By Polar Feb 28, 2013>

GuildOx had the pleasure of interviewing Blizzard's lead encounter designer, Ion Hazzikostas, to get his personal insight on the upcoming 5.2 patch and The Throne of Thunder raid. Also check out Wowhead's patch 5.2 interview with Ion that covers his thoughts on progression paths, item upgrades, legendary items, thunderforged items and more.

Q. Where is the Throne of Thunder raid located and how do we get there?

Ion: The Throne of Thunder is Lei Shen’s citadel on the Isle of Thunder, which is the landmass just to the northwest of the main continent of Pandaria, and the setting for the majority of the new outdoor quest content in the 5.2 patch. Max-level players will receive breadcrumb quests that lead them to the new island upon logging into 5.2 for the first time. The raid zone itself is located at the northeastern edge of the island, behind multiple layers of walls and defenses.

Eventually, once players drive the quest-based assault on the Zandalari and Mogu forces on the island and the entire zone is unlocked, players will be able to walk right up to the front gates of the Throne of Thunder and zone in there. In the meantime, however, players can seek out a Shado-Pan camp in a cave at the northeastern edge of the Isle’s swamps, where a hidden sewer passage will allow direct access to the raid.

Q. How many wings does the Throne of Thunder raid have, and how many encounters are there per wing?

Ion: The Throne of Thunder consists of 12 raid bosses, divided into four 3-boss segments for Looking for Raid mode.

Q. Is this a Lich King-style raid where we have a linear entry and a series of bosses before we get to the wings, or more like Naxxramas where groups can access any of the wings from the start?

Ion: Actually, the entire raid is linear. We’d like to include more branches and wings in future raid layouts, but there was a lot of ground to cover in the Throne of Thunder, and that lent itself to a straight progression from start to finish.

This is a massive raid zone. I believe it’s our largest zone ever in terms of scope. Larger than Ulduar. Larger than Ahn’Qiraj. Players will progress through different environments, from the crumbling outdoor ruins, into an ancient subterranean grotto, through the dungeons and chambers where the Mogu conducted their darkest experiments, and finally to the seat of the Thunder King himself.

Q. We saw new encounter mechanics introduced in Mists of Pandaria. The one that stands out is the directional shield used by mobs in various fights, including the Will of the Emperor and the Sha of Fear encounters. Will we see more of this mechanic in 5.2 raiding, or the introduction of any brand new encounter mechanics?

Ion: I don’t believe the directional shield mechanic is used on any of the Throne of Thunder raid encounters, but we’re always looking to add new mechanics and clever twists on old favorites. Two examples of elements that players will find novel include the ability to aim and kick turtle shells during the Tortos encounter, and unique mechanics for tracing constellations to invoke the Pandarian animal gods during the battle against Lei Shen’s Twin Consorts.

Q. What would you consider the most innovative fights in the new raid and why?

Ion: All of the fights in the tier are innovative in different ways, but I’ll call out the Dark Animus encounter as entailing a particularly clever combination of puzzle-solving and combat mechanics, with a raid’s strengths in one area significantly impacting the course of the other.

Q. Shared health pool encounters have been featured regularly in recent releases. Can we expect to see more of these in the Throne of Thunder?

Ion: You know, we actually don’t have any traditional shared-health (a la Stone Guards or Will of the Emperor) bosses in this tier. The closest players will find should be Megaera, the massive hydra that takes damage whenever any of its heads is destroyed, but players will actually be defeating individual heads with their own health pools along the way.

Q. Is there any encounter in the new raid that is a stand-and-deliver Patchwerk/Ultraxion-style fight?

Ion: The very first encounter, Jin’rokh the Breaker, is probably the closest to that sort of model. He’s a powerful Zandalari berserker empowered with lightning energy. The fight involves more movement than Patchwerk or Ultraxion did, but there are no adds, and the fight is ultimately about taking down a single large brute.

Q. Which encounters are likely to be gear checks for raiding groups?

Ion: In general, we think we went a bit too far with some relatively tight numerical checks on Normal modes in Tier 14, particularly in the form of berserk timers. We’d rather see more of the effort of learning a fight be about mastering its mechanics, rather than realizing that even though everyone understands and can execute the mechanics, you won’t be able to win without more pure DPS. That said, guilds that haven’t finished Heart of Fear and Terrace of Endless Spring are likely going to run into difficulty keeping up with the fights much past Council of Elders, the third encounter in Throne of Thunder. The zone is tuned for people who have completed the previous tier of raiding. When 5.2 arrives, we’re reducing the difficulty of the 5.0 raids, in part to help guilds that weren’t quite able to get through all the 5.0 bosses get caught up.

Q. Which encounter do you expect will be the biggest challenge for tanks? Which fights, if any, might require more than two tanks?

