Life in Group 5 – A Resto Shaman Blog
A resto shaman perspective on raiding


June 10, 2010

A Hard Look at Hardmodes

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Written by: Vixsin
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LK Versus Yogg

The last major instance of the expansion and one that has been explored by a large number of raiders, Icecrown Citadel (ICC) has been surrounded by criticism and drama since its release. It was an expanded testing ground for a number of new Blizzard raiding mechanics, including limited attempts, heroic toggles and regimented gating, all of which seem to have developed enduring magnet for raiders’ ire. And while some have since flip-flopped their opinions about the overall challenge to be had running through the Lich King’s residence, many like Muqq stick to their guns that ICC was equal parts good and bad.

No better demonstration of the perceived shortcomings of ICC was had than when, upon the “release” of ICC hard modes, fansites erupted as Paragon went 8/12 on Day 1 and was 9/12 at week’s end. Condemnation was everywhere and the cries of “too easy” resonated through forum posts and boards. Comparisons were drawn, and with their well-worn rose-colored glasses atop lofty noses, raiders everywhere proclaimed Ulduar to be the pinnacle of Wrath raiding. Now, with some time and experience under our belts, I’m left asking—was it really?


The Statistics

Naturally, since I have nothing to occupy my time these days other than the slew of LK attempts I’m now doing in two different guilds, I got to thinking about the comparative difficulty of the golden titan child of Wrath and its much-berated frosty sibling. I myself admit to viewing Ulduar with a special sort of fondness, if for no other reason than the joy that came from being one of the first 10-man teams in the world to clear it through. Although the actual floorplan of Ulduar was relatively small in scale (excluding the outer courtyard) the depths of the instance seemed much greater than ICC, with its scalable-difficulty encounters and litany of challenging achievements.

By way of comparison, let’s take a look at some of the notable stats on the two instances:

Ulduar Icecrown
Bosses 14 12
Normal Modes 13* 12
Hard Modes 17 12
Meta Requirements (25man) 13 13*
Total Achievements (25man) 70 25
Days Until First End Boss Kill (after becoming available) 1 day 4 days
Days Until First HM End Boss Kill (after becoming available) 3 lights: 7 days

2 lights: 26 days

1 light: 33 days

Algalon: 55 days

Alone: 88 days

53 days
*Algalon was hard-mode only * 17 counting wing-clears

By looking at the above we can see that although Icecrown had a slightly reduced number of bosses, because of Blizzard’s stance about Icecrown’s hard modes needed to be more clear than Ulduar’s to raid teams, it also experienced a reduced number of potential “hard mode” encounters. This reduction in raiding variability is only underscored by the sheer magnitude of difference between the two in terms of available achievements—Ulduar has almost four times as many achievements as its counterpart.

So, although Ulduar endured its fair share of criticism upon release ( sample / sample), for the fact that Vodka managed to plow through all 13 bosses on Day One, I think the genius of its design wasn’t in its multi-prong difficulty fights (of which there were 4), but rather the number of distractions and goals it offered to raiders along the way. Not only did it offer a sort of interactive tuning, through “choose your adventure” style encounters, the conscious or unconscious feeling of enormity it conveyed through a laundry list of achievements, gave raiders something to work towards even when they had been farming the instance for months.

In regards to the learning time spent on hard mode encounters, while there are many fights which provided to be easy to learn in both ICC and Ulduar, the hardest encounter in Ulduar (Alone in the Darkness) was the only fight in Ulduar where the first kill took longer to achieve than the first kill on hardest fight in ICC (arguably LK hardmode). When comparing the time period that elapsed from the time the encounter was made available—for Alone in the Darkness, “available” would mean the release of Ulduar, whereas for LK hard mode it would be the point at which the guild in question cleared 11/12 hard modes—it can be seen that only with Alone did you see raid teams needing a significant gear and experience advantage before a kill could be had.

To provide a little bit more of a comparison to another “ass-kicking” boss of the expansion … The first Sarth 3D Twilight Zone achievement was logged by the first US guild on November 30th, a whopping 17 days after WotLK was released. Given that it took a very hardcore player about 3-4 days to make the 70 to 80 transition, this would mean that the first guilds who killed Sarth 3D in 10-man were probably still in a majority of Sunwell gear, with maybe a couple level 80 supplements from heroics and Naxx. But to this day, when asked about the most difficult boss or instance of the expansion, nostalgic raiders will point to the Obsidian Sanctum and its walls of fiery death. (Interestingly enough, my statistics page of my character seems to agree with this sentiment, because despite an incredible amount of attempts on LK, it refuses to display anything other than Sartharion as my “Deadliest WotLK Boss”.)


