In part 1 of this series, I discussed the history and implementation of Mythic Plus, and the core ideology of the mode of play. In part 2, we went into the Shadowlands first season, and today, we talk about the future.
What a fitting day as well, since working on revisions for this post pushed out a Season 1 world champion team for the MDI and some news from a recent Chinese fansite interview with Ion about the future of Mythic Plus.
So, let’s dive in!
Shadowlands Season 2: Domination?
All we know at this point of the seasonal affix is that it will involve chains and/or domination, a wide-open statement that could encompass all matter of effects. Seasonal affixes are the latest thing to watch for, because while most players are used to the current affix set and how they affect gameplay, the Seasonal Affix shapes the mode in a unique way for higher keys, often sharply changing how dungeons are run.
What we can evaluate is the trendline for seasonal affixes and how they’ve been used as of late.
At this point, we’ve had 5 seasonal affixes – 4 in BfA, 1 in Shadowlands. Each has added some sort of new target to the dungeons, from the tiny Spawn of G’Huun to spirits to Azsharan Emissaries to Servants of the Old Gods to Manifestations of Pride. It seems likely, based on that trend, to observe that the Shadowlands Season 2 affix is likely to involve some servant of the Jailer. All of these affixes have placed multiple such targets in the dungeons, controlled either by a progression model (every x% of trash) or a designed model (x number of seasonal targets per dungeon, either as a part of the dungeon and variable for each map, or as a fixed number per affix, like Awakened in BfA, which was always 4 N’Zoth lieutenants). The reason for this is simple – combat scales with Keystone level, so the affix changes from 10 all the way up as the mobs added by the affix continue to gain in health and damage output.
There is a second trend worth evaluating, in that the two most recent affixes, back-to-back, have both been affixes with upsides to them accompanying the increase in difficulty. Awakened could be used to make easy, consumable-free skips around the dungeon, as you could use the portals into Ny’alotha offered by the 4 lieutenants to create new routes around the dungeon, free from difficult trash pulls. Like with Prideful after it, a lot of higher-end groups simply skipped the affix through the dungeon, opting instead to pull the lieutenants at the end on the final boss as a smorgasbord of destruction, or at least only killing select affix enemies and then letting the others spawn with the last boss. Prideful is sometimes skipped by using tricky maneuvers when it is spawned to drop it away from the group, invisibility potion past it, or via the use of a death skip. For most groups, though – these affixes provide vital support to groups trying to eke out a win against the timer, or to trivialize problem pulls in dungeons.
It’s the upside that makes the last two affixes particularly good, in my opinion. Infested was new and could be bad, but at best, it was just longer trash pulls on packs where an Infested mob was. Reaping and Beguiling were just more trash mobs with some slight new abilities to learn. In the case of Beguiling, it was worse because it was rotating the type of mob on a weekly basis, and there was difficulty differential between all 3, which made some weeks notably easier and others harder, especially once the other affixes were pulled into focus. Awakened and Prideful are both great in my opinion because of the upside, but also because of how they allow you to redesign your pulls and route in such a way that you can use them differently in all groups and there isn’t a single consensus route – multiple guide writers have different opinions and some will even design Prideful routes around having Pridefuls on every possible boss or on bringing them for difficult trash packs, which can shape up new routes for every other week as you use these routes to compensate for Tyrannical/Fortified.
So if I was a betting man, so far I’d bet this – the SL Season 2 affix will have a unique trash mob associated with it and an upside effect to the group to keep it in-line with what players seem to like about the seasonal affix system, especially the most recent examples. If I had to build my prediction based on this, it would be that the affix is called Domination, involves killing between 1-5 servants of the Jailer to take their chains, which the party can then use to tether enemies to a fixed radius and incur some other combination of effects. In my head, the Chain effect should work on anything in the dungeon, including bosses, and tuned around the idea of being about as good as Prideful, if not slightly better. Prideful being skipped is sometimes still a thing that happens on higher keys because Pridefuls are pretty challenging with scaling and the benefit of killing one doesn’t always offset that (the last boss of Plaguefall is a good example, where the boss constantly being untargetable means you lose a lot of benefit). I’d guess that it will likely be a fixed number of spawns across the board, similar to Awakened – Prideful changing routes is great but the Jailer’s forces feel like they’d be more present and less likely to react to players, thematically at least.
