Differing raid philosophies make balancing the extremes difficult

Tomb of Sargeras has been doing well so far. The fights seem fairly well-designed with enough variety to make different roles happy. While Normal and Heroic difficulties haven’t had many complaints, the extreme on either end, LFR and Mythic, have seen a lot more variance than usual. In yesterday’s WoW Q&A stream, Ion touched on the difficulties in tuning raids for those at the edge.

Making Looking for Raid a challenge

In years past, Looking for Raid has been referred to as “tourist mode” — a way for most players to see the raid and the story without having to devote all their time to organized raiding. It has recently stepped a little beyond that definition, turning LFR into viable end-content for players who don’t do organized raiding, though Raid Finder is in a perpetual evolution. LFR’s primary audience are players who only do LFR. The difficulty comes in trying to make LFR challenging enough for the players who don’t do any other raiding without being too easy.

A lot of the regular mechanics can become too convoluted for LFR. If they’re just watered down, it becomes a sea of useless information that players can simply ignore. A fight that’s meant to keep a guild busy for a week gets boiled down to a couple wipes over the course of 20 minutes. The devs know a lot of the coordination needed for the other difficulties simply won’t happen in LFR. The issue comes in trying to find balance between only killing a boss with 10 stacks of Determination versus a completely mindless fight. The devs decided to focus on fewer mechanics but make sure they matter, like the fact that you can still die to Goroth on LFR if you don’t hide from Infernal Burning behind the pillars. Though Ion admitted they probably went to far in removing the Desolate Host NPC from The Desolate Host fight. There’s less to worry about, but the players still need to pay attention and react.

Mythic and world firsts

Whereas LFR can be too easy, Mythic fell to the opposite side and became too hard. The later Mythic bosses have been lauded as some of the most difficult since Cataclysm, with Kil’jaeden nearly unkillable at first. Though the encounter team’s goal is to design fights for the broad audience that enjoys raiding, the last few bosses are tuned for the top guilds who will be getting the world firsts. Part of the difficulty lies in providing enough of a challenge for those guilds that they don’t kill it immediately, but also hard enough that they can distinguish themselves from each other. If every guild kills the final boss the first day they encounter it, it becomes hard to tell who’s actually the best.

Become a Watcher

Challenging fights evolve over time as top players go to even more extremes for a competitive edge — split runs, maintaining multiple raid-ready alts, stacking certain classes. Players are also really good at finding ways to do things the devs don’t anticipate. Tuning for Mythic is first done by the internal raid testing team, which is drawn from former top raiders. The devs tune to the edge of that team’s abilities and then buff the fight beyond that. Ion noted that it’s usually an additional 30-35%.

Kil’jaeden was particularly difficult because the devs erred on the side of “too hard,” since they can always nerf later, rather than “too easy,” which leaves the playerbase disappointed when the boss dies too soon. The encounter was tested by the internal team over hundreds of hours wearing appropriate gear. But the internal team progresses too and they had gotten much better than they were two years ago, closing the gap between their skill and Method’s. So when the fight was buffed by 30%, it was beyond the usual challenge.

Perspective also plays a part in tuning. The level of the challenge is subjective, since it relies on how fast the top guilds in the world clear the raid. Players will base their perspective of the raid’s difficulty on how fast the top guilds clear it, even though they may never raid beyond Normal. But when the fights are tuned enough to provide a challenge for the top guilds, they’re much too hard for the rest of the playerbase. The devs feel that 1.5-2 weeks for a world first race is ideal, but it’s a hard target to hit. Xavius was too easy, Kil’jaeden was too hard, Nighthold race was just about right. For Tomb of Sargeras, they waited until a couple guilds cleared through and then nerfed the fights for the rest. Nerfed Mythic Kil’jaeden is actually on par with the difficulty of world first Mythic Gul’dan.

Ion proposed not tuning for the likes of Method or Exorsus and just leaving the fights un-nerfed at the difficulty the rest of the players will encounter. The top guilds will kill it fast, but it’s still a challenge for the majority. They’re interested in community thoughts on that though, so if you have some opinions let them know what you think.

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