Wrath no more

23 November 2010 § 3 Comments

The Shattering is happening as we speak, so it is time to say goodbye to the Wrath of the Lich King expansion. It may also be time to look back and reflect on different aspects of this expansion – both good and bad.

The levelling experience

I think Blizzard did a good job about the levelling experience. Most of the zones looked gorgeous, with some good stories and some decent foreshadowing of instances/events to come. I liked meeting King Ymiron in Howling Fjord, before facing him in Utgarde Pinnacle, and I wish this kind of foreshadowing was used more often. I really loved the Taunka storyline on Horde, as well as the Matthew Lehner story in Icecrown. If anything, I wish there was a tigher interaction between the storylines used in questing and the dungeons/raid instances of the expansion: why didn’t we do more with the whole story about the Lich King getting rid of his heart?

In a similar vein, let’s not have an Obsidian Sanctum debacle again: that instance had no story link with ANYTHING else in the game, it was just sort of there. I had to have a friend dig out the story behind the instance online, because there is literally nothing in the game to let us know what is it supposed to represent. In a similar vein, I was a bit disappointed with the whole Nexus War story: it features through a good part of Borean Tundra and Dragonblight, but then fizzles out completely in the later zones, and the fact that Malygos was a first-tier boss meant that we “solved it” way too early. Ulduar, awesome as it was, could have used some tighter link to the Scourge: I understand Yogg Saron has been helping with Arthas corruption, but in many ways that actually cheapens the Lich King story, which is more dramatic precisely because it is a story of a Prince choosing to do all those horrible things as a way to save his land. This is a minor gripe though, as Ulduar did have a good storyline throughout Storm Peaks, and I probably could just handle it being just a synchronicity issue, with a new menace emerging while we prepare to deal with Arthas.

We all know that Blizzard lamented that Illidan was a bit of an invisible enemy in Burning Crusade, as non-raiders hardly ever met him. With Arthas, I think they swung the pendulum the other way a bit too much, turning him too much into a 007 villain, never missing an opportunity to explain his plans in details only to let the heroes go so that they could eventually come back and get him. I hope with Deathwing they find a happier middle ground, maybe having major lore figures intercede and save adventurers, porting them to safety and similar, instead of having the boss just walk off the scene of the confrontation.

The gearing-up experience

The combination of badge gear, LFG tool, and higher-level 5-man dungeons meant that gearing was much easier and pleasurable than in either BC or Vanilla. I remember running alts through Karazhan right until the very end of the expansion, while thankfully we were spared running Naxx in the same way. The simplification of the badge system was probably needed, and sounds appropriate. I am a bit scared about what will happen with the LFG tool if instances and heroics are going to require more coordination: in many ways, I think LFG works well because you need no interaction with your group members. Let’s just say that I’ll try my damnedest to level and learn the dungeons with friends, rather than with the anonymous people who are likely to start a blame war (and a group quit) at the first wipe.

I really really like the idea of having some 5-man dungeons being designed for more geared playes, and I hope that they keep that design. One thing though: please do not have once again loot tables as long as the ICC 5-man ones, or at least try to make drop itemisation a bit more even. There were some slots that just required one boss, and one boss only, unless you had access to raid loot (not the case for many alts): caster shield, tank shield and caster offhand are all cases in point here. And please, keep in mind we have TWO trinket slots, so we need to have two decent trinkets per spec.

All in all, Wrath actually managed to reduce the gear gap considerably: right now, I think most 80 characters are in 245/251 gear, while most raiders would be in 264/277, a gap of only 1-2 tiers, which is completely acceptable.

The raiding experience

In raiding, the record is a bit mixed. There is no question to me that the high point of the raiding in this expansion was Ulduar. Bosses were fun, they progressed nicely from the easier Siege ones, to the Keepers, to Vezax and Yogg, and finally Algalon. There were also a nice number of side bosses which you could skip while progressing, and just do on off-nights or as filler. The fight were well thought out, with some nice mechanics, and they were very very different from each other and from what we had seen before. The art was absolutely fantastic, and thus the atmosphere was great.

