Hello and welcome to the series “Game’s too Easy?” Within, Metro will sarcastically discuss any number of assorted topics in an attempt to dispel myths and hearsay surrounding such. The focus of today’s discussion will be the difficulty changes PVE Endgame, aka “Raiding” has seen since its conception and the unfounded rumors of how this effects difficulty. The secondary goal is to dispel any notion that because LFR is out, top-tier progression is somehow made “too easy.”
In order to properly understand this topic, we first must understand the progression of raiding. For those of you who have been around since day one as I have you will do best to skip ahead or get a drink while this part runs its course.

In the beginning there was only darkness, and the world was not yet molded. There was only a great darkness and the Everlasting Dragons ruled with impunity. We had but one raid difficulty at launch, being 40 man, yet having a variety of dungeon options. The original concept the game contained was a free-form dungeon style, allowing any number of people (1 through 40) to be able to complete a dungeon, but obviously allowing only one piece of gear from most bosses to discourage this. From this, we have developed 5 mans, and one 10 man dungeon known as Blackrock Spire.

It’s important to understand that bit of information so you can understand what 40 man raiding actually was. As was the case with dungeons, raiding also was very much this way. MC was encouraged to be done with any number of players, and had so few mechanics that most of the entry could easily be done with 20 or even less! Of course, this was fundamentally flawed, because raid lock outs where number-specific, so you couldn’t break down into multiple groups to kill early bosses for extra loot and you would obviously need a full raid to complete the latter half, so it was an inconvenient  concept to think of.

First documented appearance of the line between "casual" and "raider."

First documented appearance of the line between “casual” and “raider.”

Unconfirmed is their intentions with this, but it was likely the earliest form of the Flex difficulty idea – allowing a smaller number of players access to bosses that were complete jokes with a full 40, but requiring larger numbers for latter, especially the last two. Regardless, early bosses dropped as low as 2 pieces, while Ragnaros dropped 6.

As the vanilla game continues, we find ourselves getting real mechanics around Chromagus in BWL, and then through some of AQ40, as well as all of Naxx 40. The developers noticed the model wasn’t quite working, and anyone taking anything serious had solid 35-40 players that could knock over any encounter. On top of this, addon and boss timers were making raiding easier each week. However, the groups that could not field 40 were left in the cold without hope. They could NEVER complete anything past BWL, and even if they could scrape together a full raid, it was near impossible to keep it together with the top guilds scavenging for anyone with epics and attunements.

Thus the lords of Light find the world and the Burning Crusade was born. The expansion was announced shortly after Naxx’s deployment, and with it the word of massive changes to the raid system. The dungeon caps added in Classic would carry on to TBC, and raiding would be capped to 25 man size as the upper level of content, but with a ten man alternative that gave viable gear. This allowed small groups to still get something done and made it possible to gear up without needing a full group regularly.

The jump from 40 to 25 man was extremely harsh for a lot of groups, but Blizzard recognized that 40 man presented two distinct problems. The first was that most 40 mans had to carry 10-15 players anyway, especially with how little gear was available, and the second was how despite thousands of man hours and dollars going into raids, most players would never see it because of both its coordination requirement and then difficulty later. This is an important time to remember, as it EXTREMELY relatable to the MoP -> WoD changes that we will be discussed in our first Podcast, as well as in another article soon.

While TBC progresses, we continue to get more content to do like is expected. The original plan of 25 man being the top tier of progression falters in tier 4, but is the only option in tier 5 and 6. However, a few months after Black Temple was well underway, Zul Aman was announced as the next 10 man raid of the expansion, once again allowing both under-geared raiders to catch up on off nights, but also players without a suitable home to see some PVE endgame. The expansion continues without a hitch, but by Sunwell’s deployment it is obvious there are two very separate scenes developing.

With this in mind, Wrath is announced and once again carries sizable raid changes. For this expansion, we will see both 10 AND 25 man difficulties of the same raid – a HUGE step in the direction of localizing communities that couldn’t field a successful team. The largest contributor to this decision surely was the issues surrounding both Naxx40 and Sunwell – which a hilariously small percentage of the raiding community would complete, and an even smaller percentage of the overall community would ever see past the first trash pack.

At this point, we see the first signs of Blizzard’s willingness to discredit the epic feeling of large group raiding to help smaller groups of people stay interested, likely due to the fact that there was nothing else available once max level was reached. Luckily, Wrath continues with a pretty interesting model, having 10 man as a considerably easier difficulty and tuned such, so that 25 man was still the top tier of raiding and dropped better loot to prove it.

Here we see another stem in the evolution of the Flex notion, allowing for 10 players to see the content they normally would have never seen, but making sure actual raiders were still given the challenge and accomplishments they wanted.

