Hello TORWarriors and welcome back to another article on raiding by me, Nibbon, co-GM of Carnage Gaming. This week I’m writing about raid challenges and taking a closer look at nightmare raiding in SWTOR. As always I am writing this from the perspective of 16-man raiding and not 8-man. Everything in here should be taken as such. The game is mostly balanced around 8-man raiding and the 16-man goes untested, thus causing imbalances. I will discuss those imbalances a bit, but when I am talking about something being “too easy” or “too hard” I am specifically speaking from the frame of reference of a 16-man raid. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s move on.
The first couple of operations in Star Wars: The Old Republic are very easy. That isn’t to say that everyone will have an easy time with them, but an individual that truly can consider themselves “elite” (or elitist if you prefer) would not have any problems with Karagga’s Palace and Eternity Vault. When they came out, pretty much at launch, it was more about people learning their classes (there were few, to no guides at all and still fewer tools like combat logs) and how the game is played. The mechanics of these original fights didn’t offer much of a challenge.
The first true challenge in SWTOR came with the tanks in Hard Mode Explosive Conflict (in 16-man, particularly). It offered one of the first mechanics that really had players looking at what was going on and forced them to make the correct decision every time – and also to be extremely careful. In short, it forced the players to raise their playing to a new level. Specifically, players had to know which shield to go under and not hit the shield generator in the middle. This probably sounds easier than it is, if you have never done it. After that, the first challenging raid was Nightmare Mode Explosive Conflict. Sure, Zorn and Toth weren’t too nightmarish, but the tanks and Kephess did bring a whole new level of challenge, one that took more than just a few days to actually beat.
Then came the newer operations, Terror From Beyond (TFB) and Scum and Villainy (S+V). The reaction of much of the raid crowd was that the hard modes were too easy – I have written previous articles (especially in the S+V preview/review) that I think hard modes should be “easy” to the top 1-2% of raiders and doable by about 50% of raiders. So naturally, when nightmare came out for TFB, the operation brought new challenges unseen before in SWTOR. For the majority of raiders, it brought new raid encounters that could not be completed in just weeks, but sometimes stretching into months, if at all. It has been a couple months since TFB has been released and a few weeks since S+V NiM’s release and yet I am only now able to give a partial review of these two nightmare modes. Let’s dive in…
Did the challenge meet expectations?
Well the first real question is, what are my expectations? To be honest, we ran into some guild troubles (mainly recruitment) about the week before TFB landed. We didn’t exactly have the right pieces going in (we have since rebuilt and are stronger than ever). So my expectations weren’t super high, but I did not expect to encounter what we did. The first fight, The Writhing Horror, was a breeze. Most guilds defeated him within their first hour of raiding (we were no exception, even in our weakened state). Then came the Dread Guards (DG) and all progression was stopped. I will diagnosis the Dread Guards fight in a later section. My guild does not skip fights and having recently killed DG ourselves, and more recently just focusing on S+V, we have not had much (read: any) experience with the later fights in TFB.
So, turning to S+V we had a similar situation. Less than an hour to kill the first fight (three pulls for us). A day to kill the second. Then the roadblock for us was the third fight. There was one guild at the time of my writing this, Severity Gaming, that was able to clear the operation, but they are so far the only ones. They are also the only ones that have cleared TFB. Back to Carnage, we recently took down the third fight, Thrasher, then immediately beat the 4th, Operations Chief. There is no doubt that the Thrasher fight was just completely unbalanced. The ultimate strategy for defeating them is ridiculous and probably unintended (just to give you an idea, it requires a 50% burn of his health in about a minute’s time). Olok has proven challenging thus far, but it also seems to be an imbalance in the design (one shot mechanic in 16 man) – but we have only spent maybe an hour trying to beat it, thus far.
With all that in mind, I can give you my honest answer – some of the fights met my expectations and some were actually harder than they should have been. It is well known that the fights should get harder as the operations get further along (first boss easiest, last boss hardest). Somehow, in TFB the second boss was the hardest and in S+V the third boss is the hardest. That isn’t the way it should be. I will leave you with this question:
When guilds are choosing to skip the second fight in order to kill the ones after, week after week (for gear, not progression) – is the fight tuned correctly?
