I have to admit: Nothing in patch 4.3 excites me as much as the Raid Finder. Not transmogrification, not the Deathwing raid, not the fact that we're drawing ever closer to me being able to roll a Pandaren kung fu mage. Nope, I'm excited about the Raid Finder.
There was a time during my WoW career when I was able to adjust my schedule around my guild's raid nights, but that time hasn't really existed for some time now. My family has grown, my work responsibilities have grown, and my WoW time has become increasingly limited and far more unreliable. I play when I can play these days, and it's nigh impossible to plan a raid schedule around that. I'd wager I'm not alone in this.
So the idea of being able to see much of the same endgame content and gear up enough to help my guild on my own schedule much the same way I gear up through 5-mans now ... that just thrills me to death.
But putting together a 25-man raid is an exponentially more complex endeavor than simply throwing together a 5-man run. How does this Raid Finder tool function in practice? Well, I've taken my mage to the PTR, and I've tested it out for myself. And I'm here to tell you:
It totally works. And it totally doesn't.
The Raid Finder will totally find you a raid
First things first. As a tool to locate 24 other well-geared players to fill a raid or as a tool to fill a few empty spots in your guild's raid, the Raid Finder performs as advertised. You can absolutely take your lonely mage, queue him for a raid, and be coupled with 24 raid-mates in a matter of minutes. On the PTR, with a limited playerbase (but one which I assume is extremely interested in testing out this new functionality), my mage was finding raids in 10 minutes or less, a far shorter wait than he has on the live realms for 5-mans.
It's tremendously convenient, user-friendly -- and even in the early stages of testing, almost seamless. I encountered the occasional disconnect, but by and large, the Raid Finder will find you a raid, and fast. We'll see how it holds up when millions of players are using it, but it seems like the framework is solid.
The system generally puts together a balanced raid. The gear requirements are fairly steep, ensuring nobody comes in undergeared. The setup selects two tanks, six healers, and 17 damage dealers, and it analyzes gear to try and provide a good mix of melee and ranged DPS. What you end up with, most of the time, is a reasonably varied selection of the parts you need to organize a raid.
The trouble generally starts once you're safely in and ready to start downing bosses.
Lack of leadership
When queuing, you can select whether or not you want to be a raid leader, and the system automatically chooses one of those brave individuals to be the actual leader of these 25 disparate personalities. The problem is that oftentimes, that guy -- the one who just a few minutes earlier clicked a box agreeing to be a raid leader -- is in no way prepared to be an actual raid leader.
The first raid leader I got proceeded to lead us in absolute, serial-killer silence. I could hear him breathing over voice chat ... at least I think that was him ... but he was otherwise completely mute. Being a raid leader is far more complicated than being the dungeon leader in a 5-man. There are things you need to do. And there is absolutely no prerequisite for clicking that Yes, I want to lead this raid button. You do not have to have raided before. You do not have to know the fights. You do not have to have the capacity for verbal communication. You do not have to have opposable thumbs.
And once you get into the raid and discover that your raid leader is a mouth-breathing sociopath -- or even worse, a warlock -- there is no way to replace him. This is a problem.
It's a simple fix, though, and Blizzard has ample testing time left to address it. Just give us a way to vote on a new raid leader once the raid is formed.
Lack of ability to be led
Though having a bad leader is a crippling blow to any raid, a far more difficult problem to control is the sad fact that a vast majority of players don't seem to be able to listen to a good one. Putting 25 random players together reveals a sad fact: As a playerbase, we simply don't know how to listen or follow simple instructions. It's bad enough when you have an experienced guild and a raid of people who respect each other. Now imagine that those 25 people don't know each other, will never see each other again, and have as their primary motivation some quick loot before their guild run starts in an hour.
I've been in some bad PUG raids before. But prior to trying the Raid Finder, I have never before witnessed such a green-tinged cloud of simultaneous brain-farting as I have in the past week. It's truly disturbing. Mass fire-standing. Pulling before the raid is set up, wiping, then pulling early again. Repeated failure to grasp even the simplest mechanics of a fairly basic fight. People going AFK without telling anyone. Tanks going AFK in the middle of the fight.
