A Closer Look At Nightmare Raiding In SWTOR

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.

Taking Ops to a whole new level.

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.

NiM16DreadGuard

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.

NiMTFB16

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.

NiM16Dashroode

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.


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18 Responses to “A Closer Look At Nightmare Raiding In SWTOR”

  1. Snake says:

    Good article as usual Nibbon. However, I slightly disagree with your assertion that Nightmare raids should only be completed by the top 2% of guilds. Let me talk about my guild as an example. We full cleared Hard Mode TFB and Hard Mode S&V within 2-4 weeks of the release. (We full cleared 55 HM TFB on our first attempt after months and months of raiding it as 50s). Flash forward to Nightmare Ops. We CANNOT beat anything past the first bosses of the nightmare modes. (although we haven’t ran it since the nerf). We easily dispatched of Writhing Horror, but as you said that is pretty much a snooze fest).

    I have a group of good players who, while not elitists, are extremely competent players. Our raid weeks go something like this. Hard Mode TFB and S&V can be full cleared in one night. Then we make NO progress in nightmare modes because we’re not “elite” enough to do them. We don’t have 15 hours a week to raid. We raid on average 9. Furthermore, we don’t have a perfect make up. We don’t have a Gunslinger as a main, which appears is almost 100% necessary. And we are pretty heavy on Melee. Our top ranged DPS is a sage, who doesn’t bring a whole lot of utility (besides off heals). As a result we are getting frustrated. It really sucks that unless you have a specific group comp (Sentinels, Slingers, Commandos) making progress in Nightmare Modes is 100 times harder. We are starting to get bored of the game a little because Hard Mode is to easy, and Nightmare Mode is way to hard.

    This is how I would like to see raiding progress in SWTOR. I think instead of Nightmare Mode’s catering to the top 1-2% which we clearly are not. They should cater to the top 10-20%. Then for elite players (the top 1-2%) there could be bonus or hidden bosses that take extreme skill to get to (ala Dreadful Entity). That way guilds like us aren’t hitting a huge wall in the difficulty spike between Hard and Nightmare, and at the same time Elitist guilds have something to chase.

    That’s how I feel about the situation. Love the game, love operations. Can’t wait to bang my head against more Nightmare Mode Bosses, but I won’t deny that my guild is getting frustrated and I don’t blame them.

    On another note, your posts here are what I look forward to most. Keep up the good writing! Also good luck on getting Sage Rep. I know you’ll do a good job.

    • Nibbon says:

      I think there is a misconception of what the top 2% is. You probably are in the top 2% just by having beaten any Nightmare content. If there are 2 million people playing this game, 2% of that is 40,000 players. Though, I’d say I am more talking about the raiding base – and if we cut out F2P and super casual – you might be left with 1/4 of that number.

      10,000 players capable of beating Nightmare would be a ton. That would actually be 1250 8 man guilds – so really, I should have said a much smaller number, I was just playing to the standard of what people consider 1% (which is actually 5,000 players, but people probably generalize as a couple hundred …)

      I also slightly disagree with you. I am sure you have competent players, I wouldn’t question that, but do you actually have nightmare level players? A nightmare level player should be able to do 2700+ single target sustained DPS. I have to find 10 DPSers that can do that, an 8 man needs to have 4. While with 10 DPSers I can get away with a 2500 DPS if I have a 3000 DPS, 8 man really do need to have all 4 be of that level – that is probably your difficulty more than having the wrong classes.

      • Snake says:

        In my Nightmare 8 man we currently run 2 Sages, 1 Sentinel, 1 Vanguard. I remember what you said in your last article about Vanguard DPS, but he puts out 2900- 3000 on the Dummy. The two sages are anywhere from 2700-3000, more in the fights where they can just stand still. the Sentinel is at 2700. I don’t think DPS is our problem, it’s survivability. Dread Guards phase 1 lightning field was slaughtering us. Like I said we haven’t done it since the nerf and I’m looking forward to this week to try it.

