Dragonflight’s Mythic Plus model capitalizes on the changes that Blizzard has been making to WoW. Is it good?
I guess that depends. First, I need to state my position clearly, since in the blogosphere, what I’m about to say is often blasphemous – I really enjoy Mythic Plus. I’ve done a bit in each expansion since it was added in Legion, but Shadowlands is where I really got deep into Mythic Plus, with multiple KSM seasons including a barely-over two week push for Season 2 KSM entirely through pugging. I think the mode is the best thing in modern, endgame-focused World of Warcraft. It has a modern rewards design paradigm, the ability to run them as often as you please with little practical limitation short of time, and offers a diverse set of content. Raiding is still crowned at the top of WoW, but honestly, Mythic Plus has been a bit ahead for a while in that it matches the modern design philosophy of gaming as a whole – live services, in and out in around 30-45 minutes, endlessly repeatable, and with the variables on offer giving the game a sense of endless depth and variety. Raids offer great large-scale content that hearkens to the older era of MMOs, but the rewards model has not been meaningfully updated in quite some time, and it shows.
Now, I get it if you don’t like Mythic Plus – some people hate the time pressure, the constant need to go, the push and the idea of endlessly running the same rotation of dungeons over and over with diminishing return on rewards. As a mode, it places a lot of pressure on tanks to know routes, on healers to save their fellow players from higher and higher scaling values of incoming, unavoidable damage, and it emphasizes differences in DPS balance in a lot of ways. Based on the affix set, there are weeks where M+ is great fun and some where it is an annoying tedium of trying not to Venn-diagram your fellow players in Quaking circles or needing to watch the Storming circles very closely to avoid getting launched. All of this is topped off by the inelegant ways in which players gatekeep Mythic Plus – if your guild has a Mythic Plus clique, good luck getting a shot at learning keys, if you PUG, hope that M+ rating is nice and high or else you’re going to be grinding those low keys for a while, and even then, people will disqualify you for weirdly arbitrary stuff. Sometimes, those exclusions have a logical basis in the dungeon design, affix selection, and current class balance (unfortunately), and other times, it is just douchebags being gatekeeping girlbosses gaslighting you about the existence of cliques or why a Mythic Plus rating of 1350 isn’t good enough for you when the 1225 of the group’s other DPS is fine, actually.
Going into Dragonflight, I think the mode has had some focus because to some players, it is emblematic of the ways in which WoW is leaving its roots behind, while for others, the mode is a genuine open question of evolution as it has become an increasingly large part of the game that is popular.
So, let’s discuss.
The Dungeon Rotation
The biggest change of Dragonflight is what isn’t there at launch. While there are 8 new Dragonflight dungeons to run at launch, the first season of Mythic Plus in Dragonflight only has 4 of them present. What happened?
In a design change aimed at a few issues, Blizzard decided that the Mythic Plus rotation would be comprised of 4 current Dragonflight dungeons and 4 throwbacks, with the idea being that subsequent seasons would rotate in and out the dungeons in Dragonflight that haven’t been in the prior season. The rationale is threefold – firstly, dungeons changing out is obviously nice because it means that you don’t wear thin the Dragonflight dungeons, since each season means the most repeatable means of running dungeons for endgame will save you that hassle by rotating fresh content in and out, and secondly, because changing out the dungeons means the loot pools available in M+ change completely on a seasonal basis, so there’s no more endless farming the same trinket or weapon each season ad infinitum. Using throwback dungeons is nice for a few reasons – one, they’re content that is already made and waiting, two, the content is fun and WoW has a great legacy catalog of dungeons that a lot of newer players will have never seen, and three, my guess is that creating M+ modes and retuning content allows Blizzard to do a lot more with that stuff in the future, like adding some form of scaling dungeon gameplay outside of M+, enhancing the Timewalking rotation, or just simply keeping the options open for future rotations in new expansions to come.
