Ahh! That header scared me, and I’m the one who picked it! But that’s where adventure leads you, right into the maw of something angry, something with multiple phases, and something who is probably very lonely and in need of plus-sized companionship.
So you’re fighting a dungeon, raid, or world boss for the very first time, and you are terrified. No, not of dying — who cares if you die? Death is temporary and leads you right back into the fight soon enough. You’re actually terrified of looking stupid or being blamed by the group for failing the encounter. At the very least, you hope to do just enough right things as to stay unnoticed and survive.
It’s your first boss, and you need some pointers. That’s why I’ve arrived to perch on your shoulder, invisible to all others while giving you useful advice. Let’s do this!
Ask for quick pointers
In those heartbeats before the fight begins, as the leader is performing a ready check, you need to pipe up. Swallow your pride and acknowledge that your reputation as an all-around colossus of power is going to take a ding, and just write out this very simple sentence:
“Hey, I’ve never done this before, anything I should know?”
The fear here is that you’ll face groans and ridicule for being an encounter virgin. But let me tell you that your team would much, much rather have you ask this and get you on the same page than keep your clam shut and endanger the group. At the very worst, it gives you plausible deniability if your team does wipe and you can just blame them for not explaining it better.
Don’t be the first to rush in
Obviously, this doesn’t apply if you’re tanking, but if you are tanking then you’ve probably done your homework ahead of time. I’ve died way too often in first-time encounters by dashing in all overeager without watching what my team is doing. Let someone else absorb the alpha strike, note where the bulk of the group has gone, and act accordingly.
Save cooldowns — just in case
It’s tempting when you start fights to pop all of those extreme-damage cooldowns and demonstrate to everyone around you just how supremely awesome you truly are. Because you are what they are fixating on at the moment, obviously. But generally it’s good to start fights with slow and measured DPS and heals until you get the feel for the fight. Nobody needs tons of heals, utility, and DPS in the first 20 seconds of a fight, but three minutes in? It might make the difference between a wipe and a victory.
Fire: Not your friend
You see that blazing patch of fire? Or that dark, sinister circle of doom? Or really anything on the battlefield that isn’t obviously emanating from you or a teammate? Yeah. That’s probably a Bad Thing and is not conducive to your health. Don’t develop such extreme tunnel vision that you’re not scanning your environment and moving to stay out of harm’s way. Remember, a dead person does no heals or DPS.
Keep your eye open for phase changes
Save for the simpler tank-and-spanks, most modern MMO boss fights come in multiple phases. These might be simple or complex, but what it boils down to is that the boss has changed the rules for the encounter. You, as a first-time combatant, have mere seconds to figure out what those rules are and adjust accordingly. Again, it’s probably best to just do what your group is doing at this point.
Kill adds first
A subtle yet poisonous mentality among groups is the thinking that if you’re not attacking the boss directly, you’re being a lesser hero. Developers count on this by tossing in weaker but dangerous adds into encounters, banking on the pride of players to stay stuck to a boss’ side.
Don’t be that guy or gal. Break off from the boss — it ain’t going nowhere — and go take care of those adds. You might just stop a wipe if you do.
Keep an eye on your teammates
Another line of faulty thinking is that if you’re not the healer, you have no responsibility whatsoever to watch out for your teammates. That’s a big problem in encounters where another player might need your help to get rid of a brain slug that’s latched onto his skull or slice through some webbing that’s keeping her immobilized. And if you have any utility abilities that can help someone who is on the way down — or even out for the count right now — then use them! It’s a team effort, so act that way.
Stay relatively still
Don’t make a fight harder on your healer (or, to a lesser degree, tank) than it has to be. Plant your butt somewhere out of the direct line of fire but still in the line-of-sight of your healer, and don’t move. Certainly don’t start running and weaving around if you don’t need to do so. You’ll end up dead behind a pillar and covering your shame by blaming the healer for not having the ability to project heals through solid objects.
The first half-minute is the worst
I’d say that when you don’t know a fight, the anxiety leading into it is generally worse than anything you’ll actually encounter. You don’t want to screw up, you don’t want to die in the first five seconds, and you want to know how all of this proceeds.
Fortunately, by the half-minute mark your main questions are answered one way or the other. It’s weird, but at this point you can usually relax and get down to business without having that added layer of distraction hovering over you.
Don’t be a hero; be a survivor
If you get into the thick of it and fear wipes all other thoughts from your mind, at least hold on to this one tip: Just survive. If you have to accept lesser DPS by running away from attacks, then do it. If you have to use cooldowns, then use them. If you need to pause to see what everyone else is doing in order to follow their example, then by gum, go for it. Don’t worry about looking heroic (again, nobody’s watching you!), just worry about surviving to the end.
Trust me, your team will thank you for it.