"From the deepest desires often come the deadliest hate." - Socrates
Now, I'm sure that many of you are thinking to yourself, "Oh shit, here he goes again. Another vitriol filled post about how much nerfs sucks and how they're ruining the game. Where's the fucking exit?"
Well, stick around; I don't plan on spewing any Nerf hate today. No sir, not me. Nuh-uh.
Now, while I'm no fan of Nerfs (as you may recall from this post from September), I am in a zen-like state of acceptance with this round of adjustments for a couple of different reasons:
Firstly, Blizzard approached these changes differently than previously in that they made no attempt to hide the fact that they were coming. Even before Dragon Soul was released on the live servers, the developers told us that they would be nerfed at some point. As well, they are giving us almost two weeks of notice before they come into effect. Contrast this approach with the sudden onset of the Firelands changes and it makes them a lot easier to accept.
Secondly, they are gradual. Looking again at Firelands, the nerfs that were implemented were savage in their scope and extraordinarily sudden in their implementation. Such is not the case with Dragon Soul. Starting with a 5% reduction in all damage and health is reasonable and won't have such a jarring effect as the Firelands changes did. Dragon Soul will not turn into pale shadow of itself overnight; the adjustment period will be slow as the nerfs are gradually but progressively increased over the next few months.
Thirdly, they can be completely turned off to experience the fights at full difficulty. This brings back the successful buff system that Blizzard put into place for ICC, whereby talking to an NPC will turn off the Nerfs so a raid group can see the fights at full difficulty. This is a tiny bone to the hardcore players out there in an attempt to keep them happy by giving them the option to make the instance the original difficulty.
However, while it's nice to have I doubt this feature will ever be used—even by the extreme hardcore amongst us. And the reason is that there is no benefit to turning off the buffs other than self-satisfaction. With no way to tell whether a boss was killed with the Nerf on or off, any boss kill after the nerfs are implemented are tainted from a progression standpoint. I can say that I am 7/7 in Firelands, but anyone can look at the date of my Ragnaros achievement and see that it occurred after the Great Nerfening of September. That kill is valued less on a potential guild application than it would be if it had been done the week before. Dragon Soul will be the same.
Lastly, Dragon Soul normal modes are easy enough that it felt nerfed right from the beginning. So in that context, what does another Nerf matter? It's hard to get upset when something goes from easy to slightly easier.
I do have some questions though:
Why a raid-wide nerf? I don't think that a raid-wide buff was needed, honestly. Some of the bosses in normal modes could certainly use some tweaking: Zon'ozz, Ultraxion and Warmaster Blackhorn being the three that gave our raid team the most trouble. I sincerely believe that it's better to balance specific fights that are overtuned rather than nerf the entire instance. If a specific encounter is tuned such that the majority of people with the appropriate gear level cannot beat the encounter then by all means it should be re-balanced to bring it in line, but I feel the raid-wide approach is a bit like using a jackhammer to open a can of beans.
Why so fast? If, as Blizzard says, these Nerfs are being implemented because Raid Groups are hitting "brick walls" and not progressing, we now can gauge exactly what pace Blizzard expects their content to be cleared. These nerfs are appearing 9 weeks after Dragon Soul launched, meaning that Blizzard expects raiders to clear one boss per week at minimum before it considers them "stalled". Apparently, wiping on a boss for several weeks is now considered "hitting the wall" and "getting stuck on progression" and thereby grounds for nerfing the instance. Whereas in previous expansions wiping on a boss repeatedly was called "figuring out how to do shit" and an essential part of the learning process.
As with Firelands (which was nerfed in 12 weeks, giving slightly less than two weeks per boss), Blizzard isn't giving us enough time to figure things out. They continuously make more difficult and more elaborate dances in their encounters and are continually cutting short the time we have to learn them before getting heavy-handed with the nerfbat.