I honestly don't know how to address this issue. These are generally well-meaning people who appear to lack the ability or motivation to be lead. It's an issue that exists on the live realms but is brought into sharp focus in this new raid system. I'm hoping that over time, the community will self-regulate itself to the point where this is less of a glaring issue.
A vote-kick system that's far too limited
The current system for vote-kicking folk on the PTR is limited in the same ways it's limited in the 5-man Dungeon Finder. Which is to say, way, way too limited.
When you get the troll who thinks it's funny to repeatedly pull the boss before everybody's ready, or the tank who simply cannot do his job, or the healer who insists on wearing DPS gear, or the 12-year-old racist who can't control his Vent outbursts, or the AFK warlock on follow, or the raid leader who won't lead the raid, or the guy in Russia who is apparently playing WoW on a TI-86 calculator over a satellite phone connection ... You need to be able to kick that guy, and you need to be able to do it quickly.
This isn't a 5-man dungeon run, where three douchebags can queue together and kick anybody they like. This is a vote-kick that requires a majority of 25 people. I firmly believe the vote kick for the Raid Finder should be basically unlimited. When the community can rid itself of the idiots without having to sit out a DCed tank through a 5-minute mandatory wait period or having to endure the 5-man group of trolls who queued together due to limitations on how often you can kick people, I believe a great many of the issues we're seeing on the PTR will diminish.
This is probably the single most vital change that needs to happen before this tool goes live. Unlimited kicking.
And now to try to end on a positive note ...
I've focused on the negatives, but holy crap, am I still excited for this thing! Once some of the leadership/douchebag player kinks have been worked out, this is still a fantastic new way to experience amazing content. By and large, my mage was getting quick groups, and then he was able to experience a toned-down version of the most difficult content in the game with a group of strangers. You still have to be good, and you still have to do your job, but this also provides an opportunity for you to raid how you like without worrying as much about what your guild raid setup needs, what spec you're expected to assume, and what kind of loot your guild leader's girlfriend will ninja from everybody on this run.
The content appears to be tuned so that even a less-than-ideal grouping will be able to succeed. The loot is excellent if not completely top-tier. The fights still need to be learned, but the Dungeon Journal helps alleviate some of the ignorance, if you can get people to actually take a second and read the entries provided therein. I was able to enter a raid, do my job, and feel a sense of accomplishment when we finally downed the boss. The interface is very intuitive and well designed. It's the players who generally screw it up for everybody.
Other things I'd like to see added include:
- Overwhelming incentives to finish the raid. It needs to be something that will motivate even the most flaky among us to stick things out and keep those with the urge to grief in line long enough to get their goodies at the end.
- A rating system for players. I understand this could be abused, but that could be controlled with some thoughtful limitations. If players know they have a permanent reputation rating that other players can see, perhaps they'll be less inclined to be asshats. This would not necessarily be limited to the Raid Finder, and it would probably take quite a bit of work to institute properly.
- The difficulty level is probably about right, but if the problems with the playerbase aren't addressed, it may need to be tweaked even lower, or else nobody will be finishing these raids.
- I want long, long deserter debuffs for those who drop early and shorter debuffs for those who get themselves kicked. I want a massive disincentive for quitting and at least some for being a twerp and getting yourself kicked. I understand that there will be some who get kicked for no good reason, but with a 25-man majority vote required, this shouldn't happen very often, and the debuff should be of relatively short duration so that those who do get kicked unnecessarily won't have to suffer much. The deserter debuff for the Raid Finder currently only applies to queuing for the actual Raid Finder, so those with the debuff can still queue for other things.
- Voice chat enabled automatically upon entering the raid. Getting 25 random people on Vent is simply a mess. But voice chat is just too important to have. There's a default system, imperfect though it may be, and we might as well use it. You'd still have the odd soul who either doesn't have a microphone or doesn't want to use voice chat for whatever reason, but as long as the majority of the raid is able to speak to each other, things should go much more smoothly.
The important thing to focus on, I believe, is this: With the Raid Finder, if you want to raid in World of Warcraft, you totally can. That's big.
Every week, Arcane Brilliance teleports you inside the wonderful world of mages and then hurls a Fireball in your face. Start out with our recent beginner's guide to being a mage, then check out our three-part State of the Mage columns on arcane, fire and frost. Don't forget to look at some of the addons your mage should probably be using.