I was chatting with one of my guildies this morning while I was unfortunately awake because my asthma was bothering me. (Sidenote: I was sitting in Storm Peaks, while tabbed out and working on my Kick-Ass Raider’s guide when NPCScan went off and scared the bejeezus out of me. I flailed around like a moron and couldn’t find the mob. Thankfully, it was just Vyragosa. Had it been the Time-Lost Proto Drake, I would have lost out by several minutes. I found Vyragosa’s corpse three minutes later, after flying around like a moron. Also, I blame Shawn’s latest post for why I was sitting the Storm Peaks in the first place. And if you’re not reading Shawn’s blog, you ought to be!)

Anyhow, where was I? Right. Chatting with a guildie.

We were talking a bit about the complexity of bosses in Mists of Pandaria and Merk was telling me about how some heroic 25-man fights have required spreadsheets for boss assignments. I’d heard about increasing levels of complexity, but spreadsheets? Yikes.

This is when Merk and I talked about how there are two types of challenging boss fights: the ones that challenge you on the field, in the moment, and the ones that challenge the raid leader (or team) offline in an administrative sense.

Rhyolith in Firelands challenged you on the field. You could do some pre-planning, sure, but the volcano thingies popping up meant that someone had to direct Rhyolith on to them and that not only changed regularly, but those spawns changed on every single pull. There’s no organizing that. That’s chaos that you have to deal with in the game.

Normal-mode Majordomo Staghelm, on the other hand, was a pretty simple fight to execute, but was nightmarish to organize. Here. Have a look at actual cooldown assignments for a raid of ours in September of 2011.

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S1/S2/S3/S4 was Scorpion Phase 1, 2, 3 and 4, while C1/2/3/4 stood for Cat Phase 1, 2, 3 and 4. The numbers beneath those notations were for how many stacks of Adrenaline (in Scorpion) the boss had before we dispersed and the numbers under the C1 notations were for how many leaps before we stacked up again.

All six of our healers had multiple times in which to use their cooldowns, such as Tranquility, Aura Mastery, Spirit Link Totem and Power Word: Barrier, plus our tank healers for the fight also had specific times to use tank cooldowns such as Hand of Sacrifice and Pain Suppression.

In a word, this was tiresome.

Rhyolith was tiresome in his own way, because of the nature of the fight (hitting legs to steer? REALLY?), but normal-mode Majordomo Staghelm was tiresome from an administrative perspective.

The question is, of course, what kind of interesting and new boss fights can you have without resorting to gimmicks like Rhyolith’s steering or Zon’ozz’s bouncing? It’s not that all gimmick fights are bad, but Yor’sahj, for example, was (IMHO) an inventive fight that wasn’t really based on some new-fangled gimmick. Yor’sahj was different enough from the regular sort of add-spawning fight (adds spawn, but choose ONE to kill instead of all of them) to make it interesting, but there wasn’t a whole new resource bar, a new button to push, nothing like that.

The trouble is that fights like Lucifron and Magmadar, the first two bosses in Molten Core, would pose absolutely no challenge to raiders these days. Lucifron consisted of the boss and two adds, plus a nasty curse that you needed to dispel. Take out the adds, dispel the curses as they’re applied and kill the boss. There wasn’t even any fire on the ground!

Magmadar was a bit more challenging because you had to have hunters with Tranquilizing Shot (which was a drop off of Lucifron!) and then you had to set up a Tranq Shot rotation. It also helped to have a dwarf priest with Fear Ward (that was the dwarven priest racial, they were the only priests with Fear Ward back then!) to cast it on the tank to prevent issues with Magmadar fearing them (or, since almost all tanks were warriors, they could also stance-dance and hit Berserker Rage… which you don’t even have to stance-dance to do anymore!). There was some fire on the ground, some fearing in general, but it really hinged on the Tranq Shot. Apart from the fears and a bit of fire, it was basically a tank-and-spank. Still, though, not remotely challenging.

By contrast, Merk was telling me that Heroic Thok consists largely of a cooldown chain lasting 40 seconds to ensure the health of the raid.

Raiding has changed significantly since the early days, obviously, but rather than have gimmicks being a large part of the fight now and again, they seem to be happening more often than not.

In Tier 12, you had one major “gimmicky” fight, which was Rhyolith. Everything else was a combination of adds or buffs or debuffs. No special buttons appearing on your screen, no strange bars displaying a new resources.

