My Raiding History, Part 4: Cataclysm & SWTOR

As explained in my last post, my guild didn't have the best start into Cataclysm, what with an enforced downsizing to ten-man due to a mass exodus of core players. That said, the new expansion started off pretty well from my point of view despite of that.

The old world revamp provided a great incentive to level new alts, and the new, harder dungeons actually gave people a reason to form guild groups again instead of simply hitting the dungeon finder queue button as soon as they logged in. The first tier of raiding was really good as well, consisting of no less than three different raid instances and offering up what I considered a decent challenge. (I seem to remember Blizzard saying later on that Cataclysm's normal raids were tuned close to what later became heroic mode - there was no real "entry level" at the time.) I also got into rated battlegrounds and really came to love them.

That said, all was not well. There was a certain malaise in the air around the expansion, with everyone citing different reasons for their discontent. Looking back at this blog, I was surprised to find just how well I articulated my annoyance with Blizzard's forced obsolescence model as early as February 2011. It got worse when they decided by the end of June that everyone should be done with tier eleven now and swung the nerf bat hard. Re-reading that last post, it sounds a lot less negative than I remember feeling at the time, but even so I got people in the comments telling me that my guild was just bad if we hadn't managed to clear the tier within six months and that it was time to move on. I remember finding that whole attitude - both from Blizzard and other players - incredibly patronising and annoying.

Firelands was another decent raid tier... but somehow the passion wasn't there for me anymore. I think I got closest to figuring out what was wrong in this post when I concluded that I was still having fun, but couldn't help but feel that based on past experiences, it should be possible to have way more fun than I was having. In hindsight I think it was too many small factors finally coming together: holy priests not being in a great place performance-wise, little useful loot for my class/spec in Firelands, missing some of the camaraderie I used to have with guildies that left (I liked most of the ones that remained a lot as well, but it just wasn't the same with the much smaller numbers), and feeling beat down by Blizzard's constant push to finish new content on their schedule instead of on my own. In September that year, I decided to call it quits on raiding.

I continued to play WoW for a few more months however, with my rated battleground team more or less taking the place that raiding used to occupy in my evenings. At the end of November Blizzard released Dragon Soul, the last raid of Cataclysm, right alongside the new raid finder feature, which I tried and rated kind of entertaining in an odd way but I also concluded that it had little to do with raiding in the traditional sense. The most obvious expression of this was when I saw Deathwing die and felt nothing.

In December, Star Wars: The Old Republic came out, the first new MMO to release since I'd started playing WoW that interested me enough to try it. Like with Warcraft back in the day, I didn't get into the game with the intention to raid (though unlike back then, I did know what raids were this time around and had a general idea of what I was getting into), but the small, friendly guild that included some friends that had formerly been in my WoW guild too (before they stopped playing) soon had me hyped, and when I actually joined my first raid soon afterwards, I had an absolute blast.

In fact, I was loving the endgame in general, despite of the game's general focus on alt play. Not just that - I loved it so much that when my friendly social guild fell apart a few months later, I actually set out to find a new home just so that I would be able to continue to raid, and found it in Twin Suns Squadron - where I eventually ended up meeting my husband, who actually runs the guild these days, and where we are still raiding eight years later.

Both the guild and the game have undergone a lot of changes throughout those years (with the biggest one probably being the introduction of level sync in 2015, which made all raids valid endgame content, even the oldest ones), but in a way it's felt much more stable than anything I ever had in WoW. I think in a way that has served to crystallise just what it is that still attracts me to raiding after all these years.

Throughout my raiding career in WoW, I often found myself wondering just what it was that really mattered to me. When Blizzard seemingly got raid difficulty "wrong" it frustrated me at times, but did that mean that I was looking for a different challenge level than they were providing? Lack of useful gear drops for my class/spec annoyed me, but did that mean that I was only in it for the gear?

I think SWTOR has taught me that above all else, I raid for the social aspect. I guess it should have been a hint that my best times raiding in WoW were when my guild was also at its strongest and most unified. Concerns about things like progression and loot distracted me, but I think ultimately even those things were only really an issue for me in so far as they affected the guild's social cohesion.

