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World of Warcraft's Past and Present Raid Difficulty

Posted Sat, Feb 18, 2012 by Xerin

Raid difficulty is on the minds of many World of Warcraft players as we continue to wrap up the end of Cataclysm. As it stands now, we have three difficulties: raid finder, normal, and heroic difficulties. They present themselves to the three types of players: the casuals, the regular, and the hardcore. Players still contend that the system isn’t perfect and hopefully Mists of Pandaria will fix anything wrong with its current iteration.

So what could be wrong with the way things are right now? Well, a lot of it has to do with how players have felt that Dragon Soul was a “boring” and “unimaginative” raid compared to older classics such as Ulduar. This has gotten the forum community talking a good deal about how Dragon Soul doesn’t compare and how, like usual, everyone wishes they could go back to Ulduar.

Flame Leviathan was an easy to kill boss accessible to anyone.

This is the same stuff we hear all of the time and isn’t anything new, but we can take a good lesson from it. If you make content easier but players will find it more boring. If you make content harder, then players will find it frustrating. There is a certain sweet spot where the difficulty matches the raid and everyone has a good time. Raids like Ulduar hit this sweet spot because they were composed of bosses with varying degrees of difficulty.

The first boss in Ulduar was easily completed by anyone, including raids that were not even full. The next few bosses were designed for casuals. The next set was designed for normal players to work on. The last two, Mimiron and Yogg-Saron were reserved for more hardcore players. Of course, Algalon stood as the impossible challenge that less than 1% of the player population was able to defeat before the next patch came around.

This design was solid and allowed all of the players to experience some of the raid. Yet, the amount of content for most players was unsatisfying. Can you truly appreciate a dungeon because you were capable of downing four bosses total before all was said and done? Wouldn’t you feel bad if your accomplishments in a patch were four bosses and triggering a heroic because everyone has jobs in your guild, including you?

That is the quintessential problem with dungeons like Ulduar. They are entertaining and give everyone that feeling of advancement, no matter their skill level, but they are by no means satisfying. You don’t feel as if you own that dungeon now because you never reach the end of it.

The problem some have with the raid finder is that it’s a bit too easy to complete an entire dungeon now. Lots of players have witnessed content that they would have never been able to before, but they did so without advancement. They didn’t have to work hard to get to the end which is how it traditionally has been.

Content that feels too easy to complete is also very unsatisfying. After all, were you the true hero of Azeroth as you followed a group of other people and destroyed everything that was in your path without much resistance? It’s kind of like cheating in a video game. If you make a challenging experience too easy, then you get to the point where the game isn’t as fun and turns into a chore. It’s the same principle about how bosses that you have “on farm” are boring to defeat – they are too easy to you now.

So what can the solution be? Well, I think that we should make each level of difficulty its own dungeon. Think about all of the different single player games that offer different endings and different amounts of content depending on the difficulty you choose. Let’s take Ulduar. What if there was only one linear version of the dungeon for the raid finder that led you directly to Yogg-Saron, you defeat him, and the dungeon is finished proper.

Now, let’s say you enter the regular version and complete it with a random amount of heroic modes. Let’s say a few more extra bosses are available and the ending is a different fight with Yogg-Saron, with a different ending.

Icehowl was another example of a boss that even PUGs could complete without much difficulty.

Finally, let’s say you did every hard mode boss, after defeat Yogg-Saron you unlock a final boss, the ultimate form of Yogg-Saron, with an even harder difficulty and the “real ending” of the dungeon. Wouldn’t all three options feel satisfying? If you do it on the LFR difficulty, then you will feel satisfied to have been to the dungeon, beat the final boss, and received your loot. If you finish it on normal difficulty you will see more bosses, more loot, and an alternate ending to the dungeon’s storyline. Yet, you’re not finished; there is still a goal to work towards.  However, you still feel as if you have completed the dungeon, giving you a satisfying experience.

Of course, that’s one of million ways to approach the subject. I hope that with future iterations we can bring dungeons to a point where the entire community can feel satisfied and offset a lot of the negative feelings associated with our current methods.

What do you think? Was Ulduar the pinnacle of raids for you or do you think Dragon Soul was the best raid ever? Let us know in the comment section below.


First off, Dragon Soul was maybe the worst raid ever. Felt like a giant cutscene more then a raid, and doing it 2-3 times a week just burnt us out. Ulduar was an all time great, and it terms of design maybe the best blizzard has ever created. Of course, I will always have a sweet spot for Kara <3.

Your idea of how to fix raiding is quite similar to mine. For example, lets say the we get another tier like the first one of cata(BWD,BoT). A six boss raid and a four boss raid. The six boss raid would be reduced to four for LFR and the four boss raid reduced to three. In both of these you would get to fight the dungeons last boss, so the casuals could still feel like they "beat da big boss". This would give reg-raiders more incentive to really raid. For both regular and heroic, I also envision a long quest chain that takes weeks to complete and progresses in difficulty(performing specefic objectives mid-boss fight) eventually unlocking a "bonus" boss(such as Nightbane from Kara and Algalon from Uld). This would give guilds reason to continue raiding the same place instead of putting it on farm. Last, lets get some epic dungeon-crawls! No more purely outdoor raids or cutscene fests...

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