Last week Ghostcrawler released an article entitled “Wow, Dungeons are Hard!” in which he outlined some of the complaints players have made about the steep learning curve of the Cataclysm dungeon content, and outlining the fact that it was very much on purpose. I found the article a very well thought out and well written discussion piece about what the folks over at blizzard were thinking about the way dungeons should fit into the entire gaming process. I expected that this would have helped to quiet some of the discussion over whether or not these zones needed a nerf, however it seems to have caused the opposite effect. There seems to be a large conflagration of posts both on the wow forums and around the wow blogosphere about that the dungeons are in fact too hard.
A Privilege Not a Right
One of the sticking points I have as I read through these complaints is the general sense of entitlement that the community has developed over the years. The ability to run heroics, and the ability to raid for that matter is a privilege not a right. Getting to the point where you can reliably contribute requires a bit of dedication and work from the player. it should require that the player spend time gearing up, and preparing for the fights.
I guess I just find it odd that folks generally have a problem with that. I am a very serious about gearing my characters, and make checklists of the various items I need from each of the dungeons. It is just something I have done since the beginning of wow, and has helped me keep things organized. I feel a big part of my job in this game, especially as a tank, is to be as well geared as possible so I am the least drag on my fellow players as possible. I’ve even developed little OCDs about this, to the point that I cannot log for the night without upgrades being enchanted and gemmed.
However it seems to many players the art of gearing, is a chore they would rather not do. In wrath we would limp into certain heroics straight from quested greens, and I assume that is the expectation that players have had as we entered cataclysm. When I saw that there were strict limits on the dungeon queuing I applauded them, as I have always been well over the whatever the specific number was. However as my guild leveled I noticed a number of players lagging behind, and barely keeping up with this cutoff point. As we neared 85 each and ever player had this 329 number in their heads, as soon as they found out that was the magic number that unlocked heroics in the dungeon tool.
329 is Not a Magic Number
The biggest problem I am seeing is the fact that the target number of 329 seems to be a resting place and “good enough” for most players. As though they pushed to that number and then are somehow done. Truth be told this figure is way too low to be effective in heroics on a wide scale. If you are walking in there as a tank at that level you will be struggling. I think I was probably 332 or so, when I finally walked into my first heroic. I had been waiting for one of my healer friends to finish leveling, and at that point it was very much an eye opening experience.
What the 329 number reminds me of is the way heroics worked in Burning Crusade. If you remember back to that era, in order to get into a heroic you had to gain revered with the specific faction that controlled that dungeon hub. So in order to run heroic Steamvaults, you had to run enough normal dungeons to be able to grind up your faction with the Cenarion Expedition and purchase the Reservoir Key.
This quickly became a pain in the ass, since as a guild you had to coordinate getting all your players to revered faction. However, as a result running enough dungeons to get to revered generally meant you had fairly decent level 70 dungeon gear when you were done. However due to the complaints of the community, this faction requirement was lowered to honored.
You could get to honored with almost all of the factions in question through simply running quest chains in the same region. The big issue at hand became the fact that having the heroic key, became a sense of entitlement. I functionally CAN run heroics, therefore I SHOULD BE ABLE to run heroics. The pug community on my server went completely to pot, as it was flooded with players completely unprepared and ungeared to be doing the heroic dungeons.
Raise the Bar
Setting the requirement for running heroics in Cataclysm at 329 is much like starting off the expansion with the bar set down to the honored requirement. Just from doing quests in twilight highlands and Uldum, it is extremely easy to reach a ilevel of 329. The problem being, without getting those critical upgrades from normal mode level 85 instances, you are completely unprepared for the step up that heroics are. A much more realistic number would have been 333-340, meaning that the player would have at least had to have spent some time running normal mode instances and raising their factions enough to start getting those 346 faction rewards.
If the heroic requirement would have been set to a higher requirement, the normal dungeon running would have several effects. The most obvious is of course with better gear, comes better stats, and more ability to dish out whatever it is your class/spec combo does. The normal mode dungeons are for the most part 90% the same as the heroic mode dungeons, with the boss fights being the big difference. The more time a player spends in these dungeons, the more they understand about how each of the various trash mobs reacts and how the normal abilities of the bosses function. With this firm understanding, moving to heroics becomes a much more iterative step.
So my only suggestion for making things more smoothly is to make it HARDER for players to zone into heroics. This is likely to be an even less popular opinion than that of the heroic dungeon difficulty being just fine as it is. However, if players are not willing to do the work on their own in order to ensure they are able to be effective group members, then the only way to make sure things move smoothly is to ensure that the requirement for the heroics is higher. If you come into a heroic with the bare minimum you are guaranteeing that the rest of the party will have to carry you through the instance in order for it to be successful.
The big problem with raising the cap, is that it is VERY easy to bring a character who is 329 along with a group of players who are in the 350s. We often do this as a guild, grab a geared tank and healer, and at least 1 geared dps in order to help out players with less than stellar gear. Raising the cap would lock this practice out. The only way I can see to bypass this problem, and still keep the players out who have no business being in heroics would be to evaluate a party when queuing based on the average score of the group. In this case, 3 players that are 350 geared, dragging along 2 players that are 329 would evaluate out to an average party gear score of 341.
The Master Plan
I honestly feel like Blizzard has realized exactly what the various decision they made during the wrath cycle have cost the community. As I said earlier, it has built a very entitled player base that leveled through an era of easy epics. When I was gearing my shaman, I had him fully outfitted in epics and and ready to participate in ICC10 only 4 days after dinging 80. Run the right instances, get a little luck, and it felt you were handed epics on a platter. An environment with no risk and constant reward is simply not sustainable.
So in turn they’ve turned the virtual screws to our characters, making us fight hard to earn those 346 level items. The ramp up in difficulty between normal and heroic is like stepping off a cliff if you are not prepared for it. However, if you go into the dungeon with your brains and a balanced group it is very much accomplishable. We are having to relearn the community how to play the game as a whole.
As I have said before, Wrath caused us to get soft as players. The easy train was fun while it lasted, but now it is time to buckle down and work for it. Wouldn’t you rather feel like you had earned your gear, and had to fight your way through a dungeon rather than steamrolling it and getting free loot? I found the roflstomp era of dungeon running to be boring and completely without skill. Now we as players are getting to stretch those muscles we have let atrophy for so long, and honestly for me at least it feels good.
I think with this expansion, Blizzard is trying to retrain it’s community and make them better players. I applaud that they have the courage to do so, and not simply kowtow to the complaints. Only time will see if they stick by this new mission. For the sake of the game and its future I hope they do. While Wolfshead Online called Cataclysm the worst expansion of MMO History, I think its more a matter of this is the most ambitious. They set out not only to change their game world, but at the same time their gaming community.