How’s it working out? Pretty good, I think. Portals in Valdrakken by the bank ease the tedium of traveling, but still ask you to close the distance between your landing spot and the dungeon, populating older zones with players. The two categories of dungeons split neatly within themselves by offering a mix of routing choices – each set of options has one dungeon on rails (Azure Vault and Shadowmoon Burial Grounds), a couple of nearly fully open dungeons with choice of boss order (Nokhud Offensive and Algeth’ar Academy, Temple of the Jade Serpent and Halls of Valor), and dungeons with 3 bosses in fixed order but a fair amount of trash flexibility (Ruby Life Pools and Court of Stars). You can get the impression this was a sort of test version of this idea, because the dungeons chosen from the past either already had Mythic Plus in their original implementation or had the Challenge Mode system attached, which had a timer that offers a starting point to work from in redesign. The old dungeons don’t feel out of place or old, not even dungeons like Temple of the Jade Serpent, which just recently celebrated its 10th birthday. (Try not to think about it too hard.)
Overall, for week 1? I like the dungeon rotation. I like it both because I am so glad that Halls of Infusion is not in rotation, but also because it feels fun and interesting. Going to old content and having that sort of trip through memory lane is great.
Individual Dungeon Impressions
Algeth’ar Academy My favorite of the Dragonflight dungeons. It captures the tonal shift of Dragonflight in a fun way – it’s light and a little silly in flavor, but the gameplay is on-point and it gives some context to how dragonkind lives absent the lesser races of Azeroth. Routing choices are solid and enjoyable and bosses scale relatively well, save for tree boss – he’s a coinflip. After some Tyrannical week pulls in here, tree boss is my enemy, though.
Azure Vault: I love this dungeon’s ambience and flavor, especially with how it leans into the history of the Blue Dragonflight in WoW. Gameplay-wise, it is fine enough, but the early trash pulls can get bad in groups that insist on getting the stoneybois up and running. At least M+ kills the Azureblade strategies that ignore the trash save for pats in that room!
Nokhud Offensive: Not a fan. I don’t hate it, but I also don’t really have a run in Nokhud yet where I’ve gone, “that was a good time.” It’s just kind of…okay, I guess. Dragonriding in a dungeon is cool, the scale of the dungeon is cool, but those individual cool elements never really coalesce into a complete package for me. It gets some points back for the number of times we’ve been able to make jokes about taking the backdoor as we run up to the last boss, though.
Ruby Life Pools: 3 boss dungeons are almost always great in Mythic Plus. Shortest timer, in and out, get the loot, get the credit for your Vault, move on. The bosses in RLP are fine, although the neverending fire on Kokia can get annoying with a group that doesn’t notice you can bait the boulders and adds to keep the path clear for your tank and melee. The protodrake adds that pop up on the top ring in Mythic only are annoying with scaling as well, because the damage gets so high, but that’s a part of the scaling game, and I’m sure Tyrannical week will take the edge off – and it plus the nerfbat definitely did the job!
Court of Stars: CoS has a little too much going on. It’s densely packed, but you finish trash count by the second boss of three, it has class, profession, and race interactables that can shape a run in some ways, and it has the annoying spy game at the end which I still just am not a fan of. However, the tuning on stuff is interesting, the lesson about LOS on the Eredar adds is good to learn, and the front stretch is an exercise in cautious pulling. Not a bad dungeon, but one that I have to be feeling froggy to tackle.
Halls of Valor: It’s a good dungeon, folks. Branching boss paths, the Fenryr hunt, trash routing being interesting and requiring strategy, and the varied bosses add a lot. Plus the zone aesthetic is a hit and the rousing trumpet song is a certified banger. Not much bad to say about this one.
Shadowmoon Burial Ground: I like this one, actually, even though I kept forgetting it was in the Season 1 DF rotation until launch. The dungeon has an easy linear route with a forked choice path that, well…is there, and the bosses have a variety of interesting mechanics. I am curious to see how the Void adds scale on higher Fortified keys and to see how both Ner’zhul and Sadana scale on Tyrannical high keys, because I think they could offer some interesting quirks.