SWTOR has little to offer to anyone looking for constant novelty when it comes to raiding, as they only release a new operation once every couple of years at the current rate. Challenge levels are (relatively) consistent across the board (though Bioware has been pushing the envelope somewhat with more recent releases) and are limited by the game not supporting add-ons, so that no fight can throw more at you than a human brain can easily process. For several years now, raids haven't even been the best place to get gear anymore either, just one more supplementary source of it.

So while you do get people that look for novelty, challenge or gear from raiding in SWTOR, they tend to fade in and out relatively quickly as it doesn't take long to satisfy their particular itch and then there is nothing left for them. The ones who stick with it are those that just enjoy the experience of hanging out and cracking stupid jokes with a group of friends on a Sunday evening, and don't necessarily mind that the boss fight they're wiping on has been in the game for seven years already. After all, if it ever gets a bit too much, we can always go and fight something else for a few weeks, what with all the raids being valid endgame.

It's been an interesting journey to say the least.


My Raiding History, Part 3: Wrath of the Lich King

While Burning Crusade was technically my first expansion, I was still too new to the game when it came out to really appreciate how much it was changing things. Wrath was the first time I actually knew about an expansion well in advance and could have some some appreciation of what it was going to bring to the game. I don't think I was particularly hyped, however... unlike many who look back on Wrath with a lot of fondness, I hadn't played any of the Warcraft RTS games and therefore had no clue who Arthas even was (it's not like he came up a lot in Vanilla questing or anything).

Also, many of the announced changes sounded more like "let's wait and see" than immediately exciting to me. For example Blizzard had proudly proclaimed that Wrath of the Lich King was going to turn shadow priests into "real" damage dealers, and that they were going to get rid of the whole "mana battery" role by simply making replenishment a buff that multiple classes could bring to a raid. This sounded sensible to me at the time but not particularly fun considering that I enjoyed the utility and didn't care that much about dps numbers. I ended up switching to holy.

Questing through the new zones was enjoyable to me, but we nonetheless lost some guildies to "having to level up again". My favourite healing buddy, an undead holy priest, only made it to level 71 or 72 before giving up and quitting the game because he just could not stand levelling. The new dungeons were varied and interesting, but also laughably easy on heroic mode compared to BC heroics, with no attunement requirements and pretty much everything being AoE tankable.

The revamped Naxxramas and two new single-boss raids kind of had the same issue - mind you, we were not so good at the game that we breezed through them all in a week or anything, but we did actually kill everything on regular difficulty before Ulduar came out, which was a position we had never been in before. At the time Blizzard had said that they had a plan to revamp raiding in Wrath though, and they had stated that the entry tier of raiding was intentionally supposed to be easy, so we rolled with it.

The one thing to keep us busy for a while was the first "achievement raid" which required you to kill the black dragon Sartharion with all three of his drake adds up instead of killing them beforehand - I thought this was a stupid concept because unlike the ZA bear run it basically required you to "do it wrong", intentionally handicapping yourself, but since there was nothing else to do we did it anyway. Being the second person in the guild to get the much-coveted twilight drake that dropped from doing the achievement wasn't half bad either.

Ulduar came to be considered one of WoW's best raids ever - if not the best - but for me it was once again a mixed bag. Overall the fights were fun, but I didn't really get to enjoy the beautiful environments until much later as my old PC was really struggling in 25-mans at this point and having to dial my graphics down to low meant that the experience largely consisted of me walking around in a grey haze. The new optional hardmodes were clever but also a point of contention at times, e.g. when people argued that we should work on Deconstructor's (the fourth boss's) hard mode instead of trying to push onwards to actually fully clear the raid first. I wrote a whole post about my love/hate relationship with Ulduar in the past.

This time we weren't "done" by the time the next raid tier released, and the fact that there was once again no attunement required, combined with it being much easier on normal mode than Ulduar while also giving better loot, led to more contention about what progression should look like. As I had actually just started this blog around that time, I wrote a whole post about my frustrations with this.

Trial of the Crusader was not a very fun time for me in general - it was accessible and gave good loot, which is why it felt like you should do it multiple times a week if need be, but the fights were meh compared to Ulduar, and the new system of having multiple difficulties for the entire raid still felt kind of half-baked. Normal mode was pretty easy for my guild, but then 25-man hard mode was like an absolute brick wall. I don't remember if we ever even got the first encounter down beyond that one time when it bugged out on us in a helpful way.

