Monday, January 12, 2009

Northrend Dungeonmaster and the Helplessness of Joining PUG's.

I had a moderately busy weekend and, incidentally, managed to complete the last three 5-mans needed for the Northrend Dungeonmaster achievement, one of my New Year's Resolutions. Having been through all of the 5-mans of Northrend at least once, I'm reasonably impressed with the lot of them. Blizzard seems to have done a reasonable job of making some unique dungeons with good scenery and variety of challenges.

Though I am in a great guild, I do play a DPS character, and I'm not reliably on at predictable enough times to participate in scheduled dungeon runs. As a result, many of those dungeon runs are in the dreaded PUG (Pick Up Group).

What people are saying about PUG's
Everyone who joins PUG's has a few good stories. Klep has had a few mixed experiences with the PUG. Rohan has an entire roundup of PUG-related entries from the blogosphere, though he says his own experience hasn't been that horrible (perhaps it helps to be a skilled healer?). Keen got hit with a stat check while looking for heroic groups, probably at the hands of people who were tired of getting burned by PUG's. Larisa looks back at it all and asks if we're getting too picky with the easy content. Overall, it's pretty hard NOT to have an opinion on this topic unless you NEVER join a PUG.

The Good and the Bad
The thing that really strikes me about the PUG is how hit or miss they can be.

On a good day, like yesterday, I can burn through three Heroics, a PuG 25-man Vault run, and that last lingering non-Heroic I needed for the achievement (in hindsight, I could have skipped that run because I wound up finishing the same dungeon later that day on Heroic), and not have to put up with too much idiocy. (The only down spot was the healadin who refused to accept a summon to the instance until he finished "2 more kills" and proceeded to spend start a followup quest with a lengthy scripted event - which wound up taking 20 minutes while the rest of the group waited by the summon stone - but at least he was able to heal reasonably effectively when he finally showed up.)

On a bad day? Let's see, once I took a 100% repair bill in a Heroic Gun Drak run that only managed one boss. Another time we had a healer - in fairness, I think he had just respecced, and I acknowledge that the learning curve is a problem - who could not keep the tank alive for the first trash pull of Heroic UK. (That was actually NOT a worst case scenario, since it became obvious very quickly that this group was not going to make it.) I've been recruited as a replacement to Heroic Violet Hold by people who "forgot" to mention that they'd downed the first boss on a previous attempt until after I'd zoned into the instance and been saved to their raidID - a bit of a double red flag, since it meant being saved to an instance with less than the full number of badges with a group that had already failed the instance once (though we did manage to complete the instance for the remaining two badges).

Overall, I have to admit that things aren't THAT bad if those are my worst stories - two legitimate failures and a few less than courteous groups that still managed to complete the instance, out of maybe a dozen or so attempts. What frustrates me about the state of the PUG is how helpless I feel to influence that outcome.

Helplessness in a PUG - Can you really save the group?
Because the 5-man portions of WoW's level 80 game offer much better rewards than the solo content, I don't really feel like skipping PUG's altogether is really an option. I got more reputation in yesterday's Heroic marathon than I get out of a week of daily quests (actually, more like a month, since the rep in question was Kirin Tor, and they offer so few daily quest options). Even that disasterous Gun Drak group I mentioned still downed a boss for one Heroic Emblem and four Stone Keeper Shards, which are more of each than I could have gotten solo during the same amount of time.

(In fact, Blizzard recently nerfed one of the Wintergrasp daily quests, because three stone keeper shards - as many as a single, non-heroic, level 80 5-man boss - was too much in their view to award from a soloable daily quest that involves a limited number of mobs that do not respawn faster when there are more players around, and that are located in a mandatory PVP flag zone.)

However, once I've resolved to PUG it, it doesn't really feel to me like there's all that much I can do to avoid the questionable groups. Sure, I can decline the invitation if some guy named "IRLEET" sends me a blind invite through the LFG interface (Blizzard obligates you to specify something that you want a group for in order to get listening access to the LFG channel) without even saying hello or mentioning what instance I'm being invited to. I can try to learn the names of all the players on the server (not very feasible) so I can learn to separate the competent from the idiots.

After those rudimentary screens, though, it often comes down to take it or leave it. That mage who is only willing to invite me to his heroic Violet Hold run if I agree not to roll against him for the spell hit trinket may be my only ticket into the instance for the evening. (In that particular case, which has come up more than once, I was sufficiently confident that I would repeat the instance for badges well past the point when I got all the loot that I needed that I was willing to stomach the loot rule - I ultimately proved correct, as I've got everything I'd want from the instance.) There are only going to be so many groups formed in the window between now and when I have to turn in for the night.

I can't tank for the group, heal for the group, or fill the other two DPS/CC slots for the group. All I can do is accept the invitation and hope that I'm going to bed in two hours satisfied that I made some progress instead of frustrated that I wasted the time on a disaster of a PUG.

