Category: Flex Raiding


Whenever I return to the subject of raiding in WoW, I’m aware there are always echoes of previous posts, concerning earlier raid tiers, if not downright broken record syndrome! Some things Blizzard get absolutely right and improve upon, but some things, even if hidden within greater things, persist as flaws.

One thing has to be said, despite what the rose-tinted goggle-wearing, Vanilla-nostalgia crowd might attest: raiding as a group activity has become progressively more difficult. Blizzard constantly has to provide exciting new fights, with mechanics rarely, if ever, seen before, to keep things interesting. Also, player skill is considerably greater than it was 10 years ago, or even 5 years ago, so fights also have to be tailored for this, again to keep the encounters engaging and satisfying. Nobody except the dimmest LFR jockey wants raiding to be face-rollingly easy, otherwise – what’s the point? Raid bosses are puzzles designed by Blizzard developers that we, the players, set ourselves to solve. It’s as simple as that.

However, as once again our team has fetched up against an absolute wall of a boss, in this case Gorefiend in Hellfire Citadel, it’s struck me that Blizzard always does this – plonks an overtuned boss near the start of a raid. The effect this has on teams can be catastrophic. End bosses you expect to be difficult, they are the Big Bads of the raid, but surely bosses should build in difficulty, allowing teams to gear up as they progress, so they are better prepared to tackle the harder fights? I remember Horridon in Throne of Thunder – dear gods! Second boss into the raid and an absolute nightmare. Our team splintered over that. Many dropped out because of low morale and sheer frustration and boredom. Eventually, thanks to an influx of new members, we overcame Horridon, but at the time I thought he was far too difficult for a second boss, and I still think that. There have been others – Garalon in Heart of Fear being another example. Gorefiend is the same. He is the roadblock that teams have to take down to get to easier bosses deeper into the raid. It’s plain silly. You’ve got five potential farm bosses before him on which to gear up your team, but only one tier piece, since Gorefiend drops the second one. And only five bosses that players still needing the legendary ring can farm for the Tomes of Chaos they need. (Some of our players flatly refuse to partake in LFR, even for their rings.)

I’m not talking about Heroic or Mythic level of raiding – simply Normal. As with most teams who tackle this content, we can’t field a bunch of experts every raid. Even in teams that raid at higher level, you get a mixed bag of players – some excellent and some good to ok. In some teams, (more so at Normal difficulty, I assume), you even get fairly inept players, because they are friends or family, or simply because they’re a bum on a seat that means the raid can go ahead because of numbers. Gorefiend does not tolerate such players. Not only does the fight demand perfect execution against a lot of his abilities, but there is also a high amount of RNG involved – random factors that sometimes players have no control over. You can mitigate the damage from such situations by thinking ahead and using initiative learned over nearly a decade of raiding, but even so, players have to be on their toes at all times. That’s fine if you have a team of veteran raiders who are used to such things, but people newer to the game and wishing to learn suffer for it. Not to mention the teams who accommodate them.

Players do not generally learn how to raid at Heroic level or higher – they learn at Normal level. This is partly why I wonder what happened to what was once Flex mode. When this was brought in during Mists of Pandaria, it was an absolute gift to guilds like ours. One step up from LFR difficulty, and perfect for practice. Not only could we take a varying number of players, but the fights themselves were tuned forgivingly. We blithely assumed that in future we could learn fights – and train up new players – through Flex mode, and progress to what was then Heroic, giving us, in fact, more content to play through. We started doing this in Siege of Orgrimmar at the end of the expansion, and looked forward greatly to the new raids in Warlords of Draenor.