I want to mention especially the in-game triggers of hard modes, which were, in my mind, the best possible way to have heroics. In-game triggers sometimes were actually a check, because if you could not manage to trigger the hard mode, you were just not geared enough to handle it (XT, Thorim); sometimes they were fun (“What happens if I push this red but… oh…”); and sometimes were just more traditional ways (Yogg, Freya). Blizzard has stated that they did not like the fact that it basically required players to look on outside sites how to actually trigger them, but that’s easily solved: for example, NPCs at the start of the instance could have dialogue options about how to trigger the different hard modes. It certainly made a lot more game sense than toggling an interface button (which is convenient, but a bit of a last resort measure in my mind).

I think there is also no doubt that the low point was Trial of the Crusader. The biggest problem there was the multiplication of instances, so that 10 and 25-man raiders ended up facing Icehowl 4 times a week, which is a surefire recipe for burnout. The fights were not too bad (I personally enjoyed the val’kyrs, Anub’Arak and Faction Champs), and the absence of trash was definitely a plus. The single room though was a definite bummer, as well as the really punishing hard mode of no-wipes (oh the frustration when one of our raiders would die to Faction Champs…). The whole tier of raiding was a bit lackluster, imo: I kinda understand Tirion’s idea of selecting the best fighters to get into ICC, as you want to avoid giving a Lich any more fodder to resurrect, but surely in that case you would want to mix Alliance and Horde (which Tirion doesn’t even try to do), and the selection could be a bit more serious than jousting. It really feels like the developers got enamored with the vehicle mechanic a bit too much, and maybe had a longing for Arthurian stories – but they just felt completely out of place here.

Naxx was not bad, but way too easy and just rehashed to be really enjoyable. Malygos was actually an interesting fight, but proved that players really take a long time to figure out a new mechanic. Controlling the drakes was not hard, but try teaching that to all the people in your 25-man… Sarth was ok, and I liked the 3D version (especially when you could not zerg it, and had to control it), except for its total lack of anchoring to the rest of the world.

Icecrown Citadel was enjoyable, probably just second to Ulduar in terms of awesomeness. I had some issues with stories (if Saurfang and Tirion and Muradin interact at the beginning, why do we suddenly need to race each other to get to the Lich King? Feels a bit contrived to me), and a strong desire for a more gradual progression of the hard modes: the jump between Sindragosa/Putricide to Lich King is a bit too much, it would be nice to have a more gradual progression. I am definitely in favour of a REALLY HARD final boss to the expansion, though, so no complaints there.

All in all, though, this has probably been the most enjoyable of the expansions so far, so I hope Blizzard can keep it up. Who knows, two years from now I may be writing the wrap up to the Cataclysm expansion…

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Sex, talk and videogames

11 January 2010 § Leave a comment

It’s now more than a month since 3.3 is released, so I guess it’s time for me to talk a bit about the Dungeon Finder. To start, kudos to Blizzard for turning what was always an awkward system that they tinkered with several times (LFG channel, meeting stones/innkeepers, global LFG channel, LFG tool) into a fantastic addition to the game. Even more interestingly, they took two pieces of infrastructure that they put in place for other reasons (the cross-realm queueing for BGs and the cross-realm instances to solve the “additional instances cannot be launched” issue) and combined them in a new way (with a new algorythm to match roles and gear etc) – nice example of emergent strategy and tinkering.

