Thursday, November 12, 2015

4.52. Breathe

Blain rushes ahead of Atramedes to
resume his tanking position,
Blackwing Descent

Final Exam

Heroic: Omnotron Defense System wasn't playing out quite as we'd hoped.

May had finally bled into June, but the kill eluded us. The 25-Man, now boasting a new main tank helmed by Blain, struggled to stay the course. Our mission was to punch through as much heroic content as humanly possible in our ever dwindling time. Patch 4.2 was now in sight, and the raiders were distracted by the promise of new gear, new challenges -- and an increase in apathy towards the current rewards. But it was close. So very close.

Like the other bosses in tier 11, the complexity of the ODS encounter was as much a part of the normal mode as any other: top-heavy and brutally unforgiving. ODS demanded we handle a total of four adds, two of which were concurrently active at any given time. Mastering this encounter meant mastering the ability to safely transition through windows of misfortune in which one of the two adds was still powering down...just as a third powered up. Gracefully handling this transition wasn't rocket surgery -- it was the million-and-one things each Tron had in store for us that made this encounter feel like we were performing synchronized calculus homework. The raid was forced to constantly shift, collapsing and expanding. Logistically, it was nightmarish to choreograph.

Each tron had two offensive (one AoE, one single-target) abilities and one defense mechanism (in the form of a shield). If the shield went up and absorbed too much damage, it would explode for a massive amount of AoE damage, so this was a fight that demanded control and discipline from raiders.

Magmatron's AoE came in the form of Incineration Security Measure: blankets of fire that had to be healed through. If he targeted you for Flamethrower, you had to make a mad dash from the group; everyone caught in the beam would take exorbitant amounts of damage.

Arcanotron's Power Generator, buffing the damage of anyone standing in it, was a boon for the raid -- but bad news if the add was left to stand in it. Arcane Annihilator would send a stream of arcane energy into a specific target, so healers had to be quick on the draw.

Toxicon's Poison Protocol spewed slimes; our priority was to slow them, then kill them from a safe distance. AoE nature damage was promised to to any targets the slimes reached. Meanwhile, Toxi's Chemical Cloud was easy to see and avoid -- we moved quickly as soon as the green clouds erupted.

Lastly, Electron's Electrical Discharge had a tendency to jump from target to target, chaining bolts of lightning throughout the raid. And Lightning Conductor (like Flamethrower) marked a player in our raid that had to excuse themselves from the group...quickly: every second the player remained in the group distributed damage to nearby friends.

In summary, ODS flexed nearly every raid muscle that could be called upon:

  • Tank Positioning: Ensuring both tanks kept their current trons far away from one another.
  • Tank Awareness: Having tanks smart enough to know how to safely adjust across the room when picking up a tron that was in the process of activating.
  • Personal Responsibility: Each member of the raid knowing how to handle Acquiring Target->Flamethrower and Lightning Conductor (GET OUT).
  • Group Coordination: Collapsing to be healed through Incineration Security Measure, and expanding to avoid Chemical Cloud.
  • Controlled Damage: Not blindly trying to top the meters on a tron with its shield raised.
  • Combined AoE Damage: Diverting damage to slimes in order to rid the encounter of them.
  • Min/Maxxing: Exploiting Power Generator and Power Conversion to maximize the damage of those individuals capable of producing serious burst damage.

ODS was essentially a final exam for raiding. Everything needed by competent raiders was put to the test in this encounter, which is why we breezed through normal mode on opening night. DoD had the raiding chops. Besides, the community had already decided that 10-Man was the harder of the two...so we had it easy, right?

The 25-Man Progression team avoids being hit by
 Static Shock, Arcane Annihilator, Poison Bomb,
and a multi-hit Flamethrower, earning "Achieve-o-Tron",
Blackwing Descent

Trolled

Nefarian intervened in the heroic version, and purposefully trolled the raid, taking everything we knew about each mechanic and forcing us to think in nearly the opposite terminology.

