Mythic Plus as a gameplay mode is a topic I’ve written at-length about here lately, and today there is reason to yet again.
In the current patch 9.1 PTR build, Blizzard has unveiled the scoring requirements and methodology more thoroughly for their Mythic Plus player score system, and with it, has also unveiled how achievements will be tied to it. Currently, there are 3 tiers of Mythic achievements for a season of content, each tied to an increase in item level upgrades for Mythic dungeon gear and the latter two to a title and mount, in sequence. Currently, those achievements are based on flat difficulty level completion of dungeons – do all Shadowlands dungeons at +5, +10, and +15 difficulty, with each stepping up the ladder of reward. All good and a fine system – gives some difficulty, gives a plateau to chase, gives a clear indication of when you’ve reached the pinnacle and sets a clear path forward.
But Blizzard has a problem with the balance of affixes as it stands today.
The base affix added at level 2 is either Tyrannical or Fortified, with those representing either an increase in boss health and damage or the same for trash mobs in the dungeon, respectively. In the community, it is sort of a well-known issue that Fortified week is almost-always easier to do. The increase in relative health and damage is much smaller overall, and it makes trash more interesting and potentially lethal without also making things too tedious. Tyrannical weeks see fewer keys and less pushing because it makes bosses drawn-out, monotonous affairs where it takes far too long to kill a boss and the punishing mechanics on a boss can become downright unfair. More than the difficulty, though, is simply this – in my opinion, Tyrannical is dull. It makes dungeons take longer because you spend a much longer window of time slamming your head on a boss, and it can, on high-enough keys (not even the 15 and up range) make a lot of boss mechanics one-hit kills.
Blizzard had mentioned in interviews over the last month and change that they’d be adding their Mythic scoring system for players and that one of the things they wanted to do was score Tyrannical and Fortified differently, so that there was an incentive for players to keep playing in non-push weeks, namely, Tyrannical weeks. They also mentioned that the achievements for Mythic Plus would be moving to rating instead of flat completion, and it was presented as a positive – that players could play well in strong dungeons and not as much in harder dungeons and still eke out a win and the achievement.
Well, today’s datamining reveals the actual intent of the change.
In order to get Keystone Master for Shadowlands season 2, a player will now have to complete each dungeon on a +15…twice. It is tied to rating, so there are carveouts you can make – you can do easier dungeons on higher keys to ramp up the rating, you could choose to just do your preferred base affix (which would, by Wowhead’s math, require a +24 of each dungeon to reach the score needed…), or you can just give in and do twice as many dungeons as are needed today, not counting practice runs, failed attempts, and the like.
Now, here’s the thing – in a world where both base affixes were perfectly balanced, this is fine – it emphasizes different class and spec strengths and allows strong single-target specs a chance to have a run atop the charts in Mythic Plus, and that is a good thing. Running each dungeon twice at +15 isn’t something players have been begging for, but at the same time, most people I know who’ve done Keystone Master don’t just stop once they reach the achievement but instead keep running higher, or run 15s for other people or on alts.
However, we don’t live in the good world, and Tyrannical and Fortified are pretty far away from balanced. Fortified is a reasonable challenge that rewards smart play and synergizes with a number of affixes like the various on-death effects or especially with the new Inspiring affix. The problem with Tyrannical is that it doesn’t really synergize with anything in Mythic Plus – it just makes bosses big annoying wastes of time. It isn’t fun, because it just makes the fight wear on through cycle after cycle of mechanics with little variation. When affixes do impact a Tyrannical fight, it just makes them more annoying over any actual danger. Quaking, for example, sucks for a healer or caster DPS because of potential spell locks, while for melee, it just annoys by pushing the melee out. There’s not really a boss fight where this creates layers of new strategy or ability to showcase skill, instead, it’s just a hindrance on an already-long road to victory over the boss.
That’s my biggest beef with Tyrannical, now that I’ve done a bunch of dungeons on all sides of the affix rotation. I don’t hate Tyrannical for the challenge (I’ve cleared and timed a number of Tyrannical dungeons up to +15s) but because it just makes bosses feel obnoxiously long. There’s no fun to be had there – just a long, thoughtless grind.
Blizzard, presented with this player feedback, had two choices. They could have balanced Tyrannical to make it more fun, like reducing the health and damage amplification to bring it in-line with Fortified or completely redesigned it. However, they instead took the hostile path – forcing players with a goal in mind to do the dungeon as-is, boredom and all, and gated a valuable reward for players behind their bullshit obstacle.
But it gets worse!
Because of the random nature of Keystone dungeon selection and the rotation of weeks in the calendar for affixes, this now makes getting Keystone Master or the prior ranks of the achievement in season 2 downright annoying, and potentially impossible if you decide late in the season. Since each keystone is a random dungeon, and you need each dungeon on a +15 in both base affixes, the possibility exists of reaching a point in the season at which you can no longer even get the dungeons in, because there won’t be another Fortified or Tyrannical week on the calendar for it. They’ve added a one-time keystone exchange when you time a dungeon for any keystone at or below the level you just completed, which is…fine, but because there’s still a lack of clarity around what the “one-time” qualifier even means (once per group, once per player, once per week?) you can’t even necessarily point to that as helpful in the right ways. My guild, as an example, had a player who needed just Plaguefall to finish off KSM, and we didn’t get a PF +15 for 3 weeks! We did (eventually) get one, but that’s the other wrinkle, right – we only needed one this season, and that was good enough. On the new system, you’ll need to repeat this 2x, which means twice as much hunting for the needed keys, and while the exchange NPC may offer some respite, it is still an RNG system and unclear if it will be built such that you can’t just get the same key back again!
This creates a bevy of new problems, as I’ve indicated here, over a simple-enough player issue – Tyrannical isn’t done because it is boring and poorly-tuned relative to Fortified. That’s it! When given the choice between fucking fixing the balance between these base affixes or making players do it against their desires, they chose the hostile latter choice, and then made it even worse by building an entirely new scoring system in-game with all these new challenges to it. You could spend some time in the lab and come back with better Tyrannical tuning, or you could spend months designing, building, implementing, and testing a way to assign scores to runs and then precisely tuning the values such that players seeking the KSM reward must do Tyrannical, regardless of tuning, and you took the choice that pisses people off! It took, to my eye, more work from Blizzard to make a system that is objectively worse than just…fixing the affix!
This drives back to a core point of contention that has been discussed in the community for the last handful of years – how Blizzard responds to player feedback. On some level, Blizzard clearly knows that Tyrannical isn’t working for us, but the response is to instead layer on tons of extra crap and then make it mandatory, instead of just listening to the core issue and addressing that. Now, Tyrannical is still unbalanced compared to Fortified and dull, but they’re going to gate progress for an achievement behind something for which the balancing is broken. Yikes!
In the end, it just showcases a fundamental lack of understanding or desire to meet players in the middle. It says a lot more that Blizzard will admit the two base affixes are unbalanced and work towards a harder solution that just makes players do the broken one instead of…fixing the broken one.
What that says to players is perhaps not great, but that is a topic that I could explore for 5,000 words all on its own.