Friday, September 3, 2010

(Un)forced raid progression

...or "Why Kara was awesome, Naxx was awesomer, and the pros/cons of Emblem gear."

Wrath has been a very interesting raid cycle for my guild. A vastly different experience from BC, to be sure.

As I've stated before, anyone in the guild is welcome to come along on our Fri/Sat 25-man runs. This has been our policy all the way through Wrath. Our 10-man runs during the week tend to be a little more selective.

As far as 25-man raids go, we were able to clear Naxx before Ulduar opened up, with just one extra weekend to spare for an attempt at Malygos (which was unsuccessful). We never got an Ulduar 25 team past Auriaya (though to be fair, we had a lot of attendance issues through that time and barely fielded any 25-man teams at all). We did clear ToC 25, but not until well after ICC was open (March). And in ICC we've been able to kill Rotface, Festergut, and the Princes, but it's a toss-up from week to week whether or not we'll be able to kill any or all of them. Halion is also still laughing at us.

A large part of this is due to a number of the people on our 25-man teams simply being inexperienced raiders. The situational awareness and speed of execution simply isn't there.

Rewinding back to BC, there was a solid progression. You did Kara before moving on to Gruul's Lair. Then you did Magtheridon. If you got past all those, you moved into SSC and TK. Beyond them was Hyjal. Then BT. If you were really good, you got to go to Sunwell.

That was it. Straight through. If you were a guild that was working on SSC and TK and had new members that wanted to raid they had to go through the T4 content first in order to gear up. (And I'm not even going to mention running those BC Heroics in order to get raid-geared.)

With our guild, it was a tireless battle of gearing people up through Kara to help us with Gruul and Mag, losing members, and starting the cycle over. We got finally got Mag a week before the 3.0 super-nerf hit (so a number of us earned our "Champion of the Naaru title).

Had we been able to bring people up faster when letting them into our raid groups, we might have gotten further. Maybe not. I don't know.

But there was one great thing about Kara. It taught people how to raid. All the basics were covered in Kara. Positioning, moving out of bad stuff, tank stacking, tank swapping, healing constant streams of damage, healing spikes, crowd control.

It was hard enough that it made a properly-geared, inexperienced group really focus on learning these skills. Otherwise they just wouldn't get far. It was also easy enough that an over-geared, experienced group could carry someone through enough that they still had to learn and perform, but weren't severely punished for their mistakes.

If you could routinely clear Kara, you had a group of 10 people that you knew were able to learn, adapt, and play smart. They had the skills to be a regular raider.

Fast forward now to the beginning of Wrath. Exit Kara, enter Naxx.

Naxx served pretty much the same purpose as Kara. It was the intro raid. The one that would teach new players all the skills they needed to be successful raiders far into the expansion.

Naxx was a little more forgiving than Kara. And that was okay. The idea of Naxx was to give even more people access to raid content, so the difficulty was toned down a little.

The other thing Naxx had over Kara was a non-linear progression.

In Kara there was a definite path: Attumen, Moroes, Maiden, Opera, Nightbane, Curator, Illhoof, Shade, Netherspite, Chess, Prince. I'm over-simplifying and leaving out the finer details. But that was the basic path.

Naxx gave us something different. Four wings, each with 3 (or 4) boss encounters. And while it was true that you had to do all four wings to reach the final two bosses (Sapph and KT), you could tailor the order based on your raid. Military and Construct were definitely harder than Spider and Plague. So if you were working on progression and knew the first two wings were a breeze, you could skip right to the latter two and try to conquer them first.

It was a small degree of customization and allowed raid leaders to try and strike a balance between time and kills.

But, ultimately, we ended up in the same place as we did after Kara. A team that could regularly and reliably clear Naxx had the skills they needed to be successful raiders through Wrath.

But Wrath changed the game. All of a sudden with every new content tier that came out, we could use Heroics (which were easy mode by the time you were in Naxx gear, if not before) to gear ourselves right up to current content and jump in. Then enter LFD and, oh man. If you have the playtime, you can have have a fresh 80 ready to jump into ICC in 3 days. Maybe less.

In some ways this is great. It means a guild (like mine) with loose requirements and a regularly rotating raid group can stay on current content with relatively few issues. If we're working on ICC, we don't have to haul somebody through all 3 previous tiers of content to catch them up. And while doing that with one person maybe wouldn't be that much of an issue, doing it with 8 or 10 newcomers (which has happened before) would be excruciating and time consuming.

But then you get into the situation my guild is in now. You have these raiders who are running wild through ICC and RS and they haven't developed those key skills that a place like Kara or Naxx would have given them. And ICC and RS are very unforgiving to an entire raid group that has even a small number of people without those skills.

I'm not sure what the solution to this may be. I honestly don't even know what to propose as a solution. The easy answer is "something in between," but what is that, exactly? And how would it be implemented? I won't lie...I don't have any good ideas. I am going to be interested to see how raid tiers are handled in Cata.

I'm hoping that the early Cata raids function similarly to Kara and Naxx. I get the feeling that they're going to be like Kara on an individual level, but the fact that there's three of them is going to give us that Naxx style flexibility. It's also going to allow us to run different teams through different raids without worrying as much about lockouts. I'm excited for the possibilities.

Our guild numbers are very strong right now. If we can somehow find a way to keep the numbers strong through the early parts of Cataclysm, I think we'll be in good shape and none of this will even be an issue. Or at least as much of one.

If not...who knows. We'll cross that bridge when we come to it.
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