        I’m not really sure about the number of players that constitute the “1%”… but based on our progression I don’t feel like the “1%” (OCCUPY SWTOR!! [okay pretty outdated I know]). What I do know is there is a GIANT difficulty spike between Hard Mode and Nightmare modes that are definitely turning away some good players who maybe aren’t “Nightmare Mode” players, but are certainly way better than Hard Mode Players. I think that’s something Bioware should address.

        • Nibbon says:

          My inclusion of vanguards was the general populous. In fact, some of the vanguards are actually the highest DPSers in the game – but these VGs are so incredibly specialized, the fact is, there are very few. To my knowledge, they all run hybrid as well (I hate hybrid specs). In any case, it is a bit hard to defend, I probably shouldn’t have included VGs in that writeup.

          I agree with your assessment – the answer is usually to nerf fights a few weeks after they are beaten. It allows the top .01% of players to beat the fights and measure e-peen before the fights are made more available to the general raiding populous. I sort of touched on it in this article, probably should have gone into more detail about what I meant, but here it is ;p

          • Snake says:

            Our Vangard does more damage (3k) as full tactics than has hybrid.

            • Nibbon says:

              Ah, that is really interesting. Again, I was just going off what I know, he is the first purebred I’ve heard of to produce that DPS :) My opinion still stands, though. The vast vast majority of his class cannot pull that kind of DPS.

  2. GaddockTeeg says:

    The biggest issue I have with BW’s method of difficulty increase is that more often than not they rely on tuning numbers rather than creating difficulty with mechanics. The dreadguards are not that much different on hard and than Nightmare mode. The fight is esentially the same in except the damage and enrage timer are such that some clever uses of game mechanics must be used to compensate, like rolling through lighting fields. It also exacerbates class imbalance when fights have an incredible baseline dps number. I think having fights like that are fine once and a while but when every boss is basically do the same thing as hard mode just pushed to the limits then it becomes monotonous. I look at the difference between T&Z hm/nm and the tanks or kephess on hm/nm. The former was esentially a gear check while the latter two had to be done in drastically different ways from their hard mode counterparts. I think that instance is so good because it did both sides really well. Too much of the current tier just feels like hard mode with higher numbers.

    • Nibbon says:

      Nightmare mode is certainly more about increasingly severe mechanics rather than new. Sometimes that makes you rethink your strategy entirely.

      Nightmare Kephess (in EC) is pretty much as different as Nightmare DG.

      Nightmare kephess only had two added mechanics I can think of … one extra warrior in those packs and two deaths = wipe during the last part of fighting kephess. Some increased damage, tighter enrage timers, and that is about it.

      DG has the newly added red circles against kel’sara. It also asks for more perfection (kephess didn’t really ask for perfection, you could make plenty of mistakes up until the last phase). You need to get 6 doom circles instead of … 3-4? Not killing the caster adds on the last phase is an automatic wipe. Stepping in a red circle is almost guaranteed to kill you if you have no way to cleanse it off (There are a couple ways). Damaging ciphas and kel’sara during the heirad phase is much more punishing on tank damage. Attacking Heirad when he is being shielded reflects damage.

      Tanks were actually the least changed. I can’t actually think of any difference between HM and NiM besides increased damage and the guys in the shield blowing up …

      Honestly, if they added totally new mechanics – they would be much better off creating a new operation with entirely new fights. The only thing they should reasonably do is alter the current fights so that they are much harder, but not so different as they were originally (as they currently have been).

  3. GaddockTeeg says:

    Kephess also had the three guys that needed to be interrupted in phase 1 (may have been a bug since this bled down to hm), faster adds in phase two, kephesss pulling the tank in the last phase. Tanks had the two double destructions=a wipe, random positioning on shields (may have been in hard mode but indon’t think so) and ultimate destruction. In general though, those changes caused groups to change how they approached the encounters. Dg is essentially the same fight: group up, spread out, switch target. I may be a function of running with a group that has 4/6 people able to ignore doom, but the dance is virutally unchanged. The reason to reuse content is that it allows you to make something “new” while reusing the most time consuming aspects of a new operation like art assets, models etc. Making completely new operations takes time but if they’re going to reuse things they might as well add something to make feel fresher.

