The End of Raiding In Legion (For Heroic, At Least) – Thoughts on Argus the Unmaker and the Design of Mechanics In Legion

As of last week, my guild has finally done it – killing Heroic Argus, getting the Violet Spellwing and effectively reaching the “end” of the expansion for a raider. Our guild always raids to Heroic, having neither the raider roster or patience for Mythic, meaning that the end of the expansion is upon us and a hiatus is likely to happen soon.

With that done, I thought it’d be cool to recap the Legion raiding experience throughout, applying the lessons learned from Warlords of Draenor.

WoD: A Stinky Expansion, But Them Raids Though

WoD had an excellent raid design philosophy, introducing the 4-tiered difficulty structure they demoed in the 6.0 pre-patch with Siege of Orgrimmar 2.0, allowing flexible player counts in Normal/Heroic along with a semi-flexible LFR and the fixed 20 player Mythic, with raid mechanics designed to fit. SoO was a retrofit to this, however – so Highmaul and Blackrock Foundry were our first glances at the idea, designed from the start to work this way.

It went pretty well, all told – with the only notable exception being that Heroic was just Normal +10-20% health and damage. It wasn’t much harder and didn’t really require any new learning – so Blizzard tweaked that model a bit in Hellfire Citadel, bringing out a new raid that did have unique Heroic mechanics, offering new twists to learn. I felt these were pretty well done – the new mechanics had their own space to breathe and layered on more interesting stuff.

So this was the blueprint coming into Legion – LFR for the everyplayer, Normal flex for friend groups and Group Finder, Heroic for structured casual guilds, and Mythic for the hardcore, with each layer adding on mechanics.

Let’s view each raid through this lens, then.

Legion LFR – Too Little, Too Late

The solution Blizzard has always had to LFR is lower numbers for lower risk, but in Legion, this changed a lot up front. Emerald Nightmare through Tomb of Sargeras were very stripped down. Cenarius cleansed the Nightmare debuff far more often. Ursoc hit for far less damage. Elisande’s adds were nearly meaningless. Gul’dan was a high point of this first tier – his fight translated very well to LFR with little lost. Trial of Valor overall actually held up well in LFR too – many mechanics came over with a similar degree of challenge, tuned downward only for the lower average skill ceiling and item level of LFR players.

Tomb of Sargeras, on the other hand, was a dull slog on LFR, with nearly every boss losing major mechanics for the sake of difficulty. The Desolate Host fight is the shining exemplar here, with the fight losing the namesake mob – Desolate Host never spawns into the fight and just rolls over dead when you kill the two bosses that start the fight. Kil’Jaeden is, similarly to Gul’dan, the best overall proxy for the fight as it appears on higher difficulties, but it even still pales in comparison.

This was largely corrected in Antorus – LFR feels much better in that the mechanics are closer and more interesting and engaging, although the balancing can sometimes push lower than I’d like for the early tier bosses. By the end, I do find that this reverses out slightly, with Argus feeling about as good as Gul’dan did early on. The only real standout here in the negative is Aggramar, who goes from having an interesting tank mechanic to just doing 4 stack attacks in a row. If Antorus symbolizes the future of LFR raiding in WoW, I think it may gain some popularity.

Legion Normal Raiding – Just About Right…But Too Simple

Legion Normal raids do well to deliver the baseline experience of raiding, with moderate challenge mechanics, individual responsibility for many mechanics, and a good ramp-up of challenge. I actually feel weird about what I am about to say, but overall, Legion Normal raids was…just about right!

That doesn’t mean perfect, mind you, but I really enjoyed the Normal raids overall. The progression of difficulty from start to end of each instance, the mechanical complexity, and the amount of the total experience that is present in Normal felt great. Nighthold and Antorus are standouts I think, with a great amount of the overall mechanics visible in Normal and with difficulty modified by enabling less overlap of abilities.

The only problem is that I do feel like some of these fights with large numbers of mechanics have too little mechanical overlap. By allowing almost none, it makes the fights easier – each boss sequence is a big list of abilities the boss runs down in order and once you learn that order, it is so simple to execute against that it takes almost nothing. It also serves to not prepare you for Heroic, since with no overlaps, the abilities aren’t individually threats in many of these cases.

But overall, I feel like Normal scratches the itch in a great way – it’s absolutely an excellent PUG difficulty that will let everyone get into more normal raiding.

Legion Heroic Raids – Mechanic Sandwiches

Where Normal raids did an alright job of introducing mechanics, Heroic layers them on thick! The way that Blizzard has decided to differentiate Normal and Heroic is to take the same basic mechanics, and then have two or three going off at once. This is, in many cases, a nice way to design the fights, as each mechanic individually tends to remain non-threatening, but if two of them hit you, game over.

These fights are more satisfying to conquer because the difficulty isn’t solely from increased damage dealt and boss health. That is a portion of it, but perhaps better than many past expansions, the difficulty increase isn’t even primarily due to these increases, and with modern tuning, it almost can’t be. So the result of this is far more interesting mechanic balancing, with what I like to call Mechanic Sandwiches. You can see a ton of cases of this in Legion, with fights like Desolate Host, Portal Keeper Hasabel, Elisande, and Eonar. Where the normal fights tend to have simple mechanics, like Eonar having one big tank add at a time, the Heroic version starts spawning multiple adds, and also adds a new tankable add. The end result is a simple mechanical change that adds a lot of depth, requiring new strategies, splitting tanks and healers to manage strike teams that run off to handle the multiple spawn locations.

