As Firelands probably is coming to its end quite soon (pre-post edit, I actually wrote this just days before they announced 4.3 would be released), I thought this would be as good a time as any to share some thoughts on What I've thought it's been like.
Ironically, because everything that has gone on around me, I'm probably among the people who dislike the place the least. I never had a good chance to get into it, which also means I've not really had a good chance to get utterly bored with it either. It started out "bad" as it was launched while I was on vacation, so I didn't have a chance to get right into it as I have with basically all the other raids since BC. Then when I got back I had a huge mess with my guild, which meant I had to switch, joining a guild that was far into heroic modes already whilst I had barely even touched normals. I've written about all those issues already so no need to get into any length about it again, but it does mean I've had a very special raiding relationship with Firelands.
It meant having to jump straight into the heavy shit, without the warming up that normals often offer. This wasn't just stressful out of a skill point of view, it also meant I had a lot less good gear and experience overall to tackle the situation. It hasn't been all bad though, as it did give me an entirely new experience on raiding and a possibility to evaluate myself as a raider as well, with new insights to what I could improve. I have often relied on normals to actually learn a fight, not bothering much with reading tactics and watching videos. Don't get me wrong, I always prepare for a fight by reading up and watching vids, but definitely not as much as probably most other serious raiders do. What I do is get the general idea of the fight in advance, then I actually learn the fight by doing it. Normals are usually well tuned that way, allowing me to get into the "mood" of the fight before stepping it up to heroics which usually introduce a butt load of mechanics that require me to think about more than just the healing. This time I had no such breaking in and it forced me to learn how to tackle the fights in a whole new way. I can't say I liked it, but it was interesting nonetheless.
Firelands to me has been a lot like what Trial of the Crusader was in Wrath of the Lich King. I really liked that instance, but I can't say I really got it. What was it about anyway? To me it felt like a "filler" raid to keep us satisifed until Blizzard could release more content that was actually connected to the expansion. I am not saying that is the case with Firelands, but that is how it felt like to me since I had such trouble getting into the raid. With all previous raids I've eventually ended up doing each boss a trillion times and know them all inside and out, and that just never happened with the Firelands raids. Since I got into a group that had so much more experience than me, I didn't get to learn it with them, but rather tag along and do my best as they did their thing. It means I still haven't fully understood some, very important, aspects of some fights - like how the healing really works on Baleroc. How is that even possible you might wonder? Well, I just walked in there, got my assignment carefully explained to me and did just that. I didn't need to understand the buffs and debuffs, and I haven't had to since. And since I haven't been able to become an important part of the raid team in my current guild in this particular content, I just couldn't really be bothered with it either. It is handicapping, and I don't like it, but it just turned out that way.
I've felt more isolated in my playing throughout Firelands than ever before. Like a child put in a corner with some toys, told to do this part but not move anywhere and just trying to behave as well as possible. I am not saying this to throw blame or complain, I have been enjoying myself in raids. But it has also been a completely new, and quite odd, experience to me, and it has made all of the Firelands raiding also seem quite unreal. Not something I have dedicated myself to like with previous raids, but something I've just gone and done because... why not?
It has left me quite ambivalent. Objectively (as much as I can be) I quite like Firelands. I think the fights are interesting, well designed and varying. I think some of them have become a little too faceroll after the nerf, removing a lot of what was once considered the sole challenge - I remember our first kill on Staghelm, with three healers and taking 7ish stacks in each scorpion phase, that actually made that fight fun and challenging. Then when we realized how much easier it is done with only cat phases it is so much faceroll we can basically fail on everything and still not wipe. I know this is an inevitable path that raids have always gone, but it has affected me more than before since I didn't really get a chance at the fights as they were originally. I only got to see them a handful of times before the nerfs, and I don't feel like I know much about Firelands at all. If someone were to ask me explain the tactics of any fight, and actually follow my advice, they'd probably die very fast. I have never been this ignorant and out of the loop about raiding and it feels odd.
I have the same ambivalent feelings regarding the role of the priest healer. Disc priests have been good enough this tier, and loads of fun to play. I feel like many fights are well designed to pick out the strengths of disc healing and eventhough some fights have been a lot about spamming my PoH button, I still feel like disc priest healing has been kept versatile and interesting this tier. On the flip side we have holy priests who have ended up pretty much in the opposite corner. I am happy to hear that there are holy priests out there who think they do a good job in this Tier, but the area in which they can shine has become very specific. Preferrably 25 mans and preferrably normal modes. I never thought it would be an issue, but Firelands has been so much about raid cooldowns that not having one has become quite noticeable. Add to that that holy priests can't really compete with druids for aoe healing or paladins for point healing anyway and you've got a priest that is decent at everything but good for nothing, a place I feared priests might end up in eventually - they've managed to stay out of it for all this time, being (according to me) probably the best designed healer for years, so it was bound to change around sooner or later.
It's difficult to say what could've saved holy priests this tier. A little more oomph overall probably. Some cooldowns that actually were useful and just a tad bit more healing output. Firelands was not designed for holy priest healing, or maybe it's actually rather the other way around - holy priests were not designed to work well with Firelands.
A little addition since I now know that 4.3 is coming out - it will definitely be interesting to see how Blizzard will have managed to bring holy priests back into the game, which I pray they have. I would really like it if they moved away from the big raid cooldowns and focused more on personal cooldowns, leaving more into the hands of each player instead of having one player saving everyones ass. It's a nice idea, but it usually means bringing that player (or class rather) is quite vital for the raid group, kind of like how shamans always have been able to join simply because of their Bloodlust. Right now I am getting kind of sick and tired with the big raid-wide cooldowns and would definitely like to see more personalized and individual cooldowns, especially cooldowns like Power Infusion, Dark Intent and Focus Magic that can (or must) be cast on other players but still only affect one or two players and not the entire group. It does require more teamwork and not just good timing, and I would love to see more of that.
This time I am going to throw myself headfirst into the new content as I normally do, reading up on priest changes, checking out fights and tactics and planning my play style well in advance (maybe more than I usually do actually!). I am keeping my fingers crossed that the fights will be as versatile and fun as the Firelands ones were, but that the raid cooldowns will take a step back in favor for more personal responsibilities. I doubt that will happen, but one can always hope.