Tag Archives: dungeon finder

The Curious Case of Healer Queues, Part 2

I’ve mentioned it before: healer queues for dungeons are surprisingly long in FFXIV. Green Armadillo added, in a comment to my last post, that from his experience, healer queues are almost as long as DPS queues. That’s an unusual situation, then. I wonder why that is?

First things first, the Tank:Heal:DPS ratio is probably more less (thanks to Green Armadillo for pointing this out;  I have no idea what I was thinking when I wrote that) favorable to DPS in this game than in most others I know, being 1:1:2 (=2:2:4 for full parties), in contrast to, for example, WoW or EQ2, which run with 1:1:3 (with EQ2 adding a support in their sixth spot for “canonical” group setups). Rift, though, is similar, with the same ratio as FFXIV (again, adding a support in the remaining slot).

I’ve witnessed healer queues in these games before, but never to that extent. It seems that there must be an awful lot of healers around. Are they that popular in FFXIV? And if so, why? I enjoy playing one, of course. But I did so in other games, too, so I’m not a good data point. But since that’s all I can go by at the moment, I’ll give some anecdotal input of why I like my healer. (This post also sneakily doubles as “what I’ve done in FFXIV in the last two weeks”.)

Higher-Level Healing

Classical game design, as far as I understand it, tries to increase the difficulty over the course of the game. This is mostly to offset the players getting better at the game. As they better understand their abilities and how they work together, the difficulty needs to be increased, or the game will become dull. In addition, many games design the very beginning to be faceroll-easy (at least these days) to give you some fuzzy sense of achievement early on. It’s a thin line, though: ramp up the difficulty too strongly, and the game becomes frustrating towards the end; too slowly, and players will get bored.

With RPGs, you have the additional dimension that, as you progress, you get new abilities. That way, you can never stop learning how to play your character, because the conditions change.

In FFXIV, my impression is that healing actually has become easier as I level. Not to the point where it’s getting boring; more to the point where it’s not frustrating any more. I’m not sure whether that’s simply because the spectacularly bad groups seem to be confined to the low end of the level spectrum… I haven’t had a tank unable to hold aggro on more than one mob, and DPS running off in different directions… but I think part of it lies in the ability toolbox. In the beginning, you start with very few abilities: one heal, one cure for debuffs. Your mana is also very limited. Depending on how bad your fellow group members play, you can feel helpless as you try to keep them up, but either run out of casting time (raw throughput) or out of mana.

As you level up, you get additional abilities that fundamentally change how you play. For me, these were Regen (a HoT), Stoneskin (an HP shield), and Shroud of Saints (instant threat reduction and mana regen over time). Stoneskin, cast on the tank, means that you don’t have to heal them for the first few seconds of every pull. You can then start with Regen instead of a direct heal, which means that I now rarely have the problem that half a pull beelines for me. It allows me to feel in charge when it comes to my threat generation. Stoneskin also has a long buff length, so unless it gets consumed, it will stay on you for 30 minutes. Which allows you to also buff up the DPS with it, which gives you more leeway in healing. It also allows you to “preload” some healing before boss fights, which saves you a little bit of mana during the fight itself.

The big Achilles heel, from what I had read before, is a white mage’s mana consumption. You can put out spectacular healing, but you won’t be able to keep it up for long. Thankfully, this is where Shroud of Saints comes into play. The mana regen is very helpful, and I don’t think I’ve run out of mana on a boss fight more than once since I got this ability. That doesn’t mean you can be careless: you still have to precast and cancel, fish for free heal procs, and all those things. But SoS allows me to heal and even battle-rez careless DPS, and still have the mana to keep the tank up 30 seconds down the road.

I feel much more in control, which makes me happy. I also very much like the planning factor of playing a healer. When do I cast heals on who? Which ones? How can I make sure I will have some mana regen phases? Even though four abilities account for 90% of my casts, the class doesn’t feel dull.

Maybe other people also have noticed that, and enjoy it. Maybe that’s why we have so many healers.