The first WOD raid, Highmaul, was fairly easy, with a middling-challenge of an end boss in Imperator Margok. He always felt ‘doable’ even when we were wiping on him. Then we hit Blackrock Foundry and met Oregorger, and the Blast Furnace… and some of their friends. The step up in difficulty seemed large to me, and it felt like we were back on the pre-Flex level of raiding. Moving into Hellfire Citadel confirmed it. While the first bosses were again fairly easy, which is what you should expect at the start of a raid, so that players can have them on farm to gear up a bit, bosses like Gorefiend are nowhere near what the bosses of Siege of Orgrimmar were like. This seems like Throne of Thunder difficulty – not the Flex which we were told is now the new Normal. It isn’t. I don’t know why Blizzard changed their minds on this. It seemed clear they wanted to encourage LFR players to learn the game properly, and Flex was introduced to help them with that, to progress from the farces that are LFR raids. But it seems to me that we’ve simply gone back to how things were pre-Flex. Difficult, then more difficult, and now, with the introduction of Mythic raiding, insanely difficult. We’ve also noticed that all fights are easier on Normal with around 15 players. If you only have 10 in the team (and this is often the case for us), it’s far tougher. While the bosses’ health pools scale in accordance with the number of players in a team, this doesn’t seem to affect positively the difficulty of the fight for a smaller team.

The officers of our guild have read forums about Gorefiend, discovering that he’s seen as a problem at all difficulties of raiding. One poster advised that no team should expect to take him down in fewer than 50 pulls. Others have gone well into the 100s in their attempts to conquer him. I think we’re at about the mid 40s in our number of attempts. We keep finding new strategies to try, and trust that eventually we’ll have the sublime ‘Eureka!’ moment that tends to happen on difficult bosses, when suddenly we can kill him, enabling us to move on within the raid. I don’t mind the puzzles, and enjoy solving them, but as a raid leader and officer, you can just sense when things are going on for too long and your players are starting to get disheartened and are losing interest. I really hope the two new techniques we’re going to try tonight will help matters. It’s not just kills that raise morale. I find that teams are happy to keep plugging away at a boss for weeks if they can only perceive progress. You can feel you’re inching towards a kill, and that’s fine – it’s what raiding is all about. But, the opposite, no progress, is vile and really bad for teams. People just feel like giving up, because they’re swamped by hopelessness.

That said, our team has made fairly steady progress on Gorefiend, depending on which players we have with us. The fact remains that when HFC began, we got 5 bosses down in about six weeks, but we’ve now been on Gorefiend for another six weeks or so. No new kill since early August. That’s not good. Our best pull on Gorefiend has got him to around 33%. Prior to that we were failing at 60% and above. But on some nights, it feels like we’re back at square one, usually because we’ve had a change in the team makeup, because some of our best players are on shift at work, and new faces come along. This lack of consistency does nothing to aid progress, but it’s a fact of life for guilds of mature players who have jobs and families. Three of our best players work shifts – and that’s a lot in a team of our size. Everyone still loves raiding, but often they don’t have the hours that a young person with fewer commitments can put in. With WoW now being ten years old, we can assume many of its players have far more commitments than they did when they first made their accounts.

To finish, I wish that Blizzard would think carefully about the raids in Legion, and once again have the different difficulties tuned for different types of teams. Perhaps they should be tested by a wider range of players than the hardcore ones who take their teams into Beta. You know, ordinary players, the majority? I don’t want faceroll raids, but neither do I want this horrible feeling of hopelessness. There is a happy medium. We once had it.

Blizzcon was a week ago and players have had time to digest all the news about Warlords of Draenor and for forums to become stuffed with posts about it, either for or against.
I was happy to see 6 of my wishes for the expansion granted – a couple of the others I didn’t really expect to see anyway; they were just wishes.

1. the Mighty Wall of Levelling. It’s great this has been addressed and that people purchasing Warlords will be given a free level 90 character or the ability to upgrade an existing character to 90. I know that the grind from 1 to 90 (and soon to be 100) is a huge turnoff for many players, even if they do it all the way through by pugging dungeons. It’s also been implied, if not outright stated, that high level characters might be bought from the Blizzard store. This has been rumoured for a while and I can appreciate it’s inevitable, although I still wish the option had been given to roll a higher level character in game, even if not as high as 90. The 90s could be reserved for the store ‘micro’ transactions. (We know they won’t be micro.)

