Blizzard is implementing a new instance, we are all feeling rather run down with the rather 'casual' friendly nature of said instance (ok, I will admit my guild still doesn't get the safety dance, and someone always crosses the beams :) ). Ulduar 10 and 25 both have a hard mode, where fights are more complex / damaging (think Sarth +3D) however what does this really mean.
Ok, they can hit the tank harder (proven ineffective unless its a 2 shot... which just results in massive CD rotations), they can enforce a DPS requirement (to stop us stacking healers with those CD rotations), they can force multiple adds (tanks), new targets (tanks), speed burning contests (stacking debuff...). Ok, frankly its all rather dull. Their mechanic of making hard mode in general a 'Daft Punk' mode (Harder, Faster, Stronger) is not really fun, if anything its anti-fun. Every fight can end up like Patchwerk, or like Saph on steroids however it doesn't really test people individually. The benefit of many old instances (and yes I am thinking ZA, Kara in certain points, Leotheras, Teron) was that they tested individuals not just the raid.
Hard modes should not just be 'Daft Punk' mode, there should not be a simple "hit tank twice as hard, up dps requirement to 5k / dps or wipe", instant kill mechanics are equally boring "can x press y or does z die". Instead what I want to see are fights that test us. Imagine for a moment Zul'aman, the Eagle Boss. Sitting in front of you is a boss, your tank and melee are spread 10 yards apart to avoid lightning chains, the ranged further out to minimise damage, the raid starts, and the storm approaches. Suddenly you all pretend to be at a Scottish Wedding and Old Lang Syne starts playing and you rush towards the boss ... one of your misses, getting caught in the outer ring, instead of dying though you rise into the air, your healers now must keep you alive because if you die a lightning point spawns causing a second lightning storm to spawn on a separate timer.
Lets beat around the bush and push it further,in a 10 man instance you are fundamentally restricted to something akin to:
So we are fundamentally limited to ~ 8 roles in the group. 25 man is larger, and each error compounds more but the principle is the same. Archimonde, Teron and suchlike weren't hard fights (stand and dps pretty much), what made them hard was that those players you really never let click cubes on Magtheridon... suddenly had their own personal cube, and if it wasn't clicked they beat up the raid. Hard mode shouldn't be about finding 10 people overgearing an instance, that is simply not fun, it should be more akin to the Oculus, no matter how much you overgear it you cannot gimp the last boss its a matter of skill and knowledge over brute force. Lets have hard modes not test our raw gear stats, normal does enough of that if we want it to, but make the hard mode sufficiently interesting to make them skill fests, no longer do you worry that 10 man hard mode rewards the same as 25 man hard mode simply because it takes the same amount of skill per player to achieve the result, perhaps not perfection, but at least undying.
A lot of bloggers, in addition to the hordes of players and raiders have noticed that the content in the Lich King expansion has to date, been of a lower quality than that of TBC. This might in a large part be due to the changes we have seen in the community, people who once stumbled in Karazhan when they pulled two packs now take such in their stride. The other possibility is that simply the content is not sufficient, which given the size of Naxxramas (13 bosses), coupled with the three single instance bosses, makes it larger than TBC was.
What we can see instead is that the instances do not match up well, while Sartharion may involve a similar time to clear his trash and mini-bosses as Magtheridon’s four wandering packs did, the difficulty and approach is different. The trash leading to Magtheridon required tactics, there was no sheep, no crowd control, simple a case of slowing casting, interrupts, taunts (they dropped aggro), maintaining shield block and holy shield (only trash in the game which crushed). The trash was ultimately simple, but the raw damage possible on a raid was immense, and pulling two packs in a non-badge geared raid was likely a wipe. Following on from it we had Magtheridon himself, 5 cubes, 5 casters, 10 infernals, 2 minutes and then a big demon intent on wiping your raid and bringing the ceiling down on you. Sartharion doesn’t have that, his normal form is simply a tank, spank, and loot condition. What is more interesting are the drakes.
Adding a single drake adds little to the fight, it requires an additional tank (potentially a third for the adds), and does little to change the fight. Two is harder, suddenly there is a time limit on the first drake (well not really, but for the sake of argument we will assume your tank cannot tank 2 drakes at once, and your add tank dies after 5 waves of adds). The fight remains largely the same, all the tanks take more damage and there are void zones (I believe they have a funky name, but for the purposes of vent, don’t stand in the void zone is what I shall yell). A little situational awareness (and please Blizzard, blue portals, on a blue dragon, with blue whelps, in blue/white/red/grey/yellow aoe … make them red or green or something) and its no problem. Essentially the DPS requirement for 0 – 1 – 2 drakes is no different, it is simply a case of continuing to do what you have done (for arguments sake, 2 drakes taking Tenebron and Vesperon requires about 2k DPS for 15 DPS for a kill in a reasonable 90s +- 15s). The problem comes with three drakes.
Three drakes is not simply an extension of the fight, it is tactically no more challenging than a single drake or two, the adds still spawn, dragons still breathe and tailswipe and disciples still appear to make life a misery. What changes is the overlap. While previously we could arrange 90s of DPS per drake, we now have 45s (40 realistically accounting for the tank getting aggro) per drake for a perfect kill (or ~ 4000 DPS, rising to 4500 easily). This in itself isn’t a problem, a guild without the raw DPS (our best attempt was Shadron at 18% when Vesperon landed … and 13 DPS spontaneously combusted on Twilight Torment), could simply maintain a very strong healing, tanking and control presence and defeat the boss (2 drakes up, we have completed 50% of Vesperon and Sartharion with 11 people standing, 5 healers, 3 tanks, 3 dps). This doesn’t realistically work however,the presence of two active drakes (+275% fire damage effectively) means the Sartharion tank is pushed, and external CDs must be thrown on them (which we don’t have, since our healing core is often Shamans and Druids). The fight doesn’t change, the requirements do massively.