Tweaks to Existing Affixes
In a broad-ranging interview with Chinese fansite Douyu, Ion Hazzikostas revealed some tweaks were coming to a couple of affixes. In particular, two were named – Storming and Spiteful, two new entries to the game in Shadowlands. These affixes are particularly problematic towards melee group compositions, in a way that ranged often don’t suffer. While Volcanic does, in theory, make playing ranged harder on its assigned weeks, in practice, it can hit everyone as pulls often dictate that mobs are brought to a location, a trip that Volcanic can be cast during, and on top of that, it is painfully easy to avoid and non-punishing to an almost laughable degree. Meanwhile, Spiteful spawns can two-shot melee DPS, who may not have noticed that they are beating wailed on, and while each player is responsible in a run for paying attention to themselves and fixing such issues, the way Spiteful influences the game can be pretty harsh. It creates a rougher edge to the already kiting-heavy metagame of Shadowlands Season 1, and that feels pretty bad.
Meanwhile, Storming isn’t so much painful as it is annoying. In a way, it actually does to melee what Volcanic is supposed to do for ranged – requires a lot of adjustment, is constantly a minor threat, and with tight, thread-the-needle M+ pulls, creates positional tension where a player being forcibly displaced by Storming might pull additional packs, which threatens group safety and also can affect routing for Prideful timings. In terms of the actual direct damage it does, it’s fairly low and inconsequential, but the knock-on effects are kind of bad and lopsided to melee-harmful. In a mode that already has melee challenges like Sanguine, Quaking, and the Bursting Pride casts of Prideful and has a tank-movement metagame requirement, it can feel kind of gut-punchy to play melee in the current season.
Affix balance should be a point of continual contention with Blizzard, as there are clear differences in difficulty, and there are lots of obvious shifts where select weeks are “push” weeks where people want to play and tons of keys get done and non-push weeks, where people don’t really care about Mythic Plus that much and tend not to run as many keys. Starting with these two newer affixes is a decent sweet-spot – players don’t have any particular affinity or nostalgia for them and are more likely to be negative towards them as a result, so tuning them down between seasons would be a welcome change. Really, the thing about melee in Mythic Plus in general is that it comes with a lot of annoyance more than direct actual danger, so it would be nice to carve away some annoyance and leave behind genuinely interesting gameplay interactions. Spiteful has room for interesting counterplay, so I don’t hate it as much – but if they took Storming behind the shed and just axed it, I would be pretty happy with that!
The Dreaded Blizzard-Official Mythic Plus Scoring System
Most of the player community that goes hard on Keystone dungeons uses an addon called Raider.IO, which we’ve discussed in prior posts in the series. Basic premise there is easy enough – time dungeons, earn points, with each dungeon having a base score, keystone level offering upgrades to that base score, and timed/failed but completed each having their own values, such that a close-call failure can be worth enough to boost your score. It’s PUG-filtering, basically – by setting a baseline score expectation, or using the data on best runs it makes readily available, you can thin a herd of applicants to your dungeon run down to a level where you can pick players with demonstrated skill. As we previously discussed, it has the same problems most tools of the sort have – it can’t tell if you’re genuinely present or being carried which makes its rating less worthwhile, it can be used in a negative way by more elitist players to overcorrect for standard PUG jitters, and it doesn’t account for raw skill or performance so much as rote repetition of content.
Blizzard, in 9.1, is adding their own flavor of this scoring to the game directly, which will, in a way, invalidate Raider.IO, much like Gearscore before it died out once Blizzard exposed item level equipped in the game UI directly. In Ion’s recent Douyu interview, he went into slightly more detail about it, which took some admittedly unexpected turns. In short:
-Mythic Plus rating in-game is intended to be a middle-ground between PUG helper and PvP rating, with the possibility of rewards for Mythic Plus being tied to the rating instead of just “complete every dungeon at +5/+10/+15/+20
-The team is discussing rating Tyrannical and Fortified runs differently for scoring, which may mean that a player would need to run dungeons both ways for “maximum” rating values
-Blizzard is focused on trying to add group finder options, but with caution – they want to keep control in the player’s hands for Mythic dungeons and not just matchmake random players together, and the hope is that through a combination of adding rating values and some potential tweaks to group finder searches, filters, and listings should help
All of this, taken together, covers a broad ground. The rating system idea could be good, in a way – timing all 15s is doable but can be rough for upgrades that are below the Vault item level for doing the same, but having to reach the equivalent of, say, a +12 range keystone player to get higher upgrades to gear with stuff like the Keystone Master mount coming in their standard form would be an improvement. The Group Finder improvements are hard to get excited about without specific in-game testing or demonstration, but the ideas are sound and I don’t think I disagree with the idea, even though players being in-charge means that there can be social tension downsides.