And if playing a healer gets so much more rewarding at higher levels… I should really play my paladin more again. I used to love tanking. Maybe I’ll rediscover my lover for it.

Plus, you know, instant queues.

ETA: Longer than Expected

I’ve been back into FFXIV. I’m slowly making my way up to 50 on my White Mage. Quite slowly: it’s my first class, and even though I was out of the game for three weeks since the launch two months ago, that’s still not blazingly fast by any stretch of imagination. I wonder whether I’ll be able to find a good FC once I’m at level cap. But that might be a topic for a different post.

The game runs really well overall. There’s some creaking along the seams and some almost-to-be-expected things that are not 100% polished yet. Every couple of days, the game becomes almost unplayable during the later evening in the crowded zones: everybody will freeze in place for 10 seconds, then scramble in fast forward as the game catches up. I blame server overloads. Oh well, I play something else on these nights or read a book (cf.: why I’m slow on my way to 50). About 50% of the time, the game doesn’t close properly when I quit and I need to kill it. The weirdest quirk, though, is this:


Not quite the definition of "spot on".

Not quite the definition of “spot on”.

I’m not really sure why this happens. It happens all the time, though. Not necessarily quite as extreme, but I don’t think I’ve had it happen that I got into a dungeon (sorry, duty, or whatever) in less than the “average wait time”. Doesn’t sound very average to me. Even if you assume that tank queues are instant (which looks like it) and DPS queues are no worse than healer queues (a bold hypothesis, seeing how I typically pick up “my” two dps almost instantly), that would still mean a combined waiting time of 60 minutes split among four players in that scenario. Not exactly “less than 5m” either.

I don’t know what goes wrong in their calculation, but something seems to. Oh well, I got used to it. Maybe I’ll finally finish my copy of “American Psycho” that way. Only 80 pages left.

On Dungeon Design, or: why dungeons became boring

Like many another among us bloggers, I have lamented the passing of the good old times more than once. Coming from WoW, it will remain my gold standard for the foreseeable future to gauge every other MMO, for better or worse; and if anything, at least its still immense weight of millions of subscribers makes sure that this comparison can’t be completely useless.

Dungeoning is one of the most discussed parts of WoW and other MMOs. Typically though, this discussion focuses on how to create crate groups, and how WoW’s cross-server dungeon finder has transformed dungeon runs from social experiences or recruitment opportunities for raiding guilds into asocial speedruns. On the other hand, among those that are playing SW:TOR, the dungeon finder makes an unlikely comeback as blogger favorite and favorite wish for the next patch, because without this tool, it seems nigh impossible even for socializers to coax other people into dungeon runs. What with all the, I don’t know, talking, and inviting, and god forbid, running to the dungeon entrance being so last decade!

Two Types of Dungeons

However, I don’t want to discuss the dungeon finder in detail, other people have done that enough recently. There is a different topic, though, that goes hand in hand, and that’s dungeon design. For WoW, the largest shift in design came actually long before the introduction of the dungeon finder.

In Vanilla, dungeons were typically one of two types: either linear, or open and non-linear (or somewhere in between). Let’s look at the original endgame dungeons:

  • Scholomance was linear with some nooks and crannies, and an optional portion (Jandice’s basement) that you only did if someone needed the warlock shoulders.
  • Stratholme was non-linear, though in practice, it was split into two sub-instances of which you only did one (live or dead side), and either of them seemed to have a “preferred path” (though different from server to server) to go through that you typically didn’t extend or deviate from.
  • Dire Maul was non-linear, to the point that not only each of the three official sub-instances was non-linear, but there were even connections between the three that were very convenient for some of the quests.
  • Blackrock Depths: WoW’s poster child of non-linear dungeons, this was a massive dungeon crawl that was either admired or feared (or both). It was a whole city, actually larger than many of the horde and alliance cities that you could visit, with several subareas that you might not have seen even after a dozen runs.
  • Blackrock Spire: the two parts (upper and lower) looked similar, but in fact their design was vastly different. Lower was a non-linear group instance, while upper was a mini-raid with what probably was the most linear path through a dungeon in vanilla WoW.

