The Addition of Seasonal Affixes to Mythic+ - Battle For Azeroth Retrospective
Battle for Azeroth introduced the seasonal affix to Mythic Plus. Beginning at Keystone Level 10, dungeons would be modified by a high-impact affix themed around the current raid. In this article, we'll analyze the four seasonal affixes of BFA and discuss the future of the seasonal affix going into Shadowlands.
The first ever seasonal affix was themed around
. Several enemies in each dungeon would be infested, and they would heal all of their nearby non-infested friends. When the infested enemies died, two little
would pop out and start moving towards the nearest non-infested enemies, burrowing in and infesting them if they made it.
This affix was very technically intensive, as there were several pulls that demanded precise use of Crowd Control to manage the affix. At its best, Infested presented a rewarding puzzle to solve - which packs do you pull in order to minimize the amount of time you lost to Infested clean-up? Should you Crowd Control the Infested enemies in this area or could you do something cool like CC'ing a few non-infested enemies first, taking down some Infested foes, and then being free to execute a massive pull?
Unfortunately those interesting moments rarely materialized, and for many groups that weren't comfortable trying them or lacked the required amount of Crowd Control they never materialized at all. Instead, the affix felt irritating, and the fact that it was present every single week became exhausting. This affix did come with a slight rotation, where the specific enemies that were Infested varied every week, with three total patterns. Rather than increase the variety, this only added to the fatigue the affix created for many players, as each dungeon required you to "re-learn" which enemies were Infested on any given week.
Verdict: Some good ideas, disappointing final product.
In Patch 8.1, Reaping was added as an affix themed around
, the Loa of Death, a key figure in the new raid, Battle of Dazar'alor. Every time you filled up 20% of the Enemy Forces bar in the dungeon, Bwonsamdi would reanimate all of the newly-slain trash mobs as one of three different types of spirit that corresponded to the type of enemy they were. These spirits would then attack you all at once, leading to some very hectic gameplay.
This affix had several great things going for it - the first was the massive amount of player agency surrounding how to interact with it. Not only could you choose when in the dungeon you'd cross each 20% marker, you could also decide whether or not you wanted to fight the Reaping wave with other enemies, such as another trash pull or even a boss encounter. This was often possible even in fairly high level keystones, as the Reaping enemies themselves were not too challenging. Reaping was also a refreshing change from Infested, as it no longer was something you had to think about every single pull of the dungeon - you dealt with five Reaping waves each keystone, and other than that you didn't need to always be thinking about it.
Some players, and Blizzard themselves, suggested that Reaping was a little too easy. Mythic Plus, however, is an infinitely scalable game mode, which means that players can amp up the danger until the dungeon is once again very hard. Reaping wasn't without its flaws, as
could often completely nullify the Affix if the entire group had access to it, which in the MDI they certainly did. This affected such a small group of players that it doesn't hurt the memory of the affix too much, but it is hopefully a lesson that can be learned from.
Finally, Reaping is a fantastic example of how a little bit of large AoE sprinkled throughout a dungeon can be a great experience. It was not, however, very fun for specs like Balance or Fury, who either had very bad AoE or were capped to only hit five targets with most of their abilities respectively. Unfortunately, Shadowlands is moving in the direction of adding more target caps to the game, which removes this design space from the seasonal affix toolbox next expansion.
Verdict: Fantastic example of the seasonal affix done right.
As we did battle with Queen Azshara in her palace, she sent her emissaries out into Kul Tiras and Zandalar, where they infiltrated every dungeon. There were three types of Emissary: Void, Tides, and Enchanted. Voids were immune to CC and had true sight, and they would cast a massive AoE explosion that hit everyone that was in range and line of sight with both damage and a stacking debuff. Tides Emissaries gave other nearby enemies immunity to both Crowd Control effects and Interrupts, while Enchanted Emissaries projected an aura that caused the trash mobs within the aura to reflect all damage dealt to them back to you. Tides and Void Emissaries needed to be killed normally, while Enchanted Emissaries would slowly float towards you, would get knocked back when damaged, and would disappear on their own after about 20 seconds.
This affix took the 3-pattern rotation of Infested and turbo-charged it, creating three different patterns that each emphasized one of the different Emissary types. This had the unfortunate side effect of making two out of every three weeks much harder than the third, as the Enchanted pattern was by far the easiest to deal with in most dungeons for groups that were at least semi-coordinated.
Like Infested, the dream with this affix was to create difficult puzzles for players to solve, but in many cases the addition of a Tides or a Void Emissary to a pack narrowed the amount of possible solutions down to zero or one, and many players felt like they had lost the element of creativity that had been such a core and fantastic part of Mythic plus.
