So, this time I've been called back into service to talk about the recent Firelands adjustments, or as I like to call them, significant nerfs. Quite frankly, my take on these is a bit more nuanced than the last time, so I sadly won't get to grump around as much as I prefer. Frankly, there are several key differences between this series of nerfs and the ones to T11 content that make the situation a little less cut-and-dried.
- This time, both normal and heroic content is being nerfed. Last time, normal mode fights were nerfed across the board, but heroic content was left unchanged so that people who wanted to experience it at the original challenge level could do so. This is a decision I lauded at the time, and I find the different implementation this time kind of baffling.
- We got half as much time with tier 12 as we did tier 11 before the changes. Now, to some degree this isn't an entirely fair comparison because we also had to level from 80 to 85 before we got a chance to do tier 11, and in addition there were 13 total fights in tier 11 content plus a bonus heroic only encounter. Tier 12 has eight, seven in Firelands and one in Baradin Hold that barely even counts. But it still seems very early to nerf this content.
- These are some serious nerfs to content that is still relevant. Unlike the T11 changes, which took place as T12 dropped, these fights are still the fights that we're all doing. There's nothing to replace them, no place for the players who have done it before the nerfs to go if they want to stay on the cutting edge of content. This is the cutting edge, and it's now between 15% and 25% less sharp.
Today's most relevant content
I think it deserves to be said again: This is not nerfing outdated content to make people want to do it; this is nerfing the most relevant content the game currently has to offer. Reducing the health and damage for Firelands normal and heroic in this way implies that either Firelands was tuned higher than most raiders were ready for (an assertion I personally would not have supported), or we'll be seeing new content pretty soon, or both. When perusing the comments for the post we did announcing the changes, I was at first surprised and then thoughtful about the number of posters who said they simply had not cleared Firelands yet at the three-month mark.
What I'm seeing people talk about is the amount of trash that needs to be cleared vs. raid time, the basic summer curse we're all familiar with, and the learning curves for specific boss mechanics. I think these are all fair points. In the interest of full disclosure, I'll admit that I've been raiding Firelands since it dropped and clearing heroic modes for over a month, putting me squarely in the middle of the road for raid progression. So for me, these are issues that haven't interrupted my progress through Firelands. But to be fair, I left a less progressed guild that hadn't even completed all of tier 11 a week or so before Firelands dropped, and that guild's lack of progression wasn't based on skill or lack thereof but rather on time and player availability.
Frankly, releasing a major raid in the middle of summer means you have to expect a lot of difficulty filling the rosters. It all snowballs from there, really. A raid night missed for whatever reason tanks progression. If you raid two or three nights a week, missing one of those nights is proportionally bigger than if you raid four, especially if you generally have to raid with whoever shows up like a lot of smaller guilds do. It's not even the case that the content itself is too hard, but time factors compound with each missed raid.
Combine this with new mechanics that are unique to each fight, and I think what we're looking at is the Restel Syndrome. Named for a friend and excellent player I've known for years, Restel Syndrome is when raid design excellence (I'm on record as finding each Firelands fight to be at least solid if not outright brilliantly designed) causes a steeper learning curve that simply cannot tolerate any sort of raid delay or missed learning chance.
The fact that Firelands is seven really well designed boss fights with unique mechanics means that there's no Loot Reaver, no Gunship, no "here's some loot for showing up" bosses that don't take much learning. While you may view a particular Firelands boss as that for your guild, in my discussions with other players, I've noticed a lot of variation as to which boss is easier for what guild. Some struggle on Rhyolith, while others blew right through him. Some love Alysrazor, while others hate the fight. Beth'tilac is equally lauded as easy as it is cursed and bemoaned.
These factors combine and cause each raid to find its progression stymied at different rates. I know excellent guilds that have fallen apart over a perceived or real lack of progress in Firelands, guilds that have been together for years and faced all the challenges of the last couple of expansions and their raid content. Is it my belief that Firelands is an inherently harder raid? No, not at all. But it is my belief that it is providing unexpected roadblocks for guilds of all sizes and styles of play, from the hardcore raider to the semi-casual and down to people who only experience raid content when they pug it. With the emphasis on accessibility that the Raid Finder will provide, this seems to me to be a similar kind of change as the recent threat changes -- a Band-Aid intended to get more people into Fireland while it is still relevant.
The message behind the nerfs
Looking at it from that perspective, do I think this a good change or a bad one? Well, I personally think it's too severe and for that reason would call it a bad change. But I'm not opposed to the basic idea of making such a change to relevant content; I just would have been significantly more conservative in the initial application. I also believe this means those patch 4.3 previews we've been seeing may go live as soon as the end of next month, perhaps just after BlizzCon. Nerfs this big say "This content is less relevant than you think" to me.
In the end, I find these changes baffling and more extreme than was necessary, but I think they might have been inevitable based on how few guilds actually cleared all the content and got into heroic modes. With 4.3 already showing us its hand, so to speak, it may be that the Firelands' time in the sun is almost over.
Brace yourselves for what could be some of most exciting updates to the game recently with patch 4.3. Look at what's ahead: new item storage options, cross-realm raiding, cosmetic armor skinning and your chance to battle the mighty Deathwing -- from astride his back!