Over the last 5 years or so, a new mode of play has created an additional pillar in World of Warcraft’s endgame content – Mythic Plus (or Mythic Keystone) dungeons.
Over the last decade, Blizzard has been slowly adding in adjustable difficulty modes of play across the whole game. We got 10/25 player raiding before Blizzard landed on scaling 10-30 player raiding with the top in 20-player fixed runs, and dungeons added difficulties, first with Heroic, then in late Warlords of Draenor with Mythic, before Legion brought the Keystone system.
Dungeons in WoW used to be an endgame activity with a dedicated, invested audience, with only one hitch – at a certain point, dungeons ceased being rewarding on a loot basis, with Blizzard using random queuing incentives like Valor points or other currency systems to try and incentivize players to do them. With Legion, the random dungeon rewards dropped to small amounts of basic currency, with Mythic dungeon loot and the Keystone system’s rewards becoming the actual impetus for most dungeon running at the level cap.
This week, because of my renewed focus on them in-game, I wanted to break down the topic into three pieces to discuss. Today, I want to talk the past and history of the system, then in Part 2 discuss the current state of Mythic Plus in Shadowlands, with Part 3 at last going into some analysis of where I think the system can head and what the potential is for future Shadowlands seasons as well as future expansions.
The Basics: What Is A Mythic Plus Dungeon?
The core idea of a Mythic Plus dungeon is basic enough – you take the dungeon as it exists on Mythic difficulty, and then apply a number of modifiers to it. Instead of just boss goals, you force a group to clear all the bosses and a given value of trash mobs in the dungeon. Instead of flat difficulty, each level on a keystone scales up the health and damage of everything in the dungeon, with a rotating set of affixes each week that offer additional challenges outside of basic scaling. At keystone levels 2, 4, 7, and 10, an affix is added, to a maximum of 4. These are fixed on a weekly basis and the same across all regions, with each affix belonging to a fixed point in the level progression of a keystone. Keystones start at level 2 (level 1 is the base dungeon) and can scale up indefinitely, although affixes stop at level 10 with each level beyond offering just health and damage dealt boosts to enemies inside the dungeon. The modifier is a tuned scaling, with a level 2 keystone boosting the health and damage of enemies by 8% and a level 15 keystone boosting both by 172%.
A player can receive a keystone if they don’t currently have one by completing any Mythic dungeon. If you do a base-difficulty Mythic, you receive a level 2, and if you complete a Mythic Plus, you will receive a keystone with the level based on the dungeon level just completed and if you completed the run in time or not. If you complete the run in time, you’ll receive a keystone one to three levels higher based on time of completion, and if you failed the timer, one level lower. You’re only allowed to have one keystone at a time, and only one player has to use their stone to start the run. That player will receive a new keystone at the end of the run, with it either being upgraded by 1-3 levels based on a successfully-timed run, or downgraded by 1 level if the run timer is failed, with a random dungeon assigned in either case. Once you’ve completed a dungeon for the week, your Great Vault in Oribos will have a new keystone for the following week, either equal to your highest timed run for the prior week or one level lower than your highest failed but completed run, whichever level would be higher.
The core of this system is built around making dungeons an endlessly repeatable core of content, by scaling the difficulty up higher and higher while affixes fundamentally change the way the dungeon is played.
In Legion, a dungeon maxed out at 3 affixes, with the first two being fun tweaks like Volcanic (fire geysers are placed at ranged player’s feet randomly by enemies, which go off after a few seconds to deal modest fire damage and launch a player into the air) or gameplay modifiers like Necrotic (each hit from an enemy puts a stacking DoT that reduces healing received onto the target, with a short timer designed to encourage kiting). The last affix added in Legion at the high level was either Tyrannical or Fortified, which substantially buff either bosses (Tyrannical) or trash mobs (Fortified) by increasing their health and damage by a fixed affix value, on top of the main Mythic Plus scaling. In Battle for Azeroth and forward, affixes were changed in two ways. The first was a simple one, which put the Tyrannical and Fortified affixes as the first affix added at level 2, instead of the last. This actually works well because the fixed value increase is a more adaptable leap at lower keystone levels, where in Legion it was buffing enemies that were already buffed by over 100% so it marked a drastic climb in health and incoming damage compared to lower level keys, where the current methodology makes a sharper early jump but then stabilizes the curve as you climb higher. The second change was the addition of a fourth affix. Dubbed the “seasonal” affix, this is made to match the current raid content and give a tie-in for Mythic Plus dungeons that fits the theme of the current raid and story. The first seasonal affix for Season 1 in BfA was Infested, which put a buff on selected mobs in dungeons, making that mob’s allies have passive health regeneration. When killing that target, it would spawn two Spawn of G’Huun adds that would run off to new enemies and cast Infest, which, if allowed to cast, would then put the Infested buff on new enemies.