2. Guild and Player Housing. Blizzard gave more than I was expecting here. Well, I was expecting nothing, in all honesty. It’s a shame guilds haven’t been given the option to build some mighty edifice to be their home, but the individual player-centred Garrisons are a good compromise, since they can be visited by a raid team of up to 40. Guilds will easily be able to meet in them, unless they’re a guild of prodigious size. I like the idea that Garrisons augment game play and are not just cosmetic; the buildings will actually be useful. I won’t list their functions here, as I expect anyone reading this has already found about those. Another unexpected benefit is the introduction of followers – minions who will work for us and can be sent on quests and raids. I was glad to see that pet battling hasn’t been forgotten entirely, as one of the buildings will be dedicated to pets and have a tamer in them we can battle, probably a daily like other trainers, for the usual rewards.

3. Character Model Overhaul. This is coming sooner than I expected with at least several updated characters being ready for the release of Warlords. It’s good Blizzard has striven – from the preview we’ve seen – to maintain the look and innate character of the toons, simply by refining their existing appearances and improving animations. I’ve seen some players complain that we were only shown one face for each example (gnome, orc and dwarf) and that it will be bad if each race only has one face available on the character creation screen. I can’t see that happening. We were just shown previews, there will be a lot more to come. I can’t see every race being ready for the expansion release somehow, as even doing this much appears to have taken years, but even if half are ready, that will be great. The rest won’t be that far away and perhaps released with the regular patches to the game.

4. Vanilla Pet Overhaul. This wish wasn’t granted or at least not mentioned at Blizzcon. With all the work to be done to get the expansion ready for an early release, including the character model updates, I can live without the pet grooming! Will be cool if it comes at a later date though.

5 & 6. New Races and Classes. No new races were announced, or new classes. Neither was it suggested that existing characters would be given extra specs. Perhaps we’ll have to wait for the next expansion to see any changes in these areas.

7. Inventory Space. Glad to see that a lot of items will be going into the spellbook like the mounts and pets – tabards, toys etc. Quest items will also not be stored in our bags, another welcome change. No doubt they will be similar to how they are in Rift – perhaps a sort of ‘quest inventory’ line on our character window. Was also good to hear that many crafting items will be stored in larger stacks. Great news for tailors, I expect!

8. Gear Sets. This has been addressed and in a way I wasn’t expecting. Gear stats will change according to what spec you’re in, dispelling the need to collect more than one set of gear. I imagine items like trinkets and jewellery might still be specific to certain roles, such as tanking, but at least players won’t have to lug a whole gear set round with them, and it will make it far easier to gear up a warrior, DK, druid, etc, to have a tank offspec. There is a dearth of tanks in the game, and in our guild the perennial excuse when we’re short is ‘I don’t have a gear set for it’. That excuse will soon be well… inexcusable! The game sorely needs more tanks and speaking purely for myself the problem of gearing up a character when they’re not your main raiding toon is a big one. I refuse to take a tank into LFR – really, really just can’t stomach it – and melee DPS has never been my forte, so my performance as a non tank in LFR with such characters would probably get me kicked for low DPS. I don’t want to stomach that either. And the guild just doesn’t do heroic dungeons to the degree we used to. Consequently, I don’t have a fully-geared tank this expansion, capable of filling in for the newest raid content – the first time this has happened since Burning Crusade. So I’m eager to find out how beneficially this gear change will affect the tank problem – hopefully a lot.

9. I realised when I got this far into my article that I actually had 12 points not 10 in my original post and had accidentally numbered two of them wrong! Anyway… the next point was gear enhancements. Again my wishes were granted. I was absolutely delighted to see the death of reforging – which really is never much more than a costly juggling act with stats such as hit and expertise. These stats are going, along with dodge and parry for tanks, and will be baked into the class instead. So in Warlords it won’t be necessary to reforge every time you change one bit of gear. Gemming and Enchanting are also having massive overhauls, with fewer items being enchantable and fewer gem slots.

I have heard a lot of complaining about these changes, with people saying it’s yet another case of Blizzard ‘dumbing down’ the game and making things too easy. I strongly disagree with this. As it stands, modifying gear is a fiddly, overcomplicated procedure. It either requires big outlay on the Auction House to buy expensive gems and enchants, or else swapping what seems interminably between characters to enchant (scribe and enchanter for that) and gem (jewelcrafter and often alchemist to make new gems etc). Then you might need to swap again (or make further expensive purchases) to get leg enchants through Leatherworkers or Tailors. And after that you hit the reforger to make sure your hit/exp or dodge/parry are at cap, with a cost that might be hundreds of gold. All these gear requirements have built up over the years in WoW, and it seems odd to me that the majority of people bemoaning their loss are the same ones who grieve nostalgically for Vanilla WoW, when we didn’t have any of that anyway. Bizarre.