    • GaddockTeeg says:

      Also. Congrats on the win for class rep.

      • Dritzfury says:

        I agree with Snake’s first comment 100%, make the bonus bosses the really tough ones for the 1-2%. The current difficulty curve of NiM ops is simply too high, and it is turning a lot of people off. To spend so many resources to give a handful of people a severe challenge and frustrate the rest is not a smart way to grow/sustain a game. Tuning is always an extremely fine line though, and currently they are just being too overly cautious.

        Nibbon, I think you are overestimating just how large the raiding population is these days, 2% is certainly much much lower than 40,000. Exact sub’s haven’t been released in a while, an educated guess would put it somewhere around 500,000-650,000 and sliding. (down 25% from a year ago when we know it was already sizeably under 1m) It would be great to get actual numbers on how many people are participating (how many 8m/16m bosses are being dropped), but only BIOware knows that.

        Dritz

        • Nibbon says:

          Bonus bosses don’t really offer any benefit by killing them – this wouldn’t be all that satisfying.

          I’m not sure what got lost here, but yes the nightmare curve is probably too high, and the reasoning you said is the same I’d give. When I say raiding population, I really mean people who have attended raids. I think it is safe to say that the subs are still in the 500,000 range. Anyway, the number isn’t all that important. Ultimately, the best way to handle it is slowly nerf the fights – that way the best guilds get the first crack at the hardest fights and then as they are nerfed, more and more guilds will get their kills.

        • GaddockTeeg says:

          I think there is a big differences between saying 2ish percent of people should be able to complete nightmare modes and saying Nightmare modes are only there for the 2%. Games are becoming less and less about completion and that’s okay. Less than 30% of players who played gta 4 ever completed it (http://www.escapistmagazine.com/news/view/95796-Less-Than-30-of-Gamers-Ever-Finished-GTA4) and that’s okay. You can have a good experience without doing everything. Nightmare modes are really for the 30ish percent who have hard modes on farm but need something more. The small percentage of people who have full cleared Nightmare are essentially done with PvE content other than titles and gearing for the next tier. So unless those groups are interested in other things they could unsub until october and not really miss anything. What BW should really focus on is keeping that 30% interested as they progress much slower. I don’t think there need to be nerfs over time like the stacking raid buffs from WoW. I just think the perception that a game is failing to deliver unless X% of people complete it is a false one at this point in gaming.

  4. Izanagi says:

    “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.”

    From my side I don’t really have a laptop that can cope reliably with 16m ops (I can run them and perform well but its not really an enjoyable experience to battle with the delays and lag) so this really isn’t the answer.

    What I would like to see is very hard content which then progressively gets easier (say each week) via a buff/debuff mechanic. Which can be removed a the start of the Op.

    This allows people to try the content at its hardest level or to allow the content to get slightly easier each week until it is at their level.

    I think its a reason why its a good thing to actually have HM and NIM on the same lockout – so people can pass a boss that is difficult.

    The bad thing is that the NIM reward is ‘better’ gear not just ‘cooler looking’ gear.

    • Nibbon says:

      It seems like HM and NiM are going to be separated relatively soon. It has its advantages and disadvantages, but skipping bosses is actually something that they want to discourage. I can only imagine what this will do to progression. Personally, we skipped the majority of the bosses this week so we could get a head start on the rest of progression. I shudder at the thought of having to do Thrasher every week in its current state.

      • Izanagi says:

        you could do it on 8m then swap back to 16m. Was actually relatively disappointed with the difficulty of 8m compared to PTS. How much testing do you get done in the 16m versions on PTS? The balancing problems could be that there isn’t enough feedback from that aspect.

  5. Dritzfury says:

    Make the bonus bosses truly worth it somehow? Next tier gear or other cool items/titles?

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