Temple of the Jade Serpent: I love this dungeon in its original form, and the Mythic Plus one is still pretty good. One point of objection – Wise Mari being neutered down to the last phase alone (with some changes) makes sense for a timed game mode, but makes the fight feel kind of empty, and while I have excused it for the timer, it wasn’t this way for Challenge Modes in MoP, so I genuinely wonder what the point of it was. Spy game in CoS is fine but a prolonged add phase with dialog isn’t? You could change the spawn rate on the adds to get somewhere near the time reduction without making the fight a piss-simple interrupt and dodge contest (which people still die to because of bad AoE placement!). The rest of the dungeon is good and I think having the Yaungol story over the Pandaren one for the second (first?) boss makes a more interesting M+ encounter. The debuff on Sha of Doubt can fuck off on high Tyrannical keys, though – I did a 9 yesterday where we beat the boss through sheer determination in time even as other DPS dropped dead due to multiple applications of that damn debuff (I was the survivor and Touch of Death won the day!).
The Seasonal Affix – Thundering
Started in Battle for Azeroth, M+ seasons come with a seasonal affix. This affix, always added at level 10 and higher as the last affix added to a dungeon, brings the raid tier’s flavor to the dungeons of the expansion. For Dragonflight Season 1, the affix is Thundering, and it continues a kiss/curse design that has become prevalent as the favored way of designing these affixes. What does that mean? The affix offers a positive benefit to you as a player…but needs to be dealt with to avoid bigger problems from emerging. For Thundering, the way it works is this – at random intervals, the mood gets cloudy and the dungeon is struck by a barrage of randomly-placed lightning AoEs. When this happens, everyone in the group gets a polarized debuff – positive or negative – and this debuff gives 30% increased damage and healing done for a few seconds, with a caveat – if more than one person has the debuff when the duration expires, everyone is stunned for several seconds. You cleanse the debuff by stacking opposites – positive onto negative – and poof, away goes the debuff (and the beneficial effect it carried).
This creates a couple of layers of gameplay interaction that are quite interesting. Firstly, because one player can keep the debuff for the full duration, you want to try and maximize the benefit by planning for that person to be the best choice in your current scenario. Who that is can vary – a big damage spike on the whole party? Probably want the healer to have it. Big pack of adds needing cleave DPS? Better let the best cleaver keep the debuff. The only thing I have problem seeing is a case for the tank to keep it – perhaps if it’s at the start of a huge pull with a tank that has strong self-healing, because 30% bonus damage would be viable for threat and 30% bonus healing would be fantastic sustain in that rough early part of establishing a pull, but admittedly I am not sure that is more than an edge case where the benefit might still be better used on a DPS or healer.
As a mechanic, it beats Shadowlands Season 1 for sure, because while Prideful could be fun, it was also a pain in the ass that put even more pressure on tanks for routing (you needed to know not just the route but the right time to hit 20% intervals of trash count, which could change week to week based on affix combo!), but I also don’t know if it will be the best one of these affixes yet. The one thing I dislike about it is that it seems random on timing, or at least it’s not something that you can neatly line up for pulls, compared to Tormented or even Prideful. It’s fun, though!
This season, so far at least, doesn’t feel too bad in a strict balance sense, unless you are Balance, in which case, well, I’m sorry, I suppose. I’ve been in successful 3-melee Quaking runs (it’s a nuisance, but smart positioning does a lot), both Fortified and Tyrannical weeks have had a lot of comp variety, I’ve seen every tank at least twice, and while there are outliers in both big trash pulls and single-target on bosses, mostly everyone feels pretty okay. I just don’t know what happened to Balance Druids, which went from being the shortcut to easy keys in Shadowlands to being on the strugglebus with restraints. Every time I see a boomkin in a key, odds are their DPS is riding the tanks, either barely higher or, quite often, lower. Is it possible every boomkin I’ve seen in a key is bad at the spec? Could be, for sure, and the sample size I have is like, 5 boomies. The plural of anecdote is not data, but they do seem to be struggling hard. I also can’t speak to spec differences within pure DPS classes – I’ve seen Warlocks in all flavors and without a clear winner in the keys I’ve run, I see almost entirely Frost Mages in keys but they seem to be a bit spread, and Evokers have that new class syndrome you see in all MMOs – people are either cracked at it, just blasting keys, or they don’t have a clue what the fuck they’re doing and fail. Evoker healers seem a smidge stronger than the DPS – Devastation is great, but the skillcap on it is a little bit higher, while Preservation heals are crazy good and the resource system for them makes playing one pretty straightforward without a lot of fuss.