Icecrown Citadel felt better again, both in terms of difficulty and in terms of general fun, though the constant AoE healing spam required on some fights was starting to stress me out a bit. (This was something that had started early in Wrath but slowly got worse as the expansion progressed.) Unfortunately, it was also the time when my guild broke apart.

Another one of the new concepts introduced in Wrath was that all raids came in both a 10-man and a 25-man version, with the 25-man giving higher level loot. We were still a 25-man guild and just treated the 10-mans the same way we had Karazhan and Zul'Aman in BC: as optional content that people could run in smaller groups on off-nights and on their alts. This mostly seemed to work okay too, but I think in hindsight the fact that it wasn't actually different content was what first planted the seed of discontent in some people's minds. After all, they clearly could do Naxx, Ulduar etc. with just their small group of friends... 25-man mode only scaled up the numbers for better loot.

So when Blizzard announced that in the next expansion, Cataclysm, 10- and 25-mans were now going to drop the same level of gear, a good chunk of our core raiders decided that they were going to nope out of playing with us right then and there, with the idea being that they would form their own, smaller ten-man guild for Cata. They said that they simply preferred the smaller format but soon seemingly put a lie to this by expanding to 25-man again early in Cata - apparently they just hadn't liked certain people in the guild and wanted to leave this "chaff" behind.

This was a big blow to those of us who remained, especially as the leavers took our former main tank with them. Sindragosa was the last boss that we killed as a 25-man raiding guild. The couple of officers that remained scrambled to keep things going and I did see the Lich King and later Halion dead on 10-man at least, but it wasn't quite the same. (Plus it didn't help that I found the ending of the Arthas fight thoroughly underwhelming.) With less than half of our roster remaining, the guild just felt gutted, and I couldn't help but go into Cataclysm with a certain sadness.

For me, Wrath of the Lich King will always be the expansion that made raiding divisive in the name of giving people options. There had always been arguments and drama, but knowing that you needed those other people to see the content and get the bosses down at least served as a sort of unifying force. Wrath was all about giving people more choices, but as it turns out making choices as a guild is hard and presenting people with too many diverging paths along the way just leads to squabbles:
  • The introduction of 10-man raiding reduced 25-man to something some people only did for the better loot, and then promptly ditched the moment Cata allowed it.
  • The introduction of dual spec made it easier to change roles, but also meant that people were suddenly expected to be good at and gear for multiple roles, and that raids could be designed around e.g. having a different number of healers on different bosses. Some players did not mind this and were happy to switch, but at other times it felt like pulling straws as for who had to switch to do the "sucky" job now.
  • The removal of attunements and every raid tier being instantly accessible from Trial of the Crusader onwards meant that the only reason to go back to places like Ulduar was for achievements and to "see the content", again leading to arguments depending on people's motivations.
  • The introduction of the option to extend raid lockouts helped slower progressing guilds to advance through Ulduar but also suddenly caused arguments about whether to extend or reset.
Ultimately this is why I can't look back on Wrath raiding with too much fondness. It did have a lot of good fights and I did have a lot of good times, but it was as if everything good had to come with a "but" attached all of a sudden, where Burning Crusade had just felt like pure fun from start to finish.


My Raiding History, Part 2: The Burning Crusade

The Burning Crusade hadn't been out long when I rolled a troll priest on a different server. The raiding friend I mentioned in my previous post had abandoned his alt in order to return to his home server and tackle the new raid content with his guild, and my levelling partner had rolled up a tauren druid there to join them. There was a certain amount of peer pressure on me to go along.

Like I said previously, my adventure in AQ hadn't really left me with any particular urge to raid, but I missed the company, especially as our little group of friends that had formed on Alliance side started to fracture and people were around less and less. Seeing things from the Horde's point of view while having some company didn't seem like such a bad option in comparison. And I wasn't really committed to anything.

Being a (relatively) lone leveller in a raiding guild, I didn't have a lot of interactions with my new guildies, but they did seem nice enough in chat, and a couple of them did take a liking to me and helped me out by boosting my priest through some dungeons. I remember getting pretty much all the caster drops from Shadowfang Keep for example.

