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The Unnecessary Evil of Heroic Mode - WoW Weekly Report

Posted Tue, Mar 30, 2010 by Xerin

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Last week 3.3.3 hit the servers and the biggest news to me is how the WoW market went insane. Frozen Orbs went up even higher, gems began crashing now that honor is easier to get, materials for various things were going up and down. Pretty amazing stuff to me.

That's about it for last week.


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Loremaster's Corner: The Ethereals

The Loremaster's Corner is back again this week talking about the races that have long since been forgotten. This week we focus on the Ethereals also known as "weird space mummies." Who were they, where are they in WotLK, and what were they about? These questions and more answered in this week's Loremaster's Corner.


What's the Buzz

Last week I discussed how cool optional bosses like Algalon were because they provided something that was new, something that was difficult, and something that was optional. Today I’d like to launch into why I think these three points are important in raid content and why hard modes are an unnecessary evil.

A History Lesson

First let’s review how things were done in vanilla WoW after they removed the 10 player cap from many of the 5 man instances. You had two paths, either the casual path that involved raiding UBRS & Zul’Gurub or the hardcore path of Molten Core, Blackwing Lair, AQ40, and finally Naxxramas. Casual players didn’t have a lot to do since ZG was rather short, but it did provide a ton of content when it was active. Getting into raiding was difficult and only a few guilds on each server even bothered.

Then, in The Burning Crusade, Blizzard gave casuals more content. You had the heroic instances which allowed you to go to Karazhan and then eventually to Zul’aman. Hardcore players had several raid instances to go to, but they required attunements that were nearly impossible to get for players who weren’t in on them on the ground floor. This locked droves of players out of raiding and drove casuals to farm honor for gear (the easiest method of getting gear).

In both situations the gap between the casual and the hardcore player was huge, so huge that many felt either extremely powerful (because they had gear from X location) or extremely weak (because it was impossible to get over the brick wall and into progression raiding). There wasn’t much of a middle ground, which is where Wrath of the Lich King came in.

Wrath of the Lich King introduced a new mechanic. Every raid instance would have a 10-man and 25-man version of itself. The 10-man instance was for casual players with fewer members, featuring easier content that required less gear (and rewarded less gear as well) while the 25-man versions were to be more difficult and challenging and provide better rewards. It sounded good on paper, but in execution many players found that they needed to run the instance twice no matter what because both versions were equally rewarding and equally challenging.

The gap now shortened to the point that most players were on equal ground and the only difference between a “hardcore” player and a “casual” player was the immortal title from Naxxramas. However, Sartharion had the ability to adjust the difficulty of the encounter by keeping a certain number of drakes alive. This proved to be successful in allowing both hardcore players to get their enhanced rewards and casual players to experience the content.

Blizzard introduced “hard mode”  with Ulduar where most encounters had an optional “hard mode” difficulty. If you did something (like press a red button, take the boss down during a certain time, leave mini-bosses alive, etc.) then the encounter’s difficulty would increase dramatically. Additionally, some bosses gave additional loot if you meet a certain criteria (like Hodir) and every encounter with a “hard mode” would reward higher quality loot as well. This optional content allowed raiders to choose if they wanted to do it the hard way for more rewards or the easy way to finish the instance. It worked out fairly well and the gap between hardcore and casual began to widen again.

Yet, things took a turn for the worse with Trial of the Crusader. Now you could enter a heroic version of the instance and fight the same enemies on a harder difficulty. This meant that you could run ToC a total of four times a week and many guilds, even casuals, did this (although many would stop at however far they could get on heroic). This created the need to raid a lot each week doing the same encounters over and over again in order to progress. It was unfun and repetitive.

With Icecrown Citadel the heroic mode was back, but this time it removed the heroic version of the same instance and instead allowed you to toggle between heroic and normal mode so that you could choose which bosses you wanted to fight on which mode. This means the heroic modes are optional, but are still a repeat of the same content you’ve done on normal, not to mention the lengthy gating to keep people from downing all of it in one night.