So then, the LFG tool. I want to make two comments that partly echo what others have said – and then add my own perspective to a third issue. First is that I’m surprised at how well things are working out. Sure, you have the occasional douchebags: from the people who are asleep at the wheel and pulling 1k dps (sorry, was doing that at 70, you MUST do better at 80 – no gear excuse), to the assholes that like to blame the others (especially prevalent in Halls of Reflection – but the Douche award goes to this guy), to the idiots who leave group if it’s Oculus, to the tanks who leave group if it’s not the exact instance they want (clearly they prefer waiting 15 mins for the debuff to clear – and I agree tanks are the new prima donnas). But I also met some great people, from the rogue who tanked Skadi from 60% to 0% when the tank and the other 2 dps failed to move out of whirlwind (sorry, only so many miracles I can do) to the guys that are thankful if I try to explain the bosses in the new instances if they say they are seeing them for the first time.

Second, many people have compared this to casual sex. Now, I don’t know what kind of casual sex you guys have had, and maybe I’ve been lucky but… no, just no comparison. Casual sex still beats LFG tool, sorry. I guess I’m not enough of a WoW junkie (or maybe I’m too much of a dirty slut IRL? One of the two…). For once, you actually talk MORE during casual sex than the average Dungeon Finder PUG. There’s this “code of silence” that really drives me nuts: not as if people cannot spare 2 mins to say “hello” and a couple of other one-liners. In fact, this silence is, as I hope to show, one of the biggest problems of the Dungeon Finder tool.

The biggest snag in the Dungeon Finder system (and so we get to the REAL topic of today’s post) is that there’s five people in that instance. They don’t know each other. Chances are, they haven’t played with each other before. In a best case scenario, they all want the same thing (2 Emblems of Frost in the shortest time), and have the gear that makes this goal attainable. The worst thing to do, however, is to assume precisely that- because no matter what we think, people are different and there’s different options for each instance. Some people may want to kill all possible bosses to get as many Emblems of Triumph as possible: Gundrak, Old Kingdom and Halls of Stone allow you to skip bosses, so it’s important to know where people stand on this issue if you have one of these three instances (I think theoretically you can skip the Commander boss in Nexus, but he’s in the way if you take the shortest route through the bosses anyway). Some people don’t have the gear to keep up with a whirlwind-pace run: not a big problem if it’s a dps (it will just take a smidge of times longer), a bit more of a problem if it’s a healer or (worse) the tank. Some people may actually have other priorities in the instance, too: witness this conversation I had with my druid:

DF Tank: druid, u lagging? y u not w/ us?
Me: I’m skinning
DF Tank: wtf? i’m chain pulling

Me: and I’m skinning….

Aside from the surrealist character of the conversation, the point I was making is, I think, a valid one: my druid still values the leathers, and dungeons are a good source (my only source, since I don’t much quest with him anymore, and I’m not gonna grind mobs to get leather). If the tank wants to pull without a healer, that’s his problem (as long as I’m not taking 15-mins tea breaks between pulls, obviously).

Differences in pace preferences can lead to cans of worms all over the place. The tank may pull ahead of the healer and die – or viceversa, the dps (or the healer!) may get impatient and “help” tanks pull. This doesn’t go down well with our plate queens. Before Linedan and the other tanks start cursing my name and blacklisting me, let me qualify that. I think tanks are control freaks: they want every little thing under control, so that mobs die in a certain order, they are all attacking them, and nothing bad happens. DPS, for the most part, are chaos kids: they jump into groups of mobs and start AoEing everything, and you can almost hear them over the game shouting: “Wheeeeeee!” as they spam their AoE moves. (I’ll refrain from saying what healers are: as far as I’m concerned they are Saints purging the sins of the world with nary a recognition – and this is the version I’ll be sticking with, even if it’s irrelevant for today’s post). The problem is: to chain pull an instance (or, worse, a raid) and keep perfect control, you need an inordinate amount of skill. The other problem: total control is boring if you’re outgearing an instance, as a dps or a healer.