Magmatron's Acquiring Target now locked a player into a position, preventing them from moving out of the group. So, where once a person ran away for Flamethrower, the entire raid now had to move from him/her.

Avoiding Toxitron's Chemical Cloud was a bit more infuriating, thanks to Nefarian mass death-gripping everyone in the raid into the center the poison. The tendency for Poison Protocol's slimes to explode on impact (coupled with the slimes very often being near or inside the cloud) made for an awful combination.

Arcanotron's Power Generator expanded to fill a much wider radius, and added a wonderful explosion to the boon. Here, stand in this for extra damage. BTW, you'll almost die in the process.

But the biggest troll of all came to how Nefarian messed with Electron's Lightning Conductor. Raid mechanics are easy to deal with when they come in the form of extremes. Move here. Don't move. Do damage to this thing. Stop doing damage. Leave the group. Stay in the group. The evolution of a junior group of raiders to that of a senior group is in mastering these simple concepts. But, just as it is with people management (not very black-and-white), raid mechanics become extraordinarily complex when they devolve from extremes to blurry, gray areas.

Move away from the group...but not too far.

As soon as a player was deemed the Lightning Conductor, they had to rush out of the group to prevent massive AoE damage done in the form of friendly fire. But only seconds after gaining this buff, Lightning Conductor converted into Shadow Infusion, doing massive amounts of shadow damage in the form of AoE...mitigated only by how many other players were sharing in the damage. So, a Lightning Conductor that stayed in the group would kill all the players around them...but a Lightning Conductor that moved too far away from everyone...would kill themselves.

Remember: ODS was a controlled fight which increased the raid's need to manage their DPS, to move when called upon, to switch targets at a moment's notice. This fight was not about burning through the adds and calling it a day. The result: a heroic encounter that was excessively long to execute, chipping away at the raid's endurance. The coordination had to be pristine, mistakes were nearly unrecoverable. One bad cloud/slime combo, one slow adjustment from the Flamethrower target, one player falling asleep at the wheel that just happened to be a Lightning Conductor...was all it took to convert an 8 minute, nearly perfect execution...into a sub 10% wipe.

And that is exactly how it played out. Over and over and over again. Near flawless execution, marred by simple, heart-wrenching mistakes that were unrecoverable.

---

I had a heart-to-heart with the officers that night. Guesstimates put the Firelands launch at three weeks away and we had yet to put any time in on Al'Akir, normal or otherwise.

"I don't us walking out of Tier 11 with an incomplete normal record," I told them, "Omnotron is busting our asses, but if we can't even get through this tier in normal mode, pre-nerf, it will be a huge step backwards."

"Ok, we switch to Throne of the Four Winds on Friday, I'm good with that," said Blain.

Jungard chimed in, "Same. Conclave is nothing. We'll knock that out with no effort. The 10s have it really easy on positioning."

"Good, because it looks like Al'Akir is going to be a colossal pain-in-the-ass."

"God," Klocker added, remembering his own 10-Man experience, "how is Blain even going to coordinate all twenty-five people in the last phase?"

"Easy, he's going to work miracles. Just like he always does."

"No," said Blain, "I'm not going to do it. They are."

They have to. Nobody else can.

"Alright, it's settled, then. Get all of your peeps prepped for it next Friday. Let's get this done, so we can bid this tier fuckin' adieu."

The 25-Man progression team
prepares to do battle with Al'Akir,
Throne of the Four Winds

Windy City

The Throne of the Four Winds was an instance that floated high above Uldum, south of the Tanaris desert. There, two encounters awaited: The Conclave of Wind, and the windlord himself, Al'Akir.

Four pillars formed a square around a central pedestal. Hovering in three of those four corners lay Anshal, Rohash and Nezir, three lieutenants now vying for power after their fourth council member, Siamet, remained imprisoned in the 5-Man dungeon known as the Lost City of the Tol'vir. As Jungard promised, the Conclave presented us no great challenge to overcome. The mechanics were easy to learn and easy to master. The only caveat was that we had to kill all three at once.

