Category: 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.

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!

Hopes for Flex Raiding

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!

In my last post I talked about how we’d lost some people from the guild recently and how dailies were the salient reason behind some of those departures. Now another guildie (and raider) has confessed he feels the same, that he just can’t face the grind of dailies, and that for him the experience of random groups in dungeons and LFR aren’t salutary, so he doesn’t want to stomach those to get his precious Valor Points capped every week. So we have another person taking a break, hoping to find his enthusiasm again if he puts a bit of distance between himself and the game.

This post, while unapologetically lengthy, isn’t simply a QQ moan. I’m genuinely concerned about the game I love, and I hope Blizzard is aware of certain problems abounding at the moment. I’ll be surprised if they’re not. I know that in some ways what follows here might seem a contradiction of what I said a few posts ago about adapting, adopting and surviving, but recent events have just got me thinking.

On Friday night, I was chatting with another guild leader I’ve known for a few years, while we waited for a Galleon fight to start. He told me he’d suffered a lot of departures from his guild, and I know that for a time his had been a very large guild, if not one of the biggest on our realm. Like our guild had some time ago, he’d seen some of his raiders hive off impatiently, because they wanted to be more ‘hardcore’ – and to form a guild for that purpose. I wonder, in the face of how things currently are in the game, how long that new guild will last. From what I’ve seen of others founded on the same notion, their survival rate isn’t high, because there is little sense of guild loyalty, and perhaps not much of friendship. Hungry raid guilds, put together in haste, often implode, and quite quickly.

But that aside, my GL friend has also found that the majority of people who are still with his guild just want to be casual or social players, and their raiding itch is scratched by LFR. He can’t field a 10 or 25 man team any more for Normal raiding, so he too is making use of LFR. All the friends with whom he’d formed his guild have left the game. He said to me, in bewilderment, (and even in typed conversation I could ‘hear’ that sentiment), ‘why is this happening? Why are people going?’ I told him that I think, (and I might or might not be right), it isn’t so much the entire player base is bleeding away, but rather that the game is changing. Guilds, I’m sad to say, aren’t as vital as they used to be for people to get the most out of the game. Normal raiding (never mind Heroic) isn’t as vital either. Some of us still like more of a challenge, but many prefer a less stressful mode of raiding. Perhaps the drama you get in guilds associated with Normal (or Heroic) raiding has also contributed to people choosing not to involve themselves in it. People can now dip into LFR and see all the end game content, and get nice rewards. They don’t have to plan ahead. They don’t have to turn up at exact times for so many hours. If they need to leave for any reason, they can just quit the raid. They won’t be letting anyone down, because others are ready in the queue to step in. They don’t end up stuck on progress bosses for weeks, when tempers and patience fray, and friendships are stretched by the tension. They don’t even have to talk to the people they team with. I don’t blame them for it really. I see why it’s an attractive alternative, especially for people with limited time to play and prepare. But that doesn’t mean I’m comfortable with the overall implications for the game. Neither are others, and that’s one of the reasons why they are either taking breaks or quitting for other games. I suspect the more casual players are pretty happy with the way things are; they have more freedom and choices than they’ve ever had. And the reality is that there are far more casual players than any other kind.

I was saddened to hear the things my friend told me, but on the other hand slightly relieved, because even though I read about others guilds’ trials and tribulations on forums, when you hear it from someone you know, it somehow makes it more real, and you realise you’re not alone with these dilemmas.

It seems to me that Blizzard is experimenting with MoP, either with an eye towards their next game, or else future expansions of WoW. Theirs has been a juggling act for the past few years, trying to satisfy their wide and disparate player base, where you have extremes of player competence, commitment, and preferences. With around 10 million customers, all with different expectations and requirements from a virtual world, it’s impossible for Blizzard to please everybody. As a company, they have no choice but to do what they must to be successful, to survive. No business would think any other way. And that must mean pleasing the majority of customers. But I don’t think Blizzard deserves to be demonised, as some players seem inclined to do to them. I believe they want to try and please as many people as possible, and to do that, they have to try different things out. I think this has led Mists of Pandaria to be the best of WoW expansions, but in some ways one of the worst as well. I can’t remember players being driven off to this extent before, relatively early in an expansion’s life. MoP has got more things for players to do in it than any previous expansion. And it’s not even a year old.

And to me this is the most important thing. People are fed up after only 7 months or so. They are having breaks or leaving. As far as I can recall, even in Cata people weren’t feeling this way only 7 months into the expansion.

It goes without saying the reputation grinds and the dailies to earn Valor Points are one of the major reasons players are losing interest. I’m probably one of the few people who isn’t hugely bothered about these aspects of the game, mainly because I have an army of alts and I was quite organised on my main character to make things easier for them later on. I dip into rep grinds when I feel the urge, and leave it for weeks now, if that urge doesn’t come. I also enjoy parts of the game some of our guild raiders don’t like particularly, such as the pet battles, and hunting for rare mounts and pets. I’m happy to do things like slaughter dinosaurs on the Isle of Giants to gather bones to buy a raptor mount, while other guildies would just be bored to death with that, and don’t have the same interests (some might say obsessions) as me. WoW, to me, is my respite after working for the day. I’m quite happy just to potter about if something more challenging isn’t going on.