In terms of the dungeon balance, I think the dungeons are in a relatively okay spot after the first-week tuning passes and reset-enabled hotfixes. Algeth’ar Academy has some hard hitting bosses that might need a careful tweak or two after seeing Tyrannical week tuning, Nokhud’s elemental boss can definitely derail a timer on Tyrannical, and most CoS routes make Talixae on Tyrannical feel a little claustrophobic, but overall, the dungeons are mostly there. On Fortified week, it was harder to get an impression – I pushed a lower average key level to start (first week of an expansion’s M+, after all) so I would struggle to say the balance is just right, but few things felt exceedingly unfair. Shadowmoon Burial Ground trash even felt surprisingly okay – I expected a Fortified key north of like, 6, to have near deadly Void Pulses on the voidwalker trash, but they were surprisingly well-tuned. I’m sure the healers I ran with weren’t huge fans (and I know at least one of them who said as much!) but it didn’t seem as bad as even doing the dungeon at the time of WoD was, where that pulse could end a run.
One thing I will say I dislike about the season 1 dungeon mix, particularly the Dragonflight dungeons, is the sheer number of interruptable casts. If you want to help your healer not have an anneurysm, there are some packs where there are like 4 casts you can interrupt, all going off at different, overlapping times. Perhaps the answer is to get back to basics with crowd control and more cautious pulling, but at the same time, it doesn’t quite feel like the play given that even on medium range keys, trash isn’t too bad. Fortified week does have a lot of trash one-shots, but as you learn the mechanics, things come together to avoid those with relative ease.
The Rewards Paradigm
Mythic Plus has been especially popular from the end of BfA forward for a simple reason – it offers great incentives to players in terms of farmable, powerful loot, and Dragonflight extends this idea even further. From the end of BfA onwards, the dungeon drops themselves scaled about as high as base-level Heroic raid loot from the end-of-dungeon chest, provided you could finish a +15 key in time, and doing that key would make your end-of-week chest/Great Vault carry a baseline Mythic raid-equivalent piece of gear. With the Vault, you could do 8/10 (depending on the season) +15s a week to have a crack at up to 3 choices of Mythic raid level loot. The last tier of Mythic raid bosses were still higher item level, but generally, a non-Mythic raider could get within reaching distance of a full Mythic raid level loadout by doing dungeons. On top of that, doing all keys on a +15 would net you a mount through the Keystone Master (KSM) achievement (this changed a bit with the rating system, but the general rule is the same), and starting in Shadowlands season 1, getting a dungeon beat on a +20 key would grant a portal to the door you could use to get there immediately, which would reset when you finished a key (otherwise, it has an eight hour cooldown).
Dragonflight changes this in a huge way by shifting rewards up the ladder and making more key levels rewarding. Before, a +15 was the threshold, and doing higher keys was an exercise in challenge, player skill, and ego (short of the portals for +20s). Now, +20 is the maximum rewards threshold, both for item level of rewards dropped in the dungeon, in the Vault, and for portals. KSM rating requirements remain at 2,000 points (which is a +15 in each dungeon twice, once per base affix). To compensate for the increase in reward tiers, you now can get loot as high as 405 item level from the end of dungeon chest, which is around halfway between the entry-level Heroic raid gear and mid-level bosses on the same difficulty. However, the Great Vault reward at the same level of +20 is 421 item level, the same as a mid-tier Mythic raid boss. This marks a further encroachment on Mythic raid rewards from Mythic Plus dungeons, but is that bad?
In my opinion, no.