The current affix structure matches BfA’s, with Shadowlands’ Season 1 affix being Prideful – every 20% of trash cleared summons a Manifestation of Pride, which has a pulsing DoT that grows in power the longer the Pride lives, and debuffs targets at random with a 4-way missile to each cardinal direction, which deals damage and stuns any players hit. Once dead, the Prideful buffs players, giving 30% increased damage and healing, 60% increased movement speed, and 5% mana regeneration every second, all in a buff that lasts for 1 minute. This forces players to adapt their routes through the dungeon, as you want to control Prideful spawns so that they are used for difficult pulls – usually bosses, but on Fortified weeks or in dungeons with particularly difficult trash pulls, you might purposefully use one for trash instead.
Finally, completing a keystone dungeons gives the aforementioned keystones and upgrades, with each player receiving some anima and 2 lucky players receiving a piece of loot, with an item level based around what level was completed. If the timer was met, both pieces match the item level of the keystone level (a +15 gives 210 currently, as an example). If the timer is failed, one piece matches the level while the second piece is downgraded 1 keystone level in item value (the same +15 would give a 210 and a 207 in that case). The Great Vault also rewards gear for completing a dungeon, regardless of whether or not the timer was met, with gear being offered in power increments that are higher in the Vault than the end of dungeon chest. A +2 at the moment gives 187 loot at the end of the dungeon, with item level 200 on-offer in the vault, while a +15 gives 210 loot at the end of the run and a 226 piece in the Vault. You can unlock 3 Vault slots for Mythic dungeon completions, with the first always having item level based on your highest completed run. The second slot at 4 dungeons is based on the lowest of your top 4 dungeon runs for the week (so 15,13,12,10 would give a +10 level piece, resulting in item level 220) and the final slot at 10 dungeons complete rewards based on the lowest level of your lowest 4 completed runs (so if your bottom 4 are 10, 10, 9, and 8 you’d get a +8 piece of loot in that slot, item level 216). It’s somewhat arcane, especially since certain end of dungeon gear and vault slots don’t go up between levels, keeping the curve relatively flat. The highest the game incentivizes Mythic Plus is through level 15 – you can complete higher keystones, but the end of dungeon chest will always have 210 and the vault reward stops growing at item level 226, which you get for finishing a +14.
So we have a basic model for repeatable, MMO-style content here – run a dungeon, get a keystone, push the keystone higher and higher until you can’t anymore, collect some end of dungeon loot, and no matter what, have a guaranteed piece of loot waiting the next week for the effort. What’s the appeal from a gameplay perspective?
The core idea is that each affix set, keystone level, and dungeon combination offers something tangibly different. The affix Sanguine, for example, leaves blood puddles behind when a mob dies, which do damage to players and heal enemies. This can be very difficult in a dungeon like Sanguine Depths, where the rooms are small, corridors are compressed in width, and tanks have limited kiting room. Add another space-occupying affix like Quaking (players spawn AoE circles centered on them at fixed intervals, which do damage to players inside them and interrupt spellcasting) and you have a very different and much-more difficult dungeon on your hands. On the other hand, a dungeon like Spires of Ascension has larger areas with smaller packs on average, so that affix combo is much easier to deal with there and likely ends up being a minor nuisance at worst. That dungeon has strong trash, however, so on a Fortified week, Spires of Ascension can be very difficult, while Sanguine Depths generally has easier trash to deal with in most pulls, so a Fortified week there isn’t all that bad.