I’ve been in both situations (yay alts!): the reason for this post in fact was reading the post by Linedan and then, the following day, tanking an HoL run with a stellar team of dps from my guild, and a PUG resto druid in ToTC25 gear. Everyone was really trying their best to make my job easier: the druid was innervating me, the tank, every two minutes; all the dps was handling the easier mobs (the casters, basically) without me; we completed it in just above 15 mins; and it was still a run I thoroughly hated. Tanking doesn’t come natural to me, and having to do it at twice the speed I’d be choosing on my own was too much stress for a game. I like being pushed outside my comfort zone: that’s the main reason I play an enhancement shaman and a paladin tank, neither of which role is a natural for me. But that’s exactly the problem: baseline, normal speed tanking is pushing me already. Doing it at breakneck speed is turning “pushing outside comfort zone and improving my game” into “pure stress”.

The solution is pretty simple: communicate. If you, as a tank, want to try to go fast, say so at the beginning. If, as a healer, you outgear Heroics so much you hardly need to drink, make it clear to the tank. If, on the other hand, you want to go a bit more slowly, let everyone know. If you want to skip bosses and just get to the end one, ask if everyone is ok with it.  I really think these 2 mins of communication would make everyone’s life a lot easier, at the very least by aligning everyone’s expectation. Who knows? Maybe we’ll manage to make people realise that they 1 min they lose by stating out their preferences for that run would really help everyone (themselves included) avoid any undue stress. Or at least once they do have some casual sex, they’ll know that they’ll still need to talk to their partner, or just turn it into bad sex.

Of Battered Hilts, missing off-hands and the role of 10-man raiding

15 December 2009 § Leave a comment

Patch 3.3 has been out for a week, and I think it’s safe to say it’s been a resounding succes. The new dungeons are fantastic, mixing some nice lore, great art, fun fights, and good loot – and in the case of Halls of Reflection Heroic, also a fair bit of challenge.

The Dungeon Finder tool is great: queues for dungeons go from negligible if you have a tank in your group to still acceptable if you are a dps. You do find the occasional asshattery (needing on the Frozen Orb in the end is the typical example), and whenever Oculus is the random dungeon I always have people leaving the group (why? It’s been nerfed to hell and back, you can basically sleepwalk through it) – but this changes nothing about the greatness of the system and the fact everyone seems to be doing Heroics, these days. I still need to try the tool out for lower levels, but I hold some high hopes for it still. Because of the Dungeon Finder and the new dungeons I’m actually dusting off some alts I hadn’t used in a long while and gearing them up, relearning how to play them, etc – so bravo, Blizzard.

Icecrown Citadel is a bit more of a mixed bag. I like the fights, and I certainly like the art and atmosphere of the place. As I said in my last post, I would have liked a bit more challenge – which I’m possibly going to find in Heroic but I’ll have to wait months before knowing for sure. And yes, I’m sorry, I’m still grumbling about that, because I cannot believe that Blizzard would get the “select your own difficulty level” thing so right in Ulduar, and so wrong in ToC and Icecrown.

There is however one thing that Blizzard did that left me scratching my head – so of course I’m going to vent about it here. Last Thursday, I went through the new Heroics for the first time on Tsark – and a Battered Hilt dropped. We all rolled, and I won it (which is fairly uncharacteristic: Tsark normally loses most such rolls, unlike some other of my alts – but I digress). So, giddy with excitement, I started up the new questlines, going from one place to another and collecting all the saronite, and the hammer, and forging the weapon, and getting into Sunwell. The questline is really fantastic, and reinforces my idea that crafting your own weapons, or armor, by collecting many different pieces and moving from one place to the next, is really one of the things I like the most in this game (and makes me pine once more for the lack of legendaries in 10-man, but anyway). I finish up the questline, and get my Hammer of Purified Flame. I knew that was an upgrade over my lllumination, so (still giggling to myself and excited), I equipped it – and realised my offhand was really a bit lacklustre. See, I’ve had the Illumination staff for a while now, and before that I was lucky enough to have the Icecore Staff, which dropped on our very first kill of Hodir oh-so-long-ago. So, the only offhand I kept in my bank was an Igniter Rod, which means something about 2-3 tiers behind current content.