The problem of
once again reared its ugly head in the MDI, though this is always to be expected until the ability gets changed, as it is fundamentally very powerful in the speedrunning-based format of that competition. What isn't normal is for the incentive to be so strong that players swap factions on the live servers, but at least one team famously did just that, swapping twice per week between Alliance and Horde to be able to raid with their Horde-side raiding guilds and then push keys as night elves.
Much like Infested, Beguiling became an exhausting affix, where every single pack contained an emissary and the problems were difficult and annoying to solve, but not particularly interesting after the first few weeks.
Verdict: All of the problems of Infested and more - much less excusable the second time.
This is the currently active seasonal affix, and it revolves around Ny'alotha, the alternate dimension created by and home to N'zoth. Four Obelisks exist in every dungeon, and players can use them to enter Ny'alotha, where they'll encounter one of his four lieutenants. These powerful enemies then spawn various different
and attack you. When slain, both the lieutenant and the Obelisk turn into two-way portals that you can use to exit or re-enter Ny'alotha whenever you're not in combat.
This affix is incredible. The amount of possibilities it presents is endless, as each Obelisk represents a potential skip that can take you wherever you might want to go in each dungeon. You can even re-enter Ny'alotha from a previous rift and do all kinds of advanced strategies, such as having one stealthed player pull a boss, which brings all of the other players back into the real world; or you can have someone activate an Obelisk while the rest of the group is already there waiting in Ny'alotha.
One of the best parts of Reaping was the ability to scale up the difficulty, and Awakened does that too, letting you fight lieutenants with the last boss of each dungeon if you don't fight them beforehand. This is awesome, as it gives a massive reward on the timer for groups that can figure out how to path through the dungeon without the benefit of the skip and also how to fight the last boss with one (or even more!) extra challenging enemies.
Even in the MDI, Awakened helped reduce the reliance on Night Elves, though in many dungeons the metagame developed to the point where Obelisks were all ignored until the final boss of the dungeon, where they were either all fought with the last boss or kited by the healer while the rest of the group killed the boss. This was an incredibly high stakes maneuver, and led to some photo finishes in one of the most exciting seasons of the MDI we've ever seen.
Going into Shadowlands, Blizzard should learn from the seasonal affixes of BFA in order to expand on the themes that worked and avoid repeating the mistakes.
One core metric that is instructive is to consider the decision tree of the dungeon, that is, all the possible options that players have for how to proceed. The best seasonal affixes, Reaping and Awakened, have both expanded that decision tree, adding new questions: What can I fight this Reaping wave with? When should I trigger this Reaping wave? Which Awakened enemies can I fight with this last boss? When and how should I use this Obelisk? Which enemies does it let me skip? Which other enemies should I now pull because I was able to skip those which were previously impossible to avoid?
Contrast these questions with the decision tree that Infested and Beguiling presented - rather than giving you options these affixes took options away. You could no longer pull that pack with anything else, because there was an Emissary in it. You could no longer pull that pack at all, because the Emissary or Infested enemy within made it way harder than the alternatives.
The rotating parts of Infested and Beguiling aren't inherently broken - indeed, Awakened uses a small rotating component itself, with two slightly different Obelisk patterns that alternate every fourteen days. Awakened does it much better though, as the Obelisks themselves don't move, two of the four of them just swap which lieutenant they're mapped to. For lower level groups, this change is often hardly noticeable, as they're killing all four lieutenants anyway, whereas for higher level groups this adds a welcome bit of variety that can impact which enemy can be reasonably fought with the last boss. When Beguiling rotated from week to week, everyone felt it, and many groups would run into very punishing emissaries for which they had not prepared at all, and would have this awful experience where the first time they went into any given dungeon each week it would be almost impossible as a result.
The final piece of wisdom we can learn from BFA seasonal affixes is that Mythic Plus is best when the seasonal affix doesn't get in the way of the dungeon itself. Beguiling and Infested smothered the dungeon, as the mechanics of the Infested heal-aura or the Emissaries' auras were generally the most important ones in every single pack of the dungeon. It no longer felt like you were doing The Underrot, it felt like you were fighting Beguiling Dungeon #7. Awakened and Reaping do the opposite - they're not even present at all in the majority of pulls in each dungeon. Both of them presented the option to be combined with the original dungeon content, but neither required it.
What did you think about BFA's seasonal affixes? What are your hopes for Shadowlands? Let us know in the comments!
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