Enchants, while applicable to fewer pieces of gear, will offer far more choice for players, so that they will have to decide carefully what is best for their class and spec. In essence, enchanting gear will be more meaningful than just slapping on the single one that’s pertinent to you at the moment.

We can’t say for certain how these major changes will impact our play until we try it, but to me this seems like a quality of life change. I prefer convenience over complication, but I also hear players talking about how they like things difficult and fiddly. Personal choice, of course, and whatever they do Blizzard won’t be able to please everyone.

10. Cross Faction communication. No changes here. This is something I read a lot about, so maybe it could happen in the future, but it’s clearly not high on Blizzard’s agenda.

11. Mob and Resource Tagging. Again no change, which is a pity.

12. PvP on PvE realms. No changes. We’re still stuck with things as they are. Of all my wishes, I see this as the least likely to be granted, whether now or 3 expansions down the line.

Points I didn’t cover in my original list include the item squish. Players who sampled the new game at Blizzcon reported they didn’t even notice the item squish at first because game play felt the same as ever, healing produced the results they expected, DPS was as powerful as it feels to them currently in game. In Warlords our stats will be slashed dramatically, resulting in far smaller health and mana pools and damage output. This squish will also apply to weapons and armour generally. But our foes will be similarly squished so everything will feel the same as it does now. The reason this must be done is that stats have become ridiculously high – a tank at the moment can have 1 million health. It’s been stated the game will run smoother if all those zeroes are shaved off the stats to a more sensible level. I’ve seen some reservations expressed about the continuing ability to solo old content, which Blizzard insists will not be affected, but we’ll have to wait and see how all this is implemented. One post I read said that given the new health pool of a level 90, a level 1 character could only start at 0.5 health. That seems a bit daft, so I’m sure this new feature will have aspects players haven’t yet considered or been shown.

Raiding, of course, has also been given attention. The current Flex model they’re experimenting with will be absorbed into Normal mode. The current Normal will become Heroic. Both of these will incorporate the Flex feature, allowing for different sized groups. A new Mythic mode will be for a fixed group of 20 players and will replace the current Heroic mode. This is for players who like their game to be the ultimate challenge. LFR will also include a kind of Flex mode in that encounters will scale if, for example, a group is left waiting for ages for a tank or healers. Groups will be able to continue the raid without having to wait for those extra players.

Flex mode has been a lifesaver for our guild, simply because of its flexibility. I think it’s a sensible way forward for all modes of raiding to include this feature, but for the hardest mode for the most hardcore players aiming for realm/world first achievements. As Flex allows for cross realm teaming, it’s obvious that Mythic mode can’t be flexible in that way, with teams including members from several realms, otherwise it will muck up the realm/world firsts.

Raiding has changed so much since Vanilla WoW it’s virtually an entirely different feature to its original form. The encounters are far more difficult and require careful strategy, movement and positioning. In the days of the 40 man raids, which many claim to pine for, you might have had 10-15 good players with the rest of the group made up of anything with a pulse. Nowadays, players can’t be carried unless a group far outgears an encounter. Everyone counts. While this in itself has caused problems for guilds because of the varying ability and skill of their members, it has made raiding more challenging. So I really can’t buy the ‘dumbing down’ complaint. If anything, what we have is the opposite. What people refer to as ‘dumbing down’ is simply more convenience and quality of life enhancements being added to the game. If LFR gets nerfed, that’s because its reason for being is for everyone, regardless of skill or ability, being able to see end game content. I’m still astonished when I take an alt into LFR to see players, who claim to be doing heroic modes, expecting the same level of raiding in LFR and then being surprised by what they find in there. It was never meant for them, and has no impact on their game however easy it’s made for those for whom it’s intended. Blizzard tends to nerf all versions of the raids towards the end of an expansion, merely to give teams a catch up mechanism, so they can finish the current content before anything new appears. Again, this has no effect on the players who completed the content before it was nerfed, who can feel gratified they were able to do so.