Prideful also notably changes the way you deal with the dungeons, because you have to consider when and where a Prideful will spawn and account for it in your routing. You want to have controlled, perfectly-timed Pridefuls – spawning when they’ll be most useful in the next minute, where you’ll have room to deal with the missiles they put on players, and to have them spawn at moments where you don’t have remaining trash mobs or especially a boss wailing on you, or maybe you specifically pull them together and try to maximize time and effort on that point in your route. In any Mythic Plus, you have to kill trash, but your goal is to kill as little as possible to meet the requirement for the dungeon, and maximizing survivability and time efficiency by picking packs that are as simple as possible for your group, since the trash gains health and damage output from the keystone and can gain more power on a Fortified week, on top of each trash mob being able to spawn things for affixes based on active enemies (almost all trash spawns Spiteful Shades on Spiteful week, every mob that is in combat with your group casts the Volcanic debuff so if there is a mob not in a cluster on your tank, you can have melee Volcanoes, which is bad!).
The whole thing has layers of strategy and adds a lot to dungeons compared to the old way of running the same dungeons endlessly for a smallish reward. With the Seasonal affixes, there is a 12-week rotation of affix combinations, and so with 4 seasons an expansion (using the BfA number) there are then 48 different run possibilities over the course of an expansion per dungeon. Seasonal affixes have given Blizzard room to even offer players vastly different runs – the Season 4 affix in BfA allowed players a way to teleport around the dungeon, creating new routes and skips that were different than the prior seasons, while Season 2’s Reaping gave you an extra threat of reanimated spirits of trash every 20%, which allowed you to control when they’d spawn and deal with them how you wanted – you could pull them into a boss and use strong cleave and AoE to burn them, or pace the dungeon such that you could set aside time to just deal with the new waves of spirits. Prideful in SL Season 1 offers a similar degree of value, with the added benefit of being harder (the Prideful is much more threatening than the Reaping ghosts) and the buff after changing the calculus on when and how you’d want one.
The question left then, is this: what is player perception of Mythic Plus like?
It depends on who you ask and what perspective they have with other activities in-game, but there are good points and bad points. In my opinion, here’s how I would judge the system overall:
Variety: I loved running dungeons in Wrath and Cataclysm. Downside – they were always the same past the first run, with the only variety that came in being how quickly you could stomp through them. Mythic Plus makes running dungeons less of a samey experience – each run is different, and there’s a ramping progression from lower-level keystones all the way up to the double-digits. The changes in BfA made the system so much easier – for me in Legion, keystones higher than 10 were scary and rare experiences, where I ran more keystones in BfA (although only in Season 1!) and have run more in Shadowlands so far than both prior expansions combined. No two runs have felt the same even in the same dungeon, although there can be moments of deja vu and/or PTSD depending on the dungeon tuning!
Reward: Mythic Plus is one of very few modes of gameplay in Shadowlands that offers fairly consistent rewards. Not as consistent as PvP, and not as high of a ceiling as rated PvP or Mythic Raiding, but there is a direct correlation between reward and effort, and with every dungeon now offering two pieces of loot, the likelihood of getting something in a small handful of runs is pretty high. With Valor points added in 9.0.5, even helping friends or alts with low keystones can be rewarding, because a low-level drop or Vault slot can be upgraded, which gives a deterministic edge and makes Mythic Plus arguably the best-rewarding mode of PvE play in the game at the moment.
Depth: Mythic Plus as a system has so much depth to it that creates engagement. There’s the scoreboard aspect of having higher and faster runs than your friends and guildies, the layers of strategic consideration that affix combination, group composition, and gear level add to the dungeons, and the way in which you can experiment. Raids have one popular strategy, maybe a couple depending on the boss, and then you have variations individual groups make to compensate for their class loadout or the like, but Mythic Plus dungeons can be run with all sorts of different strategies and groups up to the maximum reward level of 15. Past that, like most things in WoW PvE, a clear meta begins to form and group comps become more static and similar, but even then, groups play with different stuff all the time and even non-meta classes and specs played exceptionally can clear into the +20s, provided you can get a group together (PUG groups tend to overwhelmingly stick to meta, which we’ll touch on more later).
