Last night my guild had its first raid with the buff. On a sidenote, what's the Alliance version called? And does it produce similarly amusing reactions along the lines of "Has Garrosh always been in Icecrown Citadel or am I going mad?" and "Can I stab him?".
Opinions on the buff are strongly divided, both in the blogosphere and in my guild. Just before we started clearing trash last night, my boyfriend whispered two different people, asking them what they thought of the buff. One said that being able to do five percent more damage sounded cool, the other one thought that it sucked and felt like using a cheat code. I'm a bit unsure what to think of it myself.
First off, I'm not against nerfing content after some time to allow more people to have a shot at it. I remember back in BC when they removed the attunement requirements for Serpentshrine Cavern and Tempest Keep. My guild's twenty-five-man raiding progress was still quite shaky at that point, and for us that particular nerf was simply awesome, because I'm not sure we ever would have got into those raids at all otherwise. We just weren't that organised yet, and running all the raiders through the attunement quest chain would have been beyond our abilities I think. Thus that nerf had no downsides for us, it was a hundred percent beneficial in that it allowed us to access content that we wouldn't have seen otherwise.
By the time the same thing was done to Mount Hyjal and Black Temple, things were a bit different. We were still trying to down Kael'thas, and felt a bit ashamed when we started working on the first couple of MH bosses as well because it felt like we were unfairly skipping content. We did keep working on Kael at the same time though and eventually got him down, which fortunately ended all arguments about the matter.
When the infamous patch 3.0 hit and gave everyone access to the WOTLK talent trees while also nerfing all raid bosses by thirty percent, we had just downed Mother Shahraz in BT. We continued to take down the Illidari Council and Illidan after the nerf and still had fun, but not without that nagging feeling that it didn't quite count in the same way. I remember watching the raid take huge wads of damage on Illidan while I spammed my suddenly stupidly overpowered raid-wide circle of healing, and thinking "We are doing this completely wrong, if it wasn't for the nerf, people getting hit by those fires would be obliterated." We still achieved something, it just wasn't quite the same - there was always this nagging feeling that if Blizzard had only let us, we could have taken down those last two fights the normal way as well, given enough time. However, WOTLK was just around the corner and in all honesty we wouldn't have kept raiding BT after the expansion release, so we kind of shrugged it off.
And now we have the buff in ICC. What makes this one interesting and different are two things really:
1. It's optional, and
2. It's incremental.
In regards to point one, I feel a bit sorry for Blizzard because it's one of those things where you just can't win. If they hadn't added the option to turn it off, people would be complaining about having it forced on them, and why couldn't they allow the more hardcore guilds to raid without it if they wanted to? Now they've given us exactly that, and already people are wishing that they didn't have any choice, because it just leads to guilds arguing about whether they should use it or not.
There's also complaining about the fact that choosing any option one way or the other isn't recognised in any way, with some players suggesting that there should have been different achievements depending on whether you did things with or without the buff. Now, aside from the fact that this would be a bit of a logistical nightmare, considering that the buff increases over time so you'd need like seven different achievements for killing each boss (Saurfang with five percent, Blood Queen with twenty percent etc.), I also think that it's simply asking a bit too much of the achievement system. I mean, it also doesn't differentiate between whether you cleared the Deadmines at level fifteen or eighty, or whether you killed Marrowgar with a full raid or while five people were disconnected. I remember when killing Archimonde was an achievement without anyone actually having any text pop up that said "wow, an achievement". It just was. Not using the buff works the same way and I'm okay with that.
One thing I find interesting (and that others have commented on as well) is the fact that the buff is opt-out instead of opt-in, which means that it's on by default. It's interesting because it sends the message that Blizzard wants people to consider having the buff turned on the default option, while turning it off is a sort of hard mode. If you had to actively sign up for the buff, it would feel more like not having it is the normal way to go, while activating it is a conscious choice for "easy mode". This is a purely semantic distinction as the buff would still be the same, but that kind of thing matters to people. I would think that a lot of middle-of-the-road guilds especially must be quite torn about whether using the buff is hurting their cred or just means playing the game as intended.
The fact that it's incremental is a bit weird as well. I can see the logic behind it of course, as it should allow everyone to progress without feeling that content has been nerfed too hard. It buffs you just enough to get you past the wall you're currently hitting, and by the time you hit the next wall even with the buff, it increases some more just to let you overcome that next obstacle.
However, it also adds another dimension to the "should we raid with or without it" question. A guild that thinks that it should theoretically be able to clear ICC without any buffs might accept a five percent buff to make things go faster, but if it's ten percent a few weeks later, then what? Personally I'm quite inclined to accept a five percent boost for the time being, but I feel like it's leading me down a slippery slope, because a few weeks later it will be ten percent, then fifteen and so on... do I want to accept that boost as well or possibly set us back a boss kill or two by suddenly turning the buff off completely after all?
All in all, I find myself asking a lot of questions without being able to come up with definite answers. I think at the end of the day I value "seeing content" more than the perceived difficulty of the encounter, so I'm inclined to leave the buff on to help us progress, regardless of the slippery slope it might lead me down. Last night we killed Putricide for the second time - with the buff. And even though our first kill had been without it, we still struggled while having the buff to help us last night. Without it we might not have made it at all yesterday, but would that have made it a better raid night? I don't think so.
On the other hand I can understand why some of my fellow raiders might feel hurt in their pride if they think that we should be able to do it all "unbuffed". I'll cast my vote pro-buff if it comes down to it, but if the raid's final decision is to turn it off, I think I'll be able to accept that as well.