As the expansion progressed, Wrath of the Lich King continued with its segregation further, introducing “Heroic” modes. This started out simply for achievement purposes and were contained within some vague element you could incorporate into the encounter to artificially increase the difficulty. However, it concluded with concrete “flip of a switch” difficulty status, that added a whole new sub-tier to the raid. The concept is as we know it then, where you have to complete normal before you can complete Heroic, and both shared a lock out.

After the expansion came to a close, we look back and see massive change from TBC. Many people won’t take the time to properly examine the change from 10 and 25 raids once separate to both being in the same instance, and even fewer will acknowledge the further segregation Heroic brought. Let it be clear: Heroic raiding should be regarded as the difficulty of choice for anyone playing seriously, and should be comparable to BT and Sunwell, where as Normal is T4 and T5. This is the second lesson of the day, and it should stick in your mind until we reach the final discussion.

The mentality of the company changed even more so with Cataclysm’s announcement. Attached was another substantial change – that 10 and 25 would be tuned equally and that both would share loot ilvls between respective normal and heroic difficulties. With one fell swoop Blizzard had managed to completely destroy everything that raiding originally was, in favor of these small groups of voices that popped up. Originally, raiding was meant to be epic and required many people, but as more and more people continue to reach max level, we get more people not wanting to try to find large group raiding guilds, and just do content with their immediate friends. However, I personally feel they overstepped their boundaries by asking not only to avoid large group raiding, but then to ask that they get the same rewards as those doing it the intended way.

This is the way progression raiding is all through Cata and MoP, and unfortunately has created a massive rift that essentially killed off any fresh group looking to do 25 man raiding. Why bother, when ten man is so much easier to not only coordinate, but recruit skilled players per available slots for?

Now let’s remember the second lesson here, that Heroic difficulties of each 10 and 25 are still and should remain the target for anyone considering themselves a serious endgame PvE player. Promise me guys, it’s really important you remember this because… things are about to get all messed up…

At this point, we receive the Great Calamity, called Meds Yeghern by the Armenians, but known as Looking for Raid by the English. It’s important to understand everything else you have read thus far before we discuss LFR, as it will allow you to come to the realization that I am about to put on paper before I do so.

As you and I travelled through the timeline of World of Warcraft raiding, we learned that Blizzard as a company was disappointed in how many people got to see the raids they spent months designing. This caused them to implement the 10 man difficulty wholly in Wrath, where before it was meant to act as a catch up as well as daycare for those who couldn’t field 25. In cataclysm, they removed the segregation and allowed both to be treated as equals, and because of this, a gap was left unfilled.

You see now? In their eyes, LFR was the logical choice, as it did exactly what they had been trying to do for ever. You were now able to see the full raid with 24 other humans as it was intended, but through a considerably easier difficulty. This level of difficulty was what the original ten man concept in Wrath was meant to be – something you could join with anyone you wish, and have little resistance doing so, while getting to see the content. I would have imagined the queuing system would have been included as well in Wrath if the technology was available at launch, but it was not.

Hopefully we are on the same page here, but if not let me spell it out for you. LFR has been brought into the game to help people who can’t raid otherwise see content that is presented as a major focus of each patch. The difficulty is as it is to ensure people do get to see all of it, and was simply a replacement for the whole that was left when ten player difficulties escalated to endgame levels.

Anyone with a brain ticking inside their head should now understand exactly how raiding should be examined and why LFR is what it is. 25 man Heroic progression raiding IS the pinnacle, and should be equitable to TBC’s Black Temple etc. Normal raiding should be equitable to Gruul’s Lair in BC, or ICC / ToC 10 Heroic. Current normal modes are a challenge, but should be recognized as a means to progression only, and should not be referred to as content suitable for adequate examination of progression. And finally, LFR should be equitable to Karazhan and ZA (easily puggable, no commitment required) and then to 10 man normal Naxx, despite being even easier due to the queue system.

I apologize for taking nearly two thousand words to describe this, but it’s mandatory in this discussion, as far too many people don’t seem to understand WHAT the Looking for Raid Difficulty actually is intended to be. Let’s wrap up!

Difficulty Discussion:

So today you and I have learned all about PvE, and now know that when we are talking about difficulty of raiding and the “game” in general, we should ONLY be discussing 25 man Heroic progression. It’s the way the game was meant to be played, and all other difficulties should be inferior if you are discussing coordination and skill based challenges, even 10 heroic albeit difficult for its own reasons.

With this firmly implanted in our brains, how is the argument that “the game is too easy now” citing raid difficulty possible? The illusory wall that most people don’t see past is that they think because people in TBC were literally not allowed to see the content unless they were in a top tier guild, this made it inherently more difficult than today. All arguments I have seen presented seem to boil down to that topic, so let’s explore it. We will stick to TBC, but realize this can also be applicable to Naxx40 and to some degree Wrath Heroics.

