Last night’s Hodir kill: 3 minutes, 5 seconds. Literally seconds away from success, realizing failure too late to catch the wipe before the kill occurred. It was borderline devastating, and it was some of the best performances I’ve seen from some of my guildmates. They really dug in and gave it all they had to give. But we still fell short.
As we moved on to Vezax, I couldn’t help but ponder the question: Are hard modes “fun”?
Before I get started with my thoughts, I just want to state the following: yes, I know that hard modes are supposed to be “hard”. Yes, I know that they are supposed to be the cherry on top challenges for guilds that have cleared Ulduar and are looking for additional challenges.
But, at what point does “challenging” have to cross the line to “not fun”? And why does that need to be the case at all?
Tomorrow is the three month mark of the release of Ulduar. Let’s take a look at how the world (53,250 ranked guilds) is faring with hard modes to date (numbers courtesy of WoW Progress):
- Flame Leviathan (Obituary) – 2663 guilds, 5.00%
- XT – 2515 guilds, 4.72%
- Iron Council – 773 guilds, 1.45%
- Hodir: 1872 guilds, 3.52%
- Thorim: 1184 guilds, 2.22%
- Freya: 155 guilds, .29%
- Mimiron: 157 guilds, .29%
- Vezax: 333 guilds, .63%
- Yogg 3 Keepers: 681 guilds, 1.28%
Now, Blizzard has nerfed both XT and Flame Leviathan’s hard mode versions of the encounters, and both of these encounters are at the highest percentages of guilds seeing success with them. However, once you are past the two nerfed bosses in the siege, you will see that the success rate starts to drop fairly quickly. And once you are past the first two “easy” keepers, the success rate drops even more drastically.
I wonder how many guilds find these encounters “fun”. I wonder if we asked that guild that has been wiping for 6 weeks on Freya and Mimiron if the fights are “fun”, what their responses would be. I have a friend in an extremely top end, world ranked, raiding guild and when I asked him about some of these encounters his response was that the fights were “retarded”. Not “challenging, yet fun”, but just horrible encounters with poor mechanics. This is from a guy who is in a guild that welcomes difficult content like kids chasing after the ice cream man on a hot summer day. So…if they aren’t “fun” for the creme de la creme…the guilds that these encounters were “designed for”, exactly who are they fun for?
Now, we have spent most of our hard mode efforts on Hodir. Three raid resets, about 60 wipes, roughly 10-12 hours. Balls out burst damage is not one of our fortes, and we may have selected the wrong hardmode to start with, as Hodir seems to favor our weaknesses more than our strengths as a guild. But dammit, we should be able to do this! And we have been so close for two weeks in a row now, I just want to get it over with and move on to something else.
We spent one night on XT last raid reset, after the nerf, and saw him at 11% before we were out of time and had to just knock him down normally to make sure we had time for Hodir later in the week. Holiday raiding this week prevented us from giving it some effort this reset. We do intend to go in this coming week and focus on him to get a kill done. We have spent zero time on Obituary, but intend to focus that the reset after XT is done. We were in the top 4ish% of guilds to kill Yogg, so I suppose that progress wise we are still ahead of the game as far as Hodir goes, and slightly behind on XT and Flame Leviathan, in large part just because we haven’t put the effort in on them. Hopefully we will remedy some of that on Wednesday.
However…as we work these hard modes, I really am not certain that we are having “fun”. I find myself far more frustrated at the encounters than I ever was during TBC, save Sunwell. I certainly think that we are capable of them (well, I’m not so sure about Freya/Mimiron, however, most guilds aren’t finding successes there), but how much do you ask from your raid before you start to collapse people? We already have people getting snappy and bitter over Hodir, and I don’t like that at all.
Here are my biggest griefs with some of the “hard mode” encounters and their designs:
- Hard Mode = Bring Less Healing. I really hate that Blizzard’s idea of making an encounter more challenging is to raise the DPS bar so high that you are required to significantly reduce the number of healers you are using. For Hodir, we are down to THREE healers. We bring 5, and have two of them off-spec for the fight. But seriously? THREE healers? Even the guilds that can put out better damage than we can are bringing only four. There have GOT to be better ways to have DPS checks and healing checks than to cut more than half your healers for an encounter. Hodir isn’t the only encounter we see this, XT also is a lower healer fight, we have been using five. I have also heard, but not experienced that Iron Council also requires you to reduce the amount of healers that you have for success. Is asking half of your healing team to sit every week for a good portion of the raid fun? In my opinion, no.
