We spent the entirety of Monday night wiping on Al’akir in Throne of the Four Winds this week. He’s the only boss we’ve not killed yet and the 25 man team should really be moving onto Heroic raid content, yet leaving one boss unkilled feels like failure, so off to the Throne we went. Twice we got him down to less than 9%, and phase three of the fight is really the easiest part of the whole encounter, so by rights the guy should be dead. However, Al’akir is the kind of boss who highlights my biggest problem in raiding – information overload.
It’s not just Cataclysm raiding, hard mode Hodir in Ulduar was another brick wall I ran into, and there have been others, but Al’akir’s the most recent example of the kind of problem I have on bosses where there’s just too much going on for me to remain effective. The problem is, I’m 41 next month. My reflexes aren’t what they used to be, there are youngsters in our raid who act like they have the reaction times of rattlesnakes on crack and they handle fights like this with ease. Me, I need time to process things, time to let muscle memory take the slack that my reflexes can’t handle and my brain can’t process. In this fight, you need to lay the smack down on the boss while ensuring you avoid three potentially lethal abilities. The first is a pretty standard chain lightning effect, so… spread out. The second is a wall of cyclones that rotate around the boss. There’s one gap in the wall and if you’re not in it, you get picked up and carried with the cyclones, throwing lightning bolts around your raid as you go. It’ll probably kill you, but the major danger is the damage you do to the rest of your raid. The final ability is a wind blast that the boss does to knock everyone back a certain distance. Unless you’re hugging the boss it will probably knock you off the edge of his platform. This won’t kill you, you get caught and eventually blown back up, but taken into consideration with the wall of cyclones it can be very nasty. The thing is, they both happen at the same time throughout phase one. So you get the warning that he’s about to do a Wind Blast and you naturally want to be close to the boss, except there’s a wall of cyclones approaching and the gap in the wall is away from the boss. Decision time, folks. Try to make the gap in time and get close to the boss so the wind blast doesn’t knock you off? Or try to outrun the cyclone, but you then run the risk of getting caught in the chain lightning aimed at the group next to you and overloading your healers. Or you can just jump off the edge and do zero dps for the next ten seconds, prolonging the length of time it takes to get into phase two where the wind blasts stop, and there’s no guarantee you won’t end up thrown into a cyclone anyway when you land back on the platform.
During all this, you’re contantly rotating your camera around, looking both ways for cyclones, keeping an eye on the timer bar for wind blasts, moving in, moving out, moving back to the group you’re supposed to stay with to avoid extra chain lightning damage, spinning the camera to ensure you are actually in the gap in the cyclone wall, watching the ground near you in both directions for the tell-tale graphic effect that warns you a cyclone is about to spawn and deciding where to move in advance if it does and somehow doing damage to the boss as well throughout all of it. There are people who can handle this amount of information processing with ease the first night they see it. I am not one of those people. I can stay alive or I can do competitive dps, until I’ve done the fight enough for muscle memory to take over, I simply cannot do both.
My crappy dps probably cost us a kill on Monday. We’d all be riding around on Dark Phoenixes right now if I’d sat the raid out.
Of course, sitting the raid out means I never get the experience to be any good at it. So there’s the Catch 22. On the bright side, I am good at the one thing that certain others amongst the raid are manifestly not – firing my frikkin’ lazerz at the correct target at the correct time. Usually the targets that don’t have the damage debuffs on them from everyone else that makes you look good on damage meters but do in fact need to be killed quick or everyone dies. Oh hi Snobolds on Northrend Beasts, yes I’m looking at you. In phase two of the Al’akir fight, the boss summons some little friends, and every time you kill one the boss gets a damage debuff. They need to be killed roughly one every 20 seconds in order to maximise the damage to the boss without running out of the little buggers. Perhaps it’s my 21 years of military service, but when the raid leader says “You, you, you and you, kill these adds every 20 seconds”, that’s exactly what I do. I don’t get overexcited because a shaman just popped heroism and forget that there are still adds up that need to be killed or we lose the damage debuff on the boss, I kill adds.
Similarly, whenever there’s an unglamorous job that needs to be done which is going to cost you dps, I’m usually the one who does it. In Naxxramas at level 60, I was the guy who corpse camped adds watching for scarab spawns on Anub’rekhan. I was damn good at it too, none of those little bastards ever got away from me. I was also the guy who switched to Frost spec on Deathbringer Saurfang in Icecrown Citadel in order to get a ranged snare on the Bloodbeasts when they spawned, and this probably led to our first successful heroic 25 man kill of him. But I wonder, now do I volunteer for this stuff because I know that my dps on new bosses isn’t going to be what it should, but hey, I can always point to the vital low dps job I was doing as an excuse? Or do I get picked for these jobs because the raid leader knows a) I can be trusted to do it well or b) because the loss of my mediocre dps won’t be a raid wiper. Or in fact is it a) and b)? I think it used to be a), but as the years went by and my reflexes and ability to quickly process information deteriorated, I suspect there’s a large element of b) coming into play too.
And the thing is, I don’t want to be carried, but I suspect I am. Don’t get me wrong here, on those occasions when I can power up the lasers and nuke away like I never nuked before, I’m still perfectly capable of keeping up with the big boys, and once I’ve learned a fight and committed it to muscle memory I produce pretty decent results. The problem is that you rarely get to stand in one safe spot and blaze away like an 80′s action hero anymore, and progression fights on 25 man heroic content are not the place to be for people who can’t process 15 different things at once and still produce rockstar dps.
I’m not saying I’m the only person in our raid who underperforms. Everyone has bad days, but their consciences are their own problem, not mine. I don’t want to be raiding if I feel like I’m the reason we’re not getting bosses killed, but I do want to be raiding. So… a quandary. It doesn’t help that there’s one mage in our raid who is an absolute god. I’m never going to be, and never have been as good as he is. There’s no bad feeling here, he’s an immensely likeable and knowledgable player, but holding myself up against him as a comparsion wouldn’t be fair on anybody, let alone just me.
Curiously, I seem to be doing consistently good dps on Gorn, my Fury warrior. This is wierd, because Mister Melee DPS and I have rarely been on speaking terms with each other. I suspect the reason is that as a Warrior I find myself waiting just that fraction of a second longer for abilities to come off cooldown, that it allows me a reaction time budget that you just don’t get on a Mage. I’m beginning to wonder if the best course of action might not be to retire Calli and try to earn a raid spot on Gorn. But… well I’ve got a hell of a lot invested in the old girl. It’s going to hurt, but it may be the honest thing to do.
I guess we’ll just see how it goes. I need to do better, it’s just a question of working out what, and how. Ideally I’d be doing better on Calli, but “doing better” may mean not raiding at all. I just hope I’m honest enough with myself to recognise which is the correct option and act on it.