When Rotation Doesn’t Matter (Part 1)

Have you ever been in a fight where, despite adhering to a rotation / priority / queue perfectly, you ended up wrecking yourself three ways from Sunday because there was a tricky mechanic you couldn’t pin down?

Our guild experienced that this week with none other than our good ol’ buddy Al’Akir. Today, I’m going to pick on him.

Al’Akir: I Can’t Move, SO YOU DO IT

There’s a lot to WoW in terms of theory, optimization, and weaving together the perfect timing with your fingers to defeat latency and pump out huge numbers. But that’s only half the equation in boss fights, especially in Cataclysm. These days almost no fight affords you the luxury of standing still, introducing mountains of issues most raiders never had to worry about before (or could just out-gear and ignore).

Al’Akir takes the new Cataclysm raiding philosophy to insane extremes with his copious amounts of dodge-this-or-you-SUFFER abilities. Let’s run through a few:

  • If you miss his Wind Burst spell he’ll blow you off his platform, forcing you to spin (and not cast any abilities) for 10 seconds.
  • If you aren’t paying attention to everyone’s positions, you can overlap Lightning Strike quadrants and fry half the raid (in 10’s especially). More than 3 people chaining is almost always an insta-gib, so messiness isn’t tolerated.
  • If you don’t have good depth perception (or camera-wrangling skills), Squall Line tornadoes will swing by and sweep you up every time. Then they’ll knock you off the platform (just like Wind Burst). Congratulations, you just spent 5 seconds taking massive damage and 10 seconds spinning, all while being pushed out of your assigned position endangering the raid for future Lightning Strikes!
  • If you can’t stack in Phase 2, Stormlings (balls of lightning with tendrils) will spawn clear across the platform and fry everyone it passes through when the tank taunts it. This issue only gets worse as the phase progresses and Acid Rain stacks increase damage on everyone.
  • If you can’t correctly gauge your elevation in Phase 3, you’ll die in Lightning Clouds or screw your team by decreasing your movable area.

These are just some of the things Al’Akir can do to ruin your day, and none of them have diddly to do with you correctly pressing abilities or tweaking your character. And this is just one boss (granted, a complex boss) out of 13.

A lot of players in Wrath got used to immobile fights that had long burn phases intermixed with a smidgen of movement. In ToC you dodged a yeti and clicked orbs. In ICC you dodged blue flames or moved to stairs to not get frost bombed. But if you plopped a mid-tier WotLK raider into Cataclysm’s first tier you’d see them flailing in panic as they attempted to cope with the hundreds of boss abilities forcing them to unplant their feet.

Re-Learning What Matters

Suddenly, concepts like “economy of movement” and “predictive positioning” are of dire importance. Having a second sense of where your character is, where it needs to go, and what to do when you get there are this tier’s essential raid skills.

The solution to the above abilities isn’t to read Elitist Jerks and plug in numbers. WoW has suddenly shifted from proving you can press numbers in succession to requiring keyboard/mouse manipulation skills with acute spatial awareness.

One of the best examples of this (and hence the focus on Al’Akir) is Squall Line dodging. You’ve got 4 deadly abilities already at play, now further complicated by this giant line of tornadoes with only 1 tiny gap. Most players, left to their own devices, will guesstimate the gap’s location and try to slide their character through it. Most of the time they fail. You could spam the highest numbers of your class, but you could forever be picked up and tossed around by a simple line of swirls.

The trick to dealing with Squall Lines lies outside your character knowledge and instead in manipulating your playstyle. I think’s Kinaesthesia shows this best, so watch him tango with Heroic Al’Akir below.

So how can you mirror what Kinaesthesia’s doing? First, you should increase your camera’s distance to 50 (via “/console CameraDistanceMaxFactor 50”) to get a wide-span view of Al’Akir’s entire massive platform. This way you can see approaching Squall Lines from both sides, whereas a normal camera’s zoom would only see half his platform. When you see the line approaching, you judge if it will dissipate or run you through and prepare to move your character (timing differs based on whether you have teleports / sprints available).  Then, when you run to the gap, you flip your camera vertical so it’s pointing top-down. Your character might look like a dot on a fine porcelain platform, but it’ll clearly distinguish whether you’re in or out of the tornadoes. Then you shift your camera back down and start scanning for the next tornado line.

There’s even more sophistication to this. If you see the Squall Line forming (demonstrated by a small golden swirl), you need to immediately judge when the swirls started and whether you should find the gap or run over them clear to the other side. The moment you’re clear, you need to stop running immediately, lest you overlap Lightning Strike quadrants.

The most difficult part of Squall Lines lies in the worst-case RNG scenario. You’ve got a Squall Line with the opening at the very front (or very back), Wind Burst is incoming, the ice patch dropping around the room is in your quadrant, and he just unleashed a Lightning Strike at you. Immediately, you must weigh the following:

  • If Wind Burst hits while you’re running in the gap, it’ll burst you into the tornadoes.
  • If you think on it too long, the ice patch will be down and your timing will be off as you slow-run over it, probably getting sucked up as a result.
  • If you move too far to the left or right, you might have yourself out of healer range and chain a lightning attack in a full quadrant.

The best option here is to take the Wind Burst to the face, but the entire time your mind is telling you “there must be a way to avoid this to continue damaging/healing/tanking!”.

I really can’t think of a better example of where encounter experience and skill trumps player rotation spammability. Not only do you need to masterfully move your character in a very narrow region, you must also be vigilant of your surroundings, move your mouse (and camera) perfectly, and perform complex on-the-spot situation analysis.

Cataclysm: Ability Trumps Rotation. Significantly.

Never before has so much reliance been placed on the individual raider. And if you think Al’Akir is an outlier, let me refer you to the following normal-mode bosses:

  • Atramedes – Sound Rings, Fire Breath Running
  • Omnitron Defense System – Shields, Floor Buffs/Debuffs, Focus Blasts, Oozes
  • Theralion & Valiona – Meteors/Explosions, Warps, Deep Breaths, Dropping Shadow Circles
  • Ascendant Council – Damage Buffs, Lightning Rod, Grounded/Air Buffs, Damage Equalization
  • Conclave of Wind – Boss Energy, Tornado Dodging, Add Kiting, Debuff Tracking
  • Sinestra – Pretty much everything she casts will one-shot unsuspecting raiders or their team

And that’s me being lenient.

Previous raids had things to watch out for, but they were either tuned to be very forgiving or only affect a few players at a time. Now Blizzard’s saying “By walking into a raid we expect everyone to know their character. Now prove to us you can all play.”

Part 2 Prelude

Blizzard’s focus on skill is a seismic shift that, until recently, I never could really put into words. I felt like Catacylsm’s bosses were a step above previous content, but it really took a night of attempts at Al’Akir (11 in all…) with new recruits to pinpoint it.

This philosophical change that took place somewhere between WotLK and Cataclysm is having profound effects on WoW’s endgame. And the effects are being felt even outside of raid instances. Some of it’s good, some of it’s not so good. Hope you’ll join me in the next post to hear why.

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