Compare that to Burning Crusade:

  • Hellfire Ramparts, Blood Furnace, Shattered Halls: corridor-room-corridor-room.
  • Slave Pens, Underbog, Steamvault: room-corridor-room-corridor-room.
  • Auchenai Crypts, Mana Tombs, Sethekk Halls, Shadow Labyrinth: room-corridor-room. In spite of the name, Shadow Labyrinth was one of the most linear instances in the expansion, it didn’t even feature any views of the outside, or an illusion of vertical depth. It was a flat sequence of rooms connected by exactly one corridor each.
  • Mechanar, Botanica, Arcatraz, and, lest I forget, Magister’s Terrace: I think you can guess by now.
  • Escape from Durnholde and The Opening of the Dark Portal are fully scripted and therefore linear, even though Durnholde should get an honorable mention for the attention to detail and the fact that you could just go and hang out in old Southshore before or after your dungeon run.

With the introduction of heroic dungeons, we got more choices at the level cap – if you could finish them; some, like Escape from Durnholde were notoriously difficult and almost impossible without raid gear. However, from a dungeon design point of view, there was less choice, because they all followed the same pattern. And I can think of only two Lich King and Cataclysm instances that were not completely linear: The Nexus, where the decision was simply whether you wanted to clockwise or counter-clockwise, and the Halls of Origination with their optional wing.

Dungeon Design and Automated Groups

This simplified dungeon design predated the LFD finder, but it was necessary for it. Without dungeons that were a) of roughly equal length and b) linear, the dungeon finder wouldn’t have been accepted that easily.

If the dungeons are of greatly differing length, a player doesn’t know how long a dungeon run will take, and if you ever played in a dungeon finder group, you know that speed is of the utmost importance. Every minute spent in a dungeon without rushing to the end reduces the badges/time ratio and is frowned upon.

If the dungeons are non-linear, you will have different goals in the group. Some will want to do an optional area, others want to take a specific route to pick up something on the way. Only a completely linear dungeon ensures that the goals of all group members are the same.

So there you have it. Dungeons need to be all similar to each other and highly linear to work well with a fully-automatic LFD. On the other hand, even if you had 50 dungeons available, if there’s no variation in the design, they will become boring. So, in fact, the dungeon finder requires dungeons to be boring to work. Those old vanilla dungeons? To homogenize their length, they got split into several dungeon finder parts. And good luck getting people to continue further after you got your loot bag. Or remember Oculus? Most of my groups lost at least 1-2 people before the first pull, because people hated it for being so different. Oculus was like the blank in the dungeon lottery.

A pack of Haribo Color-Rado.

I hated these as a kid. 50% yummy, 50% eww.

LFD requires you to hit one button, then rush through randomly chosen content. People don’t like variety if they don’t have choice over it. If your only input is hitting a button, you expect homogenized output. Everything else is frustrating. Ever had one of these packs of sweets that are half gummy bears and half liquorice? The difference is that you don’t grab stuff blindly and have to eat whatever you grab, even if you hate liquorice. (Yes, I hate liquorice! There, I said it.) It doesn’t work that way with the dungeon finder. You have to eat whatever dungeon dinner is chosen for you, so it better be always the same so it doesn’t offend anyone.

I just wish the SW:TOR players that the introduction of a dungeon finder won’t make liquorice out of all their dungeons.

Rift Updates

My Rift subscription will lapse in a couple of days. That is, unless I resubscribe for another month. Which I will probably do. That said, I got time until Sunday to decide.

What I like about the game is the soul system. I see downsides to it (class identity being one), but the way I play Rift at the moment, it works out perfectly fine. 80% of my time, I spend doing dungeons and rifts, and the chance to switch on the fly between pyro damage, chloro healing, and archon support, is very helpful. The rest of the time is spent crafting and exploring. At the moment, this looks enough to me to warrant another month.