- Hard Mode = Bring More DPS – This kind of goes hand in hand with the mechanic above. It’s not “bring stronger DPS” it’s flat out bring MORE DPS. Fights with 1 tank 3 healers and 21 DPS are frustrating…sure, maybe our DPS could, and should, be stronger. But at the point you have stacked your raid to the gills with DPS, what more can you ask of people? We have some of our lower DPS for Hodir OFFER to sit out for someone that can do more. As an example, Hodir favors casters. They can do more damage with the buffs given than the melee, just by the nature and mechanics of the buffs. So now, not only does Blizzard want you to stack DPS, it gets easier the more magic based DPS you bring. Hey Blizzard! What happened to bring the player not the class? Oh…I guess you only meant that for non-hard modes, huh? So guilds that run 10 physical DPS and 10 caster DPS are going to have a more difficult time of this? Great. Do I find this fun? No, not really.
- Hard Mode = Relying on Good RNG- Regardless of people who say fights like Hodir aren’t “RNG” based, to an extent these encounters really are. Hell, we had a pull last night where our first storm power buff came 45 seconds into the encounter. So, you are supposed to do the fight where you are missing a significant buff needed for success and where you have zero control on how it hits for 1/3 of the encounter? Yea…no. While I certainly will take some of the blame for low DPS, not all of our failure is our fault. If you have poor RNG on Hodir, you might as well wipe and start it over. I really, really don’t want to blame RNG for some of our failures, but sometimes that really is the truth, the RNG failed us. Each pull, we do a little rain dance around the fire and sacrifice a virgin to the RNG gods in the hope that the stars will all align right and a miracle will occur! Do I find relying on something completely random for success fun? No.
- Hard Mode = Bring More Healing!- So…less healing for Hodir, IC and XT, more healing for Freya and Mimiron?! Hell, even more healing for Thorim, where you are looking at 7 healers if you want to attempt the fight without frost resist gear. Now, we haven’t attempted Hard Mode Mimiron in either our 10 or our 25, but from what I understand of the encounter the more Holy Priests you have the easier the fight gets. Perhaps this has changed with the recent nerfs that hit him…but you will see lots of screen shots of a dead Mimiron where you will count 4+ priests in the raid. Do I find relying on certain classes for the success of an encounter fun? No, I don’t. Do I like having to ask half of my healers to sit for one encounter and then have to ask DPS in the raid to sit for healers for another? No, this kind of raid juggling is not fun. “But what about Dual Specs”?! Sure, we have some of our healers Dual Spec’d…but they don’t have the same gear or experience as our full time DPS, and that will limit their damage as well.
- Hard Mode = Crazy Raid Damage- This one goes hand in hand with the topic above. Most of the hard modes have huge amounts of raid damage that is going around, in addition to any of the other mechanics of the encounter. This mechanic is fine…as long as the damage is reasonable, and the fight allows you the leeway to bring a requisite number of healers to deal with the damage. We have done OK with Hodir so far with just a paladin, priest and druid…but if anyone takes incidental damage during a frozen blows or right before, it’s very risky (Bad Warlock life tapping before frozen blows! No Biscuit!). However…I have read that people are having their raids stack Stamina for 3 elder Freya, just to survive. At that point, I think the damage is probably a bit much (and apparently Blizzard agreed, as they are nerfing her in 3.2). Do I find extensive raid damage fun? Meh…if it’s manageable sure, it’s a challenge. If it’s out of control, no. I do not think making a fight “harder” by just tossing in a shit ton of extra damage to heal “fun”.
- Hard Mode = Soulstoning the Tank!- Again, this is based on my research more than my experience in 25 man raiding, although we have experienced some of this in our 10 man. There are two encounters that I am aware of where guilds are Soulstoning Tanks because they are expecting tanks to be insta-gibbed and need them up again when the next tank dies. Thorim and Iron Council. I do know from my experience with 10 man Thorim that the tanks can just get rocked. I do not think that we have had a hard mode kill yet where both of our tanks were standing. I do not anticipate this to grow any easier in the 25 man version of this encounter. It is my understanding with Steelbreaker that he has a “vaelestraz” type mechanic where he just kills the tank every 30 seconds or so. I suppose having the boss put out ridiculous amounts of damage the longer the fight goes on, or having a finite limit with the tanks for the fight is another way to enter a DPS check into the encounter. I don’t know if this will be “fun” or not, not having much experience with it, I don’t want to give an opinion on it just yet.
I really do like Ulduar as a zone. I found most of the normal modes fights fun and well designed, the graphics beautiful and the zone fairly well tuned on normal. However though, I guess overall I’m not really having “fun” with hard modes. Mostly, they just cause me a lot of stress. I think that the “challenges” that they present could have been done better and had more thought, effort and tuning put into them. There are certainly ways to make an encounter more difficult, while still requiring more strategy and thought from the raid than just bringing fewer healers, tossing out more raid/tank damage and bringing more DPS.
I don’t think that this dislike for the hard modes is because we are struggling with Hodir as much as I think that most of the encounters have aspects that are just poorly done. Blizzard, if you want to give us a challenge, give us something to sink our brains into. Something more creative than DPS faster, heal harder and pray for good RNG.
What do you all think? Are hardmodes fun? Are they a good substitute for more challenging content overall? What changes do you hope to see Blizzard make with hard modes in future content?