I think that Mythic Plus rewards scaling is better this expansion, so far, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it means that gearing through Mythic Plus exclusively is a long tail reward. You have a lot to chase and while you can, in theory, match all but the highest-end of Mythic raiders with gear from dungeons, it will take a lot of time, with only one Vault reward per week that can match that item level and the rest needing to either be upgraded to low Mythic item level (through an extension of the Valor upgrades added in Shadowlands). Getting to the point of running 20s in time is going to be a task, as the scaling of dungeons past a 10 key has been increased in Dragonflight, to the point that a 20 in Dragonflight is a higher level of challenge than one in Shadowlands. Lastly, I think that my opinion on gearing in WoW is that raiding has the bad gearing model, because it hasn’t had substantial changes in nearly 10 years. Dragonflight made some effort on that front, but it still fits a model of one possible drop per boss per week, and while Group Loot means that RNG is a little less of a wall, it is still somewhat of a wall. Mythic Plus benefits from this stagnation by being a repeatable, quick mode of getting a shot at loot, and it feels less bad because the nature of time investment stacks in its favor. 45 minutes a dungeon means I could run 5 or so dungeons in the same amount of time I spend raiding a week and get about as many vault slots open, with at least 1 and probably two pieces of loot for me, with Valor to upgrade, and I can then still run more, because it is a lot easier to get 5 people on for up to an hour than it is to get 10+ people on for two or more hours at a stretch.
In fact, one thing I like a lot about this change in particular is that it feels like there is a better cohesion of lower-level play groups. One thing I saw as a problem with M+ loot in Shadowlands is that the scaling of rewards relative to difficulty meant that a Normal raider could outgear Normal raids with relative ease, and the same was true for Heroic raiders, which meant that the incentive for raiding shifted towards simply getting achievements and tucking it in for the tier. In a large group of players, this could put people at odds and create unnecessary conflict, and it would lead to a feeling of M+ feeling like a must-do for gearing and getting your character where you wanted, on top of the fact that M+ trinkets were better for a large part of Shadowlands. While this may end up still being true of Dragonflight, the rebalancing of rewards does feel at least slightly more like this has been addressed. My contention remains that raid loot should get some love to bring it more in-line, such that the time spent raiding feels of a similar value. Raiding will never be as easy to setup as M+ just based on group size (unless they stretch flex raiding down to 5-player groups, which…I mean, I’m not necessarily opposed to, but that’s a can of worms for another time!), but it shouldn’t feel like raiding loses a ton of value in relation to M+.
Conclusion (For Now)
Mythic Plus remains one of the highlights of my WoW play time, for sure. I enjoy it a lot, because I think it applies steady, consistent pressure in a way that is rewarding to rise to the challenge of. If I have an hour or so to play, I can probably get a key done, the odds of a reward are high, and it offers me something engaging that has both a repetitive pattern to learn but also has a ton of branching paths, deviation, and unique twists to offer. Raiding falls into patterns over time for me, and you learn to recognize the tricks of design that become common in raiding gameplay. Mythic Plus has similar patterns, but just offers so many more bosses and encounters such that everything feels unique and different, with affixes layered on top for that extra hit of sauce that makes it stand out.
And while I’ve generally taken a more relaxed approach to WoW in general in Dragonflight, I admit to being kind of addicted to Mythic Plus to the extent that I run a bunch daily. I’ve pugged over two dozen keys already, and I’ve run more with my guildies. I’ve done keys in all 3 roles on my Monk, and I’m over halfway in raw rating to Keystone Master (although given the scaling of rating, the hard work is yet to come!). I’ve had a lot of fun, even with a few failed keys, just because there’s a novelty in each season to pushing on the keys and seeing what happens. My highest attempt is an 11, with my highest rated key at a 10 that we failed by 17 seconds (so I still got that sweet, sweet rating). I’m kind of hoping for a one-month KSM turnaround, since the last 700ish points I need are going to be the hardest to earn, but I think I can get there as my gear scales up, and since M+ became available, it has scaled up pretty well!