Going into Warlords, we’re getting a new raiding structure. I think the popular image from the Blizzcon slide can explain it better than I can. 1000 words and all that.
Everything’s going flex bar the hardest difficulty, and various modes are consolidating into 4 types of raid. LFR, Normal, Heroic and Mythic. Each of these will be on a separate lockout, blah blah, this is stuff we already know. What has been revealed recently is that while LFR has higher item level loot than heroic 5-man dungeons, it won’t have tier set pieces or the same trinkets as the higher difficulties. What it WILL have is unique-looking loot with no set bonuses, and trinkets more akin to basic dungeon ones, as opposed to game-changers like the Purified Bindings of Immerseus and its amplifying brethren.
5.4 introduced to us the new Flexible difficulty. A step up from LFR, but not as punishing as normal, it was a way for guilds who may never have raided before (like mine!) to organise a group, chat rubbish on Mumble (which has now spilled to outside of raid times, which is fantastic for us!) and just generally be more social. The fact it was flexible difficulty meant you didn’t have to exclude people if you were a 10-man guild and 15 of you showed up, and if you were 25-man but only 22 showed up, you didn’t have to cancel.
Why do I bring up what is common knowledge? Well, in terms of myself and my relationship with raiding, I was exclusively an LFR raider. LFR Hero, I think we were called (disparagingly, like we weren’t as worthy as the hardcore heroic raiders and whanot). I’ve been in the same guild since the end of Wrath of the Lich King. We’ve always been a social, casual guild. We first raided together as a guild in the first week of patch 5.2 (when Throne of Thunder was introduced), and even then it was only Mogu’shan Vaults.
We got stuck hopelessly on Elegon. Stupid see-through dragon.
The next time we raided together, it was in 5.4. The introduction of flex raids excited us! It pushed us out of just doing LFR alone, seperately, into doing this awesome new content together, as a guild. It also created a fairly good PUG mentality on my server (at the time, a low-medium population one called Nagrand. We’ve since been connected to Runetotem and Kilrogg, and if anything the PUG scene has exploded into life), so if we were short a player or 6 (we were always short!), we could always grab one off /2, or even through OQ.
The gear we got through Flex allowed us to attempt to tackle Normal Siege, and we’re so far 4/14N! For all of us, on our mains at least, we saw LFR not as a method of gearing this time around, like we had done previously, but as a sort of training ground. Our tanks learnt the mechanics for the fights there, the tank swaps and whatnot, our healers learnt the best ways to heal fights, when the heavy damage was coming in, and when they could ease off and conserve their mana. Us DPS learnt not to stand in fire, and that’s pretty much it. Any gear we got in LFR was a small bonus, quickly replaced by superior gear in Flex or Normal (and as we gradually acquired our legendary cloaks, from Ordos too).
I suppose my point is this. You can see the removal of tier gear and uber trinkets as gutting LFR if you wish, a slap in the face to those who can only do that. I personally feel it’s Blizzard trying to get people into doing what will soon become Normal and Heroic raids instead, if not as a guild, then as a PUG through OQ (or their new spangly group finder, which personally I cannot wait to see), or even through trade chat. The introduction of flex raiding in 5.4 was the catalyst my guild needed to get into raiding together, beforehand we had thought it impossible! We all kept different schedules, we were free different times, but splitting the raid into several wings meant we could do it as bite-size chunks when we all had an hour or two to spare.
Now, the raids of Warlords are supposedly going to be less linear than the raids of Mists.
If, say, you get stuck hopelessly on boss #2 of the Iron Assembly, then there’s always bosses in the Slag Works or The Black Forge for you to go and try. Currently, if you get stuck on, say, Norushen in Siege, you’re there bashing your head against him for hours until you beat him. Sure, if you’re Flexing it, you can just go onto wing 2 and Galakras, but really, if you’re struggling with Norushen, it’s doubtful Galakras will give you much more joy.
I’d imagine at first, we’d be able to do a wing a night. As we gradually gear up, maybe we’ll do two wings, then eventually we’ll get the whole place done in a few hours. Currently, we can get to Malkorok on Flex in under 3 hours. When we first did Flex, we couldn’t get past the Protectors!
People who want to raid only LFR, they’ll probably stay there. That’s fine, that’s their endgame. It used to be mine. People who want to go on to do the more difficult content will have a multitude of ways to do it. The fact that Normal and Heroic’ll be cross-realm will mean that you’re not restricted to only grouping with people on your server, meaning more opportunities to raid those difficulties in times that suit you. Yes, random PUGs can sometimes be horrendously painful, but honestly, for every time I’ve had a bad group, I’ve had about four brilliant ones.
I am still a little miffed that they’re not including tier sets in LFR. While I still believe it’s intended as a push for people to do the harder stuff, for the people that don’t WANT to, it basically means “you see all this cool-looking armor? You can’t have it. Have this rubbish-looking LFR armor instead.”
Like, seriously, have you SEEN the LFR sets? Here’s a link to (hopefully) the Wowhead preview of the LFR Plate. Look at it, then look at the warrior tier set above it. The LFR set is crap compared to that! That warrior tier set is goddamn BEAUTIFUL, whereas the LFR set elicited a “meh” response from me. The only LFR set I like is the red/blue cloth one.
On the whole though, I feel that this change to the loot system can be the push for even more people to move into “organised” (or in the case of my guild, disorganised!) raiding. Not only that, but for people like me, who don’t see themselves as LFR heroes anymore, but nor as an organised raider (is Flex Hero a thing? Let’s make it a thing), it’ll be more incentive to get into PUGs, maybe even make new friends! There are naturally some downsides; the people who only ever want to run LFR may see the removal of tier pieces as being treated as second-class citizens by Blizzard itself, who can’t have the nice-looking armors. In the first tier, the “hardcore” people will still feel obligated to run LFR, as well as Normal, Heroic and Mythic for upgrades, though this “obligation” will lessen as the expansion wears on (Watcher stated that the first tier’s Mythic items will be of a higher item level than the following tier’s Normal items, therefore people who will be raiding Mythic won’t ever need to do LFR or Normal as it won’t drop ANYTHING worthwhile for them once they’re Mythic geared).
That does bring up another interesting point though. When LFR Siege or Throne first opened, how many of us read the tactics beforehand? I did, though there really is a massive difference between reading about a fight, and actually experiencing it! The first time I did Durumu? Lei Shen? Garrosh? Galakras? Nazgrim? Heck, Garalon way back when? I, and many others in my group, were dependent on those who had already run it on Normal modes to help us through. Now, in the first tier, we’ll get those people. They’ll be looking for upgrades to their quest/dungeon gear that they haven’t replaced doing the other modes. In later tiers? Well, they won’t need to run it. Why would they? No tier sets, no broken-ass trinkets, they’ll be Mythic geared from the previous tier, and won’t see the need to run LFR, so you won’t get that contingent of people who know the tactics inside-out because they’re run it several times already. You’ll have a split of people who have read up a little bit, and the people who haven’t looked at a thing, both running it for the first time.
I predict those first couple weeks of LFR, just like the first couple weeks of Durumu, Garalon, Elegon, et al, to be rather painful, as people get used to the fights.
But hey, isn’t the struggle what it’s all about? If we struggle together, we can get through it together, and next time, we’ll be stronger, and we’ll be ready for it.