However, I do think Blizzard could have made the dailies less of a chore for people. We know the gating of certain factions, and patterns and recipes for professions, never mind epic gear, being locked away behind those factions, was a cause of major frustration for an awful lot of players. Blizzard themselves have admitted the dailies could have been organised better. When the Isle of Thunder dailies came out, I really enjoyed them. A lot of them were fun rather than boring; they were certainly more entertaining than the previous slew of dailies we’d had. But… As the Isle has opened up while the storyline progresses, the dailies have become harder. Now, they involve elite mini-bosses to kill, and they are very difficult for some classes to do alone, so you have to hope other players are around when you’re doing them. If players are required (or encouraged) to do these endless repetitive tasks, at least let them be painless and fun… like the first Island quests were. The fact that the dailies now involve some quite punishing mobs to kill means it’s difficult to take newly-minted 90s over to the island in starter 90 gear. And even now, with the Island being relatively new, you can’t guarantee others will need to fight the mobs you want, so you either have to hang around waiting, hoping someone else will turn up, or hope another guildie wants to do their dailies at the same time of day you do. If, in fact, you can find a guildie still prepared to do them. The Island dailies came too late to prevent some of our players leaving the game, and even though the new content seemed at first like a great rescue act, now it too has become rather an onerous slog. It’s a pity newly-90 alts can’t confine themselves to doing the less difficult quests we started off with over there. But now, everyone is steered towards the harder section, whether they’re geared for it or not. Many people I know in the game now just won’t do those quests on their mains. And of course they have no desire whatsoever to do them on their lesser-geared alts.

So that’s one reason why people are becoming disenchanted.

For raiders, I believe the other main reason is the difficulty of the Normal raids. I can’t speak for Heroic raiders; perhaps they are happy with the way things or, if they are dissatisfied, it’s because they always want things to be even more difficult than they are. But for a lot of Normal raiding guilds, they have run into progression walls, amplified by the fact they’ve lost raiders because of the dailies problem. If we’d been able to take our best team to every run, we’d have been fine. But as it stands, some of our best raiders are now gone, and those who remain are constrained by family and work commitments to a large degree. It often feels like we’re banging our heads against a wall. If other guilds are in the same position, and I know a lot of them are, is it any wonder some just give up or resign themselves to LFR? If we lose a few more people, we won’t be able to raid either. Quite honestly, we struggle to get a 5 man dungeon group going some nights, and not because there are too few people online. Guildies just don’t seem that keen on doing them anymore. We get Valor Points to buy better gear for our characters, but when we’re stuck in the middle of Heart of Fear, hampered only by the fact we can’t get 10 good players together for a run, there’s little incentive to improve that gear.

I’ve not seen the game in this state all the time I’ve been playing. It’s my virtual other home, and I love its landscapes and peoples, its histories and its lore. It has inspired me, and even comforted me when real life has been hard. Therefore, I’m worried about the way things are going. I want to rise up and meet the challenge, if such a challenge exists, as I’ve said in a previous post, but the population leakage over the past month has been quite noticeable. It seems to me that all it would take to fix things is some quite tiny tweaks. Some aspects of the Isle of Thunder revolutionised the concept of the daily grind, but then it became the same old grind again. I see the idea behind making the quests progressively more difficult, and if they had comprised a one off quest line, that would have worked admirably, as in the excellent solo scenarios on the island, but they are not good as daily quests. No one really wants to do tons of dailies, so if we have to, to gain access to other things we do want, why continue to make them such a chore?

It’s occurred to me as I’ve been editing this post that I’ve done more moaning about WoW recently than praising, but that really is because I think Azeroth is a wonderful creation and I care about it. I care about my characters, because I’ve had these virtual friends for eight years or so. I’ve seen them grow and evolve. I care about my guild and my friends, and I don’t want to see more of them go, these people I’ve seen every week for years. I know for many of them the friendships they’ve made in the game are now probably more important than the game itself, so it says a lot when they feel they can’t play anymore, that they’re only turning up online to chat to people, which they might as well just do on Facebook or similar. That, to me, is not only sad but scary. It’s like the Old Guard of WoW is being forced out; a different, utterly casual, generation of players is taking over. These players might not be guilded, and might not care about committing to progression in the game; both of these being aspects that were once the backbone of WoW, if not every MMO out there.

Times are changing, and while I appreciate that this has to happen in order for the game not only to survive but move on, I don’t think it should be at the expense of losing all the players who sustained the game and enabled its growth. But then, we don’t know what Blizzard might yet have up its sleeve, and maybe some new content is around the corner that will change things again, and that will entice players back. I really hope so.

I’m not sure where the title of this post comes from – a film, a book, a tract, some dodgy political manifesto? It’s just familiar to me, and works for this particular post.

What I’m reading in the ethers this week has got me thinking. I’m reading more and more forum threads and blogs about the evaporation of the raiding pool on realms, and the shrinking amount of guilds. A veritable drought, it seems. Some posters provide statistics drawn from various sources that allegedly demonstrate that there are now fewer guilds raiding than there were at the pinnacle of it, which apparently was in Wrath.

I’m also reading a lot from maturing and mature players who say they now simply don’t have the time to commit to strict raiding schedules, and that LFR works better for them. It’s simple logistics.

I think what us veterans have to face and accept is that the game, nearly ten years old, is the not the animal we encountered when we first played. Whenever we fetched up on the shores of Azeroth, be it in Vanilla, TBC, Wrath or even Cata, it is not now the world we knew. Like the real world, it evolves and changes, and not always to our liking. Time moves faster in a virtual world. Generations can pass in relatively few years, well per expansion, probably. So it takes far less time for us to become grumpy old gits.

That said, we have to applaud the fact that this frontier world, perhaps even Brave New World, (who knows what might follow in our life times), not only survives but evolves. The players coming to it now don’t arrive with the baggage of memories and experiences that older players have. To them, it is fresh and new, and, as in real life, we can only envy the young for whom each new experience is a thing of wonder and discovery. Who can forget the first love?

The fact is we are at the vanguard of something wondrous, which is humanity venturing into the New Frontier of virtuality. It’s primitive in comparison to what science fiction writers might dream about, but it is, without doubt, the start. Azeroth lives, in its own way. It has community, an economy, and even a feudal government in the form of its developer, Blizzard. This entity might also be regarded as the prevailing deity of Azeroth, since its whims dictate how the world rises and falls, and the fate of its inhabitants. Plenty for Pop Culture magicians to work with there – and believe me they already have.

All of these concepts are extremely interesting, not only to creative writers like myself, but also to academics in the realms of many observant and scientific disciplines. What we have in Azeroth is a model to study; humanity’s first steps beyond the material world. But that said, evolution can be painful, especially when it’s experienced in such an accelerated form as we find in Azeroth and its ilk.

