What makes a good raid (part 2)

I realize that this is entirely subjective – what one person love another might hate and the concensus of what we think is okay varies from tolerant of to love. The take I’m going to give is of course tainted by what I think but also what I’ve observed. Not just by running a ton of raids but from responses by others.

Length
Length is very subjective; some makes comment about how it doesn’t matter if it’s 1 hour or 3, often confusing ‘challenge’ with arbitrary length of time. I would refer it to ‘real player’ syndrome – the idea that making something as arduous and intolerant often with abritrary redundant time syncs adds some kind of challenge value that separates ‘real players’ from ‘those others’. It sounds snarky – but it’s what I get not only from Forum posts but also the in game channel. If you remove the idea of real vs regular players it’s more a subjective matter of thinking time doesn’t matter. And it’s understandable, the value of time differs from person to person. If someone can cram in 10 hours of game time and others only 2, the value of that play time will change. Especially since we all have goals – and one goal might be get x amount of progress in – while another persons goal might be – play and then maybe get x amount of materials/items.

But to me and I think a lot of people time is one of absolute essence for most. There’s definitely a x amount of time frame where the experience feels fresh and worth it. Perhaps more important is the sense of reward – be it rewarding experience or just reward in the sense of XP/minute or even end reward. The longer things take the more ‘time’ feels wasted since it leads to comparisons to say ‘I could have done x amount of stuff and received the same things in x time by now’.

So when we take about ‘length’ it’s the kind of mixed feeling of reward (which I will talk about in detail below) and in comparison to something else. There’s also a matter of activity. If things are very active but feels fresh time is kind of irrelevant. You’re way too busy to worry about if it’s been 30 minutes or an hour. But if hectic becomes redundant – say doing same things over and over you get saturated. It’s like watching the same thing before your eyes over and over with the same end result. Like doing 6 mirror puzzles. Or having to deal with endless spawns with no progress, with the end guy resetting over and over – with the feeling of taking one step back.

The sweet spot is always an expectancy of having a basic idea of how long it takes and the goal is to keep or beat that while profiting from the experience. Personally I prefer 30-45 minutes. It’s hard to keep something fresh after that. Partly because it’s one of resources as well; you might have loot jewel running, or XP potions, burning an hour or more and then get naught in the end is frustrating. But it’s also a feeling of worth; it’s hard to justify several hours when so much can be accomplished in other content for the same time. In other words the experience either have to be really profitable or mentally satisfying, and it’s very hard to argue for mental satisfaction after you’ve done the same raid over and over. And it seems that most people prefer 30-45 minutes, I bet most (like me) would be fine with something taking over an hour first, until you learn it and start refining how you do things – but there’s always a ‘bare minimum’ based on mechanics. Like Shroud used to be 45 mins to an hour, then slowly ground down to 30 minutes about and now you can do an elite in about 20 minutes – perhaps a little less given a perfect no nonsense run.

Likewise you could do a Hound in about 1 or 2 minutes (again – mechanics, circumventing the entire purpose of the doggie mothers enormous DR with current massive incoming hits) or more realistically a FoT in about 15. That doesn’t mean that FoT is ideal because it can be short and sweet, but it’s more popular because it combines time frame, rewards and activity in a way that overcomes anyone’s sense of shortcomings. Like the fact that they don’t like beat down raids.

On the other hand I think the new shadow dragon raid falls into several deep holes time wise. Too many arbitrary and redundant puzzle portions. Ideally they’ll be done quickly by people memorizing the puzzles but you also have an end fight that can go on based purely on luck. I’m sure it can be scaled down, but there are way to many portions of the raid that runs into inactivity and added with longer time it gets frustrating.

Rewarding
There are two types of rewards – items/materials and mentally. Mentally falls into a very subjective territory of what anyone find aesthetic and appealing. Personally I never run raids for the ‘feel’ of it, at least not more than once. On the other hand you also have mental satisfaction of ‘fun’ – which can be everything from fun to beat within some kind of parameters or just fun because you run things for have a good old time. Fun is important; fun can be really hard and challenging – being on the bleeding edge of ruin forcing people to play at their best or it can be simply biologically tickling whatever gland or something inside you that gives you that tingly feeling.