There are a couple of things I’m still not sold on. One of the is them leveling speed. It’s just too darn fast! Doing lots of rifts and dungeons means that I do little to no questing. I stopped when I reached the middle of Stonefield, because I was outleveling them. I’ve done about 2 quests in Scarlet Gorge. At the moment, I’m 35 and haven’t done a single quest in Scarwood (I’ve explored about half of the map there, though, while doing rifts). The leveling speed is high enough that I’m completely surpassing the story content. That’s compounded by the fact that the cap for rested XP seems to be very high – I leveled from 30 to 34 in a single day using rested XP, and I still had a bit left over.

The downside is that I had problems getting the story in the first place; completely skipping quests in zones doesn’t help that. Of course, you could argue that that’s my own damn fault – and I agree, to a certain degree. Then again, the current world event makes rifting a very tempting pastime; and since I still need 13 egg levels to get my raptor, I’ll continue. Speaking of the event, I very much assume that it was perfectly timed to coincide with the Steam sale, so you won’t see phase 3 or the conclusion before your free month runs out. I have to admit that looks like their trick will work with me.

Considering dungeoning, you get presents for running dungeons once a day, and if you skip days, you might end up with as many as 7 subsidized dungeon runs. Add that to the fact that playing heal or support solo is quite boring, and you see where I spend a lot of my time. The result is that I end up in a dungeon, with two quest givers in front that I might or might not have seen before, and that give me quests along the lines of “kill X, use Y at Z, and kill whatever appears when you do so”. If I have time to read the text at all; the rush-rush culture certainly has its followers in this game too. So I go off, killing some stuff, without any idea why that would be a good or bad idea. I sometimes don’t even know where that place is that I’m fighting in. I guess someone must’ve hit me over the head with a club, put me in a sack, and transported me to a dungeon far away, where, after waking up, I’d find 4 strangers that share a similar fate, but we soon realize that our muggers at least were nice enough to take group composition into account before they dumped us into this deadly trial. It’s almost like the Cube, MMO edition.

I guess the only solution to that problem is to roll another alt that will purely focus on story line exploration via world questing. There’s some irony in that, seeing how I had planned to roll an alt on the Guardian side to see what the story looks like from their position. Now I’ll need to roll a Defiant alt too, to find out what their story is, despite the fact I’m about halfway through the leveling with one.

One last problem is that the dungeon finder seems to hate me (joking, but still). On Sunday, I was put into Foul Cascade as DPS three times in a row, at level 33. The rest of the group also being reasonably high, it was a genuine snorefest. On Monday, having just hit 34, I ended up in King’s Breach. As a healer. With a level 34 tank. Who pulled like a madman. Oh my. I am very thankful for the level 40 support who helped out with healing now and then, or we would’ve had several wipes (I told him afterwards, I want to make sure support feels appreciated). Still, that makes your contribution feel inadequate.

I admit I could probably be a much better healer. I sometimes lose track of my target, especially when I have to target the tank for a direct heal, and then have to go back to a mob to DPS again. Also, I picked up the warlock talent the other day that gives you a chance for an instant cast (opportunity), and it’s still confusing me more than it helps. In the heat of battle, I often miss the fact that I just instant cast, and then just stand there twiddling my thumbs, waiting for a cast to finish that has long hit the target.

Anyway, that’s the second time I was thrown into a dungeon as a healer at the low end of the spectrum, with a similarly low level tank. That is a bit more challenge than I would like, to be honest. It makes me feel responsible for wasting everybody’s time in case we wipe. I wouldn’t mind with people I know, but with randoms, I get the feeling I have to perform, or else. It probably doesn’t help that I’m a chloromancer, either; I assume clerics can get away with being low level more easily. If one of my damage spells gets resisted, I don’t do any healing, and stuff can get hectic. And of course, there’s that annoying veil bug: if another mage in your group has Lifegiving Veil, it tends to overwrite your Lifebound Veil/Synthesis, and if you don’t notice in time, you end up with a tank-shaped puddle on the ground.

Anyway, the frustrations right now are small enough, and the novelty factor is still there, so I guess I’ll stay another month. And isn’t that all that Trion would be interested in anyway? So I guess they’re doing it right.