Low Barriers for Entry, Low Restrictions on Play: Raids have fixed loot lockouts and are generally constrained because of it – one raid clear per difficulty per week per character, and this means that you aren’t incentivized to do a Heroic run on your main character and then do it again for a friend to clear some bosses on the same difficulty – you actively cannot loot anything and you reduce the chance for the rest of the raid to get loot as you are factored out of the math for number of drops. Mythic Plus is almost the opposite – if you have a keystone, you can push it as high as you want, and once you meet resistance, you slide slowly down so you can farm more loot and practice higher levels of enemy buffing. Getting a keystone is easy and once you have one, Blizzard has attempted to make it as easy as possible to hold onto one constantly. Even if you don’t personally have one, go run a dungeon with a friend’s stone, you’ll also get one and the system propagates itself simply through these means. Getting into a keystone dungeon and becoming a part of the system’s growth through the playerbase is easy to do, and even with a week or more away, you can quite easily get right back in and pick up a new stone to push. If you don’t want to push your stone, you can join in groups with higher level keys and pick and choose how you’d like to progress without ever touching your own stone (phrasing?). Because groups are freeformed, there is no composition requirement, so you could theoretically run two healers or two tanks, or do a 5 DPS group – it can become a canvas for you to paint on how you please, and with enough practice and savvy, can even result in rewards! In Legion, I used to solo up to +4s on my Demon Hunter tank and I could time them with enough focus, and that was really quite cool and a lot of fun to do. There are stories even now of tanks being able to solo a +17 (over the course of hours, so certainly not timed!)!
Dungeon Tuning Really, Really Matters and Blizzard Rarely Delivers: Every affix set and every change in tuning can make or break certain dungeons. For a lot of my guildies, any Sanguine Depths key at 14 or higher is an automatic ignore, just in general, but especially on weeks with space-constraining affixes like Volcanic, Spiteful, or Quaking. Mists of Tirna Scithe is nearly always a great dungeon for pushing, because it rarely suffers from affix problems that drastically reshape the dungeon, keeping steady routes and making the only annoyance in most runs the maze and the variable amount of trash completion that it offers. Because everything is based on the original Mythic dungeon, there are often problems that don’t show up at that level that become problems as the scaling of a keystone pushes damage output and health ever higher. Compounding this, Blizzard is very slow to step in with balance changes, only seldom offering them for big problem dungeons in the middle of a season, instead choosing to keep problems intact for a season unless they are cripplingly bad. Most of the Shadowlands dungeons needed retuning and didn’t get it until February, after a couple rounds of the MDI put problems on display. Even the whole Tyrannical affix was retuned with that round of tuning because of just how skewed the difficulty it offered was! Outside of huge, glaring problems shown on international web broadcasts, though, a lot of balance problems between dungeons are just left alone until the next season, an approach that both makes some amount of sense but also feels shitty and bad because it is!
Group Composition Can Feel Like A Big Deal (And Is When You Get Higher): In the MDI level of competitive play, you see a lot of the same team compositions, classes, and specs. Just like with everything else in the game, the current balancing is king and you’ll see players all over the place based on what the current hot spec is. Overtuned specs will often be brought, and specs that are undertuned or simply underrepresented can often struggle to find groups. Currently, you’ll see a lot of Demon Hunter tanks, a lot of Holy Paladin healers, and DPS compositions that usually lean on Balance Druids, Fire Mages, both Marksman and Beast Mastery Hunters, Windwalker Monks, and Shadow Priests. Why? They’re strong and have strong cleave. In raids, Havoc DH is mid-tier because their single target is anemic and Castle Nathria is very focused on ST damage, but then in Mythic Plus, the insane baked-in cleave and AoE damage of Havoc means it sees more play. However, there are some challenges with this as there tend to be in the game. Firstly, players will latch onto meta group comps without knowing why, so if they see MDI groups all tanked by DHs, they’ll only take DHs and other tanks, even great ones, get left out. The same applies for healers and DPS as well – if your class and spec aren’t meta, some groups will ignore your application. Up to a level 15 keystone, Blizzard has generally done well enough here, that if you can play your class and spec of choice competently and learn the dungeon-specific wrinkles, you can get stuff done regardless of the meta. Past that level 15, however, groups become far-more meta obsessed, with PUGs often adhering strictly to meta comps, while even structured groups will tend to push players to meta specs (at high level Mythic Plus play, teams often have players that level and gear multiple characters, just as they do at high levels of Mythic raiding). If you run your own groups or play with friends and guildies, you can escape this and push as high as you want with whatever composition you’d like or have access to, but at the ragged edge of balance, impossible can become possible if your Destruction Warlock can play a good Fire Mage, or if your Brewmaster Monk can instead DPS as Windwalker.