The Graphs

(Hooray! I get to use Graphs again!) To get a true feel for Ulduar’s and ICC’s levels of difficulty, I also took a look at the performance of the top 100 US guilds and how quickly (or slowly) they were able to work their way through the instances. Pulling information from for each of the hard mode achievements, I was able to compile a cumulative timeline for “top-level” progression through the instances. These charts are shown below.

Icecrown Citadel – Hard Mode Achievements over Time

Ulduar – Hard Mode Achievements over Time

There are a couple main things to note before I get into my analysis. First, is that both charts cover a time period of around 4 months, with major nerfs/buffs being shown in red and months denoted by grey vertical lines. Secondarily, it’s important to note that Ulduar progression did not incorporate any sort of buff beyond the gradual gearing of the raid team. (I think someone could make the argument that ICC was actually significantly harder than Ulduar, for this very reason.) Lastly, I didn’t chart every achievement or semi-hard mode in Ulduar, because frankly there was enough to look at using the limited segment I chose. So if you think Iron Dwarf Medium Rare was an essential progression accomplishment, you’re kinda out of luck.

So, in looking at the above charts, what strikes me first is that despite all the fuss about Paragon’s exceptionally fast hard mode clear in ICC, the progression of the top 100 US guilds through the starting encounters is actually fairly similar between Ulduar and ICC. And, had I taken the time to collect data on all the intermediary hard modes and achievements for Ulduar, there would have likely been a greater concentration of lines in that first month and a half period. Thus, the ramp-up for hard modes in both instances was pretty well in line.

Secondly, what I notice in the ICC graph is the exponential increase of hard mode kills at various points in time; namely, after the 5% and 10% buffs, and after Week 2 in ICC. This latter effect, where you see the kills for Marrowgar, Gunship and Rotface skyrocket, could be attributable to a couple factors that the graph won’t illustrate—possibly that those guilds had to take an extra couple weeks to kill LK or that after two weeks there was sufficient information circulating about the level of difficulty of certain encounters, that some guilds attempting to clear the hard modes in a linear fashion, simply skipped ahead to kill those encounters and rack up some easy progression points (this is what we did in Aftermath, after attempting Saurfang for just over  a week). These jumps, however, tell us something about what guilds were struggling with on those encounters at those points in time. Whereas Valithria, Feastergut, Deathbringer and to some extent LDW, saw huge upswings in kills after the 5% buff, it’s worth noting that Professor and Sindragosa did not. Similarly, if you look at LK, you’ll notice the almost zero effect that recent buffs have had on his kill numbers, indicating that sufficient dps and/or hps is not the problem that top guilds were/are having on these encounters.

What pops out at me most of all, however, is not that Ulduar hard mode progression trailed slightly behind ICC’s (it took top guilds 2 ½ months to clear through Knock x3 and Firefighter, versus 2 months to clear through Sindragosa and Putricide), but rather the progression “hole” that Algalon filled for most guilds, between 1 Light kills (which occurred within relatively the same time period as Firefighter and Knock x 3) and Alone in the Darkness. And while I wouldn’t exactly say that I found the 1-hour-per-week attempt system very uplifting, frustration-levels aside, Algalon did provide motivation for guilds to maintain a certain level of efforts and motivation for players to maintain a certain level of attendance (at least on nights where you were attempting him, heh.)

If anything, this filler boss is what’s missing in ICC and what could have been accomplished with the introduction of multi-difficulty modes on end-wing encounters like Sindragosa and Putricide. Imagine that you had the option of using Jaina’s or Garrosh’s assistance on these encounters, and by talking or not talking to them, you could toggle the difficulty settings up one more level. Or alternately, to take a page from Ulduar, once you beat the wing bosses on hard mode, you had another pre-Lich fight where you meet up with Fording and the forces you’ve been helping (those guys limiting your attempts), in preparation for your final battle with LK. I’m sure these are fairly weak ideas from both a design and lore perspective, but I’m sure you get the picture.



