.
If I have a consistent gripe across this expansion, it’s that certain specs are always catching the short end of the stick. For a long time it was plate DPS, but in HoT dungeons I’d have to say it’s the mail-wearers for whom I don’t see many drops.
A great idea, except for the fact that people couldn’t be bothered to go read before/while queueing, and don’t have time to read in the dungeon. Still, it’s satisfying to be able to pull up the journal when someone claims they died of no healing and show them that they were killed by [XXX oneshot avoidable effect].
* yes I’m also just a bitchy little tit
** Fuck you, Blizz.