Friday, 3 July 2009

Weekend Riddles

Question: When is a Nerf not a Nerf?

Answer: When it's a buff.

Tamarind wrote a while ago about about an attempt to 3-man Blood Furnace with three squishy DPSers which ultimately failed because the guy playing the mage kept bitching about how it had been "nerfed".

Except of course it hadn't. It's just that the game was now balanced for Ulduar, which meant that all of us had access to powers that were well beyond anything characters of our level would have had back in the BC days.

It is a peculiar ... well ... peculiarity of the WoW-playing mindset that so few people actually notice this. Whenever a boss gets its damage cut or its health decreased, people cry from the rooftops that the game is being nerfed for the casuals. Whenever a class gets its mitigation buffed or its DPS improved, people cheer and say that it's about damned time (or complain that their own class needs buffing *as well*). Very few people seem to notice that these changes amount to the exact same thing.

I've been thinking recently about the "difficulty" of Northrend instances. A lot of people say that Wrath Heroics are too easy. I don't think that's actually the problem. I think the problem is that Wrath player characters are too powerful.

As about ten bajillion other people have said before me, Northrend instances all boil down to AoE, rinse, repeat. This isn't a problem in and of itself, but it's not like you're using AoE because it's the *only* way to deal with a situation (like you have a dozen mobs attacking you and you need to burn them all down right the fuck now or you're dead) you're using AoE because it gets you through pulls very slightly faster and makes your DPS numbers very slightly bigger.

Basically you're using a sledgehammer to crack a nut, but the problem is that once you've given somebody a sledgehammer, you can never make them use a nutcracker again. Once the DPS has access to powerful, reliable AoE attacks, and once tanks have access to powerful, reliable AoE threat, and once healers have access to powerful, reliable AoE heals, there is absolutely no reason to take trash pulls seriously, because "spam AoE" is not only the *easiest* strategy it's also the *best* strategy.

Just making the instances "harder" - in the sense of increasing the health and damage of the mobs - won't fix the problem. Northrend instances are already "hard" - at least in the sense that the mobs in them have loads of health and do lots of damage. The problem is that they're hard in a completely uninteresting way.

Take, for example, Skarvald and Dalronn in Utgarde Keep. Skarvald has a random charge that hits for about 8K on cloth, Dalronn has effectively no aggro table, instead firing Shadow Bolts at random members of the party. What this basically means is that your party is taking a bunch of random damage that you can't do anything about and either you're high enough level and sufficiently well geared to heal through it, or you aren't. Apart from the most basic strategic decisions (kill the wizard first) there's nothing else to the fight. The tank does his best to get the two untankable bosses standing in one place, and you shower them with your AoE spam until they die, doing your best to make sure the caster cops it first. There's nothing to pay attention to, nothing to interrupt, you can just either heal through it or you can't, you can kill them quickly enough or you can't. There's nothing you can do better, there's nothing you can do differently, you just spam your attacks until the bastards drop.

Whether what you're cracking a nut or smashing down a wall, you're still just swinging a hammer.

The problem is that high-level WoW characters have access to too many blunt instruments. Crowd Control is only necessary if you don't have the ability to kill five mobs as quickly as one. Kill orders are only necessary if you're limited to targeting one enemy at a time, and if the enemies have usefully different abilities that can actually make a difference in a fight. You don't have to sheep the healers if you can kill everything before they can get a spell off. You don't have to move out of fire if there's so much AoE healing coming in that your health isn't going below 90% anyway. You don't have to worry about aggro if everything is just getting nuked.

Making dungeons "harder" isn't the answer, there have to be limits on what the player characters can do. Otherwise they'll just go away, level or gear up a bit and then AoE everything into the ground like before.


  1. Skarvald and Dalron still require tanking. The fact that the intercept and Shadowbolt are off the aggro table is to keep the fight from being a complete tank and spank. There's still an element of tank damage. If you don't believe me, let Skarvald aggro onto a mage and see how long the mage lasts. It's an introductory level dungeon. It's not supposed to tax the average group. On heroic it becomes a more complicated fight that eliminates the minimum range on Skarvald's intercept, and has Dalron summon adds that the DPS needs to control.

    There are limits on what the player can do, but there is also a hierarchy of content. Utgarde Keep is at the bottom of that hierarchy in Northrend. If Utgarde Keep seems like a joke, then perhaps you should consider stepping up to Azjol Nerub or Old Kingdom, or if you're really feeling confident, I assure you that Utgarde Pinnicle and Halls of Lightning will prove themselves to be more of a challenge.

    However, the hierarchy has another step. You gear for heroics by completing rep grinds and normal instances. The gear that drops in heroics is designed to prepare you for raiding. If you've been farming heroics for moths on end, and have a best in non raid slot set, then heroics are going to be trivial, because the gear you get in the Heroics is designed to get you into Naxx 25. Walk into a mid to high levl heroic with a group of fresh to 80 players, and I promise you you'll find a challenge.