So where does this discussion leave us? Currently, FH is sitting at 11/12 in Heroic 25, and to date, we’ve logged maybe 160 attempts on Heroic 25 LK. It’s been grueling, and it’s tested our mettle as a guild and as a raiding team. And as much as players complained about the limited attempt mechanism at the start of ICC, it hasn’t really come into play for us. In an unlimited-attempt environment, I’m not sure if we’d be more progressed than we are, because frankly speaking, we spend 18 of our 20 hours a week on LK attempts (yeah, we’ve gotten really good at clearing through the other hard modes, lol), and we rarely exhaust the 45 attempt limit in place.

As we continue our efforts to find that straw that will break Arthas’ back, I can’t help but think back to all those accusations tossed about back in February, about how “ez mode” things have become and how a “casual” raiding approach is taking over. And I wonder to myself—could we have possibly known how wrong we were? Did it just take some perspective to see that there was a greater challenge that lay ahead?

With nary a rose-colored lens in sight I have to say, LK is proving to be the most faceted and challenging boss of this xpac. All I can think is that Blizzard might have used their famous sound clip in the wrong expansion, because from my perspective it would be more appropriate coming from the end boss we all underestimated. Yes Arthas, we were not prepared.


A special, heartfelt thanks to, who without knowing it, made this analysis possible with their rigorous data collection and easily-pasted tabular data formats. (Nested java/flash/whatevers can gtfo, /grumble) I know who I’m sticking to come next expansion!


  1. Myaa

    I disagree with the premise that you should judge the difficulty of an encounter by how quickly the first group clears it. There will always be the top tier, hard core group that downs something ridiculously fast but to judge the overall difficulty by how fast that elite group does it assumes that tuning of the fights should be done for that elite group, rather than the whole playerbase. If that make sense.

    Anyway, I think a more accurate methodology would be to see how long it take a certain percentage of raids, say 3-5% to clear an encounter. The fastest clear is almost by definition an edge case and would be eliminated in most statistical analysis.

    For reference, I say this as a participant of a raid at about the 9% level. 😉

  2. I definitely agree with the premise that fights should not be tuned for the upper 1% of raiders, but I don’t think that measuring difficulty of a fight by when the first guild kills it is necessarily a bad metric. It *shouldn’t* be the only metric used, for sure, and that’s a big reason why I liked looking at the progress of the top 100 US guilds over time (also because I love Excel graphs). While first kills show you an initial “best case” scenario, because like you said those are the guilds who will throw everything plus the kitchen sink at it, it’s really the trending over time that (imo) shows the level of difficulty of a fight.

    Unfortunately (or fortunately) I don’t have access to information beyond what’s shown on Guildox, but I’d love to know how the kills trended beyond that point. I think it would make an amazing study to evaluate potential “tiers” of raiding progress, correlation buffs and performance on specific fights, and of course, the effects of gearing on progress. Oh gracious, I just passed into the realm of crazy nerd didn’t I? /facepalm

  3. Myaa

    Has some nice graphs showing number of guilds over time. And you forgot evaluating the effect of the ICC buff on progress. 😀

    Also a huge nerd. No worries.

  4. Yep, well aware of the charts and info over at Wowprogress. They were actually who I turned to first when I started brainstorming this topic a month or so ago. But, there were a couple hurdles to using the info they present. First, I couldn’t control the info displayed on the graphs or the timeframe in which it was presented. Secondly, if I used their charts, I couldn’t evaluate things like slope, median and mean kill timeframes. And, thirdly they limit their listings (even the achievement breakdowns) to about 20 per page, so getting all that info into excel was a bit of a nightmare and a time sink.

  5. Celestial

    Here I am just casually scrolling the net when I come along your website. I’m going to take a moment to say you’ve done an amazing job. I’ve read the past 10 or so articles and was quite impressed with the quality mate.

    Like you, I find myself in group 5 all of the time (Pally), and truthfully there isn’t a place I’d rather be. In relation to the end of the article I fell your pain, we only successfully managed to down H-LK25 after 312 wipes, it was agonizing and I found myself struggling to even bother logging in knowing I’d be wiping for 4hrs; but somehow I did. However when we finally managed to down him (on an average night at best) it was incredible. Putting aside the difficultly of each fight at its respective phase in WotLK, LK is a superb way to end the expansion and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  6. Aeura

    When you said you raid with two different guilds… What other character do you raid on cuz it better be a healer?

  7. My other raiding toon is a Disc Priest, in the guild on BDF. She’s currently 11/12 Hardmodes in 25s and working on her first LK10 HM kill. (Technically speaking, I also raid on a third character–a holy pally–who’s 10/12 HM in ICC25.) What can I say? I like to heal. ^_^

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