I’ve written here before of my concerns about the activities within WoW that for nearly a decade have kept people playing. The end game content was The Grail that few players could reach. It was the Mystery, the Heart of the Rose, whatever mystical tag you want to give it. But as time has passed, the mysteries of the game have slowly blossomed, become available to more than the privileged few, and that unfolding was both exciting and curious. Now the rose is open wide, and perhaps, some might say, tending to discard its dying petals. There is no mystery now. All is revealed. But some people prefer this carpet of bruised petals. The rose is not going to rot more than this, simply lie there, open, dismembered, to be trodden upon, its fragrance released by whoever treads upon the fallen petals.

You old ‘uns know what I’m talking about. You know we might be facing the demise of the game as we knew it, the community (warts and all) as we knew it. Even guilds as we knew them might not be the same in the future. Much as I might grumble about some of the changes, I also think the Great God Blizzard has to be brave here and continue to expand frontiers. The veterans of WoW can be regarded as its priesthood, and to them alone were once revealed the secrets of the gods. Now, the common people are given access to what was once the divine. The priesthood are appalled. Obviously. But they cannot fight progress.

So, how do we carry on, us veterans? Simple. Accept what is. We do, after all, have the choice to leave this virtual world, or we can continue with it to see where it heads. Pointless to complain, really. For me, I’m still fascinated by the discoveries, because I don’t just spend time in Azeroth to be a gamer. I’m also a writer and a practitioner of magic. What I see there is of interest to those sides of my being too.

Let’s, just for a moment, imagine the petals of our Heart of the Rose are fractals, a dizzy, unending kaleidoscope of possibilities. Some people might subscribe to WoW simply to play a game, perhaps mostly oblivious of the world of it around them. To others, the world itself is mostly the point, the intrigue, the pull. The petals might have fallen, but within each of them are countless other worlds, other possibilities, the future. I’m along for the ride. Are you?

I’m reading a lot this week about guilds who regularly enjoy Normal mode raiding, usually on 10 man, are having a hard time at the moment. Many feel that the hardcores are being catered for and generally being cushioned on their fluffy cloud of separateness and greatness, and the great casual mass at the other extreme of the scale are appeased in the propagation of Looking for Raid, or LFR, which isn’t really raiding at all. Quite frankly, it’s like the WoW National Trust, a guided tour of a raid. All that’s lacking is the NPCs actually calling out the minimal strategies and pointing out features of interest in each boss room. There should probably be some roped-off areas too. But the huge amount of middle-sized guilds, those who are generally the haunt of more mature players, often with demanding jobs and families, (or jobs and demanding families, it varies), are really feeling the squeeze. There are several reasons for this, but I simply feel moved to talk about what I’ve seen because I can only whole-heartedly agree with the sentiments I’m reading from players like me and my guild mates.

Having played WoW for nearly 8 years, and having both tanked and healed in raids during that time, I’ve seen a lot of changes to the game. Not least is that tanking and healing have become much more complicated, which has led to fewer players willing to take on those roles for raiding. Bosses with multiple abilities – as opposed to the two or three of early game bosses – as well as complex movement and other intricate fight mechanics, have all moved raiding up several levels in terms of difficulty. Anyone who says not clearly hasn’t been looking at the game realistically. Difficulty in the days of Vanilla WoW meant being able to herd 40 people together in the right combination of roles. The boss fights themselves were relatively simple in comparison to what we face now.

I know we read a lot from the wannabe hardcores, (significantly not the real ones), complaining about the game being dumbed down and that it is now too easy, but I also read a lot from guilds like ours – sensible, mature players – who have the same difficulties that we have. These are not noobs, or the less socially adept of the LFR jockeys, or any other undesirables; these are often people from long-standing experienced guilds, whose officers have a stressful second job in trying to keep their guilds alive. Blizzard often doesn’t make it easy for this large portion of the player base.
On our medium pop server alone, far too many guilds are lacking healers, and every ‘advert’ you see in Trade is generally recruiting for them. Our guild could really do with another skilled and dedicated healer, but we know the task will be nigh on impossible at the moment, with no foreseeable change to that situation. The healer who stepped up for us, following the departure of our excellent but daily-hating Paladin, is a good, experienced player, but is crippled by bad connection and computer problems, which in effect cripples our team. Runs have had to be cancelled part way through, because we cannot afford to have one of our two healers not performing perfectly, if their machine is acting up or they’re getting dc’d every ten minutes. We do have our patient Boomkin who will swap to Resto if needed, but she’s one of our better DPS, so it’s not ideal. However, no one else in the guild wants to gear up or level up a healer because they don’t fancy the stress of playing one of the healing classes, or don’t have the confidence to try. Mana management is more of a headache than it was in the past. Healers have to cope with enormous amounts of damage in some fights – not least from some of the trash packs in the raids – and I sometimes wonder how on earth our healers cope with it. At the end of runs they are mentally drained and exhausted. Because of all the DPS checks in the current raids, and tight enrage timers, we are more or less forced into running with 2 healers instead of 3. That makes our healers’ jobs so much more demanding. And I know we’re not alone in this situation.

Also, there is sometimes far too much responsibility heaped on tanks or healers for particular encounters, which again makes the roles less attractive. For far too long, we were stuck on Stone Guard in Mogushan Vaults because our second tank had problems with the encounter. Because of this, the team was stalled, which was terrible for morale and caused departures. Neither was it good for our OT, and caused him much distress. It affected his confidence as a tank, because after having off-tanked happily and successfully all through Cata, (and some pretty demanding fights in that too), he now found himself floundering at the first boss of an expansion. A fight should not just hang upon the performance of one player out of a team, but that’s what it felt like to us at the time. In the event, once the DPS had geared up a bit through other means, we used 3 healers for the fight and our OT had that ‘eureka’ moment and started doing the fight smoothly and it was fine. Now we’re back to 2 healers, but it took a while. It seems to me that Blizzard often expects guilds who field 10 man teams to have 10 perfect players on every run. Only the few will have that luxury. For most of us, you’ll have some really good players, some fairly good players and a couple who aren’t so good. You often need to include the ‘aren’t so goods’ simply because of numbers, or runs won’t go ahead at all. Also, in smaller, more social guilds, friendships play a part in who is invited along to raids. You’ll also get people who, for one reason or another, will flounder on a particular encounter and take longer to learn it than others. This isn’t necessarily always the same players either.

