So, we are on our second week into patch 4.2 and the Firelands raid instance. I wanted to write this article sooner but by the end of the first week, we had not yet progressed to the half way point of the dungeon, so I felt it was not quite the time to write up my thoughts. As I am writing this, we are putting some serious attempts on Alysrazor, the 4th boss encounter and I feel more comfortable looking back and summing up the experience so far.
Firelands is definitely easier, than what T11 dungeons, such as Bastion of Twilight and Blackwing Descent were. This is a personal observation ofc and I am not basing this on just how quickly the top guilds in the world cleared the normal modes. I think that kind of comparison is inherently flawed because people forget that those guilds, not only overgeared the content to begin with, by going in in full BiS items from hard modes in T11, but also because they also had months and months of practice for the content back in the PTR. The rest of us are going in with more the type of gear that the instance was balanced for and with very little, if any, information about the encounters themselves.
But still, it is not like I have still not been enjoying the raiding in Firelands. On the contrary, I have enjoyed the encounters immensely because Blizzard did indeed succeed in making designing very unique and interesting mechanics. The Rhyolith encounter is a perfect example of this; where in you cannot actually hurt the boss himself but you apply dps on his legs to steer him around the area and try to get him to walk over small volcanoes. As such, there are no Patchwork type encounters where you just pull, and go pew pew as much as possible to kill the boss before the healers run out of mana. In a way, these are exactly the type of encounters I like because they are execution based, rather than gear based. Naturally having awesome gear helps a lot but you need to follow a very strict set of strategies of you will still end up wiping horribly.
Another interesting factor is how the trash functions in Firelands. Only a small portion of the instance is actually indoors and otherwise is an open-sky dungeon, with a lot of space and not linear at all. The entire space is literally riddled with trash pack, some patrolling and some remaining stationary. You can choose to remove only the necessary or more for reputation gained, as the dungeon is associated with a new faction, the Avengers of Hyjal and the reputation gained from killing bosses or trash allows you to purchase pretty good pieces of gear from their quartermaster. In this way, it is very similar to the Ashen Verdict, except there is more gear choices available.
The trash was a bit controversial for the first week though because it followed the same respawn timer as normal raid trash. However, Blizzard had to tweak it, so that it only respawned once every four hours. The reasons were that you had to clear quite a lot of the trash before you could actually engage the first boss. Shannox is a natural first choice since he is fought geographically closer to the entrance and he would only spawn after you had cleared that specific area. But the rub was, you only had two hours to practice the encounter before you would have to clear the same, huge bunch of trash again. You could get away with less trash by going to Beth’tilac before Shannox but it still amounted to an hour’s worth of trash, meaning a normal four hour raid night is easily cut short. Luckily, it is now fixed.
So what are the bosses themselves like?
Beth’tilac is a fiery spider and the encounter takes place both on the ground and up high, above her thick webs. I enjoyed it a lot, as you need to split your raid into two groups. A smaller group takes threads of web from adds and climbs to fight Beth’tilac herself, while most of your raid stays below and deals with a lot of add control.
Against tanks, Beth’tilac is bit of challenge to control because even through blocked attacks her physical attacks can deal between 30-40k damage. On itself that is not so bad, but every 4-5 seconds she will also deal around 20k fire damage to everyone above the web. This makes it quite healing intensive and tanks need to rotate cooldowns wisely to help their healer along. The team above needs to also jump down from time to time, to avoid a high damage AoE and then get back up quickly before she wipes the raid below.
The second phase, which is a burn phase, can only be successful if the team above the webs was able to do enough damage to Beth’tilac before the third Smoldering Devastation and it her stacking damage buff acts as a soft enrage timer. Eventually she will deal too much damage for the healers to keep up.
In essence, a fairly simple fight but one I enjoyed.
Shannox is basically a hunter and follows a paradigm similar to the hunter class. He will lay traps, which need to both be avoided and utilized by the players. He also travels with two hell hound pets, which need to be dealt separately. The initial word we got was that tanks Shannox and his first hound, Riplimb but we found it to be unnecessarily cumbersome because both the hound and the boss are immune to taunts.
So we deviced a strategy where Shannox and Riplimb are tanked separately and as far from each other as possible. The distance cannot be too long because it will cause Shannox to enrage but it is still long enough that when Shannox throws his spear near Riplimb, the off-tank will quickly either kite him to a crystal trap or simply as far from it as possible. DPS are then tasked with slowing Riplimb down, so that the distance it takes for him to fetch the spear and return it to Shannox is long enough for the Jagged Tear stacks to fall off both tanks.
It is a simple strategy and much more straight forward to execute than tanks over-aggroing each other on two different targets. From there on, it simple comes down to killing the pets and then finally Shannox, while trying to kite the hounds to as many Immolation Traps as possible to ease the work load of the damage dealers, while avoiding the traps ourselves.
We originally figured that would need two tanks for this encounter, because while some damage dealers are directing Rhyolith over the volcanoes, by hacking at his feet, there are two types of adds spawning and indeed we did originally complete the encounter in this manner. However, there are several draw backs to this strategy. Firstly, the raid becomes very scattered around the platform, increasing the chance of getting throwbacks from Rhyolith’s stomps and getting caught in lava flows, the later which can easily kill a player from just couple of tics of damage.
Secondly, because we were scattered, getting enough damage on both add types was something of a chore. It worked but it was very cumbersome. On our second week, we changed it around and had our paladin tank switch to retribution and help out on the legs. We did this because, for some reason, turning the boss was a lot harder this time around and required more damage to make him turn in time, as we with only two DPS we kept having him walk into the lava pools and just wipe us.
With more melee on the legs, we stationed rest of the raid on the entrance and had just one tank pick up all the adds. We were skeptical at first but it turned out really well, because this way we had a much easier time of it to dodge the lava stream, as we were only exposed to a small portion of them. Also, the adds died just timely enough so we could transition from one type to the other. The only trick is that you need to kill Sparks before the Fragments spawn, and ofc visa versa.
All and all, I think this is one of my favorite encounters so far. It is very unique and fun to execute. You are fine as long as you keep concentrate and especially as a warrior tank I can really shine on this fight. Our mobility and good AoE threat really makes us a tank of choice for add control.
I would say that, if rest of the encounters in Firelands follow a similar success curve in design, the instance as a whole looks to be a very successful piece of content. The only concern I have, at this time, is that it only has seven boss encounters. Compared to ten or the twelve in T11, it is seems very few and if Blizzard follows their usual release rate, then we will quickly run out of content to play. Or will we? The top progression guilds are ofc going to clear all 7/7 bosses on heroic but looking at a lot of the other “lesser” raiding guilds (that also make up most of the raiding community) they were not able to get 13/13 HMs in T11. Our guild, Pro Finlandia, which can be counted as a relatively skilled and successful raiding guild only got 5/13 HMs in T11. So it might be just that only having seven bosses in this tier is the right amount.
We will just have to wait and see. For now though, the instance looks to be very successful from my point of view.