But a great portion of ‘rewarding’ would be materialistic. We all set goals; few play games without goal and I’d say that most of them falls within ‘just having fun’. Others, like myself don’t mind fun – but also want to move towards a goal. And raids are about raid items or materials to make items.

FoT – rewarding. It’s not only a quick, hectic active raid – where you can go from almost losing it to executing a flawless victory in a short time but it can also be rewarding. Especially if you’re looking for materials. Such as the heroic accommodation. It’s guaranteed even on EN. Making FoT the goto raid for that stuff. Sure – there are some interesting raid items but to be honest they’re a little bit meh. Not super meh but nothing like ‘I gotta have that!’ type loot. On the other hand Citw feels unrewarding for so many things. Not only is it a longer raid with tedious time sinks (killing 8 legs, killing 8 bugs, not flying off the edge and die, having to undo several balls of power, fighting a gauntlet of rednamed and other tedious critters and then an endfight that can go on and on if people are not prepping correctly – tedious) but it’s unrewarding too. Imagine 7 chests. If I do say – FoT – I’m guaranteed a heroic comm. If I do citw I get 7 chests and no guarantee. Put aside raid loot for a minute; there’s nothing worse than spending a lot of time getting to the end just to profit and you get 7 chests of trash. Take in account the tedious run and time spent and you feel like you’re wasting time.

There are other raids like that, VoD and Hound; I can’t tell you how many times I did those raids just to be completely skunked. I don’t mean just me, but everyone. But here you had a different thing in play; other than the stupid wilderness run the raids were ‘shorter’. You could finish all of them within 30 minutes easy, so getting skunked wasn’t all that big of a deal. You could also say the same about ToD – the raid itself wasn’t all that long, but getting that one chance for a ring was always frustrating since the ring table was so diluted by all the other rings – stuff you didn’t even care for. They had at least a guaranteed material for unlocking so you were never entirely skunked, just frustrated that getting that one ring could take everything from 1 time to 60+.

The most frustrating stuff are of course old Epic raids, where you not only needed an item, but also seals, scrolls and shards. Where the scroll only dropped randomly for killing stuff in raid or attached quests and where seals could drop in specific quest chest and shards in the raid portions. Worst are very diluted loot tables like DQ but you also got VON with the silly quests and raid. Chrono is not really all that bad in that respect; it’s one raid – that can be completed fairly quickly and that have 2 chests for seals, lots of critters to kill and 1 end chest for shards. It’s a dumb frustrating system, but at least it is contained within 1 ‘shorter’ raid.

Challenge
Challenge is perhaps the hardest to quantify just after the aspect of fun. And that’s because challenge depends on skill and many times class. What’s challenging for SP sponge classes like Fighters might be a breeze for a caster or Monk, if you play more than one type of class I’m sure you’re keenly aware of that aspect dependent on what you play. That’s why ‘challenge’ is so hard to explain.

But to me challenge is about holding you on the edge of triumph. Not on the edge of frustration. Sounds like the same thing; especially given the difference in experience between classes. But keep in mind; you’re just one cog of a up to 12 man crew so your challenge might be averaged out by all other players part of it. The fact that a healer keep healing you will always make the dps part easier than when you keep having to waste time jumping out of combat to heal yourself. Or grinding XP seems so much easier when you have casters using crowd control or energy burst over having to do it yourself with one 100+ HP hit at the time.

Back in the days when people actually failed shroud (and not just because they did naked drunk raids falling of edges or collapsing unconsciously on their keyboards in the puddle of drool) skill and the right type of class was of great important. A good group could beat the content on Normal and Hard while a really good group could do it on Elite. Success was never given since shroud (back in the days) relied on 5 segments that could and did indeed all fail. First – not enough DPS. The good thing about the first segment is that it was an early indication of not enough DPS. Sure, coordination of beating down portals in the right order was one thing, but for most part it was about not enough DPS. That’s why the LFMs started listing dr/portal beaters and wanting heavy dps (such as barbarians and fighters). Monks and Rangers including casters didn’t have enough DPS to get the job done. So when you talk about challenge it was more a question of competence and gear than on the bleeding edge of loss.