The fact that fewer players within guilds are now inclined to change role and class to help a team, coupled with the reality of fewer tanks and healers being available for recruitment outside of guilds, doesn’t leave 10 man raiders in smaller guilds in a good place. I can’t speak for what it must be like for 25 man guilds, but I suspect it can’t be better and might be worse, seeing as they will need more healers than a 10 man team. I simply fear that this situation will push more and more smaller guilds into only being able to tackle LFR rather than Normal mode raiding. It’s easy to get into LFR runs and if you can’t even recruit the required classes for one Normal run, never mind for regular runs, that’s the only option left open to you. I don’t think this is good for the game. Also, for people who really don’t enjoy teaming with strangers who might often be abusive, that’s ruining the raiding side of the game completely for them. They simply won’t go. They are used to raiding with their guilds and that’s what they want to do.

Blizzard has done some great work on making raiding more accessible to its player base and far more guilds raid now than they did in Vanilla or Burning Crusade. But as one door opens, it feels like another is closing, because the ever-increasing complexity of the encounters, presumably designed to satisfy the minority of players who can steam through the content, means that the more demanding roles within a team are difficult to fill.

Heroic modes are supposed to be for players who like their raids as tough as it’s possible for them to get. That type of player should stick to Heroic and not stick their oar in about what players happy with Normal mode are doing. Blizzard should let up slightly on the Normal difficulty, or take the healing and tanking models back a little to what they were. Very few teams indeed are going to have 10 perfect players. Blizzard should give them a break and enable the more skilful players to bring an encounter back from the brink if a mistake is made. Often that’s not possible now. One screw up and it’s a wipe. The fights are easy when executed perfectly, (as we see on the rare nights we get our best players all together) but for that you need 10 players 100% on the ball. And that is the difficult part.
I tanked and healed in Wrath, and enjoyed both immensely, but due to the makeup of the team, and someone else willing to tank, I moved back to playing my Hunter in raids. Although I did a little tanking on my warrior in Cata, it wasn’t a great deal, and only for an alt run. When I look at some of what the tanks have to do now, I have little inclination to try to take it on again. Not because I’m lazy, but because I don’t want to be in the position of relearning such a role when people are relying on me and my inexperience might cause wipes. Now, if you have a break from a responsible role in a team, things have changed so much it’s far more difficult to get back into it, and even if you do, chances are the team would be frustrated by waiting for players new to the role to learn the fights again from a healing or tanking perspective. Again, morale would plummet and departures might ensue.

I know some players will throw up their arms and scream at my words here, but if they do, they are in the privileged minority. I’d rather see Normal mode be normal than more guilds forced only to do LFR, which frankly is just ‘mock raiding’. I also think that part of the problem is that the meta achievements for raids are attached to Heroic, meaning that a larger part of the player base, for whom titles, mounts and achievements are one of the great attractions of the game, are trying to play above their competency. I believe it would be better for Normal and Heroic modes to have separate metas, so that the Normal one doesn’t include Heroic kills. As it stands, players complain they haven’t finished a Heroic mode before new content is released, when really if they were of the skill to do it, they would have done so by that point, and prior to any nerfing. I see this point made time and again when the subject is discussed on forums. The complaints are largely from the ‘wannabe hardcores’. Those who are the truly best-skilled will be done and dusted with Heroic modes by the time the next tier is released.

I will never be a Heroic level player, but I do count myself as a good Normal mode player. I suppose I am an example of the average player who takes raiding seriously but who does not eat, sleep and breathe it. I do all that I can to prepare, keep abreast of changes to my class, and read up on boss fights. Our guild has two runs a week of three hours each (if we’re lucky). With that schedule we will never be hardcore and any Heroic modes we attempt will be a lot further down the line when the content has become trivial. Then we can go back for metas and mounts. I’m just saddened as I fear raiding is being eaten away, until all that will be left is content for the hardcore and everyone else will be bulldozed into LFR. It’s not like our raid team is incapable of Normal mode content, it’s that personnel problems cause lots of headaches and obstacles. I also suspect that many people who might previously had been available healers and tanks might now simply find it easier to drift into LFR and see the content that way, thus furthering the dilemma of people who really want to raid properly, not do a kindergarten version of it. I wish Normal mode was a tad more forgiving for tanks and healers so there are more of them about to tackle the proper content. Do we really want challenging and exciting raiding to dissolve completely into LFR? Given what I’m reading on the forums, especially about the rise of the ‘vocal LFR hero’, and their moans about the gating of the 5.2 raid, I’m afraid that Normal, and who knows perhaps even Heroic, is under threat of extinction. And I’m sure I can’t be the only smaller guild raider thinking that.

We’ve been promised in the new Throne of Thunder raid something other than the punishing DPS checks of MV, HoF and ToES, with the fights being more about careful and skilful execution, but because we’re so behind with our raiding it will be some time before any of our guild can even get in there in anything but… you guessed it… LFR difficulty. I don’t wish to deny any player access to content, and I think Blizzard’s idea of LFR was great in principle, but what is happening is that many players are tempted by the easiness of the raid and are less inclined to commit to Normal raiding with their guilds. If LFR shared a lockout with 10 and 25 man, those in guilds would perhaps be more inclined to make the effort to raid with their guilds and keep LFR for their alts. I’m not speaking about our guild so much, because no one in the team would ever choose LFR over our Normal runs, but I’ve read in other places that guild and raid leaders are facing an ever increasing leak of players who are tired of the constant wipe fests while learning new bosses on Normal.