I’ve not seen anything (yet) about Warlords with which I feel uncomfortable or disagree. While there might not be ‘showy’ new features such as new races and classes, it feels to me that a lot of work has and is being done on actual content and improving the player experience. I don’t see anything to complain about there.

On the whole patch 5.4 has been a big success for our guild. We’ve teamed up with another guild to do Flex raiding and our two visits so far to Siege of Orgrimmar have been a lot of fun. We’ve got the first couple of bosses down and nearly got the third the other night before people had to leave because of work the next day. For a new team getting used to working together we’ve done really well, and most importantly we’ve had some enjoyable evenings’ play and have made some new friends on the server. While we’ve struggled over the past few months to get 10 people together for a raid, this Tuesday we had 19 in the team. Some people who’d given up formal raiding in favour of LFR have come back to the team and because people can come and go from the raid without affecting everyone else, guildies who have to start late or finish early could also join us. The difficulty of the encounters adjusts to however many are in the team. This is such a great feature for people who get home late from work, or have kids to put to bed or, at the other end of the night, have to leave especially early for whatever reason.

As well as getting together with another guild who’d been suffering the same problems as us, we’ve also picked up some new guildies who are friends of existing members. I know from experience that the state of guild rosters can – time and time again – change dramatically for the good and the bad, and I’m happy we’re now going through a good time once more.

The Timeless Isle has also been fun to explore and at the start was an absolute gods’ send for alts. I’ve geared up quite a few already with the bind on account epics that can be found in treasure chests and from mob kills. It seems now the drop rate for epics has dropped quite a bit, but the initial week was great. The only thing that’s spoiled the island for me and my friends is the PvP aspect. Yes, we get that Blizzard loves PvP and occasionally, (legendary quest line, Long Strange Trip achievement), likes to force it on players who hate it, and yes, we get that many players actually like it and want it, and we also get that the Timeless Isle is supposed to have a world PvP element to it. But the amount of griefing that goes on does nothing to change my mind about mixing PvP with PvE. For example, late the other night a couple of friends and I decided to team up and find some rare mobs. As we were killing random creatures around us, a group of Horde, all flagged for PvP and all riding huge Traveller’s Tundra Mammoths, congregated on top of us as we were fighting, clearly with the aim of making one of us accidentally hit them. They were taunting us as much as possible with emotes, supposedly to make us even more annoyed with the situation. When these tactics failed – we simply moved to a different area – they followed us and grouped up on our kills as we were looting, again with the clear intent of making someone click on them by mistake and thus initiate combat. There are enough Alliance actually wanting to get involved in PvP, so these idiots should go and pester them instead. If this is world PvP then I don’t think it belongs among PvE players. Also, how brave they are in numbers! It’s not something they’d try alone or in a small group. Cowards.

But anyway, apart from that aspect, which if you don’t like PvP you just have to take a little extra precaution to avoid, the island is a fun addition to the game. Not sure how long that fun will last, but there are at least a lot of pets to collect off rare mobs, which will extend the interest for some. For those not into pets, I don’t imagine there will be much left for them to do once they’ve earned the timeless coins to buy the items they want. As with all content, the island won’t have an infinite allure – things get used up and players move on. I’m trying not to use it up too fast. Some people are obsessed with grinding the rep for the Emperor, and that’s all they do. But once it’s done, and if done too quickly, what will be left for them? I think it’s better to pace yourself and make the most of the content, rather than gobble it up and then complain about having nothing to do.

