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May 28, 2013

Tier 15: Reflections on the Journey

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Written by: Vixsin
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Ra-Den Killshot (sm)

It was at 2:30am ET on last Wednesday morning that Tier 15 came to a close for the members of Promethean’s raid team. On the heels of an absolutely heart-wrenching 1% wipe the night before, and after an exhausting 6-hour full HM clear, Ra-Den finally kneeled down in defeat to the glorious sounds of nerd screams. It was 11 weeks since I had first set foot in Throne of Thunder, an instance that has the grand scale of Black Temple (without all that pesky trash) and which claimed to draw on Ulduar’s encounters for inspiration. I admit, after a quick introduction, and a fast and furious round of testing, I entered T15 with more than a little trepidation. And while some of my worst fears were (unfortunately) realized, in the end, I found something to keep me going through the continued ups and downs of the PVE raiding game.

So let’s start with the best stuff first …

 

The Parts I Loved

When it comes to the characteristics of Tier 15 that I really liked, there are a number of small things that instantly come to mind, from the number of bosses (remember: Firelands had only *7* bosses; ToT has 12/13), to the raid weekly (never before have I looked forward to giant floating exclamation points), to Gary the Homicidal Gastropod (who makes every class wish they had Life Grip with which to torment their teammates). But, overall, three things really stand out in my mind as things that ToT did well:

  1. Raiding on an epic scale – I’m a sucker for raid instances that make me feel like an outsider in someone else’s domain, and Throne of Thunder instantly drew me in with its gorgeous mogu-meets-titan design and overscaled architecture. In contrast to the confines of Mogu’shan Vaults and the rapid-fire succession of Terrace of Endless Spring, Throne of Thunder was a long winding journey through the home of our newest mortal enemy. When I finally made the climb up to Lei Shen’s platform, (Yes, I want to use the teleporter. Yes, I’m sure. Will you just &^%#*@! port me already, for the love of Thrall?!), I was overtaken by the idea that the throne room was straight out of the instance that a large majority of players cite as the pinnacle of PVE content. Sure, we never approach the levels of sheer size that were the courtyards of BT and Ulduar, but Throne of Thunder was an impressive place to spend these last couple months.
  2.  Variability in encounters – Along with the unique scenery that provided the backdrop for each boss encounter, possibly the biggest praise that I have for Throne of Thunder is that the encounter design really mixed things up every step of the way. And although I wasn’t a fan of some of the hard mode encounter “twists” (pink dinos? REALLY?), in most cases they felt like the logical progression up in difficulty from normal mode. The encounter design team did themselves proud with fights that mixed up personal and raid responsibility, with interesting and challenging mechanics. (Bonus points should be awarded for Ji-Kun forcing raiding guides to actually endorse backpeddling).
  3. End Boss Quality – While T14’s Big Baddie, Sha of Fear, was a bit tedious as a 21-minute 2-phase encounter, I think HM Lei Shen hit all the right notes, managing to be epic-feeling and challenging without making you spend over a quarter hour per attempt. Like HM Rag and HM LK before it, progression was a series of gates—once you work through the timing on phase 1, then you focus on making it out of the transition alive, then you focus on the timing in phase 2, then the next transition, and so on and so forth. And although I thought Lei Shen might have overstepped the line a little on positioning demands (there were times I know our RL felt a bit like a choreographer), I appreciated the emphasis the encounter placed on spatial awareness and communication. Raw output/Patchwerk fights are fine for boss #4 or 5, but when it comes to the end encounter, I want something that demands finesse. Lei Shen, in my book, delivered.

 

The Parts That Didn’t Thrill Me

Of course, with the good comes the bad. And as much as I try not to be a backseat designer, minor quibbles aside, there were a couple of things that I found quite disappointing about the tier (from a raiding perspective; healing issues are another topic for another day):

  1. Resto Shaman balance – You knew this point was coming the minute you saw the title of this post, but I’m going to mention it anyways … #1 on the list of things that tarnished my affections for the tier was healer balance, especially when it came to Resto Shaman. Small disparities I can understand, even ones to the tune of 5-8%, but when a class gets a +20% buff to their AOE healing, that’s a huge sign that … and do read this in a strong US Southern accent … someone done fucked up. No matter how you frame it, no matter the concessions I make about hindsight being 20-20, given the characteristics of the encounters and the PTR logs, it should have been easy to identify that Resto Shaman, and our niche toolkit, would be ill-equipped. If we had not had the single most powerful throughput cooldown in game (at that point), you can bet that those shaman who weren’t benched and were actually brought in for progression by cutting edge guilds, would have been nowhere to be found.
  2. Legendary drop rates – Let me premise this by saying that I, for one, have really enjoyed the legendary questline thus far—the effort has been substantial but the rewards for sticking with it have been commensurate with the time investment. But when T15 introduced not one, but two back-to-back drop-based legendary collection quests, I knew I was gonna have a bad time. Sure enough, despite earning Exalted with Shado Pan Assault at the start of May (meaning: I was in for almost every boss kill since Week 1), and being on the Legendary quest since the first day of 5.2, I obtained my legendary meta two weeks after the rest of my guild. So, while some people were able to pick up their cloaks when 5.3 launched, it will be another several weeks (maybe a month, if really bad luck strikes), before I collect mine. That kind of variability stinks, especially when the legendary questline has been predominantly governed by player effort.
  3. Release timing – While I think it’s commendable that Blizzard has been meeting their self-imposed goal of delivering content more frequently, I know that a number of us in the raiding community were surprised at how quickly Throne of Thunder was pushed from PTR testing to Live. At approximately 6 months post-MoP launch and 5 months from HoF/ToES release, patch 5.2 was at our door, leaving a number of raiders to wonder what the rush was all about. Furthermore, 5 boss/day PTR schedules and the quick succession of NM/HM and 10/25 man testing meant that a number of issues that were identified during those tests went live a couple weeks later. Mistweavers’ Revival dispelling players on HM Jin’rokh and Primordious, Durumu’s maze effects being almost indistinguishable, bugged Bone Worms on Ji Kun trash keeping everyone in combat, players being teleported beneath the world in Dark Animus, Expertise bracers being coined by a Disc Priest … (/sigh) … they were all there on PTR, and then on live. So, while I realize that no game is without issues, I do think that Throne lacked some of the polish that I’ve come to expect from Blizzard. I do hope, in that regard, that ToT was reinforcement of the design policy that Blizzard had held for so long—it’s ready when it’s ready.