Perhaps things are easier now since the nerf the other week. Due to real life commitments from several key members of our team we’ve only managed one clear of MV since the nerf happened and have had no other runs at all, not even to old content for achievements. I hope this week we can move on to pastures new, beyond the first boss of HoF, even though we’re still missing someone really important who’s working away till the weekend.

I’m really happy with much of what Blizzard is doing to the game, and it’s improved in so many areas. But I do think the raiding issue is a thorny one that needs to be addressed. There must be solutions to it so that the more challenging modes do not dissolve into the sluice of LFR.

I’ve not yet posted anything about Mists raiding, because quite honestly our guild’s raid team got off to a shaky start this expansion. It’s only since Christmas really that we’ve begun to get back on our feet and carry on from where we were in Cataclysm. Setbacks hit us, one after the other. Core people were  unable to attend, a few found trouble with getting their heads round certain fights, there were recurrent last minute cancellations for bona fide real life reasons, as well as rather unpleasant in-guild drama concerning some new members we picked up and who have now gone… we had it all. Added to the fact we can only raid two evenings a week, because our team comprises grown-ups who have jobs, families and so on, real life emergencies and commitments sometimes meant runs were cancelled again and again. All of this led to us becoming rather glum about our raiding.  And for this reason I didn’t really want to talk about it. All I could have done was grumble.

However, happily, we’ve got over the bumpy bit and are progressing again. I wish we were a little bit further down the line of getting into Heart of Fear – we’re working on the second boss there now – but this couldn’t be helped. It was late before we got into our stride so now we’re a bit behind where we’d like to be. A new patch and a new raid is just around the corner, but we’ll be continuing with the current raids for a while until we’re geared up a little more. One of our core healers has given up the game for the time being – he really can’t stand dailies and well… to any WoW player I don’t need to say more than that in relation to the current state of the game – so we’re having to help gear up a new one. We’ve lost a pally and have gained a monk. Things are going well and our druid Boomkin is happy to step in, swap spec, and be a third healer when needed while our new healer learns the ropes and gets some epics on his back.

One thing that many of us in the guild have said, in those wistful ‘round the fire’ moments, is that we miss the grand scale of raids such as Ulduar and Icecrown Citadel that were the pinnacles of the Wrath of the Lich King expansion. Cataclysm brought us shorter raids, and more of them, but somehow they felt lacking in character in comparison to the raids of Wrath. Ulduar and ICC were so immersive; you felt you were part of a story and it was truly epic. None of the Cata raids really grabbed us in the same way. It wasn’t that we didn’t enjoy conquering them, but just that there was a certain something missing. Story. Ambience. Lore characters that we found fascinating. For all his foam and bluster, Deathwing never really came off as an A List expansion baddie, certainly not in comparison to Illidan from Burning Crusade or Arthas the Lich King from Wrath. Just wasn’t sexy, I suppose. There were moments we truly enjoyed in Cata, but the overall problems with that expansion meant we didn’t really enjoy it as much as previous ones.

The raids so far in Mists have been fairly short, and I personally can’t say I’ve found them to be as immersive as the Wrath and TBC raids in terms of ambience. The fights are good, but… I’ve only completed Terrace of Endless Spring in the LFR version, but to me it might as well just be a heroic dungeon only with more people along. Actually, it’s not even as big as a heroic dungeon. Fun fights, no complaints about that (although I might complain more when we’re ready to tackle it on Normal mode), but it’s just so… small. We’ve been told by Blizzard that the new Throne of the Thunder King in the next patch will be a return to the large raid format. I prefer this. Although this type of raid might take far longer for guilds to conquer, you cannot emulate the feeling of venturing deeper and deeper into dangerous territory, working towards the Big Bad at the end of it.  Ulduar has us penetrating into the shadowy bowels of a Titan city to confront the Lovecraft-inspired elder gold who dwelled there, while ICC saw us climbing to the peak of the Lich King’s frozen citadel to face Arthas in all his twisted glory. Both raids involved a symbolic journey, and much could be written about the effect on the psyche of such journeys. It wasn’t just a case of, ho hum, raid time, let’s go kill some bosses, as it is now (and was in Cata). There was some sort of emotional kick to the whole thing in Wrath. If the Thunder King brings us anywhere near back to that, it will be great.

The fights themselves in the Mists raids I find fairly enjoyable. The only one so far I’m not keen on is Garalon in Heart of Fear, but then I’ve not attempted that fight on Normal mode, only LFR. Perhaps it will be more fun when I do it with the guild.

Our raid leader isn’t too happy about one thing, though. (He comments on here as ‘Fat Hulk’.) Basically our Hulk cannot stand LFR (Looking for Raid for any uninitiated happening upon these pages). He deplores it. He thinks it’s bad for guilds and bad for the game as a whole. He thinks it encourages laziness and bad habits in raiders, and he’s seen the effects of this in our own raids. Hulk knows he can’t stop any of the guild running LFR. Some do it to help cap those essential Valor Points every week. Some do it to help gear up for our Normal mode raids. Some do it so they can play their alts in raids. Some do it to help learn the fights for when we do them ‘properly’. Whatever their reason, that’s their choice. I do it fairly often to practice fights where deft movement (or dancing) is required, and to get to know the mechanics of certain encounters, even if they are watered down somewhat for the hoi polloi.  It also enables me to do something more than heroics with my alts. I don’t like doing heroics outside of a guild group, because of the swine I’ve met in PUGs. For some reason, although peppered with their fair share of swine, LFR groups don’t tend to be as abusive or cruel as a heroic PUG. But anyway, none of this washes with Fat Hulk. He really cannot abide swine and nothing would induce him to enter LFR, nothing. Not even the opportunity to play an alt for a while with the guarantee that every bonus roll on loot would shower him with epics. One thing that’s really got to him, and I totally empathise with his feelings on this, is that the new legendary quest line can be completed easily by doing LFR, but can be more difficult for those who only take part in proper raids. Hulk hasn’t been able to gather all the Sigils of Power and Wisdom from Mogushan Vaults and Heart of Fear in our Normal mode raids, (which are required for the first stage of the quest), simply because of the difficulties with our raiding in late 2012. But everyone in the guild who does LFR has zoomed ahead. Hulk feels he’s at a disadvantage because he won’t run LFR, and fails to understand why a legendary quest line, (and legendaries before this were always rare and hard to acquire), is more easily accomplished by the most casual of players than it is for a player who’s dedicated to the game and has been for years. In his words, it feels like a kick in the teeth. It’s not that he’s a special snowflake type – he doesn’t care who gets the legendary items – but just feels it’s unfair he’s penalised because he prefers, and will only do, bona fide raiding, not the dumbed down LFR version. When he told me all this, I must admit I saw his point. An item can’t really be legendary if it’s as easy to get as any old piece of loot, can it? And the message from Blizzard, however unintentional, is that people will be rewarded for running LFR rather than tackling the harder content with their guilds.