Lastly, however, for this point, I wanted to visit the topic of Tyrannical/Fortified scoring, because it feels weird to just say as he has. I debated putting this in the balancing section above, but the intent here seems that Blizzard knows the base affixes for a Mythic Plus are fundamentally unbalanced and their solution is…to not fix that and just give players extra credit for the harder one? What?! I actually am kind of mad about that, because the imbalance of these affixes should require some degree of attention or action, and just doing it via rating feels bad and wrong. If one of them is harder and draws less players, it should be rebalanced – not just accounted for!
Overall, I don’t dread the rating system, as my personal experience with Raider.IO hasn’t been that bad, although at a 220 item level, I can coast a bit on being a popular melee spec for Mythic Plus and being overgeared for the level keystones I’m running, while I imagine if I was down a little lower, it would suck more. I think that pushing it as a reward mechanism could be a net positive, if done correctly. What does correctly mean in this context? Well, generally, I think the completion rewards are still fine, but I think that gear upgrades being tied to rating instead of the weird item level by keystone level bracketing they currently do would be an improvement.
The Future Outside of Shadowlands
Keystone dungeons are here to stay, and I don’t think there’s a future state of the current game that excludes them. Love them or hate them, Mythic Keystone dungeons offer flexible, digestible dungeon runs with infinitely-scaling difficulty, new routes and challenges with affixes, and over time, have drawn in an increasingly-larger number of players (unique character numbers from Legion compared to 8.3 BfA or Shadowlands Season 1 shows that representation has grown by almost 5x over time!) and become a preferred way that many players spend their time in game. They offer endlessly repeatable content with all sorts of layers to it, that can be done in small groups or PUGs much easier than raiding, and the amount of development time it takes to layer the system on top of the dungeons that players already expect is minimal compared to the design and development pipeline for a raid tier, much less an expansion full of raid tiers. Further, I expect that the current system will be about what it stays as – barring some minor tweaks, the current model is actually quite good and feels good in terms of scaling and how the challenge ramps over the keystone levels. Rewards could use some refinement, but I think the rating system will show us what direction Blizzard intends to go.
The system doesn’t work for everyone, but I think that the changes to scaling and additions like seasonal affixes have made it more curiosity-inducing, even if not everyone that tries one comes back.
My suspicion is that Blizzard will continue to add new affixes, or could even retire or rotate some affixes in and out. But I have a hotter take for that, which I will volunteer now: once Legion timewalking dungeons are added in Shadowlands, I fully expect to see Timewalking Mythic Plus. Why?
Well, because I think there’s value to offer there, and it would allow Blizzard another stronger hook for timewalking weeks, which are simultaneously the most rewarding weeks for some players (Timewalking raids and the event cache offering raid-level loot) and the least rewarding (if you’re a player like me at this point, timewalking is literally only good for an eternal crystal or transmog appearance and maybe a mount drop if I ever get lucky). If you add in Mythic Plus, scaled to current level, with current Mythic Plus item level tiers and affixes, it could be really cool and would be something different for keystone lovers to do.
You could even cycle old affix sets in, like using the original Legion affix methodology for that timewalking week, or using the current affix methodology but then making a “timewalking” affix for each expansion that captures some flavor. For Legion, you could invent damn near anything – base it on Suramar, or Emerald Nightmare, or Odyn, or Legion-y things, while for BfA you could use the old seasonal affixes and rotate them through, or even add a new timewalking-specific affix that captures the overall expansion flavor. Hell, it could even be cool (although a lot of work, surely) to add a zone-based affix set, so that dungeons from Stormheim in Legion all have Helya-affected affixes, while the Suramar dungeons have Elisande doing stuff, or Val’Sharah dungeons have Emerald Nightmare corruption – etc.
And it would be a longshot, but it would be really cool if every timewalking dungeon set got a Mythic Plus mode added to it, although I expect the scaling for such would be a lot of work and might not even end up being that popular. Given the way the timewalking raiding idea has gone (only available for 3 expansions out of the 5 in rotation) it would be perfectly fine with me if Mythic Plus timewalking was only added for expansions that already had it – at least then you’re not having to build and tune timers again, or configuring routes and determining how much trash a group has to pull – but I think it would be a sweet hook all the same!
Mythic Plus in Other MMOs?
As an also-fan of Final Fantasy XIV, one of the funnier things I see constantly there is players asking about the possibility of Mythic Plus-styled dungeons coming to that game, and I figure – why not, let’s evaluate the landscape.