  2. I think you misunderstood what I was saying.

    I didn't say UK was a joke - Tam and I have wiped there more times than I care to count. The problem is that whether you survive UK has very little to do with how you actually approach the fight. It's basically a gear check, and so are most of the other fights in the game.

    And for what it's worth I *have* run UP, and I wouldn't say it was challenging at all. It's frequently *difficult* but that isn't the same thing.

    I'm not complaining that Northrend instances are too *easy*. I'm complaining that Northrend instances are too *gear dependent*. That they do little to test your skill, and a lot to test your stats.

  3. Good post Temitope. The idea that its the content thats unbalanced, rather then the classes is a common one - and rarely seen in relation to eachother. Well spotted!

    As for the heroics in WOTLK. I think they were incredibly well designed when I first started doing them. They had distinct looks, bosses had unique abilities and the loot was excellent. Spending my christmas holiday together with friends doing 7-8 heroics pr day for a week (and suddenly beeing geared for raiding), was some of the most enjoyable time I have had in WOTLK.
    It saddened me to find that as soon as I got gear from raidinstances, the heroics got less fun. Loken used to be a challenge where we tried lots of different strategies before we got him down. And downing him after 5-6 wipes were so much more satisfying then AFK- AoEhealing him to the ground.

    When entering heroics at the right gear level, we still didnt have to use massive amounts of CC, but we had to interrupt heals, offtank some mobs, try with multiple healers etc. Entering heroics in mostly questgreens meant that we had to deal with boss and trash abilities that is hardly noticable when entering in raidgear. They did test our skills, until we suddenly could AFK mode them. Which is quite sad, cause the heroics actually had many enjoyable fights.

  4. I think you hit on a good point about players being stronger vs. instances being weaker but coming from a background of BC heroics, the Northrend ones really are quite underwhelming.

    Off the top of my head I can think of only one or two really dangerous mobs in Northrend heroics: the spell flingers in Ahn'kahet and the runeshapers in HoL.

    Shattered Halls on the other hand was a nightmare from its release until around 2.4 and even then it could challenge you.

    The original Magister's Terrace is of course the best example here. The mage's stacking haste buff made him a machine gun, the warlock's immolate was just horrendous and glaive throw made me froth at the mouth with how fast it took people out. Even when the damage on a lot of these abilities was lowered the place was still difficult.

    The Northrend heroics were designed to be first-tier, pre-raid instances and if you've got any gear above that level you end up roflstomping them and that was a serious mistake on Blizzard's part.

  5. I missed out on BC, so my only experience of those instances is two-manning them in the mid-70s (they're *still* more interesting than Northrend instances by a long way) so I can't really compare like with like.

    I do think that the lack of individually dangerous mobs is a big part of the problem, when we ran Sethekk halls, we kept having to shackle the Time Lost Controllers because otherwise they'd Mind Control me and I'd flatten Tam before he could do anything. It's rather damning to note that with a few exceptions (the runeshapers being one) I don't even remember what half the mobs in Northrend instances *do* (I ... umm ... think most of them do damage? Some of them cast spells?)

    The problems here are, I think, twofold. Firstly, Blizzard has decided that Trash Pulls Are Boring and has basically designed them out of the game. Trash pulls in Northrend really are *trash*. They're poorly thought out packs of guys who are just there to make your progress through the instance slightly slower.

    I do still think that AoE is the other big problem. Since the most effective way to deal with virtually any trash pull in Northrend is to AoE it down, there's no point in having an individual mob with a special ability, because it'll die in fire twelve seconds into the pull.

  6. Any fight can eventually be overcome by outgearing it. My guild did an AQ40 run for the achievement and mounts. We reduced twin emperors, one of the most coordination intensive fights of the vanilla wow era, to Patchwerk. We solo tanked the them together in the middle of the room, and burned them to the ground despite the healing. That would be 100% impossible if we were still rocking tier 2 at level 60. But we reduced it to a gear check.

    It's much easier to outgear beginning heroics than it is to outgear a raid. If you find yourself attempting to AOE all the trash down, and are wiping, then you don't outgear it sufficiently to practice the AOE spam method of trash clearing. Coordinated use of CC will allow you to progress beyond what AOE spam will get you. AOE spam might be faster, but it's also still significantly more dangerous.

    And this applys to both bosses and trash. Take ingvar the pluderer, final boss of UK. The most time effective method of downing him is a straight tank and spank. The tank eats the smashes and dark smashes in order to give the DPS a stationary target to maximize DPS time. It's really a great method if you've got a healer who can heal through it and a tank who can survive it. If not, then your tank will need to run out, ingvar will move, and the group's DPS will suffer. On the first boss, Prince Kelseth, you can simply AOE zerg the adds on top of kelseth if your DPS is high enough, if not, and undergeared group could use a plate DPS class to off tank them temporarily and shift fire, or use paladin and priest undead specific CC to control them. Those are options for groups that lack the gear to overrun the encounter.

    Things were just as simple in BC. Kara geare groups would tear through heroics in the exact same manner as you do in Wrath. Murmur was not any harder than Loken.