I’ve always had distaste for the idea that raiders should be given things that other players cannot get, be that titles, mounts or whatever. And for a long time the game was skewed far too heavily in favour of the most hardcore of players being given lavish rewards. But this particular situation does seem to highlight that things might be heading too far the other way. Yes, I think LFR players should get something that’s cool and worth working towards, but for those of us who do take the time, effort and determination to tackle more difficult encounters there should be something more. I don’t think mounts should come into this, because for the serious collector – and many players are far more serious about this than they are about raiding or other group activities – it’s simply infuriating that all the best mounts can only be acquired in raids, where you need the co-operation of at least 9 other people in order to have a chance at them. Then the drop rate will be tiny. So the chances are incredibly slim until the content is trivialised by later additions to the game. I waited years to get an Azure Drake – got one last week. There was no way our guild had enough people to run 25 man Malygos back in Wrath. I never thought I’d get that mount, but now two people can do the 10 man version of the encounter easily and the mount now drops in that too. Quite honestly, I think it would be fair if there was the usual small chance of a mount dropping off a boss even in LFR. I’m not a special snowflake either. It doesn’t bother me who has the same mounts as me. But I digress…  Let the Normal and Heroic mode legendary quest be for something really legendary. Let the LFR version be cool but not quite as cool as what the proper raiders work towards.

Going on from this, we’re still tackling Firelands for our Boomkin’s legendary staff in there. I’ve said before on this blog that we’ve had difficulty getting a full team to go back to complete the meta in there, never mind finish off what’s required for the staff. I’ve now determinedly posted a regular run for Sunday night on the guild calendar, and have been badgering people relentlessly. I hope to get this off the ground this coming Sunday. It would have been great to have finished this back when the content was current and relevant, but finishing it at all will be fine by me and no doubt by our Boomkin who’s waited so patiently without complaint. (I think I’d have been complaining very loudly!)

As a businesswoman supplying a product, how would I feel if a small percentage of my customers came to me saying, ‘Due to changes you’ve made, your product is now appealing to more people than before and that’s not right. You’re just not listening to me! This is not what I want! You have to change your product back to what *I* want, or else I won’t buy it. I’ve stuck with your product for years. I invested more time in it. Why should others who haven’t invested that time be able to enjoy it as much as I do? They shouldn’t have that, and also I should have privileges. Give them to me now.’

The obvious answer to this of course, (accompanied by an appropriate flippant hand gesture), is ‘off you fuck, dear’, perhaps followed, (if they don’t go away), by a more measured response, ‘I’m running a business, I’m aiming to be successful. You don’t like my product? Too bad. Lots of others do. And no, you won’t be getting privileges. If anyone does, it’ll be the silent majority who simply buy and enjoy what I produce. Bye.’

I wouldn’t tolerate that kind of treatment from a small percentage of customers, and thank the gods (touch wood) I’ve never had to, but this is the situation I’m seeing when, on my Internet ‘car crash spectator’ journeys, I stumble across Blizzard community managers attempting on official forums to deal with the entitled swarm of mannerless nincompoops who are invading these forums to complain about the current and forthcoming changes to WoW. You know, those changes that make more people get to enjoy more of the game? Really bad thing, obviously. It’s best to make people pay a monthly sub to look through a window at a wonderland they’ll never visit. That’s a popular leisure activity, I understand.

What amazes me, and in fact produces awe, is that the community managers don’t turn round and tell these idiots where to go. They are polite and measured. They ‘listen’ and respond with far more respect than is deserved. If it was my business, knowing these complainers are only a minority of my customer base, I probably wouldn’t respond at all, or if I did it would be with the sharp edge of my tongue. Perhaps Blizzard community managers are all on calming medication, or have undertaken rigorous personality tests before they’re let loose in the job. I just couldn’t be that polite to such … well words fail me, or rather civil ones do.

I was told a lovely fact by a guildie tonight. It involved the whole casual vs hardcore conflict, which centres around such sublime assertions that Naxxramas 40 was a great idea; you know, that old raid only 1% of players got to see? 1% of players back when Naxx original was current was around 30,000 – 40,000 people. It’s amazing that the current 1%, i.e. around 90,000 players, laments the loss of this raid they so enjoyed. Hmmm. I’m no mathematician but… The fact is, the figures are bogus anyway. Of that 1% playing in Vanilla WoW, and who raided, how many of those are still raiding now? We can only assume that at least some of them have left the game.

I can only come to the conclusion that a lot of these people sounding off on forums, about WoW dumbing down/becoming too easy/selling out, and being rude and disrespectful to the patient Blizzard community managers, don’t actually attempt (nor ever did attempt) the hardest content themselves. They just like the idea of doing so, spouting off about it makes them look cool, or so they believe, and let’s face it, on a forum no one can tell what you might or might not have achieved within the game.