There Is An Excessive Amount of Pressure on Tank and Healer Players: DPS in Mythic Plus is downright fun, because you get to push on all aspects of play in most dungeons – there are AoE pulls, single-target boss and even trash fights, and cleave fights in that in-between space where smarter choices can set you apart. For the tank or the healer, however, these dungeons can often be exceedingly challenging. For tanks, you’re expected to set the pace as always, but also to define the route and deliver a successful kill order that results in pixel-perfect trash count and, in the current season, spawns Pridefuls at the correct points in a run to maximize the buff they offer. Tanking is far more dynamic in Mythic Plus than in a raid – raids tend to have very static positioning or goal-oriented positioning – you’re placing a boss in a spot for a mechanic, or just tanking the boss in a small number of fixed locations around the encounter space. In Mythic Plus, especially in Season 1 Shadowlands, you have to do so much more – kiting and using your full mobility to increase survivability without pulling extra or putting a healer out of line of sight or range, using many more of your niche toolkit stuff, like Sigil of Misery for Vengeance DH, and you generally have to manage all of this while also keeping threat, which is a much more challenging thing in Shadowlands. For healers, there is a lot of unavoidable damage that can then set up players to be one-shot by mechanics that aren’t usually one shots, so you have to consistently manage the groups health beyond simple triage, with more attention paid to your tank in particular compared to an average dungeon. Healers have the compounding challenge of mana management, as time spent drinking or waiting for regen can slow the pace of the group and cause timer tension, which a PUG group will likely drop at your feet. If you play with PUGs, tanking and healing can be downright miserable, and it takes a lot of practice and stress prevention techniques to feel at home in higher level keys in these roles, as there is an undue burden on you compared to the DPS in the group.
Time Pressure Isn’t For Everyone: Not everyone likes to “go go go” in a dungeon, and Mythic Plus creates an environment where this is looked down upon, with the effects trickling down to lower difficulties. If you ever see a fresh 60 tank pull 2-3 packs of trash in a random Heroic, they likely are trying to do Mythic Plus pulls and routes, and there’s literally no need for that outside of the mode of play! I would argue that for players that don’t like timer pressure, Mythic Plus has made all levels on dungeon play worse by creating a perception that faster clears are always better, and while that is sort of true on some level, the atmosphere that kind of play creates can feel oppressive and undesirable, even if you like Mythic Plus but then spend some time running regular dungeons.
Item Droprate Is Lower and Less Predictable: On a base Mythic dungeon, each boss drops something, and you know that you have a chance at an item of your choice off a given boss, so if you get loot early in the dungeon off a prior boss, you might not be able to get the drop of your desire off the final boss. Mythic Plus end chests are based on the full dungeon loot tables, so instead of getting a shot per boss at an item, and being able to predict reasonably well if you’ll get a drop off the end boss based on if you got one earlier, you get one shot at the loot table of 3-5 bosses! Since there’s no loot lockout, you can go nuts and run every possible key of the dungeon that gives you the thing you want, even low ones since Valor upgrades can get you where you want to go, but everytime you’re still faced with anywhere from a 1/12 to 1/25 chance at the drop you want, assuming you even get picked to be graced with loot in the first place! Then, we have the Vault. The vault slots you unlock for Mythic Plus are based on the full loot table of all dungeons in the expansion, so your 1/12 chance at the healer trinket from Mists of Tirna Scithe is now a 1/60+ish chance at the same. It’ll be higher item level from the Vault should you get lucky and have it, so that’s kind of nice, but slightly higher than 1% drop chance at the Vault is…not great! Raiding maintains the consistency of loot drop rates and the Vault slots for raiding only drop items from bosses you’ve previously killed that tier, so if you have a weapon drop off the first 3 bosses, the first weeks of progression where you kill only those bosses each week means that your vault drop chance for that weapon is much higher, and even then, a full raid loot table is smaller. From Castle Nathria, I have 28 possible loot drops. At a full clear, each vault slot has a 1/28 chance of giving me the thing I want. Meanwhile, for me as a DH, there are 63 possible drops from all Mythic dungeons – more if I add both specs to the mix, but those odds are pretty bad and substantially lower. If I were a Druid working on all of my specs, that list would be larger for weapons and trinkets by a substantial amount, as it would be for a 3-spec Paladin or Monk who likewise wants to build sets for each spec and be capable of bringing what is needed.