Now sure, these things all apply to guild 5-mans/raiding as well. However, with a guild, at least you've got the opportunity to kid around with your friends and maybe help people learn a thing or two about playing the game so that you'll all have better luck next time. When you're teaming up with a bunch of total strangers, you're not very likely to benefit from the investment or enjoy the experience. So, all you're left with is the possibility, maybe 10-20%, that the guy in the ice cream truck is going to punch you in the face instead of giving you an ice cream cone. That, more than the failure itself, is what makes PUG's so frustrating.


Anonymous said...

"All I can do is accept the invitation and hope that I'm going to bed in two hours satisfied that I made some progress instead of frustrated that I wasted the time on a disaster of a PUG."

I'd like to suggest that the problem isn't so much the PUGs as your view of them. It's not really my place to tell you how to enjoy the game but for myself the unpredictability of it is part of the fun. Just like a RL adventure, " nothing ever goes as planned." If you make the most of it, however, you can wind up having a good time.

For me, the only really bad pugs are those that fall apart in the first 20 minutes because people are so gun-shy the moment something goes wrong they jump ship. Even if we spend two hours and don't complete the instance, so long as we tried, and had fun, that's what counts in my book. That's why I play.

I am one of these odd ducks, I guess. I think that PUG *enhance* the game. But then I also am the one that like random procs on talents and spells. Too much predictability is just plain boring.

LarĂ­sa said...

I must agree with Anonymous there.
I think the unpredictability of PUGs is what makes them so charming. And those times when you really hit it and find a super PUG and end up trying to squeeze them all into your friends list because they're just so awesome each one of them... Those moments are so precious and make you forget all those failed runs you've had before.

Xtian said...

"Blizzard obligates you to specify something that you want a group for in order to get listening access to the LFG channel"

I really hate this part of the LFG interface. I try to get around it by LFGing in some random zone, or in a 70 raid. No one ever is looking through the "LFG-Grizzly Hills" tab, so it lets me drop my line into the channel without actively putting my name on an important list.

Daria said...

About the LFG tool, it can use some more features. It only allows you to get into 3 queues at once, but what if I'm interested in more instances? People do use it though and that is great, as I can usually get invites without having to say a word in the channel.

Can one person save a PUG? I'd say no. I'm a healer, and I'm in a small guild. So if no one wants to run anything I'm relegated to PUGS. The great thing about being a healer is that I get invited very quickly.

However, it doesn't matter how good my gear is, or how much experience I have. If the group doesn't have enough dps or if the tank is undergeared it is going to fail. I always know if the dps is low, because I'm discipline and I should never be running out of mana.

My stance on the PUGS is that I will give them a fair chance. If we wipe twice on the same boss or in the same spot, I'll usually leave. I've found that you start to get diminishing returns after a certain point. You'll be paying for a repair bill, you won't be getting any emblems if you aren't downing bosses, and I'm missing out on joining up with other potential groups.

More importantly, can they follow directions. I will give a rundown of the boss if it is clear that people don't know the fight. If they totally ignore me and make the same mistake again, I'm outta there.

It is great when you can meet some nice people and add them to your friends list, but that is a rare occasion. Mostly I'm just looking to survive it.

Argon said...

I gave up on PUGs, because they were way too frustrating. Since I'm not really in a guild, that means no instances for me. Yay?

Green Armadillo said...

@ Anony and Larisa: I think you're right, that you're coming from a different angle than I am. For me, instance runs are about the incentive rewards - I probably would not do 5-mans much at all if the rewards weren't better than the solo stuff, and I do (on the whole) enjoy the 5-man content when it comes with the rewards, so the incentives are doing their job in that sense. The downside is that, if you're doing something for the incentives, success or failure takes a greater role.

@XTian: I usually use Archavon (if I'm not saved yet) since half the time he's not even available and I'm probably willing to PUG him if someone does message me. Maybe I should try LFG-zone, I find that there's no instance or heroic that doesn't get me the occasional (technically not unsolicited) invite.

@Daria: I don't know that the three dungeon limit is a huge problem. Usually I can tell you what my top 3 picks are (or even top 1) and rely on passive listening for any second tier stuff. The only downside is that, if you actually list for a specific instance, you're more likely to be invited to a group that's just starting up. If you'd rather wait to be invited to a group that's LF1M, it's better NOT to be listed for that instance and listening to the LFG channel.

@Argon: I can relate, as I was guildless for most of the TBC era, and never even did Magister's Terrace. As I said up top, my experiences with PUG's have been positive far more often than not, it's just harder to hold that perspective on the bad days.

Syrana said...

I'm certainly glad to hear that some people have good luck with PUGs and that some even enjoy them. I do not enjoy them and very seldom look for them on my own.

It's not that every experience has been horrible, but for me, the bad times have been more numerous and outweigh the good.

And if we're going to go into an instance or raid blind, I'd rather have succeeding failure (learning, but not necessarily clearing bosses) with guildies than random strangers.