That already surprised me, because I’m normally careful to keep my offhand up-to-date even when I’m using a two-hander. I wouldn’t take it over someone who would actually use it straight up, but if there’s one thing that 4+years of raiding have taught me is to stock all sort of alternative gear in your bank – because it’s bound to stop dropping the minute you need it. But hey, we could just have been unlucky and not got any good offhand to drop, right? I jumped onto wowhead, and checked what was available in ToC10/ICC10 – and I got my surprise.

Nothing.

That’s two full tiers of raid instances where Blizzard has decided to put NO offhand at all. Worse actually – they put two offhands, but they both have hit rating, which is a bit of a wasted stat for a healer. Now, in the same two tiers of instances, the 25-man raiders get THREE offhands for healers – and one more with hit! I don’t want to blow this out of proportion: I am now trying to get the offhand from Halls of Reflection, and I can try to get also the one from Onyxia. They are ilvl 232, so will be one-two tiers below top expansion gear (which will be ilvl 258 for me, Heroic 10-man ICC), but I’m sure that’s not going to hold me back. However, it does underline two points for me.

The first is that the mechanism for assigning loot to the various bosses is mysterious and (in my humble opinion) in need of fixing.I know of raiders who would prefer to focus on 25-man who had to farm Razorscale 10 for the Eye of the Broodmother. The paladin tank in my raid was complaining about the Ulduar10 gear being badly itemised for his tank – and had to resort to going to 25-man to gear up. Offhands for priests have been conspicuously missing in not one, but two consecutive tiers of raiding. The proposal I made for re-distributing loot along different lines would partially solve this – but really, this shouldn’t be needed. I’m surprised that the game developers haven’t seen these holes in the loot tables – and I suspect there may be other considerations at play, which I don’t know and cannot guess.

The second, and more general point, is that Blizzard still hasn’t decided what 10-man raiding should be. Is it something to do on a non-raiding night? You get 10 people together with your friends list, and just hit whatever instance is the current one, and get some gear. Is it something for casuals? People who really don’t want to spend a lot of time wiping to bosses, because this is a game: they just want to relax, chat with friends, get some purple pixels. Or, is it a full progression path? A way for people who prefer playing with tighter groups, who enjoy multi-tasking more to experience some endgame challenges and problemsolving.

Clearly, what I would like to see is the development of this latter option. I don’t want to deny the casuals their raids – but to me, that’s what normal modes are for. Normal modes are fantastic to gear up alts, and to literally get 10-people together at the last minute and hit an instance, and relax for a while. For all the fault of Trial of the Crusader, it was nice to be able to bring alts through it without having to be prepared and super-geared (and I admit that the shortness of Trial of the Crusader helped too: even a group of alts wiping a few times would get through the place in a couple of hours).

Right now, 10-man hardmodes are somehow stuck-in-the-middle. They are beyond the reach of a casual group, who doesn’t want to invest the time needed to master them. However, they still don’t offer a full progression path to “hardcore raiders” (assuming I want to call myself that): there are still slots that you need to fill with 25-man gear, and you still cannot get the excitement that comes from creating legendary weapons. All the same, you still see achievements that seem to encourage you to use 10-man as an exclusive path.

My guess is that Blizzard is still unsure about how to treat 10-man raiding. That’s (of course) quite alright – in primis because 10-man raiding is new, and so Blizz developers are still experimenting with it a lot. Although 10-mans started in BC, they were little more than stepping stones (Karazhan) or catch-up raids (Zul’Aman) then, and certainly not a full-fledged progression path. Wrath fleshed out the concept a bit more, but I think the developers have not yet had the courage to go full speed on it, and let 10-man stand on their own two feet. I would love to know more about their process, and whether we are going to see the 10-man concept develop further for Cataclysm. Part of it, of course, depends on how many players are currently “hardcore 10man” raiders – this is data that Blizz could easily have, for example checking how many players have a fair amount of hardmode 10-man achievements but little or no 25-man (most people I know will go along to a 25-man, and so have the “instance completed” achievements, but little more). I would love to have some developer input on this, but I’m really not sure about how to grab their attention (and this is hardly something that I can condense down to a 2-line question to submit to the developers…).

