Eternal Palace is done.
Well, at least on Normal, for my guild – we got our Queen Azshara kill last week after a full reclear with no major mishaps.
As I promised in my quick impressions post last week, I want to talk more about what I feel is a problem with the raid as a whole and respond to a few comments from that in more depth. (Bhagpuss also posted about the idea of raiding based on that post, and I have a separate response coming for that!).
So the biggest takeaway I addressed last week is my concern that Eternal Palace is too easy, but I want to clarify here that I was inartful in my language in that post. Eternal Palace’s problem is that it is, on Normal at least, severely undertuned for a raid group of our size and (relatively average) skill level.
The problem with these impressions is that they are unlikely to reflect the reality of the current raid game for many guilds, who often field numbers in the low teens. We were that guild for the last two tiers, and the tuning felt far more difficult for it. Our two Eternal Palace weeks have fluctuated between 21-24 raiders, meaning that the experience I will describe here is decidedly different from that of many of my fellow bloggers, who run with smaller raids and have documented the same troubles I expected to have.
With that preamble out of the way, let me describe the real problem I see with Eternal Palace Normal under those conditions – the first 7 fights are undertuned nearly to the point of comedy. Stack mechanic on Sivara? Doesn’t matter. Tank spike damage when a new tank assumes threat on Orgozoa? Meh, not really that bad either. Queen’s Court mechanics? Barely noticeable. It takes mostly until Za’qul, the 7th of 8 bosses, for anything to really matter – you can, and my raid did, do nearly everything wrong and still win. There are few must-execute mechanics – Orgozoa’s hatchery phase requires the raid down in the hatchery prior to interruption to avoid instadeaths, and Za’qul requires a degree of precision for the DPS and healers managing the realm shifts, but outside of that? Nothing really matters.
Now, this on its own is a problem, especially given Blizzard’s stated desire to avoid tuning a fight up in difficulty once it is out on live servers. It means that mastery of Normal is easily obtainable and will largely not vary week to week. New raiders only need the briefest of mechanical mentions to be up to speed – we had 3 players see the raid for the first time this last week, and each got about 3 seconds of explanation (which, to be fair, is far better than the raid leader reading every mechanic verbatim from the Dungeon Journal), and we continued to one-shot most of the bosses, with our only executional hurdles being Za’qul and Azshara.
However, in spite of this problem, the second problem comes when you get to Azshara herself. The rest of the raid’s foes fall over when you glance at them, but Azshara has a list of mechanics so dense that the difficulty completely eclipses the rest of the raid in its entirety. Azshara has the complete opposite problem, in that she is wholly overtuned for a Normal boss, so much so that the difference between Normal and Heroic is a single mechanic (one of the easiest to manage in the fight): having the opportunity to be slightly harder by requiring you to obey two commands from Azshara.
Azshara has a roster of complex, challenging mechanics that will stretch a seasoned raid group…mostly. Her fight, however, also fell over for us in just under 10 attempts. The fight is challenging compared to the other fights in the raid, yes, but the challenge of Azshara doesn’t even match that of fights like Mekkatorque, Stormwall Blockade, or Zul from earlier this expansion.
That is the real problem – looking at Eternal Palace on its own, the difficulty curve is basically a flat line on the freaking ground until Za’qul, where it perks up slightly, and then Azshara, where it spikes up but still fails to match even your end-wing gatekeeper bosses from earlier in the expansion.
The sad thing is that I actually like the fight a lot – thematically, it is very fitting of Azshara and has a certain degree of craftsmanship in it that plays to the theme well. I don’t think that Azshara is a bad fight because of any of this – I actually like it, to be clear. It just doesn’t really feel like it fits well in this expansion or the raid it is present in.
The difficulty curve issue is the worst part of the raid for me. There is no sense of escalating challenge, no real hearty execution checks, and no teachable moments in the middle of a fight. I still don’t really fully understand Za’qul’s myriad mechanics (and being a tank on that fight sucks ass because everyone else gets to dimension hop and tanks just stay topside bored out of their minds), and while I understand the ways the other fights work and what Blizzard thinks is supposed to trip us up, the problem is that nothing ever does, and we remain able to fight even through big attacks. At least some of the undertuning feels like an error – the stack mechanic on Sivara should be hurting worse for a large group like mine, yet I can eat it solo and not even scramble for my Metamorphosis button.
This is mainly a problem because the raid feels so much like a vacation that by the time you get to Azshara, who demands better execution, it feels oddly out of place. Even on Azshara, some mechanics are flat-out ignorable. The caster of the Cursed Lovers phase stuns her tank after several casts of her frost attack, and while DBM tells you to taunt swap it, the Fatboss guide recommends just eating the stun as-is, and guess what, not doing the mechanic works better than doing the mechanic! If you swap it, you are reducing DPS uptime and complicating the LOS mechanic on them which can cause damage intake to increase. If you just eat the stun, a competent tank can pop their core mitigation ability prior to the stun to reduce incoming damage, leading to only a slight uptick in damage taken on a single target. Maybe the mechanic is actually a fake-out, but I find the simpler answer more likely – the stun simply isn’t tuned to hurt enough to matter, and the consequences of swapping like it does matter are worse than simply eating the stun.
Outside of those little flaws, Azshara’s fight is far better tuned than the rest of the raid, but as previously mentioned, it makes it such a weird anomaly compared to the rest. Nothing matters until Azshara, when suddenly, everything matters and you have to execute against a massive list of mechanics that already fits Heroic so well they only add a single extra variable to the mix for Heroic!
My challenge in really liking this tier is as follows – if Blizzard wanted to give us an easy tier, that is fine – if I could feel the shape of a designed ease underneath all of this, I would be more than happy to accept that it is simply a vacation tier before the lore hits maximum overdrive. However, Azshara and the various edges of the encounters leading to her reveal the truth – Blizzard didn’t design this tier to be easy, and they seemingly expect many of these mechanics to matter and to be things you worry about, but the tuning makes it so that nothing is really all that important short of the instadeath mechanics.
It feels kind of bad, in practice, because the raid never feels threatening or interesting for it. It is a visually cool place in which you strive to be a better player and the game gives you so few morsels of opportunity to set yourself apart from the rest on execution.
Granted, I think this is perhaps a better direction than the difficult raiding the prior two tiers have offered, but at the same time, I can’t be sure how much of my experience is being skewed by a 20+ player raid and how much is genuine, across-the-board undertuning. Even still, that would mean there is still undertuning, and that difficulty needs to be rebalanced to find a nice point at which every raid size can settle in and face the same challenge in gameplay.