In Guilds, Small Groups Can Reveal Cliques In Your Roster and Feel Bad: Pugging Mythic Plus isn’t all bad, and is actually easier for the most part compared to raid pugging, but most people will want to run with their guildies. There’s a problem that can manifest there if your roster has clear divisions of players, or is the byproduct of a merger, however – players can end of splitting into groups that don’t invite outside of their roster and create a sort of negative social vibe. In my guild, the product of a merger, we have an almost clear cut down the middle of Guild A and Guild B, where Mythic Plus groups tend to divide neatly down that line. The guild we merged with is generally more tryhard and likely to exclude players, while our original roster is generally more open but doesn’t push keystones as high. It means that while people talk about the “guild” working on Keystone Master achievements and the like, there is still a perception that it isn’t the whole guild but instead a group of players who often don’t cross-pollinate. This is something that has to be a leadership focus if you want to slap it down – our officers, myself included, have had to push a lot harder on getting people to play with each other and bring everyone up that is willing to try their best, but there is still some of that clique-ishness manifesting. One night, I watched a group of 3 of the guildies that merged with us debate about running a +15 without mentioning anyone from my original guild, before they finally, somewhat defeatedly, said “I guess we can just fail the timer and bring anyone” and so I went with them, and hey guess what – they fucked up the timer, not me! I ran another 15 with them last night, although a slightly different configuration, and I made a point of showing off my results and then, when they complimented, saying “I had to beat all of you in order for you to even consider bringing me to a +15 dungeon, so there you go!” They obviously didn’t like hearing that, but at the same time, fuck off with your cliques, folks! This is a social tension problem, the kind that MMOs excel at creating, and it is one that a guild or group of large numbers of players has to keep in mind, because it can make the environment suck. I had a certain amount of loathing towards my merged guildies because of their snobby elitist bullshit, and my solution was in-game – beat them down so thoroughly and then point out that if they never extend the chance to anyone outside their circle, they miss out on performances like that, but not every group will react the same or well to that and so if you’re a guild/community leader trying to keep a positive environment for people to learn and grow in, you have to get really good at sniffing that out and stomping on it.
(This same thing happened to my team’s raid lead, who was in the other guild pre-merger, which was funny because he stormed off on a break when his old guildies didn’t invite him for runs, despite the fact that he was often included without asking when several more of us were never in the running for an invite even though we could outperform, so oops. The hypocrisy!)
You Might Not Want To Play With Your Friends, Depending On How Well They Play: My longest-term friends are, unfortunately, kind of not great at Mythic Plus, and that sucks. Two of my friends play tanks and often don’t respond well to rapid adjustments in positioning and needs to kite, skills they can learn, but it means doing runs with them tanking right now can result in scuffed keys and hurt feelings. One of them is open to feedback and coaching and generally responds well to it, but the other…certainly doesn’t! Then, our fearless guild leader. He’s a clicker/keyboard mover, and while we often rib him about it in jest, in the environment of Mythic Plus, it makes him too slow to adjust and respond and makes him a liability on medium-high keys. Any 10+ dungeon I’ve done with him has been a failed timer, and a part of it is that he doesn’t move out of one-shots fast enough, or will drop high damage AoEs on the melee cluster because he’s too busy doing his own damage to notice that he’s making the healer work 4x as hard. Doing the second boss of Sanguine Depths with him is pure torture, and I’ve never timed any level Sanguine Depths with him in the group. I still play with my friends, because I try and generally succeed at not being an elitist prick (in my perception) but it’s sometimes quite hard. Last week, the full group of us with rotating other players resulted in my key of the week being dropped from a +14 to a +11, triple scuffed, along with thousands of gold in repairs and some excessively long dungeons, like a near 70 minute Sanguine Depths.