While this can be a problem in some fights (many of which are in a certain green hellhole that gets a special section momentarily), overall, I also enjoyed the Heroic designs for the most part. The feeling of accomplishment I had as our raid cleared through each raid is something that I haven’t always felt at this level of raiding (and it’s pre-WoD equivalents) and so I have really liked this approach a lot.

The Special Section Where I Go “Hey Everyone, Tomb of Sargeras Sucked”

The best example of how the Mechanic Sandwich can go wrong is pretty much just the entirety of Tomb of Sargeras. As a raid tier, I liked the visuals, and some of the bosses, but it stands out as a sparkling turd in a field of good to great boss designs.

The problem I had with ToS, in retrospect, is that many of the fights had too little mechanical nuance on the lower difficulties, and ramped hard and heavy on Heroic. Goroth goes from a simple and easy fight to having extra mechanics, overlapping mechanics, and harder damage requirements. Desolate Host goes from not even having the namesake boss on LFR, to a simple positioning fight on Normal, to a clusterfuck of overlapping mechanics and realm swapping on Heroic. Kil’Jaeden both adds new mechanics on each difficulty jump and begins to crank up the overlap even more.

My opinion on ToS has softened with time, but still, overall, I’d argue that it’s not worth retreading for any reason, until we can solo it easily for the sweet T6 rework sets. It does serve as an example of the things that the new design paradigm can be bad with, and most of Antorus shows that Blizzard is willing to take away the right lessons from that whole debacle.

So overall, looking back, I really enjoyed the raid game in Legion. There were some green, Tomb sized bumps in the road, but we got more bosses, with more discrete difficulties, and more gameplay, than we have in a while, and that is worth a cheer at least.

Now my only hope for Battle for Azeroth is that we get better tuned fights that take into account changes like the GCD…

6 thoughts on “The End of Raiding In Legion (For Heroic, At Least) – Thoughts on Argus the Unmaker and the Design of Mechanics In Legion

  1. Great thoughts, I really like these overviews you make about things in WoW 🙂
    If only half the player base was able to use detailed feedback as this instead of the usual “I hate this, you lost a client”… So please give Blizz lots of feedback on the alpha ^^

    This was the first expansion where I raided on Normal, and the LFR is a really good stepping stone for people who want to do that. But the difference on some fights is huge, fortunately my guild raid leader explains things really well 🙂

    One controversial topic regarding this matter: at a certain point boss fights are more about knowing all the phases and mechanics and timers. What are your thoughts on a possible boss, at a higher difficulty, that was more intelligent and that would adapt to each group? I’m not talking about introducing random elements on the fight, I’m talking about each fight being more unique with the boss trying to counter the group trying to down him.
    I realize that this would make the fight much harder, but would also make competitive groups design their own strategy based on the group itself.

    I understand that predictability on the scripted raid fights is an important element, but something like this could work IF well implemented (on a fight with a lot of environment mechanics it would be horrible).

    Players would be aware of the boss’ toolkit, but the abilities wouldn’t be scripted to happen at moment X or Y (they could even have cooldowns). Imagine that a mechanic would force the players to stack, the boss could use an AoE attack under them or maybe he would save that ability for a better moment.

    (I also think there should be something extra for raiding without addons, but that is just my personal opinion as I really hate them xD)

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks for the kind words!

      To you controversial point – I agree. I like the scripted fights with layers because they often rely on a lot of non-encounter factors like other player behavior, but there is a finite point at which we run out of things that can really be done. They’ve had to add a lot of additional mechanics to really get closer to a challenging difficulty.

      The Island AI might be a stride in that way – they emulate PvP behaviors but they can be a testing ground to move bosses in that direction!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Nice review! I’ve really enjoyed raiding. The relief of Nighthold being outside and not in some underground cave was great — yes, I understand that really bad demons can fester in some hole and grow nasty over a few thousand years; I like that too.
    I do not think that the designers have learned to make “flex” raids. A thirteen player team or less is punished by the design, not the encounter. Demonic Inquisition comes to mind, fairly long after this raid came out, they changed the spell for the healers to dispel from three to two — if you only had two healers before, you could not do the fight, if you always had three or more, it was a breeze. Back in WoD, the number of adds (to be killed by ranged) were always the same whether you were on a 12 man team or 18 man team, it did not “flex” to the size of the team. And I’m bitter about it, their bad design can be a guild killer and raid killer, because we think that it is our fault and failure. This final raid, I’ve seen Annihilation “flex” from two to three to four depending on the raid size (circles on the ground to stand in) so there is some hope. It should not take six years to learn how to design a feature.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Agreed on the flex mechanics – my raid tends to miss out on that because we usually play at 12-13 and with 3 healers, so some fights feel tricky but we’ve ultimately got through a lot of them. I totally forgot about Demonic Inquisition, though – oops! Hopefully the changes made to systems and squish in BfA will help push flex design over the line to a better spot.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I really would have liked to see LFR not “slimmed” down that way. I understand why, but it feels odd to me, to not ever see certain mechanics there. I’d much rather have LFR be a scenic tour, where one gets to participate in the story telling in there, at least observe it, or witness other people do it.

    Like, imagine queuing up, and get to sit as an audience around the fight (Youtube is NOT the same, I want the in game stuff)

    That would be so cool. Then again, Im just interested in the lore and story.

    And where you’ll be able to move forward and not have the raids cut in the middle. I had hoped I could jump to KilJaeden, for example, but each LFR wing is seperate from the rest, and that really gets in the way of immersion for me.

    Thank you for another great post 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

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