There are some things that Blizzard does to WoW that I don’t like, and there are other things that I really do like. But at the end of the day, it’s their product, and they are free to do with it what they will. As long as I’m getting pleasure from it, Blizzard will continue to get my subs. If a day should come when that changes, I’ll take my money somewhere else, but I certainly won’t be bleating on a forum, or making videos to display on You Tube, demanding that a successful company should change their product to suit me. I just can’t dispel the nagging suspicion that the majority of people who genuinely go off WoW, or become disappointed with its direction, simply leave the game quietly and do something else that pleases them more. What we are seeing in this tiresomely raw red maw of complaints at the moment isn’t that at all. Is it.

The 1% Club

While a couple of weeks ago, I talked about some of the finer aspects of Classic WoW – what I perceived to be a better community – there are other aspects of the early game I’m delighted to see gone. There is much debate going on at the moment about how much content should be accessible to who, with a vocal minority insisting that only top end raiders should be given privileges, such as the best mounts and titles, for completing content before others, or even that only a tiny percentage of players should be allowed into that content in the first place. Often, amongst all the howling and yowling, you can identify a familiar refrain of how things were so much better in the past.  And one of those ‘better things’ was that less than 1% of the player base got to see raids like the original Naxxramas. A vocal few clamour for a return to that, so that the peons (the other 99% of players) can only fetch up in a lamenting pile at the gates to these august raids and never be allowed inside.

It makes me grin that some actually consider this somehow proper. For a start, in whose book of business management is this a good way for Blizzard to deploy its staff, i.e. catering to less than 1% of their customers? (Bearing in mind raid development must take an awful lot of employee hours.) Some players want this exclusivity back because they were lucky enough to be in that 1%. Their tune would inevitably be different if they hadn’t been. I was there back in Vanilla WoW and have many fond memories of it, but I don’t remember so fondly how it was impossible for guilds like ours to raid. You needed 40 people for most of it, even if a few instances were tuned for less, but at that time we didn’t have a hope in hell of fielding a large team of any size, never mind begin learning the tactics. This was because when players reached max level, the loot hornier ones just tended to abandon us for existing, successful raid guilds. We knew we had no chance of hanging on to enough people to start raiding. Our only option would be to join a huge raiding guild ourselves, but we knew we just wouldn’t get on with the politics of them, and anyway, we wanted *our* guild to raid. Thankfully, Blizzard offered that to the smaller guilds in TBC with the advent of true 10 man raids. But the 25 mans were still the province of the hardcores. I can only think wistfully of how great it would have been if we’d had 10 man versions too of raids like Black Temple, Serpentshrine Cavern and all the rest. Like the model Blizzard uses now for raids. No doubt such thoughts are anathema to those complainers who curse the day Blizzard started making raiding more accessible. Really, though, they should simply accept reality. A return to the old ways is never going to happen. Blizzard has grown and evolved over the past eight years; they now want more of their players to enjoy more of the game. While the  hardcores might gibber and foam about how pet battles and farming will be put in for the peasants, so keep out of *their* content, Blizzard clearly regard all of the game’s activities as being equally interesting to players. Which for most, they are. There’s no point weeping for the past. The original Naxxramas was gated not only by its extreme difficulty, but by the cost of attunement to it and having 39 other people to do it with. No one in their right mind would want a return to that. While some might gush about the player base remembering it with affection, I doubt the 99% who never saw the place love it at all.

I’ve seen the more polite end of the hardcore spectrum, (yes, there is one, although some forums might lead people to believe otherwise), rhapsodise about content having a certain ‘mystique’ because it *was* so inaccessible to 99% of players. But it doesn’t feel right to me that so few were allowed to enjoy the game to the full. I’m of the mind that raiding shouldn’t just be available to everyone with no effort to be made on their part. I think it’s good that players might have to work for it a bit, rather than simply tumble into the laughably easy style of raid we see now in LFR. But – things change, time moves on. The past will never return. Blizzard clearly eventually realised it wasn’t the best plan to keep developing WoW in the direction of only relatively few players getting the full experience of it. While some things have been made much more accessible, the hardcores have been given heroic modes as a mollifying gesture, but that’s not enough for them. Some don’t want anyone else even to *see* end game content, at whatever difficulty. (I think it’s important to point out here that the true top-end raiders, in the biggest and best guilds in the world, who achieve all the world’s first raid completions, never stoop to ranting and raving on forums about accessibility. They just get on with what they’re best at and to my knowledge don’t care what other players might do with content after they’ve conquered it.)

Another point to bear in mind, which has been mentioned on various forum threads I’ve seen recently, is that the fond recollection some old school raiders have about everyone being fantastic players back then (as opposed to how they see players now) is entirely false. I’ve read threads where people are saying that some old school raiders now coming back to the game after a long break just can’t cut it. And I can corroborate this. No slur on some of the people we’ve had in our guild, who were considered pretty hardcore back in the day, but some of them are not necessarily good raiders now. In one case, a couple of years ago, a guildie told me another member, newly returned to the game, who was once part of a well known raiding guild on our server in the early days, had taught him all he knew about tanking in Vanilla. I was astonished by this revelation, because the ‘renowned’ old school player was, at that time, one of the most likely to be killed by the floor, if not something else as preventable. The fights we have nowadays are far more complicated than what the old school were used to, and those who’ve not kept up with the changes by playing consistently through the expansions have to learn how to raid all over again. You only have to compare the original Ragnaros, his abilities, and the amount of phases (one) in that fight to his updated, 5 phase, multiple ability incarnation in Firelands. So perhaps Vanilla raiding wasn’t so much about a greater level of player skill than about the organisational ability to herd 40 people of the right combination of classes, in the right direction, (which admittedly must have been an extremely wearisome task).

However, there are things that some old schoolers say that I agree with. I don’t dispute the epic moments they describe when talking of when people saw certain bosses for the first time. There were some colossal lore figures as bosses in Vanilla and TBC. I don’t disagree when such players suggest it should be more of a challenge for people to get access to raiding, if only by finishing one tier before starting another. I get what they mean entirely when they recall how the availability of a new raid in TBC spurred people on to finish Black Temple, because that was the only way they’d get into the new raid. They went for that little extra push, and I imagine it was a great buzz for them to down Illidan when only a week or so before they might have struggled with him. Incentive is a great motivator. As far as I can see, Blizzard is attempting to bring that back in Mists somewhat, which is a good thing.