I also remember a guildie who had rolled and levelled a pally for the guild (new to the Horde back then) running me through Razorfen Kraul and then using Divine Intervention on me at the end. I had never seen that ability before and was wondering whether he was doing something similar to a hunter's Feign Death. When I realised that he had literally killed his character for the sake of a laugh it absolutely blew my mind. I started to become fond of these silly people.

Just as I got close to the level cap, there appeared to be some minor guild drama - I was still too far removed from these things to really know what was going on, but the result was that the old guild/raid leader and some of his friends left the game, supposedly to start playing Lord of the Rings Online instead, which they thought was going to be so much better than WoW. It's the sort of thing that can really cripple a guild - but this one made it out fine. The new guild and raid leader was very good at what he did and determined to mould the guild into a raid force to be reckoned with. And moulding is definitely something it needed.

I think the first raid I joined may have actually been Gruul's Lair, since unlike Karazhan it didn't require an attunement (plus the scaling up from 10- to 25-man meant that there was more of a need for additional warm bodies to fill out the raid). I think it's hard to comprehend for people nowadays just how extremely clueless we all were - not just me, but most people in the guild. In the context of Classic people often mention how things were different back in Vanilla because players didn't have all those resources in the form of guides etc. and at the start of BC that was definitely still true to some extent as well.

This was particularly evident on Gruul himself, who was an extremely easy fight mechanically but involved a bit of a dps check... that we failed time and time again. Many of these people had been raiding casually throughout Vanilla, but in most of the Vanilla raids dps just outright wasn't required. Questions such as how to optimise one's gear or rotation hadn't even crossed people's minds. The raid leader had to tell us to shape up and threatened that people would no longer get invited if they couldn't hit at least 500 dps. This wasn't a particularly high requirement even back then, but for many of us it was still a challenge. I felt motivated to prove myself though, and started to work on things such as improving my gear and achieving my hit cap (also a new concept, as hit rating wasn't even displayed on Vanilla character sheets, even though it existed as a stat).

I also got into Karazhan eventually. Getting attuned wasn't really a problem as there were always people happy to help others through the required dungeons. The bigger challenge was to balance two to three 10-man teams with the consideration of 25-man progression - something of which I was blissfully oblivious at the time, as my involvement was limited to showing up when I was told to, but in hindsight it must have been one hell of a headache for leadership.

Karazhan was another place that taught me a lot of lessons. Again, most of the bosses were laughably simplistic compared to many fights today, but keeping in mind that many of us had little to no clue about anything it was just what we needed. Attumen the Huntsman taught people to watch their threat or die. Moroes taught people to apply, re-apply and respect crowd control... or die. Maiden of Virtue taught healers to keybind their cleanses so they could hit them quickly enough to save people's lives... or they would die. And so on and so forth. I wrote about my memories of Karazhan in a bit more detail previously.

I was having a good time, learning things alongside my guildies, killing new bosses and getting a lot better at the game. People were always happy to have me in their group because shadow priests were this strange new thing that hadn't really been considered viable in Vanilla but was suddenly extremely useful to have around. And we just got along well too. Looking back at screenshots I took during that time, I ended up capturing a lot of silly banter in guild chat.

We cleared Karazhan, Gruul's Lair, and eventually Magtheridon's Lair (even if getting that damn cube clicking right wiped us way too many times). We were somewhat behind the curve, meaning that by the time we were ready to enter Serpentshrine Cavern and The Eye, the attunement requirements for them had been removed (though some of us still did the quests for laughs). That didn't make our journey any less meaningful though, and while there was some turnover in the roster obviously (my former levelling partner left to join a more progressed guild for example), we continued to go from strength to strength. It was a bit of a blow when our combined guild and raid leader suddenly lost interest in the game seemingly overnight, but by then our momentum was so strong that someone with a less powerful personality was able to take over and keep the show running anyway.

We killed Lady Vashj and Kael'thas, and started working on Mount Hyjal and Black Temple (also after their attunements had become non-mandatory). When Zul'Aman came out, a mage friend made it a personal goal to build a hand-picked 10-man team that would practice the instance until we could successfully complete the "bear run" - a timed challenge that would result in a unique mount reward for one person - and I was one of his picks because I was his friend and just that good by then. Beating that challenge as a team was probably the height of my WoW raiding career. I also wrote a post about that before.

