Last night, Blizzard dropped a big unannounced Patch 5.4 feature preview onto their blog – “flex” raiding. This raiding would be a new, fourth difficulty somewhere between LFR and normal-mode that would have it’s own ilvl. It is primarily to help those raiders that wish to do a level of content with pick-up groups as well as friends and family in a more casual, social environment. It would work with both friend groups and cross-realm lists, making it very inclusive for those of us who like to pull in people for raids from every corner of the globe. The premise of this works off the idea of scaling – similar to how rares and elites have been working since Patch 5.1. The minimum a group can have is 10 but will add health (and presumably damage) depending on how many people you have, up to 25 players. What also makes this convenient is that loot works exactly the same as LFR – it is awarded individually, based on loot specialization. This means, as promised, that there is no reason to not bring anyone you so choose, so long as you have a balanced role makeup. The devs seem adamant that they want this feature to be for everyone – no minimum ilvl requirement, and that every player should be able to come, rather than a specific class.
Blizzard making a move towards an inclusive social feature such as this is a big deal, especially to someone like me who only ever does raiding these days in a casual environment. My guild’s raid team is a very bare-bones 10-player raid that very frequently pulls in cross-realm players and cancels raids when we can’t scrape together 10 people for behind-the-curve content. The idea of being able to raid with anyone on current content and bringing a variable number of folks gives us way more freedom in terms of both difficulty of content (like raid meta achievements, which the blog said will be doable on Flex difficulty) and flexibility of raid filling. Giving the WoW audience even more reasons to pick and choose their raid experience as they see fit is always a move in the right direction.
Are there some drawbacks here? Absolutely. There’s the ilvl bloat we’re experiencing right now – we’re two content tiers in and we have many orders of ilvl gear that a potential casual player is looking at. Adding yet another swath of gear in between LFR and normal is only going to muddy this further. Will it give players more choices or is it going to just make attempting to figure out upgrade paths even more of a nightmare? There’s also the concern of this pulling even more skilled or socially-connected players away from the potential LFR pool. While random grouping methods have proliferated, I still feel that the subset of players that this is catering to might make them flee from the LFR queues. Lastly, the fact that all three have separate lockouts means there’s going to be some complaining of feeling like you “need” to do all three in order to obtain the best gear as fast as you can, especially if your guild is stuck behind a gear check.
Overall, though, I can’t help but seeing this as a future positive. My guild is even talking about this replacing LFR nights for us – we go in a big group of guildies and friends from other realms on a set night to help us get LFR gear for normal-mode raiding. If we get our own gear and perhaps tackle slightly harder content with only people we choose, this seems like an obvious choice. It cuts out the drawbacks from LFR and gives us more control over our raid experience, socially. We can invite cross-realm friends, do alt raids easier, and not have to cancel raid nights as much. I don’t think flex raiding is going to replace normal raid content for us, even though we only raid four hours a week. Are there guilds that could use this as a replacement for both LFR and normal modes? Absolutely. The idea that you can make that kind of choice now as a smaller, more casual or social guild is great!
I would even speculate that this tool might give rise to the pick-up raid group again on realms that might have lost out due to smaller, less experienced populations (so any place that wasn’t Mal’ganis, basically) – groups could form via Trade Chat again, and there’d be no loot disputes and would still only need a modicum of skill to participate, as well as the variable size making things a lot easier. People that have long complained about how LFR/LFG destroyed server communities might see a breath of life to local raiding again. Basically, I’m tentatively optimistic about this as I feel that this is one of the few features that’ve announced in Mists of Pandaria that caters directly to the kinds of things I like to do in-game for precisely the people I want to do it with.
The question that remains in my mind is this – was this the big feature that Ghostcrawler had been teasing at for so long? Is it one of many things that Patch 5.4 promises? I’m excited if this is just the start of a laundry list of things that might improve our quality of (raiding) life in WoW in the future.
As for you guys, are you hyped about this possible addition? Does it affect you at all? Let me know in the comments.