Some Rift Impressions

Over the weekend, I had a little bit more time to play, so I gave Rift another shot. Told you I wouldn’t give up that easily. Plus, I got a lot of feedback on my last post, both here and at the Ancient Gaming Noob. Thanks for that, it helped!

I’ll just pick up a couple of points and talk about them. The first two are purely game-related, the other three are more about the community.

Souls and Roles

I’m still working on understanding the soul system. I’m slowly starting to like it, though it still seems there’s so many options that I’m not sure whether I’ll ever get them all. I’m a bit worried I might not be able to try out everything I want until I hit max level! At least unless the curve flattens considerably.

I spent some time on Sunday to redo my roles. I love to support, so I got a dedicated support and a dedicated healer role. My supporter is an archon/chloromancer. I’m not sure how helpful the chloro part is actually. The plan was to get Lifegiving Veil to bring some AoE heals in case they’re needed. Haven’t been in a group yet in which that would’ve been necessary, and I’m not sure yet it would make a big difference. I like the archon as a soul though; you’ll see it in the other roles.

My healer is a chloromancer/archon, with just enough to get shared vigor and consuming flames. The latter is nice as an instant bubble to rescue someone if my direct heals are on cooldown. I very much like chloro healing, though I can imagine it has its limitations. Actually, I think I ran into one already, but more about that dungeon run later.

Finally, I bought my third role last night because I wanted to experiment with a leveling dps role again. I had originally started out as pyromancer (fire! who can resist playing Tim?), but was way too squishy and got killed easily by adds. On the other hand, I have a dislike for pet classes, and I’m not a huge fan of death magic either. That meant that most of the cookie-cutter leveling specs went right out the window. I actually played my healing spec for questing for a bit, and it works reasonably well, it is just slow. I then combined the pyromancer’s DPS with a bit of chloromancer for some healing ability. I’ve yet to try that in really demanding situations; it seems to work better than a pure pyromancer though, so we’ll see. If all else fails I’ll proably have to take the necromancer soul for soul purge, which people claim is all sorts of awesome. I’d rather not, though.

The specs are still a bit ad-hoc and inconsistent. I’m often not sure which talents to take and just wing it. I just hope I don’t do anything blatantly wrong and will start worrying when stuff doesn’t work well any more. At the moment, most content is easy enough for me not to worry too much.

Puzzles and Cairns

Oh boy. I tried, I really did. I got the hint that Freemarch’s puzzles and cairns are hidden in Lake of Solace. I scouted all of it, but couldn’t find anything. Turns out I just wasn’t looking closely enough, literally. The “object distance” setting was only about halfway to max, and so when I though I was looking at the lake ground, I was actually looking at the lake ground sans objects.

I only found out about that after I gave up and asked the almighty Internet. It also told me the place of two or three cairns. I didn’t go and get the place for all of them, but how am I ever gonna find those on my own? At least most other puzzles won’t be underwater (I hope!), maybe that’ll make it easier. Otherwise I’ll have to admit I’m too bad for puzzles. 😉

The Community

First of all, I’m playing on Argent, a RP server. It’s not that I RP much, but I often pick RP servers to play on in MMOs. My impression is that the community is generally not as negative and chuck-norris-y there, plus I like it when roleplaying goes on, even if I don’t participate (I do every now and then in LotRO). I can’t say I’ve noticed much RPing in Rift yet, though. Maybe I’m in the wrong places; Meridian might be the capital of the defiants, but it doesn’t really feel like a city, more like a convention center (no houses and such, just a marketplace, two halls, and a tower); I must’ve missed something there.

All in all, the community so far has been a bit of a hit and miss for me. If I had to choose right now, I’d put it somewhere between LotRO and WoW.

Example 1, chat channels. The 1-29 channel was very lively last night. Some of the topics were pretty awful though, I was close to switching it off. In the end, I’m glad I didn’t, because I had a quite funny conversation with a couple of people. Too bad I didn’t note the names.