Lastly, PUGs Are Fine, But…: Pugging Mythic Plus is actually quite easy to do, at least to a certain point. Generally, you can get into groups on sheer item level up to around the 10-12 keystone level range. The dungeons are still just dungeons, so mechanics can often be condensed into text and tanks can use body language to demonstrate pulls, threading the needle, and their routing strategies. However – Mythic Plus currently suffers from what late Wrath did, in which an addon is dominating the scene by assigning a value to each player. The addon in this case, no longer Gearscore, but instead…Raider.IO.
Now, here’s the challenge. On some level, I get it. Pugging sucks, and wasting time to a bad pug feels awful and pushes people away from grouping with strangers and building those social connections. Having a way to assess someone’s basic competency and experience with Mythic Plus can help mitigate some of that – but not all of it. Raider.IO attempts to do this by rating players by role, using a couple of factors. It assigns a numerical score based on the keystone level completed, but only the highest value per dungeon, with a close fail on a higher level sometimes beating a barely passed timer on a lower keystone, and then it also provides the number of successfully timed dungeons in each keystone level range, with that having a small effect on the score. In theory, this allows you to use their addon to show the score in-game, or to lookup an applicant to your group on their site, see they’ve got a score of 1,042 points (my current score!) and that they’ve done every dungeon on at least +12, with over 12 completed 10-14 level keystones and over half the dungeons completed on higher keystone levels, and then invite because all of that at at 220 item level shows someone who should be capable of handling a PUG 12-13 with ease.
In practice, as with Gearscore, it breaks down in a few ways. Firstly, players can buy carries through dungeons and have an artificially high IO score, which breaks the perceived integrity of the measurement. I had a priest healer over the weekend that was higher IO than me but never joined the group on trash pulls in Theater of Pain, resulting in a disband because this guy couldn’t even follow us when we came back to get him and show him the way to the trash we were pulling. Secondly, the score is a number based on meaningful data inputs, but I’ll be damned if some people just look for the highest number and discard anything lower without looking. I have a 1,042 score but have a Spires of Ascension 15 as my best result in that dungeon, so if I apply for a Spires 13, my credentials should be clear – lots of dungeons in that range clear, and the specific dungeon I’ve done on even higher levels of difficulty. Meanwhile, someone could have a 1,200 score but have never timed a Spires past like 8 or 9 – but a lot of PUG leaders will take the latter instead because bigger number must be better. And I mean, in fairness, that player could be exceptionally good and just not have run a lot of Spires due to a lack of rewards that are meaningful to them, or a lack of that key in their normal play groups and PUGs. It still opens itself up as a metric to that problem – by distilling the performance of every run to a numeric score, the idea of Raider.IO can be oversimplified and misused, causing groups that fall apart or forcing players into IO grinding hell in order to have a shot of getting taken to a 14 or 15. I mean hell, I’m an item level 220 Havoc DH with a reasonably good IO score that shows participation in 14 and 15s with success, and I only managed to pug as high as 14, and even that was an exceptional bit of luck at 1 AM server time that got me invited into an in-game/Discord community with events running constantly, which is cool (more on that in a future post).
Now you might be thinking, well okay, but not everyone has Raider.IO or cares, and you’d be right! However…Blizzard is working with the Raider.IO team and is working to add a built-in version of the Raider.IO scoring as a base part of the game. Just like Gearscore resulted in average item level displays on character sheets with bright highlights and large fonts, Raider.IO is going to ensure that every player is tagged with a value based on their gameplay. And I mean, again, I understand why tools like this exist and I don’t think it is innately malicious or bad. It just can encourage bad things and bad decisions, create unnecessary tension and friction, and is itself not a foolproof or bulletproof means of assessing player experience, competence, or skill.
But almost 6,500 words deep, we’ve covered the history of Mythic Plus up to the pros and cons of the system. In the next post in this series, we’ll visit the current day to discuss the various issues and positives of Mythic Plus in Shadowlands, and then Part 3 will wrap with the potential future state in WoW and some discussion on how it might leak out of WoW into other MMOs and games.