Unlike ToD that were by design always on the bleeding edge of loss even with competent players. Not only did it require coordination and good healing, but also competent DPS from fighters and skirmishes. It required tanking, healing, CC and overall dps and people skilled in kiting. And you could fail in all the different sections even with competent players because there were things that spiraled out of control. Like not being able to control everything in part one where the spawns started getting involved. Like not being able to kite the judge. Or part 2, when the kiter of shadows either got killed or lost agro – which usually spelled doom for the rest of the group. Same with part 3, either not being able to handle the pit fiend that shows up after a bit, or the tank losing control of the main pit fiend – being able to get back from either part 2 and 3 after that spiraled out of control was always hectic, fun and a true challenge. Here the mechanics were definitely within the constraint of players; lose agro and the group might fail. Not enough DPS and casters ran out of resources before it was over. The challenge was the players to beat and where the system didn’t throw up unknown things that sabotaged everything.

So what does all of this mean in comparison to the latest 4 raids we have, citw, FoT, the red dragons raid and the shadow dragon?

Citw suffers from 3 bad things; poor sweet spot for time, dreadful reward, either by fun or by material profit and challenges that are mechanic nightmares and outside players control. Like the first segment. Fighting her, that’s dps – the challenge here is keeping curses off for healing. That’s on the player and kind of stupid. That’s not a challenge anymore than annoying. Unlike the same on VoD, where controlling curses especially by the tank where one of controlling the fight. With so much HP the healing curse seems more trivial and annoying than something that can topple an entire raid. Worse is the mechanical one; outside anyone’s control – like the SP drain. That range from tolerant on normal to completely idiotic on Elite. That’s not a challenge. That’s griefing. Anytime you add something no one control it’s no less than someone kicking you in the nuts for no other reason than having a foot and you a crotch within range. Add to that fighting 8 legs, each spawning a big RED bug. Again – resource management is a nightmare because for some reason the legs can also kick you – which sounds like a ‘challenge’ but again it’s outside anyones control. No amount of skill can stop you from this arbitrary feature and once you fly off the edge you return dead. It’s dumb. Then we have the second portion, gauntlets. You could skip draining the power balls or whatever they are but that means more chests with trash. And everyone likes loot, until they realize it’s just more trash. But even if you skip draining the balls you still have to fight red named bugs and red named all the way till the end.
Then there’s the end. Not absolutely the worst but certainly frustrating. Good – hectic end fight requiring coordination, bad – another stupid thing where you have to coordinate prepping and killing 2 things at the same time so you can go through the portal.

The second bad thing is sense of reward. There is none – it’s one thing to get skunked on end reward but compounded by a tedious long run it’s even worse. They could fix this of sort if they included an automatic heroic comm, but as it is you have a small chance for 2 I think. Plus 7 chests of trash just throws it that much harder in your face. How about 1 automatic heroic comm and 6 really really tiny chances of heroic comms? Suddenly you have added a rewarding value for all the other shortcomings.

So compounded you have long unrewarding raid where most of the challenge comes from poor to terrible mechanics rather than fail because of players.

FoT on the other hand is a raid of tremendous value. First, flag once and no need to run to get to raid entrance. It’s right there in the public area in GH. Second, it’s ‘short’. 3 separate segments, all controllable by the players, requiring some coordination and all mechanics can be dealt with, with gear and by players. Like prepping the 3 pairs of dragon and giants. No biggie. Like tanking the dragon while keeping him facing away from team. Again – now you’re avoiding the mechanic of spawning wraiths. Then controlling the charmed giant and its boom by using equipment like absorb and pale lavendar while kiting him away from group. All things within the control of the player. And then kiting the new spectral dragons from messing with the group. All areas within control, all mechanics within player control. On EN with the current amount of DPS this is a breeze. Failure has more to do with lack of experience with this raid and coordination than anything else. On harder diff settings it becomes a question of resources and (something I personally is okay with for this raid) a slight delay before you can raise dead players. That makes it harder for everyone else and paramount that players avoid silly deaths. Finally rewarding, you always get that heroic comm. Short runs makes the reward sweeter, long slogs make it a bandaid for all the bruises. But you’re never skunked. Even better; the higher the diff setting the higher the version of loot. Which is a brilliant idea; you’re basically receiving the EH version of the raid loot (unlock-able with mats) on EH and the EE version (tier 2 and fully unlocked) on EE. That’s brilliant. Not only do you get a chance of more heroic comms with increased diff setting, but also better version of the raid loot. So much so you don’t even have to unlock it.

