Monday, November 23, 2009

Icecrown Citadel Raid Progression

Blizzard released their plans for ICC progression last week and the implications are pretty interesting - I wanted to give myself some time to think about it though.

Here's the post.  I'll try to cover the important bits:

Gated Release
Icecrown Citadel is going to be broken up into four distinct sections: The Lower Spire, Plagueworks, Crimson Hall, and Frostwing Halls. We plan on releasing these four sections of Icecrown Citadel over time and not all immediately when patch 3.3.0 goes live.
The first section that opens will include the Lord Marrowgar, Lady Deathwhisper, Icecrown Gunship Battle, and Deathbringer Saurfang encounters. Progress beyond that point will be prevented for several weeks.
In a nutshell, this means we'll probably get at least three weeks per wing before being able to progress behind it.

My Reaction: This is amazing, and thank you Blizzard.
If you're in an endgame raiding guild then you probably experienced (at least in the past) that the first 1-2 weeks of a new instance are hell.  When Ulduar came out my old guild raided 6-days for the first two weeks because of the progression rush - very top end guilds require more, with the very top (Ensidia/etc) going 24/7.  The really nice thing about this change is it spreads out the "learning the new bosses" phase across a period of two months or so.  I like raiding and I'm willing to put a lot of time into it, but I never liked the first few weeks of an instance.  With this change, we get to learn and see some new bosses, we get gear - but we also have time to go back and run ToGC, to run 10-mans, and to do heroics while experiencing all the new non-raid content.  It'll make for a nice change of pace.

Hard modes would of course take up more time, but it seems Blizzard thought of that:

Easy Mode First
There are other elements that gate access along the way. Players may not attempt any Heroic versions of 10 player encounters until they have defeated the Lich King in a 10 player raid. Similarly, players must defeat the Lich King in a 25 player raid before they can attempt a Heroic 25 player encounter. So players must master every normal difficulty encounter in Icecrown Citadel before attempting Heroic difficulty.
The Lich King may not be attempted until Professor Putricide, Blood-Queen Lana'thel, and Sindragosa are defeated. Furthermore, the Heroic difficulty of The Lich King encounter may not be attempted in any week unless the three aforementioned encounters have been defeated in Heroic difficulty that week. 
Simply put - no hard modes until you've killed Arthas once on that difficulty.  I feel this is another pretty positive change - it's nice to experience all the content once, and it also helps prevent weird situations where one guild may kill a boss months earlier then anyone else and skew rankings.

The Lich King gating is also good because it provides a more "final" Hard Mode boss, unlike Ulduar (where you could go kill YS-3 before doing any of the keeper HMs).  This gives a little more "linear" feel to a winged instance that otherwise wouldn't have it.

One could argue that the nice pacing would eventually go away once you get to hard modes, but no worries, once again we have:

Limited Attempts
The initial number of attempts provided for defeating Professor Putricide is only five. When Blood-Queen Lana'thel unlocks, the amount of total attempts remaining will increase to 10. Then when Sindragosa and the Lich King unlock, 15 total attempts will be available to defeat all four bosses. After a raid has exhausted their attempts for the week, the Ashen Verdict must withdraw their support and the four most difficult bosses all despawn and become unavailable for the week. The limited attempt system is a feature of both Normal and Heroic difficulty.
Yay, limited attempts!  This is a nice equalizer between the more hardcore guilds and the ones that aren't, so in general I'm in support of them.  This has a couple of interesting twists, though:
  • Only four bosses are limited - Putracide, Blood-Queen, Sindragosa and the Lich King are all limited.  The other bosses aren't.  This is a new look at the tribute system, where the "easier" bosses are left available to progress, but the harder "gate" bosses are limited.
  • Limited attempts on normal modes - this is completely new, and we're also not 100% sure how it works.  I am hoping that normal and HM attempts are separate (IE, you would have 15 HM and 15 normal attempts for the gate bosses) but Blizzard may go with a homogenous system.  Separate attempts would be preferrable because it would reduce the problem of "how many HM attempts can we try and still kill Arthas?", which can lead to raid drama and problems.
Of course, this means we'll have another instance where we sit trials and spend hours hoping the DC-boss loves us, right?  Well...

No Insanity
There will be no explicit rewards for defeating the Lich King with a specific number of attempts remaining as there was with Trial of the Grand Crusader. There will also not be an achievement to complete Icecrown Citadel without being defeated by a boss encounter, or letting a raid member die. (i.e. A Tribute to Insanity).
The only real problem I have with limited attempts was the Insanity achievement - not a problem itself, but the fact that it was tied into progression and gear.  And a lot of other people seem to agree, so Blizzard took them out.

There is one more section to Blizzard's post, and I think it's easily going to be the most controversial:

Progressive, Automatic Nerfs
In the weeks and months after all twelve encounters are unlocked, additional attempts against the final four boss encounters become available. This represents the Ashen Verdict growing more powerful and gaining a stronger foothold in Icecrown Citadel. To further help raids, Varian Wrynn and Garrosh Hellscream will begin to provide assistance by inspiring the armies attacking Icecrown Citadel. This is represented as an additional zone wide spell effect applied to all players that will increase their hit points, damage dealt, and healing done. This effect will also increase in effectiveness over time. Players may opt out of the spell's effect if they so wish.
There's two effects here, and both serve to make it easier to complete content.  Over time we will get additional attempts, and we will get a zone wide buff to health, damage, and healing that gets stronger each week/month (or however they do it).

My initial reaction was that this is ridiculous, insane and I can't believe Blizzard did it.  More attempts I can see - going from 15 to 20 attempts won't help a lot, but will serve to let guilds working on the content still feel like they have something to do.  The problem is with the second effect.

The problem is that gear already does this - it increases your damage, healing and health over time.  That's practically the definition of upgrades.  So what is the point of adding a "free gear" aura?  Raids that are doing ICC would already get this effect, so what is the benefit of this change?  It will let more people see the content, yes - and this is a good thing.  But from the viewpoint of a progression raider, it just seems like a horrible idea.

However, after thinking about it I started noticing the last line more:
Players may opt out of the spell's effect if they so wish. 
The wording here is kind of interesting - "opt out".  That sounds like something you might do for a more difficult run, and Blizzard has been known to reward those.  Maybe Blizzard intends for the "Glory of the Icecrown Raider" achievements to only be completable if you opt out of the buff?  Or possible additional rewards/titles by doing so?  If so, that would make a lot of sense - more casual guilds could see the content easier, but the hardcore raiders would be able to opt out of the effect for progression or additional rewards.

I think the system looks nice.  There is a good balance between gated/non-gated, and between limited attempts and unlimited.  They also managed to make Arthas the "ultimate" boss, both in normal and hard mode.

The only change that I'm not really happy with is is the raid-wide buff, but even that could be cool if done correctly.


  1. The only real positive I can see about the aura buff is that by the time it comes out, most raiding guilds will probably be up to Arthas or working on hard modes. My guild is no Ensidia but we usually clear things on time, so the way I look at it is that we'll just take advantage of the buff to get through the farm bosses faster and then just turn it off once we start working on hard modes or something.

    Plus, if your guild is having trouble with 1 boss, you could leave the buff on to get the first kill and then next week tell everyone "hey, this week we're going to try it without the buff".

  2. "more casual guilds could see the content easier, but the hardcore raiders would be able to opt out of the effect"

    But isn't this the point of regular/heroic mode? I still hate this idea, but we'll see how it plays out.

  3. Here's the deal most hardcore raiders don't business you cater to the majority, not the minority. Blizzard is BRILLIANT for making this content easier to see for more people. The elitists still get their hardmodes with no buff if they choose.