Ion: Strict positioning requirements tend to add a significant tank challenge, and the Dark Animus encounter has those in spades. We haven’t designed any fights to require three tanks on 25-player mode this time around (unlike Stone Guard and Sha of Fear in 5.0), but it’s always possible that 25-player raiders will find that an additional tank introduces added stability or control on some encounter that justifies the loss of a DPS or healer.

Q. Which encounter will the healers enjoy the most?

Ion: It’s difficult to pick one, since the healing play style is very subjective and individual healers have widely varying preferences about the types of situations they enjoy. It’s probably safe to say that “stacked up and spamming AoE heals for minutes on end” is not one of them, and we do our best to avoid those situations. The Throne of Thunder encounters offer a mix of movement, raid-wide and focused damage, and periodic and burst damage. There should be something to challenge every type of healer, and for them to enjoy.

Q. How would you rate the range of complexity of all of the encounters in the Throne of Thunder compared to previous raid releases?

Ion: Similar to recent tiers. We’re not really trying to ratchet up the complexity of our encounters from patch to patch; more complexity rarely directly translates to more fun. Some fights, like Jin’rokh or Megaera, only have a handful of abilities. Others, like Iron Qon or Lei Shen, feature over a dozen, but they’re compartmentalized into distinct phases that make them much more readily manageable. I will say that initial learning of the Dark Animus encounter is likely to involve a higher ratio of talking/planning to pulling than we usually see.

Q. The final encounter with Lei Shen seems to feature a ton of different abilities. How will this fight compare in complexity to, say, a Yogg-Saron battle? What we can expect with this encounter?

Ion: In terms of its structure, Lei Shen is probably most similar to the Ragnaros encounter from Firelands. You have three distinct phases separated by two intermissions, with each phase adding some new abilities and getting rid of a couple from the previous phase. Lei Shen’s power comes from his vicious weapons, and from the four quadrants of his room, which he can empower to attack the players. The overall structure of the fight is something like this:

Phase 1 – Lei Shen wielding his Axe and parts of the room
Intermission – The whole room.
Phase 2 – Lei Shen wielding his Spear and parts of the room.
Intermission – The whole room, more concentrated than the first time.
Phase 3 – Lei Shen wielding both his Axe and his Spear, and some new tricks.

Q. We saw most of the Heroic bosses in patch 5.0 raids get conquered fairly quickly at the hands of the top world guilds. However, Heroic Sha of Fear was the one encounter that put up some resistance. Do you expect the Throne of Thunder heroic encounters to be similar in difficulty?

Ion: The very best guilds in the world put in a tremendous amount of time during the progression “race,” which compounds their skill advantage further. Encounters such as Spirit Kings, Will of the Emperor, and Shek’zeer took those guilds well over a dozen hours of continuous attempts to learn. One factor that accelerated progression through the 5.0 raids was our gated release of the different zones. The first kills of Heroic Sha of Fear were mere seconds from being failed attempts; if that progression had been occurring two weeks earlier, right on the heels of the first Shek’zeer kills, instead of with the benefit of additional weeks of gear, I think the result might have been different.

So, yes, I expect that the final third or so of Heroic Throne of Thunder will prove extremely challenging for the first guilds to get there, since they will be quite undergeared compared to what they will eventually be able to achieve in the zone. Now, I have long since learned never to underestimate our best players. If something is mathematically possible, it will be defeated, and that is to the credit of our players.

Q. What can you tell us about the Ra-den (Heroic-only) boss?

Ion: Not much. As the Dungeon Journal indicates, he is quite the mysterious figure. He’s a bit like Algalon in Ulduar–a shorter and less complex fight than Lei Shen, but intense from start to finish.

Q. If you had to pick a personal favorite, which new 5.2 raid boss encounter would it be and why?

Ion: Lei Shen. This encounter features some of the most stunning visuals that our artists have ever created for a raid encounter, it offers a diverse set of mechanics that will keep players engaged throughout, and the Heroic version should give even the best players in the world a stern test of their skills. He’s an epic culmination to an epic raid zone.

Q. What final advice do you have for all the raiders out there to help them as they embark on the Throne of Thunder?

Ion: Take your time, pace yourself, and enjoy the variety of the tier. It’s a large one. There are fights that focus on different skills, and if you’re struggling with one encounter, it’s quite possible that a fight that plays to your group’s strengths, and which you’ll have a much easier time with, lies just over that hill.

If your guild runs into a roadblock on Normal mode, consider revisiting any 5.0 raids that you never finished, or trying some of the 5.0 Heroics for more gear upgrades to complement the ilvl-522 and -528 gear you’ll be getting from your Throne of Thunder kills each week.

But ultimately, good luck, and we hope you’ll have as much fun raiding the zone as we did creating it.

Ion, thanks for your time and for sharing insights into patch 5.2 raiding!

My pleasure. See everyone in patch 5.2!

You can follow the Throne of Thunder raid progress and the race to world-first on
By Vivimord Mar 1, 2013
The directional shield mechanic is used on Iron Quon... surprising that the lead encounter designer wouldn't remember that!
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