I don’t disagree that players should strive hard to get through the raids, rather than find them too easy. What I don’t think is right is when the difficulty is tuned so high only the hardcore elite can complete it while it’s current. At one time in WoW’s history it was the norm that even the best raiding guilds would bang their collective heads against a boss for months on end before beating it. Only extremely dedicated guilds can survive that kind of slog. Most will founder on the rocks of demoralised boredom and burnout if raids are tuned too high. Somewhere, there is an acceptable middle ground, and that’s what I think Blizzard is striving to find – perhaps through trial and error, but striving all the same. Heroic modes are supposed to be for the hardcores who want raiding as hard as it can possibly get.

When some dissenting players can give ‘evidence’ of raiding becoming easier, in that bosses are downed too quickly in an expansion’s life for their taste, they neglect to think of one very important factor: the player base as a whole has become more savvy at raiding since Vanilla and TBC. More players are doing it, having started with Kara and working through everything thereafter. This, I believe, is partly responsible for them eating through content more quickly. They have simply become better players. LFR might still be plagued by stumbling numpties, sociopaths and fools, but I’m talking about the mass of mid-range guilds like ours, and the level of skill we have, and which we have built upon, who aim to complete normal modes of raids while they’re current, and perhaps venture into heroics thereafter if they want, or feel ready for, a greater difficulty. These guilds make up a large amount of the player base, and I imagine that most of them welcome a challenge and don’t want to faceroll the content. But neither do they want raids that are guild breakers.

There are arguments for and against the introduction of LFR, which has opened up raiding to all, (of a sort), and the discussion of which merits a topic of its own. But if anything has removed the mystique from raiding, this is it. However, that aside, you can see the development of the game from different perspectives, and there are arguments, just as compelling as those voiced by the hardcores, illustrating why WoW raiding is far better now than it was. It is all down to perception really; there is no ultimate truth, only viewpoint.

I’ve noticed a lot of discussion recently about attunements in WoW. For the uninitiated who have come to the game since attunements disappeared, these were often lengthy quest chains that had to be undertaken before a person could access certain raids in the game.

Some players mourn their loss, simply because they enjoyed doing the chains, while others are relieved they’ve gone, seeing them as a needless gate to content that often caused guilds a great deal of inconvenience. I can remember when we first started raiding in our guild, in the days of TBC and Karazhan. To us, it was a lot of fun doing the quest chain to get ingress to the raid, simply because the majority of us had never raided before, or undertaken the notoriously hair-tearing attunements (sometimes costly too) that had accompanied some of the Classic raids. However, there did come a point when we had new raiders coming to join our team who had not done the Karazhan attunement. That meant the guild had to take them through the whole chain, which for Karazhan admittedly wasn’t that onerous. For other raids in TBC, namely the larger 25 mans, attunements were far more time-consuming and fiddly. For guilds working on Black Temple or such like having to attune new members all the time was often a headache. Blizzard took note of this, so attunements bit the dust. With Wrath, they were gone.

I’m in two minds about the whole thing. One of the problems we’ve encountered as a guild is that when new tier content is released, certain of our core raiders are eager to get into it immediately, even if the previous tier is incomplete. It’s come down to situations such as, ‘well, if we’re only doing tier 11, then I’m/we’re not coming’, which effectively means a run has to be cancelled, unless the team comply with what that person/people would prefer to do. I believe we went into Firelands before we were really adequately geared for it, and spent needless weeks wiping on just about everything beyond Shannox, when if that time had been spent in T11 getting a few more bits of gear, it would have helped make things slightly easier for us. When you think about it, each member of a team lacking in a couple or more gear slots on their character sort of equals one entire undergeared player. But some of the team didn’t see it that way. This occurred in Wrath too; it felt like we were forced out of Ulduar far too early, because if we didn’t progress on to TotC then some core raiders simply wouldn’t want to join in.  But we are a guild of friends who have played together, in some cases, for many years. It’s not just a case of ‘do as the raid leader says or get out’. That would cause more drama than it solves, and most people are happy to go along with things to keep the team on an even keel. I appreciate that some players like a continuing challenge, but others enjoy finishing the meta achievements, claiming titles from certain boss kills or even just having the satisfaction of finishing a raid while it’s current. In Wrath, we found that older content had a door slammed on it until we far overpowered the encounters an expansion later, and could take fewer people to complete it, or people with less experience to plug the gaps. The same will go for the Cata raids in T11 and T12. While the raids themselves are finished, in that we killed the final bosses, some would like to continue in them for the mounts from the metas, random mount drops, or to finish legendaries, and so on. But some guildies just won’t set foot in that content again, and Cata raids still remain challenging enough on heroic (for the meta achievements) that we will need a decent team for them for the time being. So we’ll have to wait until we all hit level 90 in Mists, and old content such as T11 and T12 can be Friday night ‘fun’ activities that the dedicated few can attend.

So to me, some kind of attunement, even if that’s only finish one tier before you can get into the next would be a positive thing for guilds like ours (and I know we’re far from alone). 10 man raid guilds often have a very tight roster, which makes things more difficult. But then, I can also appreciate that if, for example, a guild is on the third tier of an expansion, and a new raider is recruited who’s been on a long break from the game, so has not done all or part of the previous two tiers, it could be a pain and a half taking them through everything so the team can continue at the point they’re at, as it were, and it could invoke drama from the impatient types who can’t wait for anything. But there could be ways round it. Perhaps once a guild has gained the achievement for completing a raid, it becomes ‘ungated’ so the guild can progress to the next tier, even if not all their current raiders had completed the previous tiers. And also completing a tier could be account wide for players rather than per character, which would help if people changed ‘mains’. Possible solutions anyway.