Yet, as I’ve been doing LFR after LFR during my seven day free trial, I’ve been astounded at the amount of gimmicky things in use on various fights. (For this post, let’s say that gimmicks involve something unusual, like an extra UI element or a different realm or something like that.)

Immerseus: Has a corruption bar that is his actual health bar. (And this was the least gimmicky of them all, IMHO.)
Fallen Protectors: Multiple-mob fight with the extra special bonus of needing to bring them all down to 1% at about the same time. While this isn’t NEW (Mimiron comes to mind), it’s unusual enough for me to mention.
Norushen: A Corruption bar AND a secondary realm? Lordy, it’s like the worst parts of Halion and Cho’gall. (Although I actually liked the fight on LFR.)
Sha of Pride: Hey look, it’s a Pride bar.
Galakras: Honestly, all the trash made me feel like I was in Hyjal… But this wasn’t very gimmicky otherwise.
Iron Juggernaut: Not all that gimmicky on LFR, although Crawler Mines are borderline, IMHO.
Dark Shaman: Not really gimmicky. Lots of chaos, but that’s not a gimmick.
General Nazgrim: Again, not much of a gimmicky fight.

So out of eight SoO boss fights I’ve seen (on LFR), half had a gimmick that was unusual to raid fights. Half. The other half consisted of many mobs, a lot of AOE or some combination of the two. As someone who hasn’t raided seriously since… oh boy, when was it… August of 2012, I guess it was, it’s interesting to see the differences between raiding now and raiding then (and previously).

This begs the question: do gimmicky fights fatigue players? I know that they always tired me. There wasn’t an encounter I disliked more in Firelands than Rhyolith. In Dragon Soul, it was really Zon’ozz (and all his bugs) who received most of my loathing. In general, the gimmicky fights were the ones that caused me, personally, the most fatigue. I was so tired of killing Zon’ozz by the end of raiding. I killed that jackass, in LFR, normals and heroics, over two characters, a total of 58 times. That’s about 50 times too many, if you ask me. But even just looking at my main raiding character, Madrana, it was 34 times (20 heroic, 12 normal, 2 LFR) and that’s a lot for a fight where people have to bounce this dark orb thingy between themselves and then at the boss. It just got tiring.

By the same token, I killed normal Majordomo Staghelm 9 times (and probably planned out another 5ish raids where I wasn’t in for the kills) and that was tiring. I had never been happier to switch a boss to heroic because it meant I no longer had to write up these epic-length assignments. That was a really tiresome fight for me, moreso than Zon’ozz and Rhyolith.

Is this the future of raiding? Spreadsheets detailing specific assignments? Special buttons and resource bars aplenty? Twilight-esque realms, harkening back to Sartharion, Halion, Valiona & Theralion? Flying mechanics that bring back awful memories of Al’Akir?

When I think about that, going forward, I don’t really feel the desire to experience that. Maybe it’s the fact that I haven’t been in a progression raid in forever. One of my fears, when I stopped playing, was that even if I wanted to come back, I’d feel left behind in the grand scheme of things. And I do, to an extent, but what I’m seeing now is a different problem: if people are acclimated to this gimmicky (or spreadsheety) raiding environment, have I missed the boat?

Let me rephrase that, because it’s not exactly missing the boat, but… how can I put this, exactly? Let’s try this: in the fall, after a hot and humid summer, the temperature of, say, 12 degrees Celsius (~54F) feels cold. As in you want to put on a jacket. In the spring, after a frigidly cold winter, the exact same temperature of 12C feels hot! You’re taking off your coats, walking around in shoes instead of boots and you’re generally gleeful at this fantastic weather. Why is this? It’s because you’ve been acclimated to the colder temperatures over the winter. You’re used to it being cold. So when you hit 12C in terms of temperatures going up, you’re thrilled and happy.

By missing a full expansion of raiding, have I missed the acclimation needed to enjoy raiding going forward? Is my distaste for gimmicks merely a sense of nostalgia, which I absolutely acknowledge could be the case? Do others feel like these gimmicks and spreadsheets are fun and I’m still the grumpy one thinking 12C is damn cold because I missed all of winter? In other words, would experiencing all of these fights over the course of the last year have acclimated me to what is potentially a new raiding paradigm where this is the standard? Or would I have quit by now, frustrated and fatigued?

Possibly more importantly, where is raiding heading in the future?

Lots of questions. Not a lot of answers.

What have you enjoyed (or not) about raiding in Mists of Pandaria? I’d love to hear your thoughts as we wait for answers that will inevitably come as we get more info about Warlords of Draenor.