Friday, February 17, 2017

The numbers, they are scary

In the Mythic+ 5 person dungeons Blizzard introduced in this expansion they really have a hit.  A lot of people are playing them and I personally love that there is scaling 5 person content that is really challenging.  It also is interesting because it uses different sorts of abilities than larger raids do.  Stuns and interrupts and other such things are valued in M+ while being usually ignored in raiding situations.

One issue they have had so far is the balance of the additional mods on dungeons. As you get to level 4, 7, and 10 a new mod shows up on the enemies.  Volcanic causes each enemy to randomly spawn a volcano under players every few seconds, while Bolstering gives all nearby enemies 20% more health and damage every time an enemy dies.  There are a bunch of mods, which is great, but one problem is that some are far more challenging than others.

The real issue is that some mods can be beaten with skill, and some need gear.  Sanguine, for example, creates a pool on the ground when a monster dies and that pool heals enemies and injures players.  This is occasionally annoying but most of the time you just keep moving the enemies out of the pools as their friends die and nothing bad comes of it.  This takes concentration and skill but adds little in terms of output requirements.  If you play correctly it hardly matters at all.

On the other end of the spectrum is Necrotic where each enemy attack stacks up a debuff on the player that reduces healing they receive by 3%.  Very quickly the player becomes unhealable and dies no matter how much gear they have so the tank must use a movement boost and run away from monsters to get rid of the healing penalty debuff.  This drastically reduces the damage your group deals because monsters are running around everywhere and increases the healing you have to output to cope with the debuff.  Skill matters, but when Necrotic is up you need a ton of extra gear to overcome it.  Also because Necrotic takes 10 seconds to drop off you absolutely must wait 10 seconds between fighting enemy groups.

It turns out that all the mods that just take skill are considered the easy ones and the mods that force actual numbers increases are the hard ones.  In groups with weaker skill the difference isn't that large, I suspect, but there is no question that on weeks with really difficult mods there are far fewer people playing because they are stuck doing much lower level dungeons than they are used to.  The people pushing really high level dungeons who expect high skill notice this the most.

Blizzard is making some changes to the M+ system in an attempt to address this disparity.  Their changes are moving in the right direction, I think, but aren't going to change the fundamental situation that any mod that can be ignored via skill will end up being the easy one for those pushing their limits.

  • New Affix: Bursting (level 4)
    • When slain, non-boss enemies explode, causing all players to suffer 10% of their maximum health in damage over 4 seconds. This effect stacks.
  • New Affix: Fel Explosives (level 7)
    • Creatures have a chance to summon an Explosive Orb at a nearby location that will explode, inflicting damage of 50% of the player’s maximum health.
  • New Affix: Quaking (level 7)
    • Periodically, players will Quake, inflicting damage of 20% of the player’s maximum health and interrupting spell casts of themselves and nearby allies.
  • New Affix: Grievous (level 7)
    • While below 90% health, players are afflicted with Grievous Wound.
  • The Overflowing affix has been removed.
  • The Bolstering affix range has been reduced to 30 yards (was 45 yards).
    • Developers’ notes: The intent of this change is to allow players more opportunities for crowd control.
  • Necrotic Rot will now expire after leaving combat. Duration reduced to 8 seconds (was 10 seconds).
    • Developers’ notes: This should eliminate the situation where players were waiting for Necrotic to fall off after killing enemies, and it should give tanks more opportunities for resets while in combat.
  • Skittish threat reduction has been lowered to 75% (was 80%).
  • Fortified damage bonus lowered to 30% (was 40%).
  • Tyrannical damage bonus lowered to 15% (was 20%).
  • Sanguine radius increased to 8 yards.

The Overflowing affix has been removed, and while they don't justify this, it is easy to see why they chose to do it.  Overflowing causes any healing in excess of the player's maximum to create a *negative* healing debuff of the same size.  Some healing classes rely on big critical hits on their heals, and Overflowing punishes this brutally.  Other classes rely on healing over time buffs, and those create small healing penalties that are immediately cured again.  Removing Overflowing was mostly just acknowledging that druid healers were outrageously overpowered during Overflowing weeks and that wasn't particularly balanced.

Sanguine, easily the easiest mod, has had the size of the pools increased from 5 yard radius to 8.  This is a serious buff because the total area covered by Sanguine is now 2.56x as much as before.  Players will still be able to avoid Sanguine much of the time, but in enclosed spaces it will actually become a real problem to deal with and may require dragging groups of enemies long distances to find open areas to fight in.

Probably the most hated mod was Skittish, which reduced tank threat by 80% and randomly added threat to damage classes.  This meant that melee classes were pretty worthless as the enemies would constantly turn around, 1 shot the melee, and then turn back to the tank.  Blizzard is changing Skittish to reduce tank threat by only 75% instead of 80%.  This is actually a really large change and will mean that there will be many less random deaths.  Skittish will still punish melee over range disproportionately but at least it won't be the case that I just want to skip the entire week when it is Skittish week.

The mod I hated most as a tank was Necrotic, and it is being changed to make it easier to drop the debuff (8 seconds instead of 10), and as soon as all enemies are defeated the stack vanishes.  This will eliminate the mandatory standing around part of Necrotic and that makes me happy.  It will still be a serious issue on challenging encounters, but it won't be nearly as much of a pain in the ass.

I like these changes a lot.  They are taking the joke mod and making it real.  I think people will initially still laugh at Sanguine, but once they try out the new size they will find it a real challenge.  I like that the mods that made me refuse to tank or refuse to do damage on a given week are being altered so they are less gruelling.  I don't know how all these new mods will play out of course because we don't have ranges or frequencies but they look quite reasonable at a glance.

Under these new mods each week will be different requiring new tactics and priorities.  However, I think there will be less of a difference between the trivial weeks and the brutal ones, which is good.

It won't fix everything though.  The absolute best runs will still be Sanguine / Volcanic, where the enemies are quickly moved out of the pools and the players adeptly dodge the Volcanic bursts.  When people are pushing themselves to the limit of their gear if you can get mods that don't actually influence the numbers you have to take them.  However, these changes will even things out considerably and that is a good direction to go in.

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