My guild is now 6/8 on Heroic Eternal Palace, and the feeling I had during normal is creeping back in.
Eternal Palace, across the board, feels like it is the strongest example of Blizzard not really knowing how to properly tune for the flexible raid sizes they’ve had for 5 years now. Breakpoints, still present. Smaller groups, still more difficult. The overall scope of the raid emphasizes larger raid sizes more strongly, and it makes the player shortages we currently see due to apathy with BfA (which will get a lot worse with Classic) all the more apparent.
This is my first tier since Wrath where we’ve had a raid larger than 15 players, and while there are some elements of raiding at that size in general and raiding with this group in particular that I find…less than appealing, it overall makes raid nights mostly easier. The parts that are harder usually don’t concern me as a tank or non-raid leading officer, and the social friction (many of our merged-in raiders are E D G Y B O I S that cause the worst parts of our raid leader to manifest when he joins them) is something I can largely ignore, mainly because our progress remains solid.
One thing that remains demonstrably true about the current state of the game is that larger raid sizes just have it easier. The scaling reaches a saturation point where it expects that you have capped on healers and can’t deliver an increase in damage dealt, meaning that a group comp with one less healer than the game might expect and having excellent healers to fill the missing HPS out allows you to almost trivialize a lot of fights, as the race mechanics against certain ability casts becomes silly when the available DPS outstrips what the design dictates.
When we raided with 12-15 players, this was not the case, and mechanics we had to “race” against would sometimes get the better of us. That almost never happens at 19-24 players.
The end result is that past the learning curve, most of the fights on Heroic are pretty easy, too. Not as easy, as just about everything but Radiance of Azshara and Blackwater Behemoth have required at least a couple of wipes to readjust for mechanics, but it has been pretty face-rolly on our part by and large. The only boss that has posed a major challenge so far is Lady Ashvane, who is tuned up to a higher level than the Normal version despite no major changes in mechanics, and Za’qul, who we have yet to beat but the first night of attempts this week went pretty well and I expect we’ll be on Azshara herself sooner rather than later.
This means this raid tier has two distinct sets of groups I’ve observed through gameplay and reading the blogs of others.
1. Larger Groups, who will likely be bored from the end of progression until November or December at the earliest – my raid group is talking about defining a tight 20 to maybe do Mythic, but I would expect that the raid leader will hesitate strongly to do that, and that players being left out may raise a stink, so I suspect we’ll be farming Heroic and whittling down numbers until patch content, or running with alts, or some combination of these activities.
2. Smaller Groups, who will likely struggle with the later Heroic bosses until the end-of-tier nerfs, then maybe tip-toe over the finish line on their Ahead of the Curve acheivements on Azshara. These groups are going to hit some sharp walls, like Ashvane corals, dealing with Spark damage on Queen’s Court, and Za’qul. However, I suspect that Azshara herself will likely feel pretty straightforward on Heroic, given that the only added mechanic is that you might have to obey multiple orders when she calls decrees. Still, the end result is going to be that smaller groups will struggle to meet the hurdles placed in their way by Blizzard’s scaling, and the end result is going to be that a few groups that are otherwise capable are going to be forced to the wire on their Ahead of the Curve acheivements while others may not get them at all. I don’t want to pretend that this is inherently bad – AotC being hard to get is fine, but there is definitely an artificial inflation in difficulty for small group sizes that needs to be addressed.
However, now that my guild has fully left Normal difficulty behind, about a full month ahead of our normal timetable for such, and Heroic is nearly done about 3 months ahead of schedule, I can’t help but notice the sharp difference in our experience pre and post-guild merge and wonder how many smaller guilds out there are suffering.
Looking at the numbers on WoWProgress paints a fairly bleak picture. On my server, there are only 31 guilds total with any tracked progress in Eternal Palace, two of which are mine (pre and post-name change)! Battle of Dazar’Alor had 37, Uldir had 42, and Antorus saw 55 guilds! Many servers are seeing similar reductions in the raiding scene, which represents a massive change for the role of raiding in WoW. In past sub-par expansions, raiding was still exceedingly popular and saw larger numbers of guilds turn out to play.
It’s difficult to address in this piece why I think that might be happening, so I’ll save that for another day. But, needless to say, raiding is dwindling as an organized activity, and while it is possible that PUG groups, cross-server groups, and LFR are picking up the slack, most of what I’ve seen around suggests that this is not the case.
Therefore, I’ll return to address my prior point about Eternal Palace – it isn’t the case that it is too easy, but rather, that Blizzard’s scaling mechanism for flexible raid sizes has some huge flaws in it that are driving players away from the raid game. Is it fixable? Yes, probably, although I can’t pretend to know how. Would role awareness added to scaling help fix the problem? Possibly.
I hope Blizzard does something about it, and soon, though.