I’ve not tried the Celestial Tournament pet battles scenario on the island yet, as I want to get more of my pets to level 25 before embarking on it. Also, you need to put aside quite a few hours to do the scenario while you’re learning it. Friends who’ve done it have taken up to six hours to complete it, (not necessarily succeeding on their first attempt either) and at the moment I don’t have such a chunk of time to devote to one activity. One friend had got almost to the end – bearing in mind you cannot heal or revive any of your pets throughout the scenario – and then failed on the last fight because he literally ran out of level 25 pets to do it. (He has around 100 of them.) He’d spent four hours getting to that point. You can’t ‘save’ the fight – you have to complete the whole scenario or start again. Another friend, who completed it on the first day, has 250 level 25 pets, so as I only have 70 or so, I know I need a far bigger stable of available pets before I attempt this challenge. Once you have learned the fights and if you have enough of suitable pets for the battles, then it takes less time to do the scenario. One friend completed it in 40 minutes today, when he was taking hours to do it last week. I dare say more and more strategy guides will appear for the fights as people complete them, and I’m content to wait a while until others, through trial and error, work out the best teams. I’d rather do the scenario in a couple of hours than in the equivalent of a working day!

It’s been a while since I wrote anything for my WoW blog – mainly because I’ve been playing the game less and had little to say that wouldn’t just be repeating what I’ve said before. Like many, I’d run out of things to do in WoW, found playing alts rather a pain, and was often logging on only for raid nights. I’m happy to report we’ve managed to keep our raiding going, when many other guilds have had to give up for a while. We’ve had few cancelled runs, even if we’ve been short of people, because it’s possible to do Mogushan Vaults now with a diminished team of well-geared characters, and we could often take an under-geared guildie along with us to help get them some shinies.

Like just about everyone in the game, I’ve been waiting for the next patch 5.4, not least because of the Flex Raiding it will provide. It seems that at last Blizzard will accommodate all those guilds who want to do proper raiding rather than the jerk-pit of LFR, but who have found Normal raiding too taxing, simply because they cannot field 10 perfect players and/or have had problems with team consistency and numbers.

There has always been conflict between the so-called hardcores and casuals, with both sides screaming that Blizzard caters more for the other side. Reality is that the ‘not hardcore’ element is far more numerous than the ‘not casual’ element, yet even so, despite the ‘not casual’ carping that the game has been dumbed down and ruined, raiding has actually become more complex and difficult over the years. It seemed insane to me that Blizzard could countenance the crumbling and dissolution of numerous guilds, simply because Normal raiding was tuned too high for their raid teams of mixed ability. Surely Normal was meant for those people who weren’t expert enough, or couldn’t devote enough time, to attempt Heroic mode? But even within that broad band of ‘casual raiding guilds’ there would be teams of differing skill and team consistency. For some the current Normal mode tuning was fine because their players could handle it and they had the time each week to tackle it effectively, with a consistent team. For others Normal was a trial, because runs often had to be cancelled due to a lack of people, or different people went each time and fights had to be learned over and over. I assume it was intended that all these players should be herded into LFR and be happy with that, but of course this didn’t happen. They might have accepted the herding, but this didn’t mean they were happy. Admittedly, in most LFR runs, you’ll only have 2 or 3 jerks mouthing off. The other 22-23 players just keep their heads down and keep quiet. I was given some advice very early on – never engage LFR jerks in conversation. Ignore what they say, no matter how offensive or wrong or unfair. Don’t even stick up for anyone, no matter how incensed you might feel on their behalf. It will just bring the jerks down on you like a ton of silage. Consequently, I saw cruel bullying happen, but said nothing. Neither did anyone else: including all those players who would no doubt rather be doing Normal raiding with friends, but whose guild rosters had diminished beyond the ability to raid.

Because for many players Normal raid progression was so slow, or wasn’t happening at all, LFR felt mandatory to gear up characters for when raiding was possible. It was good for getting valor points, and of course essential for those stalled in Normal mode who wanted to pursue the legendary quest and its rewards. I’m really hoping that Flex raiding will offer a sound alternative. I believe surviving guilds will do more to ensure they can attempt this mode, whether that’s allying with others in the same position as they are, or else picking up a couple of random people by advertising in Trade. If you have a group of 3 friends who want to join you for a run, but you have 8 people from your own guild in the team already, you’ll now be able to take those 3 extra people. That just opens up huge possibilities for alliances with other guilds that previously had been constrained by the 10 player limit – too many people for a team – or the 25 player limit – too few. There will also be more incentive now for people to join guilds again. It will be interesting to see how it all unfolds and I sincerely hope it offers a new lease of life for raiding – and perhaps more importantly for guilds – in WoW. More to report once we’ve tried it!