Ugh!

9 December 2009 § 2 Comments

Here I was, all excited about the new patch, and then, I got hit with a double whammy. First, the instance servers are down for the Cyclone battlegroup. This one boggles me: Blizzard launches a patch with 3 new 5-mans, 2 new raids, a new awesome-looking tool to find instance groups more easily – and then they fail to account for the increased load this will put on their own instance servers. Face, meet my palm.

Then, as we decided to give up until tomorrow (counting a lot on the restart that’s gonna happen at 5am), I read this. TWENTY-EIGHT DAYS? Are you out of your friggin’ minds? Now, I don’t know how hard the new encounters are, so maybe (hopefully) we will need more than one week to get through them all. But seriously, keeping Arthas until April? That’s gonna burn everyone on ICC, even before we get to the final boss. That really doesn’t seem like a smart strategy. I’m really trying not to whine, I want to give Blizzard the benefit of the doubt because they have proven me wrong time and again. I have to admit, though, this doesn’t look good….

A new alt!

10 November 2009 § Leave a comment

So I guess I should put a pink ribbon on my blog – a new alt is born! A series of factors came together in her creation:

  1. I’ve never had a hunter – or rather, my top hunter is a lvl 30-something dorf (what the hell was I thinking?)
  2. I’ve had the itch to try out the revamped instances – you know, the ones where the end mobs is not 11 levels higher than the starting one (hello Uldaman), and when named mobs drop blues, not white items (hello RFC)
  3. I’ve been curious about starting a character on a new server – I love Feathermoon to death, and it will probably be my home for a very long time still. But it’s nice sometimes how things work on a different server.
  4. A friend of mine told me he was considering transferring severs, because he was unhappy with they way his guild was going these days (and I’ll leave it at that, because I’m not sure he wants his plans to be known, so he shall remain anonymous). So he had transferred a lvl 80 alt to Gurubashi – and while it’s nice to start afresh, it’s also nice to have a lvl 80 person as a last-minute support (from a gold loan to an instance run)

I alternated between Troll and Blood Elf hunter – mostly because the starting zones for Blood Elves are about 1000x better than Durotar-Barrens. In the end, I decided I could withstand Barrens – and it would be a good occasion to relive them before Wrath. So a couple of gaming sessions, my Troll Huntress is now lvl 19, and has run Ragefire Chasm.

Gurubashi is a lot more active than Feathermoon – but I’m not sure that’s a good thing. The fact that Trade is monopolised by people LFG or LFM is a bit of a drag – and chat scrolls up at amazing speeds, because everyone seems to feel the need to repeat their request four times at least (and in caps, ça va sans dir!). The economy is completely screwed: I’m glad I decided to go the safe route, and get two gathering professions. Peacebloom is going for 1.5g a stack, Silverleaf is at 2g and Light Leather is around 2-2.5g. The plus side is that at lvl 20 I managed to already make a fair bit of money – about 20g, which means I could buy bags (10-slots, still), the first glyph… Just to give you an idea of the state of the economy: 6-slot bags (available from vendors for 45s) were sold for 2-3g.

At lvl 14 I started looking for a group for Ragefire Chasm, and this was kinda fun. Not many people in the LFG tool (what a surprise!) and mostly DPS, so I did a /who 13-16 and whispered all possible tanks. Given that at that level we have about 3-4 talent points in total, I would have though anyone would be interested in coming. Boy was I surprised! Aside from the usual “not interested” (fair enough), and no replies from about 50% of the people, I also got

  • “I don’t have a shield” – now this really boggles me: I’m the anal person who levelled his druid as feral but with a resto set in my bags, always. But geez – is it really too hard keeping ONE shield in your bags??
  • 2 lvl 30s inviting me to a group and then asking me for silvers for a run through – whatever gave you the impression I was interested in that??
  • I did get a “shut up noob, you’re covering my LFG requests” – I kinda doubts the people interested in the daily Heroics are the same interested in RFC….

