Monday, April 27, 2009

Ulduar: Strategy Over Brute Force

9 bosses down in Ulduar, with hopefully a few more tonight (Thorim and Mimiron).

I gotta say, aside from the early bugs, the instance has been top-notch. I still think they should have gotten the thing out the door faster, but at least it was worth the wait. The art direction, especially for the environments and XT, Kologarn, and Mimiron, has just blown me away. Even if the fights aren't tuned perfectly, the encounter designs are strong.

The first week we went in, I had my doubts about the tuning. We expected to mow over the first part of the instance, since we were walking in in mostly Naxx-25 gear thanks to our"boredom pugs". Some of the bosses (coughIgniscough) were very challenging. Still, we got 7 bosses down the first week, so obviously it wasn't that hard. We just started wondering how a guild of regular joes in Naxx 10 gear was supposed to do these encounters on easy mode.

This week we found out how. A number of the harder/more unfair (Razorscale and Ignis RNG) aspects were nerfed. We killed 6 of the 7 previous bosses in one night, mostly one-shots. It turns out we were slowed down more by our insistence on going in blind than we were by the fight mechanics themselves. Once you learn a strategy and do it right, the tuning seems more reasonable.

Also, the tuning has less impact than it might have otherwise because the design of the fights is so strong. Even if they leave problems in the game for months (DKs in arenas) and years (where is that promised totem interface again?), in some ways the designers learn from experience. Granted I haven't seen Sunwell, but Ulduar seems to be the pinnacle or raid design thus far.

What I like is that the fights are about learning and execution. They are hard to overpower with gear because they require correct application of power more than they require brute force. You have to know which target to hit or heal, and exactly when that heal needs to go off.

For example, I was offtanking Freya, and after the 2nd attempt where we struggled with the 3-mob add wave, I started to wonder how we would ever win this fight. Refining our strategy and practicing targets got us a kill 2 attempts later. I was amazed. What mattered wasn't how high our dps could get. It was whether we switched to killing the trees fast enough, whether we focused our dps on the right add at the right time, and whether we could be smart about positioning under the mushrooms.

The same thing for Iron Council. We would never wipe because of a lack of dps or healing or tanking. We would wipe because the healers didn't time a heal or dispel around Fusion Punch, or too many people stood in a green rune, or we hadn't worked out a good interrupt rotation for Dwarfy McLightning.

This is probably why pro guilds like Ensidia are clearing the hard modes even though they supposedly should need better gear for it: those people are the best and most experiences at figuring out and coordinating precise application of their force, and they devote tons of time to practicing it. Through perfect execution, they can overcome the gear disadvantage. And even with good gear, scrubs simply aren't going to be able to take these bosses down.

So Bravo, Blizz. I am loving this instance, and can't wait to see the whole thing and get down to the hard modes.

No comments: