In the current era of WoW, it’s inevitable to expect content nerfs over time. In some ways, this is a good thing, since it allows Blizzard to release difficult content, and then proceed to make it more accessible after the most skilled and dedicated players have had a chance to conquer it, it allows for more access to those of us who aren’t capable of playing at that level. It becomes a mark of pride to kill something “pre-nerf”, and that’s motivational to some of us.
However, looking back at Firelands, I am of the opinion that the system used to nerf Firelands has some serious flaws, and some of it is related simply to the difficulty disparity between 6/7 and 7/7. When the nerfs came down, there were a large number of guilds working on Heroic Ragnaros, and a very small number of kills. It may well have been appropriate to nerf Ragnaros himself by as much as he was nerfed, but I’m of the opinion that the nerfbat may have been applied too liberally to everything else.
In retrospect, the system used to nerf ICC may have been the best that Blizzard has ever come up with. It was predictable and gradual. While I would personally prefer that such a system be implemented as boss debuffs, rather than player buffs – jumping from 0% to 5% buff levels made an impact on fights without quite ripping their hearts out in one fell swoop. A 15% reduction in boss health and damage is roughly equivalent to moving from the 0% buff level in ICC to the 20% buff level in one step. Many of the encounters end up fundamentally different, because things that were dangerous are no longer dangerous. Mistakes that could kill you no longer will, and even if they do, it’s much less of a problem to lose someone.
An ICC-like system provides the required difficulty reduction in a more gradual way, so that raiders can still feel like they’re progressing through content. The guilds that were 2/7 pre-nerf and went 6/7 within two weeks after the nerf didn’t have a chance to really progress or learn the content – they were suddenly handed the content on a silver platter – and I’m not sure that’s good for the raiding game at the heroic level.
Ragnaros is probably the only encounter left in T12 that’s worthy of the “heroic” designation at this point – even after enormous nerfs he’s still a very difficult encounter, and that’s probably part of the problem with Firelands. With a smoother difficulty curve up to the final boss, there’s no real issue with 1000 guilds stuck at 6/7 – everyone gets to progress through the instance. ICC had the same fundamental flaw, and it’s something that no nerfing system can really fix.
It’s fine and expected for the final boss of a tier to be harder than those who came before. The final encounter should be more difficult, it should require more from every member of the raid. I’m not sure I like the T10/T12 paradigm of having the final boss be that much harder. In both cases, I’d prefer that the bosses that came before were made more difficult, so that there’s a ramp to the final boss. Hard bosses are great – they’re the ones memories are made out of. Everyone remembers their M’uru kill, or their Firefighter kill. Difficult encounters are good content. Suddenly shockingly difficult encounters presented without warning just leave the rest of the instance feeling stale.
I have an immense amount of respect for guilds that killed Ragnaros before the nerfs – given how hard he is now, and just how massive an effect a 15% nerf to every aspect of the fight has on his overall difficulty, he’s without a doubt one of the hardest challenges WoW has ever placed in front of us. We pounded our heads against him for a while, pre and post-nerf, and I personally wish that we’d had a more gradual change – a chance to kill him in something closer to his intended incarnation.
Overall, I think that more gradual nerf systems and smoother difficulty curves are something that would make the raid game a lot more rewarding. That’s hardly a revolutionary sentiment, but I’ve been thinking for a while about what could have prompted nerfs to Firelands as severe as what we saw, long before the PTR even went active for T13. While Ragnaros himself probably deserved it, I’m not sure the rest of the instance did – and I hope that whatever they decide to do to Dragon Soul post-release is a little bit more well thought out.