The council members didn't move from their platforms, so each required a tank at all times. Damaging the council caused energy to be produced, kicking off an ultimate ability that forced the raid to switch platforms via wind tunnels carrying them quickly from one corner of the instance to the other. Healing pools were cast and bosses were dragged out of them. Eye beams slowly rotated around the circular platforms and were dodged. Tornadoes threatened to knock players off the platforms...and were sidestepped. Patches of ice and freezing wind caused debuffs to stack on players and prevent them from moving...this was countered by having the DPS groups switch bosses.. After having dealt with the painful requirements needed for heroic: ODS, coordinating Conclave was a walk in the park; we cleared it after only a few attempts on the first night of work.

Our remaining effort was funneled into Al'Akir, now accessible via the central platform. He was the most massive elemental we'd ever laid eyes on. Draped in the purple garb denoting the royal line his elementals came to represent in Azeroth, Al'Akir towered over us. Looking up at the Elemental Lord of Wind, I was immediately struck with a feeling of raw insignificance -- not unlike our first attempts at the hands of Ragnaros the Firelord, so many years previous.

Al'Akir was broken into three phases, kicking off at milestones of health. In phase one, we stood at equidistant positions around the perimeter of the inner ring, just in melee range of the Windlord. Healers, therefore, had to be staggered intermittently amongst that ring of players, so that the entire raid maintained heal coverage. Wind bursts pushed badly positioned players off the edge. These players would not fall to their death; spiraling tornadoes would stop their fall, placing them back on platform (albeit slowly). This recovery time ate into DPS.

It was during this same phase that walls of tornadoes would spawn. Players were expected to find the gaps, and move between them, rather than be trapped temporarily...eating into more DPS time. Seeing the gaps in the tornado walls called for a full Gauntlet (zoomed out, top-down) camera view. Additionally, webs of lightning would leap across the raid; players had to adjust to avoid this.

By phase two, the lightning webs were gone, but in their place came acid raid, forcing even more movement. This, all the while the two tanks were trading off the role of tanking the Windlord. Adds called Stormlings were spawned, which debuffed Al'Akir when they were killed, causing him to take additional damage. Care had to be taken to not burn through the adds too quickly, however, as phase two was were Bloodlust was commonly invoked -- and stacking bloodlust's effects with the debuff meant chipping away at significant amounts of Al'Akir's health.

Toward the end of the fight, phase three promised the trickiest of the phases. The platform broke apart and fell away, forcing us into a hovering, true three-dimensional axis. From here, Blain instructed us to immediately float up to Al'Akir's head, in as tight a group as possible, continuing to pour damage into the boss. At this point, storm clouds would begin to form above certain individuals, knocking us out of the air if we didn't move. The plan, therefore, was to adjust down each time a new cloud formed...but to stay together as much as possible, so that the clouds spanned less of an area (and therefore, gave us more room to breathe).

Those final moments were all about breathing. Calm, deep breaths. It was easy to panic in this mode. Moving too far (or not far enough) simply compounded our problems, stripping us of our safety net while simultaneously increasing the damage done across the raid. Slowly, players were struck by bolts of lightning, causing them to fall from the sky, zapping us like ants under a magnifying glass. Al'Akir would win by attrition if we continued to panic.

So...we didn't panic.

Calm.

Deep breaths.

Move for the cloud. Just a bit. That's good.

Keep on the DPS.

Pop a shield to mitigate those lightning bolts.

Have a healthstone? Now's a good time to use it.

There's another cloud. Move again. Everything's good. Keep at it.

Keep at it.

Keep at it.

On June 24th, 2011, in the second evening of attempts, Descendants of Draenor defeated Al'Akir in 25-Man, wrapping up the remainder of tier 11's normal modes.



1 comment:

Adrian Foekens said...

As a warrior tank: My all time favorite boss. In both normal and Heroic. Absolutely loved showing off the warrior's mobility with last second intervenes or heroic leaps to get thru the gaps in the windwalls. The hours of pvp finally paying off.