Compared to citw raid loot; where it needs gobs of heroic comms to unlock, and higher diff setting gives you the same base raid loot and perhaps a comm (it’s automatic on EE).

FoT might not be players cup of tea, but it is a raid that have most of the features I look for.

Red dragons raid
I like it. It’s like FoT but a little bit dumber. I’ll explain.
This is a relatively short raid; you could probably do it with a good group under 30 minutes. Second, it’s always rewarding. There’s a small chance for raid loot and always material for construction. Even if it’s only one chest the time plus the always reward makes that one chest okay. You’re not running this one for trash loot anyways. Third, the mechanics while dumb are within the control of the group. The hard hitting fire breaths are communicated in time (yellow targets on the ground) and can be minimized with evasion and absorb stuff and the dragons can be tanked. The spawns are terrible leading to the raid wipe effect of red alert, but it can be controlled by casters with good DPS. Sure, heavy non self healing and non evasion classes will suffer but with competent and coordinated heals that is a minor factor. The good thing with the mechanics is that you don’t have to prep and kill things at the same time. That’s always dumb. The bad are the many red named; I don’t know why they need to add these red named HPbags that can only be kited or DPS’d (instead of controlled via tactical feats) since they all re-spawn anyways. Again – red named outside bosses is ALWAYS stupid, and extra stupid when they re-spawn. That’s not a controlled challenging mechanic – that’s a tedious feature. Kinda like SP drain.

Given the few negatives and the many positives it’s not a perfect sweet spot raid but a good one, good groups will conserve resources and manage to finish the raid within a reasonable time while others might struggle; just as it should be.

The dragon raid is completely opposite. First it’s long. Not just long because you don’t know it. It’s artificially long because of features. Like 6 mirror puzzles, 2 random special puzzles and a end fight that can go on for a long time dependent on luck. That makes the feeling of reward tenuous. Because if you like this kind of tedious torture the reward will feel appropriate and if it’s a long grueling experience it’ll feel ‘not enough’. But at least you will always get something and that’s important. The mechanics of the raid is the bandit and what makes this more like Abbott, for people who really really like this kind of raid. The worst part is that you need to do it if you need a special combo on your weapon. You really don’t have a choice.
And just like with citw this raid offers mechanics that are outside most players control.

Such as red named battle ragers. They WILL slow you down if they get close, you can’t do anything to them tactically and they are HPbags galore. The best you can do is to kite them, let all spawn (I think 6 is the max, kill any and more re-spawns) and then jump over the edge and let no one take agro. But that means keeping one guy out of the entire end fight.

Then there are the puzzles. Ranging from within control to poorly controlled. Like jumping. In Abbott I don’t think all in the raid group need to do it. Here all do. It’s frustrating. Or the red green, or the gravity. Some are tedious trial and error (portals) others beatdowns. Once, okay, twice? Blech. Ontop of that random location of soul stone in a soup of purple. I tell you that aesthetically I find the entire raid to drap or like with the shadow side horribly purple. It’s just a terrible feel on what should be a OMG a undead SHADOW DRAGON! And good voice acting will not change the feel of lukewarm aesthetics. What keeps this raid from dying and early death is the need for material. You could potentially make it ‘fire dragon’ options only and buy anything else you need, but if you want to make the item you want you will need to do both.

So what is a good raid?
If you skim through the wall of text it boils down to control – control of goals (like mats or raid loot), time and environment. Anytime these are out of control you skew the raid towards obscurity. Like the Cannith raids and Titan. They were never that popular even in their prime. Partly because most of these features are skewed, from bad mechanics, to poor time control and unrewarding experience. Other raids live on; Shroud, FoT and Chrono. You’ll see them often enough – lesser so with ToD and citw and that has to do with reward – we got what we want out of them so they fall into obscurity. They’re not short and sweet enough for nostalgia (Chrono) and the loot are not timely (like Shroud).

Lets hope Turbine can ‘sweeten’ the Shadow raid by tightening the controls a little so it falls from meh into – okay – territory. And lets hope they think hard and long enough about future raids. End raids should never be niche, especially if it’s something most players feel they ‘need’.

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