Basically, I said that I liked the game, but the lore felt kinda dodgy, and brought up the “great sun, and ascended!” line. We started brainstorming and came up with our own version of lore, which basically goes like this: You wake up as the first ascended ever in the future. You’re then sent off to the past, which naturally is a parallel universe in which all the other one-of-a-kind ascendeds seem to end up in. Which is why the quest givers around have you kill boars instead of doing valiant deeds. Of course, in this parallel universe, language must have also changed a lot, to the point where “great sun, an ascended!” means something along the lines of “oh great, another scrub”. I liked the fact that I didn’t get shouted down in chat immediately for something that might sound like criticism.

Example 2, dungeon runs. I’ve seen everything in the 6 or so I’ve done so far from horrible ones where nobody says any word at any point, over arguments between DPS and tanks about who is a noob and who has the wrong attitude, complete with porting out pouting and group kicks. But, and that is the good point, most of them were pretty decent.

My high point was a run of Darkening Deeps at 21. I zoned in and realized I had no idea what that zone was. Then I realized everybody else was at least 4 levels above me. Healing Darkening Deeps at 21 was… interesting. Actually, everything went fine (not sure how much the supporting cleric helped with that though) until we reached the spider boss.

Oh damn. See, somehow we had no real AoE damage. And that’s bad, because the boss summons a lot of tiny spiders that can overwhelm your group, plus it cocoons people who you need to free. We had a lot of wipes there.

  1. Cleric support got cocooned when there were a lot of spiders up; I couldn’t keep the group alive on my own.
  2. I got cocooned first, then Cleric after me. Consequently, not enough healing.
  3. We had a couple in the group. A rogue tank and a warrior dps. They decided to switch so that the rogue could AoE. Problem being, the warrior had never tanked before. Stuff didn’t go so well.
  4. Original rogue tank asked other DPS whether it could tank. DPS ran into the boss without saying anything, and without tank spec. At least the wipe was fast.
  5. Back to our original roles. Cleric got cocooned and wasn’t freed. At least he claimed so. I couldn’t target the cocoon, but that might be me. Cleric left angrily after that wipe.
  6. The same DPS that caused the last wipe stood too far outside, melee couldn’t reach him, took to long to free the person, spiders overwhelmed us. (couldn’t keep up the healing – a higher level might’ve saved the group there.) DPS left without a comment after that try.
  7. Finally, we got another AoE DPS as a replacement. Pulled the boss, healed pretty much as before, and boss died. It felt so much easier with the right role.

What I liked was that most people (the original three plus the replacements) stayed constructive and didn’t start blaming the others. I knew I was on the low end of the level range and actually offered to leave at some point, but they told me it wouldn’t change too much, we were just lacking AoE. We (well, me not so much, since I don’t know anything about roles and souls yet) continued to look at the problem and think of different ways to go at it, and in the end won. That was fun.

Even though to most players, this will probably nothing to brag about (“wiping on a level 23 boss lol!”), I liked the constructive atmosphere, even though, to be honest, I’d rather not be thrown into a dungeon again as a healer at the very low end of the level range. It was quite stressful at times.

Example 3, group quests. That’s a thing I sadly can’t say much good about. I picked up a couple of group quests for Freemarch in Meridian when I hit 15 or so, and now that I’m 24, I still have the ones to destroy the three spires, and to close 4 death rifts. The problem with the rifts is that there hardly seem to be any death rifts up, and it feels a bit arbitrary whether you get an update or not. The larger problem is the spires, in that nobody seems to do them. I’ve never seen anybody else around them, and the group finder couldn’t find me other people for that quest either. I tried soloing them last night, but even at 24, I got overwhelmed. Maybe I’ll try again at 26. If anybody of you is still on that part of the quest line too, tell me and I might join you!

So yeah, that concludes my thoughts on Rift for the meantime. I enjoy being heal and support, and it seems like I might enjoy my practically free month. After that, I’ll see. It’s hard after 10 days to say how I’ll enjoy the game after the other 20.