We never made it into Sunwell, but didn't really care much at the time either. That instance felt like something that Blizzard had kind of tacked on at the end to keep the super hardcore busy - after all, Illidan was the real end boss of the expansion, right? We were working on Mother Shahraz in Black Temple when the Wrath of the Lich King pre-patch applied a blanket nerf to all raids, but fortunately it didn't completely remove all challenge from the last few bosses. It wasn't quite the same when we finally killed Illidan, but we were still proud and felt that we had finished the expansion on a high note.

Things were about to change, however... (to be continued)


My Raiding History, Part 1: Vanilla

A couple of months ago I listened to an episode of the WoW Killer podcast in which the two hosts were talking about how they got into raiding. I really enjoyed that episode because I always find these kinds of stories fascinating. Pretty much nobody ever starts their first MMO with the intention to raid, so the journey from fresh newbie to seasoned raider inevitably involves a lot of personal growth, changes in attitudes and often humorous detours. It struck me that my own journey along the same lines would be interesting to reflect on and also make for a good subject for a series of blog posts, so here we are.

I, too, didn't start playing World of Warcraft with the intention to raid. In fact, I didn't even know what raiding was, or that it was a thing anyone should know anything about - hell, I barely knew what kind of gaming experience I was about to get myself into that very first night I loaded into Elwynn Forest.

I can't exactly pinpoint when I first learned what raids were... presumably it was through chatting with other players. A friend that was already playing and rolled up an alt to level with me had his main in a raiding guild on a different server and probably talked about it at various points. It didn't really sound particularly relevant to my interests though.

One thing I do recall very vividly however is the day my night elf priest was standing by the Ironforge bank, either just before or a little after hitting level 60, when someone whispered me seemingly out of the blue and asked me to join their guild for a raid of the Ruins of Ahn'Qiraj that night. I assured them that I was wholly unsuitable for such a venture, having neither particularly good gear nor any kind of clue what I was supposed to do in such a setting, but for some reason they really wanted me to come anyway and I eventually agreed.

In hindsight I can only surmise that with the Burning Crusade already looming very close by that point, some people were rapidly losing interest in raiding, knowing that better gear and whole new adventures were going to await on the other side of the Dark Portal soon, which probably made it a struggle for many guilds to still fill their raids, presumably to the point where they were happy to bring in pugs just to make up the numbers. That's just a guess, however.

Anyway, thanks to repeated reassurances on the whisperer's part that it was completely fine that I was shadow specced and had no gear, I did show up to the raid, and even though it was "only" a 20-man, I still remember how utterly overwhelming I found the experience. This was the biggest organised group of players I'd ever been a part of, and everyone but me seemed to know exactly what to do. Mages were conjuring water and warlocks were handing out health stones, all of this seemingly unprompted. It was quite awe-inspiring to me, if also somewhat intimidating.

I remember us killing trash and people dying to it, with some questions about healing assignments being raised. I didn't really know what I was supposed to do and had the uncomfortable feeling that the deaths might have been my fault. Was I supposed to be healing that guy who died? There were no major complaints though, and it was over soon enough.

Kurinaxx and General Rajaxx had already been killed, so we were headed to Buru the Gorger straight away. Tactics were explained, something about running away when he targeted you and killing eggs. Again I remember feeling mostly useless and terrified of getting things wrong. I probably didn't mess up in any major way, or at least I can't remember doing so. I don't recall how many tries it took us to kill him, but we did, resulting in the one screenshot I have of that night:

Dead Buru with his German name tag showing because I was using the German client back then.
We then proceeded to Moam, where I was told that I was allowed to go into shadow form and should just spam mana burn on him. This pleased me greatly, as it was much simpler than anything we had dealt with previously and something I actually understood how to do! Still, I can't even remember whether we killed him or not, just that we didn't proceed any further before the raid came to an end.

I don't think I ever talked to anyone from that guild again afterwards. Maybe I was terrible and they didn't want me to come back. Or maybe they did ask me to join them again another time and I declined. I do know that while it had been a very memorable night, it had also been more overwhelming than fun and didn't leave me with any particular urge to experience more of the same.

For that, Burning Crusade would have to roll around first. To be continued!