World of Warcraft: The Current State of Raid Design, Non-Linear vs Linear Progression

The race for supremacy in Tier 17 of raid content in World of Warcraft is officially half over with Paragon returning to their former glory and taking the lead by being the first guild in the world to defeat all 7 bosses in the Highmaul raid instance on the mythic difficulty setting. The race will pick up when Blackrock Foundry is released on January 27th, however that is not the story here. Paragon was declared world first for Highmaul before they had actually cleared the raid in its entirety and this was made possible by Blizzard’s decision to take non-linear raid design a little too far. From my understanding, to clear Highmaul or rather to defeat its final boss, a raid is only required to kill 3 out of the preceding 6 bosses before being able to access the final boss’ room. In Paragon’s victory post, they list the number of wipes and the order in which they defeated each of the 7 boss encounters and I found the numbers rather interesting.

Many people had been saying that The Butcher was a very easy boss fight but the final numbers tell a different story. For most guilds he was the last boss they downed before moving on to the final boss and in Paragon’s case, he was actually the final boss they defeated before completing their full clear of the instance. Another interesting fact was, the number of wipes they had on The Butcher(121) was actually just one less than the  number of wipes they had on the final boss, Imperator Mar’gok(122). Compare this to 0 wipes on Kargath Bladefist and Twin Ogrons, and only 38 wipes to Ko’ragh and you will see that they wiped more on an optional boss than they did to the gatekeepers. This is what allowed there to even be an argument over whether or not Paragon should’ve been considered world first before they had actually killed all 7 bosses since they had not yet fully cleared the instance as they still had The Butcher left to finish off.

I am not calling out Paragon here as I had no doubts that they would eventually be the first to clear 7/7 anyway and make it official, not to mention that many of the other top guilds threw in the towel and conceded world first to Paragon when Mar’gok fell to them. I actually feel that Paragon and other top guilds are victims in this situation to Blizzard’s poor decision making in terms of raid design for this current tier. In previous tiers of raiding, you generally had to clear all bosses in the instance before you could even gain access to the final boss. There are exceptions of course as in the cases of Sinestra, Algalon, and Ra’den, all of which were bonus hard mode only encounters that were intended to be more difficult than raids original final bosses and acted as extra bosses rather than final bosses themselves. Even if we look back to Icecrown Citadel we can see that Blizzard had designed it in a way where not only were you required to kill Putricide, Lana’thel, and Sindragosa before gaining access to Arthas, but if you had not done all of those bosses on hard mode you could not attempt The Lich King on hard mode. This previous design made it a no brainer that when the final boss died, that was when the raid was completed which is why many immediately declared Paragon the winners of Highmaul as they were the first to defeat the final boss.

I truly hope Blizzard learns from this situation and abandons the idea of optional bosses in a raid. Non-linear simply means that you have some degree of choice when it comes to order of attack in the instance but  ultimately I feel that it’s bad design as it forces Blizzard to balance certain bosses making them relatively equal in difficulty as opposed to a simple scaling difficulty based on progression when utilizing a linear approach. Don’t get me wrong though, non-linear can be ok when you don’t go full non-linear(never go full non-linear). If we look at Firelands for instance, that raid can be used as an example of when non-linear works. Raiders have the option of attacking Beth, Alys, Ryholith, and Shannox in any order they choose, but once those 4 have been dispatched the raid becomes linear from Baleroc(The Gatekeeper), through Majordomo Staghelm and on to Ragnaros the Firelord.

Moving forward, it is my hope that Blizzard acknowledges the competitive PvE scene and focus more on designing around that aspect of the game, at least in the terms of boss progression. If guilds  hit a wall of a boss, they simply farm the bosses they can kill until they either develop the strategy and the skill to execute said strategy necessary to defeat the boss or until they farm enough gear to simply overpower the encounter and keep moving forward. People are too lazy to actually work on progression which made room for this design of optional bosses but that’s a story for another time. In any case those are my thoughts, I hope you enjoyed reading them and feel free to share yours.

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