 

Something Lost, Something Found

Unfortunately for the competitive raiding world, despite its laudable qualities and similarities to oft-recalled tiers, Tier 15 wound up claiming even more of our PVE brethren. And as we saw more 25-man teams, some big names among them, crumble under the increased weight/tension of maintaining cutting edge progression, and I saw my friends list grow a little bit more dim, I started worrying about my own raiding shelf life. I wondered, is that eventual burnout in the future for me too? Is it closer than I know or do I still have a while before I finally call it quits?

To be fair, I’ve been raiding a long time now. I’m going on 7 years of raid weeks, Tuesday resets, faction reps, instance farming, of having people I don’t know bark orders at me about where to stand, and of being excited about the color purple. Granted, it’s less time than someone who began their progression career in Molten Core, Blackwing Lair, or AQ20, but it’s a long time nonetheless. And after such a disheartening start to the expansion with one of the most combative guilds that I’ve ever been a part of, followed by the untimely end of my first and only experience playing Alliance, I wondered if the universe was telling me that it was time to hang up my spurs. And in a last ditch effort to keep myself from giving up before yet another trial period, yet another round of ingratiating myself with a whole new set of people and a new healing team, and yet another set of transfers for my alt army, I decided that I wouldn’t spend T15 with my homepage set to WoWProgress.

And while I admit that I didn’t go entirely cold turkey, it was an amazing thing to spend a tier free of worrying about the impact of a couple hours, a day, a week. I realized that somewhere in between the top rankings that I had been striving for, for so many years and at such great cost, and the casual PuGs that I started out in, and which inspired such frothy Vixsin-rage, I could find something called … fun. Even after all these years, after all the stress and all the drama, raiding can still be fun. Burnout may be an eventuality, it may be coming for me next week or it may be another three years down the line, but, as I discovered, that doesn’t mean that I can’t enjoy myself in the meantime.






5 Comments


  1. Qooxxy

    It was a very good read man. Stay strong and the elements will guide you!


  2. Grats on your Ra-den kill! How exciting :)

    You know, when I stepped back from raiding a few months ago, I found that I was spending more time playing WoW than I was when I was raiding. It was very odd, really. And it took some time, but finally I came to accept that I didn’t dislike raiding, and I didn’t dislike WoW, but rather I had put myself in an environment that became so toxic it really ruined all of the things that I loved about the game, and subsequently my stubbornness to make it all work and not to fail simply contributed to my unhappiness. Add on top of that the piss poor place druids were in for the expansion to date, and well, I was a pretty cranky player.

    As soon as I let all of that go, I realized that I could have fun again and that it was something I had been sorely missing for a very long time.

    Eventually, I realized that I missed raiding and that it was something that I enjoyed enough to want to recommit to – but on my terms this time. And I basically accepted that the limitations of my class weren’t my fault, and being continually frustrated with them wasn’t increasing my gaming experience, but quite the opposite, was harming it. And I have to tell you it’s made all of the difference in the world for me. I mean, I still get a little bummed about the state of healing overall, but I opt to devote very little of my energy at it these days. I completely agree with content coming out too quickly. I agree that it’s being rushed for seemingly no really good reason. And I agree that it’s been sloppy and a lot of things, including class balance, were overlooked. But, you know what? I’m having more fun right now than I have had in probably years.

    And, for me, I’m just cherishing that experience while I can. And I’m very glad to hear you are doing the same. :)


  3. Valentina

    Grats on your HC clear! I enjoyed reading your thoughts on it, as always.


  4. ganiccus

    Grats for that great finish Vixsin, my guild has also completed H ToT last week and it got to feel good to be on farm after such a crazy ride. I remember completing T14 a couple of months ago and barely 3 weeks later, 5.2 came and it was progression time all over again!
    As for resto shaman status in 5.4, I don’t know what to expect but I enjoy a lot playing my resto druid right now and I am also quite interested to level a holy paladin as a possible reroll for the next tier. We will see what Blizzard plans to do to adress our situation in the near future but I’m not keeping my fingers crossed too tight.

    Hope your enjoy the summer and looking for your next blog entries,
    Ganiccus


  5. shammypie

    gj vixsin way to go. Your not the only one experiencing burnout i had mine if the form of a 6month finish college and find a job period.

    Sadly the raiding community is not the same anymore and i find myself having trouble finding the raid group. Especially when you tell people that you won’t stay later than midnight, want a decent group that doesn’t have the hardcore attitude, and you don’t have the progression/wol parses this tier to boast with. (no Tier 13 why, why are you gone i was so good then).

    anyway stay strong over the summer and DO NOT look at tier 15 changes that incoming until they are finished, it will just depress you.



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