More 8-man vs 16-man disparities…
I’ve mentioned a few times that 16-man is harder for these operations. That has traditionally been the case and I truly believe it continues here. I have discussed in the past, a bit in my articles and more so among other GMs of great guilds, that the biggest discrepancy comes, not from the mechanics, but the people in your raid. Common sense says that it’s harder to find 16 great players than it is to find 8 great players. However, sometimes it goes a bit beyond that. Just because the number of players has doubled, does not mean the damage towards one individual (the tank or otherwise) should be doubled. A 25k hit in 8-man can be healed, a 50k hit in 16-man is one shot. That is an oversimplification, but really, against Olok, we are getting one shot in 16-man where we were not in our few 8-man attempts (light armor wearers are getting hit by the wealthy buyer for 35k).
Likewise, against Dread Guards, the damage taken can be extreme. Our ultimate 16-man strategy for this fight required three backup healers in addition to our main four. It was the only way to compensate for some of the damage going out at the end of the fight (eight adds, withering terror, endless amounts of red circles, and the main boss all doing damage). While we did get the fight down in 16-man, it does feel a ton easier in 8-man. Not only do you not need a single backup healer, but those adds go down a lot faster and don’t need to be off-tanked, the total damage going out seems a lot less significant, not to mention the room just feels a lot less crowded. One more fight, The Writhing Horror is a ton easier in 8-man and we can one shot it every time. As easy as the fight actually is in 16-man, at least it offers some challenge – you can practically fall asleep during 8-man.
So differences exist, that is OK. I think the really good 16-man guilds all want it to be harder than a run for 8-man, if just for prestige, but we are now being slightly more compensated for our difficulties (more matts and comms). I think the 8-man guilds that really are crying that their raids are too easy should push to get 16 people and try again, I think they may be surprised.
DG Nerfs – good or bad? needed or not?
For the first time, both 8-man and 16-man operations hit a wall (even in EC NiM tanks, it was more of a 16-man problem than an 8). The Dread Guards enrage timer was incredibly tight for 8-man and the damage and mechanics were too intense for 16-man. Yet, eventually, the fights were defeated in both without being nerfed. Then they were nerfed – enrage timers being extended slightly, a few more guilds in 8-man were able to down the fight, just one more or so in 16 (the enrage timer was not a problem at all in 16 in the first place, so it was more about mastering the mechanics).
Dread Guards were nerfed once again with the latest patch. A thread on the forums, “Catering to casuals,” had popped up after the first nerf and was revitalized after the second. Sure enough, there were a flurry of kills in 8 man NiM against DG. However, does that mean it was overly nerfed? It is possible the devs went a tiny bit overboard (it seems that the health of the three bosses were reduced about 10% each (10% total) and the damage going out was all reduced by 5-10% too, as best I can tell). I suppose it is certainly possible that it was overly nerfed. However, these are mostly guilds that were working on beating this encounter for some time and couldn’t. Now that it was nerfed, they can. Now, revisit my earlier questions. People were skipping this fight every week. It had been a couple of months since the fight was introduced and a few weeks since the first nerf. It is the second fight in the operation. Wasn’t it time for a nerf? Yes, I think so. Was the nerf by the right amount? I cannot comment about 8 man, I do not know. In 16 man, yes, I think the fight is currently tuned perfectly.
Nightmare raiding in the future
So this is a mixed bag. In my last epically long article, I discussed what I thought about content release timing. My opinion hasn’t changed, so I won’t rehash it here. What I will discuss is tuning. I think that they did an excellent job on S+V. I think that TFB was a little too hard. I think that 16-man was not tested enough and had too many bugs/discrepancies – but that it wasn’t bad enough to lower the grade by much.
It is my opinion that story mode should be easy and doable by 90% of raiders. I believe that 50% of raiders should be able to do a complete clear on a HM and that the elite guilds should be able to do a HM progression clear within a week. Then, finally, I believe that only 2% or so of guilds should be able to do a complete clear of Nightmare. I think the complete clear of nightmare should take anywhere between 2-4 weeks for a guild that raids, on average, 12 hours a week.
Regarding nerfs, they should be implemented after some time. Unless a fight is proven to be completely impossible, it should be left alone until at least one guild kills it. After one guild kills an overly hard fight, if no one else has in the following two weeks, a slight nerf is completely necessary. Of course, if there is a bug, that bug should always be fixed, regardless if it is considered a nerf or not.
Overall, I am really happy with Nightmare S+V. I also felt the timing of the release, when compared to when the HM version came out, felt good. Unlike TFB, where the NiM was almost a year after the HM, where it really just felt like recycled content. I hope going forward that the S+V model is followed more closely, as I truly feel that S+V is one of the best raids in any game I’ve played, in its design and in its implementation.
Did you get a chance to do nightmare and did it meet your expectations? Do you think the nerf to Dread Guard was justified? Leave your thoughts below.