Today Blizzard released a lot of new information on the direction they want to take raiding in World of Warcraft when Cataclysm is released.  Nethaera posted a huge post on the official forums this afternoon that goes into a lot of detail around Blizzards plans.  Before going on to explain the potential impacts and what this all means to players, give Nethaera’s post a read for yourself.

We're continuing to refine the raid progression paths in Cataclysm, and we'd like to share some of those changes with you today. Please enjoy!

The first of the refinements being made is that we're combining all raid sizes and difficulties into a single lockout. Unlike today, 10- and 25-player modes of a single raid will share the same lockout. You can defeat each raid boss once per week per character. In other words, if you wanted to do both a 10- and 25-person raid in a single week, you’d need to do so on two different characters. Normal versus Heroic mode will be chosen on a per-boss basis in Cataclysm raids, the same way it works in Icecrown Citadel. Obviously the raid lockout change doesn't apply in pure Icecrown terms though, as this change goes hand-in-hand with a few other changes to raid progression in Cataclysm.

We're designing and balancing raids so that the difficulty between 10- and 25-player versions of each difficulty will be as close as possible to each other as we can achieve. That closeness in difficulty also means that we'll have bosses dropping the same items in 10- and 25-player raids of each difficulty. They'll have the same name and same stats; they are in fact the exact same items. Choosing Heroic mode will drop a scaled-up version of those items. Our hope is that players will be able to associate bosses with their loot tables and even associate specific artwork with specific item names to a far greater extent than today.

Dungeon Difficulty and Rewards
10- and 25-player (normal difficulty) -- Very similar to one another in difficulty; drop the exact same items as each other.
10- and 25-player (Heroic difficulty) -- Very similar to one another in difficulty; drop more powerful versions of the normal-difficulty items.

We of course recognize the logistical realities of organizing larger groups of people, so while the loot quality will not change, 25-player versions will drop a higher quantity of loot per player (items, but also badges, and even gold), making it a more efficient route if you're able to gather the people. The raid designers are designing encounters with these changes in mind, and the class designers are making class changes to help make 10-person groups easier to build. Running 25-player raids will be a bit more lucrative, as should be expected, but if for a week or two you need to do 10s because half the guild is away on vacation, you can do that and not suffer a dramatic loss to your ability to get the items you want.

We recognize that very long raids can be a barrier for some players, but we also want to provide enough encounters for the experience to feel epic. For the first few raid tiers, our plan is to provide multiple smaller raids. Instead of one raid with eleven bosses, you might have a five-boss raid as well as a six-boss raid. All of these bosses would drop the same item level gear, but the dungeons themselves being different environments will provide some variety in location and visual style, as well as separate raid lockouts. Think of how you could raid Serpentshrine Cavern and Tempest Keep separately, but you might still want to hit both every week.

We do like how gating bosses over time allows the community to focus on individual encounters instead of just racing to the end boss, so we’re likely to keep that design moving forward. We don't plan to impose attempt limitations again though, except maybe in cases of rare optional bosses (like Algalon). Heroic mode may not be open from day one, but will become available after defeating normal mode perhaps as little as once or twice.

In terms of tuning, we want groups to be able to jump into the first raids pretty quickly, but we also don’t want them to overshadow the Heroic 5-player dungeons and more powerful quest rewards. We’ll be designing the first few raid zones assuming that players have accumulated some blue gear from dungeons, crafted equipment, or quest rewards. In general, we want you and your guild members to participate in and enjoy the level up experience.

We design our raids to be accessible to a broad spectrum of players, so we want groups to be able to make the decision about whether to attempt the normal or Heroic versions of raids pretty quickly. The goal with all of these changes is to make it as much of a choice or effect of circumstance whether you raid as a group of 10 or as a group of 25 as possible. Whether you're a big guild or a small guild the choice won't be dependent on what items drop, but instead on what you enjoy the most.

We realize that with any changes to progression pathways there are going to be questions. We're eagerly awaiting any that we may have left unanswered. To the comments!