The short answer is that most games use a different model of dungeon than WoW, where dungeons have always been endgame, endlessly repeatable content, albeit with the dark years of Mists of Pandaria and Warlords of Draenor with no new dungeons and little need to do them past a low point on the gear scale. In FFXIV, dungeons are just fundamentally different. Timer pressure would be very different to an FFXIV audience, where wall-to-wall pulling becomes an expectation very shortly after a new dungeon launches, as there is otherwise very little threat or challenge to the game’s dungeon designs. You could, theoretically, make dungeons have EX or Savage modes that scale up in difficulty, but currently the game’s design just isn’t really there. The reward paradigm is to run a roulette or 3 of dungeons for maximum reward, not to endlessly spam dungeons, and there are very narrow windows in which the majority of the playerbase is constantly dungeon-running, usually right after a patch or expansion drop when the gear and tomestone rewards from doing so are most valuable, and the lore is fresh and new.
In many ways, I sort of find myself thinking that WoW has Mythic Plus as a system because it could only really exist in WoW. It is everything about the modern game, a byproduct of all the design decisions to this point – it uses popular assets to deliver new gameplay for minimal additional work, it increases engagement through carrot-on-a-stick reward philosophy and constant replayability, uses front-loaded reward mechanisms (just 1-10 for the Great Vault, just one for the weekly chest before that, just one higher keystone to push my reward to a higher value), values stronger group compositions and metagaming, and is easy to approach at a base level but has a ton of things hiding under the surface that can hook you. If you like modern WoW, you probably like Mythic Plus – and the question gets asked about FFXIV a lot specifically because that game has a lot of WoW refugees who like that mode of play even when the game they switched to doesn’t really support it.
And that’s the catch, isn’t it? WoW has Mythic Plus because Mythic Plus is a distillation of the game as a whole – for better and for worse. FFXIV uses dungeons as lore conveyance machines for the most part and only revisits dungeons when there’s a new story to tell. Hell, the so-called “Hard” dungeons in the game are only labeled as such because they’re higher character and item level than the originals they’re based on – nothing else about them is the same. Each “hard” dungeon in FFXIV is a new route, with new artwork based on the original, and a new story to tell about the inhabitants who shacked up in the dungeon after players cleaned it up the first time!
I can’t speak for other MMOs, but I rarely get the impression that other games have as much emphasis on dungeons as WoW, much less that repeatable, multiple difficulty, do it over and over again philosophy that is so ingrained in WoW. I do think that more repeatable content with tweaks like affixes and keystone levels offer is good – FFXIV does have multiple-difficulty options for its raiding content – but otherwise, I feel like M+ as a system is just philosophically incompatible with what is offered in FFXIV, much less other MMOs.
Also, that is an additional catch in its own way. Non-WoW MMO players tend to hate WoW and its gameplay. That’s a topic I will absolutely revisit in the near-future, but if you read a comment trail on MassivelyOP or any other MMO-focused site that covers WoW as the still-industry leader, people have varying degrees of delusion about what WoW is in modern times, usually based on their own outdated play experiences with it, and will conjure up all sorts of weird strawmen about the game. Adding what has become one of WoW’s bullet-point features, or even a mode sort of loosely inspired by it, will agitate those kinds of people – and, to be more fair, a lot of other MMOs are simply not focused on dungeons like WoW is, and that is fine. I like FFXIV dungeons just fine, but if WoW suddenly had shorter, consistently-4 boss dungeons with intro and outro cutscenes that are really at their best only on the first playthrough, I’d probably be annoyed. It just wouldn’t fit – kind of the same way that WoWs endgame is philosophically incompatible with most other MMOs. That isn’t to say that any given approach is better or worse – just to say instead that the MMO space is full of different titles with their own ways to play and things to say, and I think any of them trying to import something from another game would be making a mistake.
What a long, strange trip it has been. Mythic Plus dungeons have rapidly become an obsession of sorts for me in WoW – not always the most fun or the most engaging, but more often so than even raiding, in my opinion. Mythic Plus dungeons have a relatively short history in WoW, but have already become such a defining part of the endgame content that it is hard to imagine WoW without them, or remember what endgame dungeon-running was like before them. There are still points that clearly need work on both an expansion-level and a systems-level – better balance of difficulty between dungeons, better scaling, better affixes that work more consistently and create a fair level of competition between melee and ranged DPS players, and some tweaks to rewards. At the same time, I’d argue that the current season is pretty great as-is – there’s a strong and interesting seasonal affix, the challenge across the board is not consistent but even the harder dungeons feel doable, and the reward system for Mythic Plus is the best current PvE content reward system in the game, warts and all.
With my first timed 15 this week, I am 1/8th of the way to a Season 1 Keystone Master achievement, and I’m glad to have given it a serious try.