Kurn wrote an excellent article talking about the Dragon Soul nerfs and goes into a lot more detail on the timelines that previous instances have see in regards to difficulty changes. Check it out here: A Sigh of Resignation. She seems... uh... a little more angry about these nerfs than I am.
I AM THE PLAYER THESE NERFS ARE FOR
Matthew Rossi of WoW Insider shares an interesting statistic:
The Raid Finder is head and shoulders above normal mode raiding in terms of popularity. 35% of level 85 players have completed Raid Finder vs. 4% completing normal mode; that's a huge, huge shift. Keep in mind that Blizzard has more exacting statistics available internally, but this serves as an indicator of a trend.On the surface, that is a shocking number. It seems like a lot of people have jumped in the Raid Finder at one point or another and have succeeded in killing Deathwing, far more than have done it on Normal difficulty. A 29% difference is significant, certainly, but let's think about this for a moment.
First of all, the statistic is for those players who have completed Dragon Soul by defeating the Madness of Deathwing encounter, something that can be done in the Raid Finder in an hour or two. Normal modes require a significantly larger investment in time, so it's not surprising that fewer people have completed it. Not only that, but divergent schedules of the raiders and other factors that aren't a concern in LFR can lead to slower progress. Nerfs can't fix that problem.
I don't know about your guild, but ours hasn't had enough time to even pull the Madness of Deathwing encounter yet after only 7 weeks of raiding, and yet I don't feel that we've hit a roadblock in our progression. In fact, at 7/8 I had thought we were making damned good progress towards our goal—until I heard about these nerfs that is. Now it seems that we're behind the curve and require some divine intervention from the developers.
I think Blizzard is making the classic mistake of underestimating it's user base. We're a resilient, intelligent bunch of people who are very good at figuring out what to do to get an encounter down given enough time.
I would be very interesting to see just how far people are getting in Dragon Soul without the nerfs. If 4% of level 85 characters have cleared Dragon Soul on normal, how many have gone 7/8 like me? How many are 4/8 and stuck on Ultraxion? How many are 2/8 and stuck on Zon'ozz? How many people just need more time to clear 8/8?
If specific encounters can be found that are causing the majority of the problems, then adjust those encounters to help those that are stuck and let the rest of us get back to work.
LEARNING TO ACCEPT REALITY
Frankly, I've come to accept that the days of the exquisitely difficult raid encounter are gone for good. No more will a raid encounter stubbornly refuse to yield to a dedicated and prepared raid group because the developers were feeling really evil when they designed it and just made that particular boss a massive son-of-a-bitch. The hard work, preparation and min-maxing that those encounters required are an out-dated mindset, apparently. And the raiders who enjoyed that type of challenge—the smart, resilient problem-solvers who think figuring out a problem is half the fun—are continually being marginalized.
If Blizzard feels that the raid is difficult enough that it is preventing people from completing it, then they should do what they feel is in the best interests of the health of their game. I can accept that.
Really, I don't much care what difficulty baseline Blizzard wants to set for it's raids. Whether it's incredibly hard, ridiculously easy or walking a fine tight-rope in between, I just want to complete the raid at the same difficulty level as the top-end guilds and everyone else. I don't want help and I don't want charity.
I'm not trying to sound elitist here. I don't consider myself a hardcore raider by any stretch of the imagination. I don't spend hours thinking about my spec or my gear or where I need to stand during an encounter. I have never run a gearing simulation and wouldn't know how to use a spreadsheet to tell me anything about WoW at all. All I do is show up and push buttons and dodge the fire until the boss dies.
If the fights are legitimately too hard, I'm all for nerfing them carefully and thoughtfully until they provide a good balance between challenge and accessibility to everyone. Everyone deserves to be able to play all aspects of this game, including Normal Mode raiding.
But I hope the developers never forget that there is a benefit to hard work. We as human beings learn from failure more than success. And while making raids simpler and easier is a good way to increase the overall number of raiders, allowing people to fail every once in a while—to truly have to work at something before succeeding—will make them better raiders.