All in all, I’m enjoying the experience – it’s certainly nice to see a character progress through levels that quick, and to learn the dynamics of a new class is always fun. Now, I just need some of my friends to join me on Gurubashi Horde!

The success of a raid instance (part II)

7 September 2009 § 1 Comment

The last post left my conclusions implicit, so let me spell them out here. I believe there are three reasons why players criticise Coliseum: it’s too easy, it lacks lore and background, and it feels a lot less epic than previous raid instances. I believe the first reason is a consequence of the gating decision, forcing the skilled players to confront the same encounters everyone has, with no option to start the hard modes. The second criticism is just unfounded: I may not like NPC chatter as a storytelling device, but the story is there. The third complaint is, imho, a lot more valid. Note however that many people enjoy Coliseum: no trash, good loot, some pretty fun fights (I love both the Faction Champions and the Ikaruga encounters), good loot, no trash… Did I mention there is no trash?

So let’s say that at the very least the reviews on this instance are fairly mixed. Does this mean Blizzard should consider Coliseum a failure? Well, this is a question we cannot answer: for all its improved communication with the players, we still don’t know much about Blizz’s evaluation of its instances. So here I’m just going to make some educated guesses.

The first possibility is that Blizzard just pushed its accessibility policy to the extreme. There is no doubt that Coliseum is more accessible than Ulduar. Also, empowering more people to play and participate in more aspects of the game has been the basis of WoW’s success, and a well-publicised deisgn goal of the raiding team for Wrath. So it is certainly plausible that Blizzard just wanted to enlarge the population of raiders. Indeed, I’m already hearing the local apocalyptic prophets who forecast that Icecrown Citadel will be “as easy as Ragefire Chasm” (quoted from Icecrown general chat, a few days ago). While this is certainly a possibillity, I think it may be too soon to dismiss the efforts of the raid design team, and accuse them of “selling out to the casuals”.

One other possibility is that Coliseum was simply meant to reduce the gear gap between harcore raiders and the general population. Though I don’t have numbers, I think a big part of the player population has raided Naxxramas/Obsidian Sanctum/Malygos. I suspect that a lot less has managed to go very far in Ulduar, let alone through the hard modes. Blizzard is well aware of the consequences of having gaping gear gaps within the player population: at the end of vanilla WoW, you had people in Naxx gear facing people in Stratholme gear in various Battlegrounds, and the sight was anything but pretty. Badge gear helped to close that gap in BC, and the recent overhaul of emblems went in the same direction. So, introducing a dungeon that drops ilvl 219 loot (same as Ulduar 10 normal), and a very easy, very accessible raid dungeon dropping ilvl 232 gear will certainly close the gap between the people sporting full Ulduar 25/Ulduar 10 Hard gear, and the rest of the world. I certainly managed to gear up my paladin, who dinged 80 at the end of June, now has 2 acceptable gear sets (Prot and Holy), which allow her to raid as much as she wants, in any of the instances (I would probably struggle in Trial of the Grand Crusader, but that’s still pretty impressive).