Raiding Black Temple was no doubt a considerable challenge, mostly because of attunements and natural player gating, but also due to difficult mechanics and large DPS checks. It’s also important to remember that group maximization used to come down to the 5 man composition and that nearly all buffs were group wide instead of raid wide. This put a lot more focus on actual organization for the raid leaders, and even with strong players, it would take proper buff placement to complete many encounters.

In 25 man Heroic SoO, this is completely eradicated; all buffs are raid wide, and it is encouraged to “bring the player, not the class.” So in terms of organization on the leadership, it is logical to say that TBC or Classic raiding was far more complicated than MoP raiding. However, the quoted statement above brings a LOT more to the table than you may originally realize!

With group-wide buffs eliminated, this turns the meaning on its head. Most people think brining 10 of any class makes the game easier, but all it does is streamline the process and allow Blizzard to make more dynamic and tightly tuned encounters.

In the past, you would be required to bring at least 5 shamans, if not more, for bloodlusts in your DPS groups, as well as for certain totems. Having a Bombkin with your Fire Mages was also near mandatory, as well as certain debuffs from Rogues, Ret Paladins, and Hunters. At the time, it would be more pertinent to bring a mediocre (or even annoying) bombkin doing 0 dps yet buffing each mage’s dps by near 20 percent, than simply bring another skilled mage.

In today’s time, you have much less room for carrying a player because they bring a buff you need and with the exception of Bloodlust in a group that has none, no one class doing essentially 0 will contribute anything worthwhile to the raid. So in terms of individual requirements, it is logical to say raiding is much more difficult now.

The final point will rest in actual completion rates. Remember, completing LFR and normal modes DO NOT COUNT! As of January 18, 2014, the statistics for Heroic 25 man Siege of Orgrimmar read as follows:
2738 guilds have cleared NORMAL Immerseus (first boss).
“2738” used as normalized baseline to count all guilds considered raiding.

1489 guilds have cleared NORMAL Garrosh (Last boss).
1489/2738 = 54% of all raiding guilds have cleared Normal Garrosh, unlocking Heroic.Untitled

1518 guilds have cleared HEROIC Immerseus
1518/2738 = 55% of all guilds have stepped into Heroic. *Discrepancy due to normal 10 man  unlocking both heroic 25 and 10.

955 guilds have cleared HEROIC Nazgrim (8/14 Heroic – Over half way through raid).
955/2738 = 35% of all guilds have cleared over halfway through Heroic Progression.

329 guilds have cleared HEROIC Blackfuse (12/14 Heroic – commonly considered a “guildbreaker” boss.)
329/2738 = 12% of all guilds overcome the “guildbreaker” boss of the tier.

115 guilds have cleared HEROIC Garrosh (full clear)
115/2738 = 4% of all raiding guilds have cleared everything.
115/1518 = 7.5% of all Heroic Raiding guilds have cleared everything.
115/329 = 35% of guilds capable of overcoming Blackfuse have cleared everything.

Patch 5.4 launched September 10th / 11th 2013, so has officially been out for 19 raid resets. (http://www.wowprogress.com/rating.tier16_25, Jan 18 2014)

Unfortunately we don’t have distinct values on TBC raiding, but regardless, I think less than 8 percent of all heroic guilds full clearing, with 35 percent of all guilds getting more than half-way through speaks volumes. It was common for bosses to take weeks for Realm or even World firsts back then, but either way when talking about longevity of a tier, it should be pretty obvious that top level progression is still as difficult as it’s ever been, if not more!

For the benefit of the reader, I will summate my points and conclusions so you can form your own opinions and perhaps contribute a counter point.
– LFR is easy intentionally. You cannot count anything lower than Heroic as actual progression as they are expressly created for lower level play.  Saying “the game is too easy now” without clearing Heroic bosses entirely discredits the argument, which a majority of the people making the argument don’t seem to understand.
– 25 man Heroic Progression was examined to remain brief, but also because larger groups raiding is how the game was intended to be played, confirmed with 20 man Mythic’s announcement.
– 20 weeks through patch 5.4, 4% of all raiding guilds have completed full clears of Heroic, 54% have full cleared normal.
– Raiding in TBC was considerably harder to organize, but mechanics and DPS requirements depended mostly on having certain classes and buffs. Now success is nearly entirely dependent on individual players and buffs are mostly baseline. This sees raids needing to bring a full 25 competent and alert players, instead of 20 beasts, and 5 buffbots. This also confirms 25 man to be the harder difficulty, as upkeep of 25 players is considerably more difficult than 10.
– World and Realm Firsts still take hundreds of pulls. No matter how hard something is in any video game, you’ll get it eventually!
– Raiding has changed a lot over the years, but it’s important to realize why subsequent difficulties have been created such as LFR and eventually flex, a topic that will be covered in a subsequent editorial.

Remember LFR is NOT raiding. If you say it is, this squad will destroy you IRL.[/caption]

Thanks for reading! As always, we encourage comments and discussion here at Stratics, so if you have any thing you would like to add, it would be my pleasure to continue the conversation with the readers!