17 Dec 2010

Coping with Cataclysm Heroics

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Let me say one thing up-front: the experience of running heroics in Beta is both different and identical to that in live. It’s different because healing was less of an issue – premade level 85 healer classes were given gear that’s suitable for their role, including Spirit on almost everything. It’s the same because even when the Tier 11-clad epic premades became available, people were still wiping on bosses because they were unable to adapt.

What does adapting mean though, exactly? There’s a term that my wife affectionately calls “management bollocks”, but it’s basically making sure that you set your expectations reasonably.  We’ve had our perceptions shaped by the state of the game over the past year or so. The changes the expansion has brought have been a shock to a great many people.

Let’s be honest, Wrath heroics were almost universally easy. The trash pulls didn’t require much in the way of crowd control or mob management. The boss fights had simple mechanics which boiled down to doing one thing to stay alive or doing another thing to die. Towards the end we were all so heavily overgeared for these that it became very easy for people to stay at full health all the time.

With Cataclysm two things have happened. Almost all classes have had their mechanics changed one way or another. This in itself creates a learning curve: spell rotations, glyphs, stat priority and so on. But we’ve all also had our gear reset. Our Icecrown Citadel epics are now almost completely worthless – rating decay and stat changes have seen to that.

The gear issue is even bigger than this though. Because of the mystical iLevel 329 barrier that’s in place, players are grabbing any gear they can get just to reach that level. I’ve seen priests clad in DPS caster gear with virtually no spirit who then complain they’re going out of mana on every pull. I’ve seen tanks in DPS gear complain that they keep dying. They’ve grabbed anything that gets them over the gearcheck hurdle, even if it doesn’t contribute towards actually being able to complete the instance.

All this means that we’re going into Heroics with changes that aren’t completely familiar to us, in gear that’s often sub-par or unsuitable for our role, using half-understood and vaguely communicated tactics and with abilities that aren’t completely learned. Yet we’re still expecting to be able to pop into LFG, meet up with four other random strangers, complete heroic content that’s intended to be challenging without any death and emerge victorious some thirty minutes later?

Part of the fun of any game is being able to overcome the challenges it provides. It’s puzzle solving at its most basic; do x, y and z to win. Heroic dungeons (and MMOs in general) are made more complicated by the social aspects: will the other players be good enough to help me win, and will I be good enough to help other people win? This is where our Wrath conditioning lets us down again – we automatically assume that everyone in a heroic is capable of completing it, that they have the right gear, skill and knowledge of the instance.

Heroics right now are a stressful place for everyone. Jumping into LFG is an exercise in social torture. A friend on Twitter summed it up with “Wait 45 mins for a queue, get a half run dungeon, join in hope and people leave after first wipe”. Guild runs are just as tricky – we’re rushing into heroics before we’re ready because it’s where everyone else at 85 expects us to be. We’re not prepared for it, but by the same token we don’t want to let anyone down. Kurn puts it well when she says “it’s challenging in a way that saps me of my energy and desire”.

Going back to my management bollocks, how can we “maximise our win potential”? How can we make sure that if we’re going to run a heroic instance with our guild that we’re going to finish it? How can we make sure that we’re having fun again in instances, instead of smashing our heads against the heroic brick wall until our brains turn to scrambled eggs and we end up doing the zombie shuffle to bed at some god-forsaken hour in the morning?

The first thing I’d suggest is to Run Normal Dungeons until you’re blue in the face. Put on a faction tabard and grind rep while you’re there and dream of the lovely epics that await you at exalted. Normals don’t have the stigma they used to and are usually much more successful. That means fewer repair bills, a nice dose of faction reputation and some iLevel 333 gear that actually suits your spec. That and you learn the instance, the boss fight mechanics and the trash pulls in a relatively safe environment. Smiles all round.

Crucially important is to Gear To Win, Not To Get In. Make sure that everything you’re wearing is as near as possible to suiting your role. Anything that you’re not sure about is a candidate for reforging or replacing. Scour the new faction vendors for some easy upgrades as well. Pick up some cheap gems to fill those new sockets and maybe some discounted scrolls or spellthreads as well. This isn’t about breaking the bank but just getting that little extra.

Another tip is to Spec For Success. I know healers are struggling at the moment, so I’ve picked up an Arcane offspec on my mage that comes with things to make it easier for them. Arcane Flows and Glyph of Evocation gives me a great self-heal every 2 mins, meaning that if I screw up I can sort myself out. Prismatic Cloak and Incanter’s Absorption mean that I’m taking the edge off the damage I’m dealt, while Invocation encourages me to make sure that mobs deal less damage. It means that I’m not as high for DPS in AoE and some single target fights, but it also means that the healer doesn’t have kittens when Cauterize kicks in.

Finally and most importantly, Drop the Attitude. We are all new at this game again. You might be ‘Fancypants the Kingslayer’, but you need the other four people in the group in order to finish the place. It doesn’t matter what kind of DPS you do if you can’t watch your aggro or take large amounts of damage. Don’t expect to be healed through the bad stuff – you’re responsible for your own health bar.

This is a fun game with challenging content. Challenging doesn’t mean that it’s something you should be able to sail through with virtually no preparation. On the other hand, it shouldn’t be unreasonably stressful or tiresome – this is a game, not a second job.

In six months’ time we’ll be back in epics, overgearing content and generally having a more relaxed time. The new Heroics will become familiar, with every pull becoming instinctive muscle memory. Until then take things as they come, do what you can to be an asset to your group and don’t get too stressed. This is the hardest that the expansion will ever be – it’s all downhill from here.

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