As a long time WoW raider, I am left almost completely stunned at the amount of change they have planned for the raiding meta game. Not since the release of two raid sizes have things been stirred up this much.

Here are the essential basics of the changes:

  • 10 and 25 share a lockout
  • 10 and 25 are essentially the same difficulty
  • 10 and 25 share loot
  • Smaller raids with fewer bosses (at least initially)

Again all I can say is wow!  As a long term and pretty dedicated raider I think I am in a good position to say that this will really effect and change the way the raid portion of the game is played. Starting from the basic four items above and then expanding to some more minor details here is what the changes really mean and how they will impact players.  

The Big Four Change Impacts

Having the same difficulty between 10 and 25 player raids has been something long asked for by what seems like a growing portion of raiders that really enjoy raiding but don’t enjoy organizing 25 people. I count as one of those type of raiders, and for a long time avoided large raids once 10 players were introduced, just because of the complications they bring.  There are many players that want a harder more challenging fight than the current 10 player raids provide, but are not up for interacting with an addition 15 players.

What would it be like if this was implemented in TBC?

This balance of difficulty will make that group of players very happy, as they were forced to participate in something they did not like just for the chance at better gear.  Many players participated in 25 player raids simply because the loot was better, not because they wanted to be in a 25 player raid. Which brings us nicely to the second point.  Now that the difficulty will be balanced more evenly between the two raid sizes, loot will be the same between the two sizes as well. As long as the difficulty is really maintained this is a good thing.  If however one is easier or harder than another then players will migrate to that size raid.

Be prepared to read a lot of negative feedback from hardcore raiding guilds about this equalization however as they will see it, and probably rightfully so, as a further degradation and simplification of raiding. To the hardcore raider putting together, organizing, and controlling 25 players is part of the challenge of the game. While I completely agree with that statement, personally I still prefer 10 player raids for exactly those same reasons. For players that work and have jobs, dealing with employees, co-workers, and clients gives me plenty enough social interaction, management, and conflict management in real life, the last thing I want is dealing with it in game.

One of the positive things about sharing loot exactly though is that in theory Blizzard will have to produce less loot and therefore can spend more time on different looking and acting loot.  Right now a lot of time is spent balancing two different levels of loot and trying to make them different enough for the different content.  Now the loot can be the same because the difficulty will be the same.

Next up, Blizzard has stated that they are really aiming for several smaller raids to start off with rather than a single larger raid.  This is apparently to make it easier for players to get in, complete a raid, and get out before they have time issues. While in theory this is good, it does create issues.  As we all saw with ToC when a raid gets too short and does not require a time investment, players start treating it like nothing more than a heroic instance with better loot.  As such it becomes constantly pugged with people groups as something that can be dropped at any time.  Far too many people started treating these short raids as trivial too quickly and they never stuck around in them.

Now onto the far more dicey of the core issues, that of a shared lockout for both the 10 and 25 player raid. I can understand the need for this since loot will be the same in both and therefore being able to go in for two chances at the same items in a one week period would allow players to gear up too quickly. Even though I can understand it, I am pretty sure players will not be that happy about it, I know that I am not.  When doing raid progression in a game, I prefer to focus on one character at a time.  Up until this point there has always been enough to keep busy on a character for at least a month or so before you really have time to move on to another character.

In this new setup with a few smaller raids, it seems likely that you could be done all the available raids in a few days and still have the rest of the week open for raiding.  However, since your character is now saved to a shared lockout you can not simply find an alternate size to go to.  You will need to have an alternate character to go to another run.  This will probably not hurt hardcore raiders as they tend to have multiple characters but will hurt casuals as they will not be able to participate again in a raid until the following week.

Other Changes

Now onto some of the other lesser changes that have been announced.  One change that was discussed was how the equalized loot and difficulty will require some changes in the way classes are designed.  This is because when there are 10 players in a raid currently designers can not assume all abilities in the game will be represented, while in a 25 player raid they can. 

