Raiding is one of those very simple MMO concepts that has somehow become a contentious one in the broader discourse. A “raid” in MMO terminology is just a relatively large group of players engaging in some sort of coordinated PvE combat – that’s it. There shouldn’t be anything wrong with this idea; it encompasses everything from mass dungeon crawls in Ultima Online to elite Mythic raiding in World of Warcraft.
But of course, everything is turned into a tug-o-war, isn’t it. Small subsets of toxic achievement-centric players give the scene a bad name. Developers eagerly turned it into a grind for the best loot – or into an esport. Non-raiders or people who prefer other content are told they’re scrubs or carebears, even though many of them are actually former raiders who just moved on. It’s an exhausting, endless quarrel when all most people wanted to do was kill some video game baddies with a bunch of other people.
So for this week’s Massively Overthinking, I want to set aside the tropes and suppositions and just talk about the raids we actually like. Is there an MMO that offers a type of raiding or even a generation of raids that you really do like and want to see more of? What is it, and why does it work for you?
Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): I prefer something flexible. I remember one dragon in Asheron’s Call 2, Lord Deimos. It wasn’t a particularly difficult fight, but it was one of the very few that had a seriously DoT mechanic or two (hard to find it in the video, though maybe they changed it after I left the game). Almost no one had the right cleanse though, as it was an optional talent. However, AC2 also didn’t have caps on dungeons, so you had two options: create a raid group of maybe 10 or 15 people and take it down in traditional dragon fashion (tanks point it away from the group, cleanse DoTs, everyone attacks from the side since the back had a tail swipe I believe), or get as many people as you can and just try to zerg it. I remember doing both methods and liking how many guild could show our efficiency, but we could also offer to help less organized friends and allies burn it down, especially because my cleanse healer wasn’t my main, but there was maaaybe only one other healer on the server actively raiding and had that cleanse.
Similarly, I actually like raids where everyone is more even. There’s a lot of negative things to be said about Blizzard these days, but I always enjoyed its vehicle combat, for PvE and PvP raids. It felt like it made things a bit more balanced due to fewer classes but also gave you something new and fresh to learn. I know a lot of people didn’t like “losing their character” or “having to learn a gimmick for a single encounter,” but it really helped add some freshness to the game’s combat. There’s only so many dance moves and rotations you can have before the game just feels like finger Dance Dance Revolution.
But honestly? I still feel like games that really lack the triad are best. I never played a Monster Hunter MMO, but I have always loved how the series asked players to essentially take turns tanking and DPSing, but also allowed both self and group heal options, not to mention CC. It’s such a breath of fresh air and really helps individual players shine while exposing weaknesses, for good or ill (sorry to play partners who have endured my overzealous combos resulting in me having to run away to heal).
Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I spent literally years raiding in EverQuest and World of Warcraft, but the thing I actually enjoyed about it was hanging out with my friends, not the content itself. So I’ve been really happy to see MMOs lean away from raid-or-die mentalities. That said, there are types of mass-PvE that I do really love, and at the top of that pile is open-world zerg trains in Guild Wars 2. Hop on, hop off, kill stuff in a huge group, no stress if you gotta jet. And I wasn’t kidding about those mass dungeon crawls in Ultima Online either. The local mage groups would always host these massive events and invite literally everyone to go tear up a dungeon in a huge group. There’s something to be said for open-world MMO dungeons.
So maybe I need to rephrase that I’m over hardcore stress raiding, but I’m still a fan of casual raiding and the MMOs that offer it as a playstyle.
Carlo Lacsina (@UltraMudkipEX, YouTube, Twitch): Yenno what would have been an awesome raid scene? Those massive dinner parties that was going to be part of the now-defunct MMO Ever, Jane. I would’ve loved to see that come to fruition and having game systems that explicitly provides some kind of metric for RP would have been innovative. Raiding in the RP space is something nobody has touched, and I would’ve loved to see that in action.
Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): I am extremely late to the raiding scene overall, as I never touched the content before Final Fantasy XIV. So that game has effectively been the high-water mark for me, and what the raids in that game do best is make them feel like natural steps upward from standard dungeons instead of some esoteric and generally wholly separate type of content in terms of fight mechancis.
The raids in that game (at least in their normal iterations) feature mechanics that are familiar enough that your brain is trained to react to them while also displaying or deploying them in new ways to try and trip you up. It tends to cut down on frustration when things inevitably go wrong, since you can have a moment of realization that you’ve done things like it before, just not with that specific style of danger marker or visual indicator or animation.
Also, they are visually and aurally arresting. If you’re going to bash your face into a hard fight, it should look and sound really really nice as you do so.
Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): I don’t often raid, at all, but when I do, I like to as more of a tourist than a go-getter gear gainer. I want to see these fantastic settings and bosses, to at least have passing knowledge of what the raid was about, and have fun with a party without much stress.
FFXIV does offer alliance raids that meet most of these criteria. They’re not the toughest content in the game and aren’t too stressful. I also liked how RIFT would offer solo and duo versions of its raids for people who simply wanted to see them and get the story beats.
Tyler Edwards (blog): My favorite kind of raid is the kind I don’t have to do. Now, that might sound like I just hate raids in general, but that’s not wholly true. I hate a lot of the culture around raiding, and I don’t like the time commitment it tends to take, but I have had some fun in raids over the years. Mostly via WoW’s raid finder. That removed most (but not all) of the stress usually associated with raiding, and there are a number of raids in post-raid finder WoW expansions I’ve genuinely enjoyed. I also like going back and soloing old raids from time to time; they have great stories and set pieces.
But those do still feel a bit like unhappy compromises. Raiding is a pretty niche form of content that isn’t going to appeal to a lot of people. WoW bent over backwards to make it accessible for the masses, and in my opinion it mostly succeeded, but it’s a system that still has its rough edges.
What I’d prefer is for raids to be treated as the side feature they really are. They should be made entirely optional — not essential for character progression, and not essential for understanding the story. Raiders can still have cool rewards, as long as there’s still some path to progress for other players. I don’t mind if a month of raiding leads to better gear than a month of questing or casual dungeons, as long as the people who aren’t raid geared can still enjoy most content.