Dropping Sartharion + 3 drakes into Black Temple wouldn’t have seemed out of place, massive raid damage (check Blood Boil, Mother etc), control aspects (Blood Boil, Naj’entus), vast phase differences (Illidan), and multi-tank control (Council). The difference lies in the fact that the tanks have no control over their own life, Paladins, Warriors and Druids cannot survive a Vesperon + Shadron phase with 2 disciples up. By forcing the raid to support the tanks they force people to play a role they do not normally play, and add a whole new level of situational awareness that cannot be represented by sticking a skull on the affected target’s head. This isn’t a bad thing, in fact its probably good, but as the only real challenging fight in the game it sends a bad signal. What it says is that Blizzard cannot tune fights, let alone tune them to have multiple victory conditions.
I have been rerunning Black Temple recently, every fight barring the Illidari Council is tank, spank, and loot, Naj’entus, a control fight, can now be achieved by dpsing around the bubble, in short we can remove the control elements of the fight through raw dps. This isn’t an option on Sartharion, a five tank, three drakes still standing with 8 healers and semi-competent dps approach simply will not work, the time spent killing disciples would be overwhelming, the aoe spared on the adds would make an enraging Shade of Aran (15 minutes) seem short. There is no realistic control aspect to this fight, tanks get bored the second time they do it, the Sartharion tank stands and avoids firewalls (just like 0 drakes), the drake tank picks up drakes (just like the drakes themselves), and the add tank, sensibly demands the healers group together in the middle when a portal spawns, and grabs the adds effortlessly (if your healers spread out, this job makes solo tanking High King Maulgar look easy). The healing aspect is no different either, there is no massive damage spike to heal, there is no interesting damage pattern (see Bloodboil for group damage options, or Leotheras for positional damage and interest). The dps has a moderately interesting time in that twilight torment makes them pay attention to their health, which since WoTLK has not been their problem (Illidari council, your health was your problem, and it still is since each AoE ticks for about 3000 damage). Instead, the fight can largely be put down to two things:
High DPS – Perfect kill of 45s per drake, means 1 disciple up at each time
Massed Cooldowns – Negates the magic killer breaths
That is the only tuning knob Blizzard has shown us so far, “XXX casts ‘Magic breath of doom’, take more damage than you have health”. It is not a fun knob, Illidari council showed us huge amounts of magic damage (mage tank, aoe, poison, immunity) while ensuring it was spread and that a tanks role was not to stand there and pray someone hits a cooldown in time. We learned from Mother that you can make huge magic damage interesting (three people get teleported, while they are near each other everyone nearby takes massive damage), and we learned from Magtheridon that massive magic damage doesn’t need to be survivable, but it shouldn’t be class specific to save you from it. Instead of tuning the fight to make it interesting we got a fight which focuses you on raw dps, or raw cooldown usage. Sartharion and the drakes are protecting the eggs that they would hatch. A Magtheridon style (assault the eggs to force Sartharion to break off) gimmick would have been interesting and more suitable for multiple raid makeups, similarly adding an aspect like Mother’s cleave, Kil’Jaden’s orbs, or even Kael’thas’s shields and weapons would have been interesting.
Perhaps, once I kill this guy it might be a more interesting fight, to look on the M&S and go “well we killed him”, but that doesn’t really appeal to me, frankly my guild should have killed him by now, we can sit around a 50-58s drake kill without heroism, yet we bounce off and the level of other content has made attendance suck. The problem is that for the tanks, we simply cannot survive on our own (and yes we have rigged a bear tank, and we have a DK who can do the tri-spec and rotated CDs well, you still need to be careful), for the majority of our healers (and often we will support 1-2 Paladins / Priests in a raid) we are looking at few cooldowns to use on the killer breaths, meaning we can have our druids and shamans sitting there looking on, knowing the tank is going to die, and cannot do anything. This fight moved towards a game that isn’t World of Warcraft, where healers take an interactive role in tank survival, alas the World of Warcraft classes aren’t setup to play that game, and from the perspective of a tank used to having to pull out the stops to survive, or relying on massive overhealing (Patchwerk, 20 man, other tanks dead was interesting) it is a step in the wrong direction, because it means all I do is meaningless, I am not tanking the boss but rather dying slowly enough, it is a magic bullet game when we thought we were playing roles.
Blizzard needs to balance content around the classes as they are, and by that I don’t mean mages, locks and boomkin but tanks, healers, dps, and support. A fight of course can be managed easily if you rig your raid, or if you manage a great exploit such as voidwalker tanking, however the simple fact is that a fight can and should be doable in many ways (especially a hard mode version designed to test players), that may mean exceptional control (Council fights), it may be over healing (Patchwerk with 1 tank, Gruul), it may mean working as a team (Al’ar), or simply it may mean throwing all you have at a fight and not losing, but forcing a specific setup at a raid isn’t something we can all do, and if you don’t let us approach it in ways we can, then we can’t consider it hard or interesting but rather “Blizzard has a new toy”.