This means that Blizzard will be further balancing abilities between classes so that 10 player groups can more easily be balanced to include all required abilities.  This should make for some interesting changes for all players and classes.  I am not sure if this is a completely great idea just yet as there are good and bad points.  The ease of creating a group is a definite plus. However the homoginification of the classes may result in less individual flavour for each class, which is a definite negative.

Another change is that while raids will likely still be gated to control the pace at which new content in each one can be accessed, the limited attempt mechanic will likely be removed.  Personally I always liked this mechanic as it game you a reason to try your best and potentially something new on each attempt of a new limited boss.  With unlimited tries on a new boss it allows the team with the most time to beat the boss first (assuming equal skill between the teams, and most top raiding guilds are all fairly close).

Lastly for the changes is that Blizzard has stated that for the first round of raids they do not want them to overshadow the heroic 5 man instances.  This is a definite change as traditionally the progression path at level cap has been: Instances, heroics, raiding.  This means that potentially players could still be collecting upgrades in heroics even as they hit the second tier of raiding.  I am pretty sure that most raiders are going to flip over that alone!

The Messiah’s Take on the Changes

Being a player that really enjoys raiding but doesn’t enjoy the organizational effort or challenge around 25 player raids, these changes look pretty solid for me.  If pulled off correctly and the balance of difficulty maintained between 10 and 25 player raids though, I really don’t think anyone should complain. In fact I think that with the sharing of loot and balancing of difficulty will probably Blizzard to make the 10 man version slightly more difficult on a per player basis to compensate for being significantly easier to get a group together of 10 rather than 25 players. I would be perfectly OK with this, and it may get the hardcore raiders to agree as well.

However, if I was a hardcore 25 raider though (I only consider myself Semi-Hardcore) I think I would be pretty upset today.On the surface the changes really do seem like they could simply raiding and simplify it past the challenging and skilful entity that it is meant to be.  Raiders consider that raiding should be something that many desire to do, but few are able to achieve. That challenge and difficulty and inability for just anyone to do it, has been over time what has made raiding such a draw for players.  Raiding is in essence the holy grail of MMO’s.  How long will it maintain it’s lustre if anyone and their dog can participate.  Sometimes the very fact that you can not have something is what creates it’s allure. If it is achievable to all, will any lustre remain, or will the multitude of sweaty palms pawing at it tarnish it forever?

What needs top be considered closely is the balance of players doing 10 and 25 player raids.  If all of a sudden 25 player raids disappear then Blizzard will have to step in and fix it so that the large player raids do not disappear.  Raiding is about socialization and large groups as much as about the game, content, or challenge.  Even getting down to 10 players is pushing that a little low to maintain those elements.  It really is going to be about the implementation and balance.

One decision that may need to be reversed to ensure 25 player raids stay active is the single lockout.  Many times right now players use 10 player raids to help gear up new players so they can come to 25 player raids, or to teach new players the mechanics.  If this option is gone on a weekly basis it may be harder to teach new and casual players the content, or get them up to speed to participate in larger raids.

Lastly, the change that really leaves me shaking my head in confusion is the statement that Blizzard does now want the first tier of raids to overshadow heroics. HUH??? Blizzard even goes so far as to state they want people to be able to start raiding in blues.  WHAT??? Did they learn nothing from Naxxramas when WotLK launched?  Naxx was far to simple and was cleared almost instantly by raiding guilds.  If they make this new content to simple, it will let players get by with even less skill than many have now, which isn’t much.  I strongly believe in pushing people to be better, not reducing requirements.  Oh well, let’s hope heroic modes are a lot harder and more challenging.

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Last Updated: Mar 29, 2016

About The Author

Byron 1
Byron has been playing and writing about World of Warcraft for the past ten years. He also plays pretty much ever other Blizzard game, currently focusing on Heroes of the Storm and Hearthstone, while still finding time to jump into Diablo III with his son.