Monday, June 10, 2013

My Thoughts on Flexible Raids

Last Thursday, Blizzard announced a new difficulty level for raids called Flexible Raiding, which - similar to Raid Finder in Cataclysm - will premiere with the final raid tier for Mists of Pandaria. The Flexible Raiding system, as you probably know if you pay any attention to World of WarCraft-related news sites, will require pre-formed groups of anywhere from 10 to 25 players and will be set between Raid Finder and normal raiding in both difficulty and item reward level. Its primary attractions are its ability to dynamically tune encounters depending on the number of players participating and its immediate availability for cross-realm play (it's currently unclear if the existing restrictions barring cross-realm groups from undertaking the most current raid tier for normal and heroic difficulties will be removed).

Personally, I'm somewhat torn about the feature - not because I feel there's anything fundamentally wrong with it, but because it's yet another amazing-sounding feature which, like Pet Battles, Challenge Mode Dungeons, Brawler's Guild, and Heroic Scenarios, I probably won't be able to participate in to any satisfactory degree for the foreseeable future. It certainly addresses my primary complaint against Raid Finder, though, which is that Raid Finder groups often just feel like extra large Dungeon Finder parties due to the complete lack of camaraderie between most random groups of strangers.

That said, I do not think the Flexible Raid system is without its flaws. In terms of loot, for example, I think the upper level of PvE itemization is saturated to the point where adding an additional strata of gear between Raid Finder and Valor Point/normal raiding item levels is a detriment. At some point, the excitement and thrill of winning an item upgrade gives way to disappointment that you now have to spend so many resources to in order to maximize its utility for increasingly fleeting gains as the useful lifespan of items decreases within a single raid tier. Even if you never step foot into a normal mode raid, it is going to become progressively less fun to win a belt in Raid Finder only to have to reforge it, add a Living Steel Belt Buckle to it, and gem it, then have that belt be replaced by the Flexible Raid version, re-reforge, re-buckle, and re-gem the new belt, and then have to repeat the process a third time when the Flexible Raid belt gets replaced by the Valor Point version.

Honestly, I think Blizzard has a better template for itemization in the Korean version of WoW, in which items can be upgraded up to 4 times (compared to a maximum of twice elsewhere around the world) and certain raids drop partially upgraded gear. While the system is based on raid size in Korea, I think it should be altered to work for Raid Finder and Flexible Raid gear in North America, because it turns the above issue into a contemplative game mechanic. In the belt example, if you were to obtain a Raid Finder belt with 0/4 upgrades and enhance it properly, you would then have an actual decision if a 2/4 upgraded belt were to drop for you in a later Flexible Raid: since the Raid Finder belt and the Flexible Raid belt will become identical when they have equal upgrades, do you opt to save 500 Valor Points by applying appropriate enhancements to the Flexible Raiding belt; or do you choose to save ~1000 gold by keeping the enhancements to the Raid Finder belt and upgrading it with Valor Points? Furthermore, unless Blizzard shrinks the item level gap between Raid Finder and normal mode raiding loot (currently 20 item levels), the 8 additional item levels from 2 more upgrades will still put 4/4 upgraded Raid Finder gear below freshly-dropped normal gear, which means that normal and heroic raid gear could maintain their 2 upgrade maximum with minimal negative effect on game balance.

All in all, though, I'm looking forward to experiencing Flexible Raids for myself (if the opportunity arises), as well as seeing how Blizzard will adapt the new technology going forward. Flexible Scenarios, perhaps?

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