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The Advantages and Disadvantages of NonLinear Raids in Warlords of Draenor

Since we were first introduced to the next World of Warcraft expansion Warlords of Draenor we have known that non-linear raiding will be the predominant method put in place by Blizzard.

This was discussed and shown in the raid panel at BlizzCon 2013 when the Blizzard team showed us all the draft map layout for Blackrock Foundry.

Blizzard went on to discuss how they would make heavier use of an open nonlinear layout for raids whenever possible in Warlords of Draenor.  This is so that players had more choice on where they went in a raid, which bosses in which order they killed, and what they did each raid night.  It all sounds good in general, but there are some downsides as well.

In this article the Messiah looks at the potential upsides and downsides of raids being nonlinear in format.

Advantages of nonlinear raids

Making raids nonlinear brings with it some pretty big advantages for players as well as for raid designers.  These are just a few of those potential advantages.

The first big advantage is for raid designers when trying to balance raids.  In a linear format raid it is absolutely critical that the balance of each encounter is tuned properly so that no one encounter becomes a super hard choke point for raiding guilds.  Each encounter needs to be only incrementally harder than the previous one, but no easier.  This is a pretty hard thing to manage.

When designing boss encounters for a nonlinear raid there is a lot more freedom to get it wrong.  There is more room for experimentation and more room for leeway on a fight being too easy or too hard.

That advantage also turns to an advantage to players as well.  If a raid is stuck on a boss in a linear raid then they are stuck, hard and fast.  If they become stuck in a nonlinear raid on a boss, then there are most likely options to move to a different boss and deal with it instead and come back to the one you are stuck on later.  This is of course not true all the time as there will be choke points where you need to progress past a specific boss to get to the next, and of course on the last boss in a raid there are no other choices.

Having different options on the path you take through a raid also allows players and raiding guilds more options and freedom on how they progress through a raid.  This means that they can move around in the raid and deal with different bosses at different times or days depending on what their raid schedule allows.  If your group has downed several hard bosses in a night and only have a short period of time left you can jump to a simple boss to finish up the night.  It also means that since different bosses can require different mixes of players that you could still raid on a night when you are missing certain players by just moving to different bosses.

All of these advantages are basically about choices and allowing as much choice and freedom as possible.

Warlords of Draenor nonlinear raid map

Disadvantages of nonlinear raids

While a lot of the advantages are about choice and freedom, those can also be viewed as disadvantages as well, which leads to some of the negatives of nonlinear raiding.

In a nonlinear raid environment players can feel less involved in the raid or less invested in the raid due to a less cohesive feel throughout the raid.  By this I mean that since you can jump around from boss to boss as you feel, it is harder for the bosses to have a linked story line, harder for them to build on each other in difficulty, or in theme.  While some players will applaud the freedom this allows, others will feel slighted by the lack of the feel of progression.

A huge disadvantage to players who tend to do raids in either the looking for raid tool or through pickup groups is that it is much harder to get groups to do the bosses you want or need since the order can be quite varied.  This means you may need to jump into several different groups to get the bosses defeated that you want.  It may not be as simple as jumping into a group for a set wing in a raid any longer, you will need to look for groups doing the specific bosses you need.

This whole freedom of choice can itself be a big disadvantage in a LFR or PUG group as different members of the group try to lead it in different directions and guide the group to different bosses.  There can be different opinions on which boss order is the correct one, or the easiest one, or the best one.  Over time a standard order will likely appear, but at least initially the lack of a clearly set boss order, could lead to conflict.

Another disadvantage caused by the points above is that LFR and PUG raids could tend to fall apart or fracture more than they already do.  This would be due to players trying to guide the group in different directions since they need a specific boss down, or want a specific piece of gear.  Since there will be multiple players with their own personal ideas and goals and they are free to come and go between groups, I can see a whole lot of wait time in runs for new players to join as these transient players join and leave between boss encounters.

Progression – who is where, how to tell… high end guilds only?

Messiahs take

I may be in the small minority here, but I like when a boss is hard and your guild get stuck on it.  When you only have one path and are stuck with dealing with if before you can progress it forces players to work together, figure things out, try new techniques, and generally become better players.

If you can just skip past difficult content for a while, then what’s the point of making it difficult at all?  Just pass out free loot and be done with it.  I know, a vastly simplified statement, but you get the idea.

While I like the idea of some choices being allowed, I see no issue with the standardized wing structure that is used now.  Each wing provides a few different bosses that generally stays within a set theme and location.  When you go to join a LFR raid you can pick which wing you would like to deal with and go from there, you are already skipping other bosses by jumping to the wing you would like to deal with.  Making each boss in each wing accessible individually and you may as well have raids all be a corridor with numbered doors down them, each leading to a boss of your choice.
While we all like and enjoy the boss encounters and all want some freedom of choice, I think players have pushed it too far.  A raid is more than something just about gear, it is about a story line.  Think of how books work, sure you can jump to any chapter in any order you want, no one stops you, but how much of a cohesive story do you really get by doing that.  There is a reason we all start at the beginning and read through the chapters in order until we get to the end.

A raid is like that, it is a story told through the use of boss encounters, trash mobs, backgrounds, music, themes, and graphics.  By skipping around you are making a mockery of the whole storytelling aspect.


The Messiah has made his views known above, how about you.  Do you feel strongly for or against the nonlinear method for raiding that Blizzard is proposing be the new standard?  Make those feelings known in the comment section below.

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Last Updated: Mar 29, 2016

About The Author

Byron 1
Byron has been playing and writing about World of Warcraft for the past ten years. He also plays pretty much ever other Blizzard game, currently focusing on Heroes of the Storm and Hearthstone, while still finding time to jump into Diablo III with his son.