That’s where we’re at now.

The Unnecessary Evil of Heroic Mode

Throughout the history of WoW we’ve seen Blizzard try to balance content between the casual crowd (the majority of the players) and the hardcore crowd (a small percentage of the player base). In doing so we’ve seen it evolve to where we’re at now, the heroic mode, which increases a dungeon’s difficulty for those who want to attempt it.

Yet, does that really solve the problem? To me it only solves one problem and that’s giving casuals more content to do. That, in itself, could be done differently. To me it only creates problems. The first is the repetitive nature of the content we face now.

Many players were facing the Northrend Beasts a total of four times a week. The same encounter, two different ways, four times a week. That’s a lot of time staring at a snow monster’s rear end doing your same rotation over and over! Now you face the same enemies you faced on normal, only their difficulty is increased. So no matter what you’re doing the same content over and over again. Which is what raiding is about, but at the same time it’s not exactly rewarding.

This brings me to the next point. If you defeat the enemy on normal mode you feel that’s a minor victory because it wasn’t on the heroic mode. It’s like if you beat a game on the easy difficulty setting. Sure this doesn’t apply to Yogg, Anub, or Arthas (all of which are difficult encounters no matter what), but some feel as if they’re not giving it their all. If you beat them on heroic mode then it’s not a new victory. It’s the same boss down a different way. Even then, if you beat it on heroic, you’ve downed the content so why even bother with the heroic mode? Why even try the harder modes? No matter how you roll it, it’s just doesn’t have the same pizzazz that you expect from an encounter atleast to me.

This leads me to say that we should have casual content and we should have hardcore content. After all, the hardcore content is the perpetual carrot on a stick that makes you feel that you’re never finished. Yet now, you can easily beat most instances on normal or get through them in a timely manner and be done with it unless you want to do the optional difficulties. Even then, you don’t have to, since the gear rewarded isn’t necessary to do the next tier of content.

That’s why I think we should either have a 10-man version that’s short, easy, and slightly challenging (with the entry level enemies being puggable and the later enemies requiring coordination) and a 25-man version that’s difficult, challenging, and for the people who actually care. That way you’d have the large social guild sending in teams of 10 with their own leaders, their own tanks, their own healers, and their own DPS all working together in small groups to down content at their own pace while you have the 5-10 guilds on each server who actually want to progressively raid in their 25-man versions fighting, loot dramaing, and ego busting against one another.

That or we should continue with the thought of having separate instances, but not make it where new players can’t get into progression raiding if they want to. Attunements are something that the community doesn’t need. If someone wants to progressively raid then there should be a way for them to do it. It shouldn’t be run heroics for 3 days and have all of the last tier’s content, but it should be something that would require a bit of patience and be easily done. I think Karazhan was awesome, but there just wasn’t enough of it to last the whole expansion.

If that’s not acceptable then hard modes should be done the way Ulduar did them where they required you to output a ton of DPS, complete a boss in a certain amount of time, or provided you with a legitimate challenge instead of just being a simple switch between “lol easy” and “lol bit harder.” At least then you’re accomplishing a great victory in even activating the hard mode and if you defeat it then it actually means something. I think Ulduar was an excellent, fun, and exciting instance that did hard modes decently well.

I’m done with my soap box rant and I’m sure everyone has an opinion to share. I just want to say that I’m not arguing that the hardcore should have exclusive super hard content with super amazing items or that casuals should be able to walk through the game. I’m simply saying that in our struggle to appease both sides we’ve came up with a broken mechanic that I personally don’t like. Ulduar was fine, but running 4 instances a week or flipping switches to take on the same boss you’ve already beat in a new mode is lame.

If you want to talk about it then come on over to the Ten Ton Hammer forums and have a chat. Be sure to join me next week when I launch into a discussion about my thoughts on companion pets (maybe, we’ll see).

-David "Xerin" Piner

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