A third possibility is that game designers were otherwise occupied, and thus devoted less time to this raid instance than to other, previous attempts. Possible distractions could be Isle of Conquest (which is a really fun BG) or Icecrown Citadel (I hope…). This would certainly explain the sloppy item design: the same items, with the same name and same graphic, dropping in normal and heroic; tier sets looking the same regardless of the item levels, etc. It would also be compatible with the lack of any serious art for the actual dungeon itself – no new model, one room to design only…

So, which one is it? From a personal point of view, I hope it’s not the first one. While I cheered Blizzard on during the previous waves of increased accessibility (and indeed, I probably wouldn’t be playing this game if it was all that hard), I think Ulduar hit the sweet spot for me: normal modes being challenging enough but not too much; hard modes being quite challenging. It would disappoint me if it was just lack of attention – how did Blizzard think we wouldn’t notice? However, this would also be the easiest issue to deal with. If it was a matter of loot parity, then the emblem overhaul was a much better means to the same end, imho – if anything else, adding some more loot on to the emblem vendors, to fill in more gaps.

I doubt, however, that we will ever find out definitely why Blizzard released Coliseum, and whether they consider it a success or not – maybe in the future, looking back, some of the designers will make a comment about it. For now, I guess we’ll just slog through the Grand Crusader and start working towards our wolves.

The success of a (raid) instance (part I) – or, why do so many people not like Coliseum?

3 September 2009 § 1 Comment

We killed Anub’Arak today – after only 2 attempts, which has been more or less the average for the whole Trial of the Crusader instance. So, final boss down, time for some considerations on the raid instance as a whole. Most everyone I know is complaining about how easy it is – but I think the situation is more complicated than that. In fact, all these whining about it made me think a bit about what makes a raid instance a success – and most importantly, a success for whom. This is a bit of a big argument, so I’ll break it into multiple posts.

I think I can identify three main causes of complaint about Coliseum. Let me see if I can examine them one by one.

The first and most apparent is that it’s “too easy”. Many groups one-shot the bosses as they are added weekly, and so after about 10 mins of excitement about the new fight, there’s nothing else to do. This is, however, only partly true. My own raid has (as I said) one- or two-shot all the bosses, and we certainly are no Ensidia. However, I also went in on various alts with other groups, and I think the fights are actually not as easy as they look. I think part of it is the gear requirements on tanks and healers (much less so on dps): even on normal, bosses hit quite hard, and there’s often some unavoidable raid damage. The raid damage is key, though: a good group manages to reduce that to a minimum, by spreading out, healing the Incinerate Flesh, cc’ing/locking down properly the various champions, avoiding the wrong-colour orbs, etc. However, as soon as the group is not on top of its game, this raid damage seems to grow exponentially and become fairly tough to deal with. The skills required to minimise this damage are probably second nature to a raid working on Ulduar hard modes – but it probably is not to a group whose main raiding experience is Naxx. Even my group, on alts (decently geared, but not the toons we would normally raid with) failed miserably, mostly because many of us didn’t have the automatic response to emergency situations, and thus as soon as stuff didn’t go perfectly well, it snowballed quickly to its (and our) bitter end.

So, maybe, it’s not so much that it’s easy, but that it forces everyone to face the same level of difficulty. In other words, the solution of forcing everyone to complete the instance before attempting hard modes may have backfired. ALL guilds from the world top to the average guild had to go four weeks doing regular bosses they would one or two shot, creating a sense of frustration because stuff was too easy. Compare this with Ulduar, where four weeks in some guilds were on Yogg-Saron (like we were), some were working on the keepers and some more were already fighting through the hard modes – or on Algalon, in the case of the very top guilds. Compare also to the gating Blizzard used for Sunwell, where actually GETTING to kill one boss before the next one was released was a challenge. I think Blizzard tried to stretch the release of this content, to avoid a repeat of the cycle of 2 weeks of mad activity and 4 months (or more) of farming. The result, however, has been that the top raids are still frustrated, so I’m not sure they really achieved anything with this gating.

In a different camp, we have the lore freaks, lamenting the lack of background of the new instance – and this is the second major complaint I hear. In its defence, Blizzard actually did give us some background – through the chatter of the various NPCs around the Argent Tournament Grounds. We have King Varian and Jaina, Thrall and Garrosh arriving at the ground, and we also have a short speech by Tirion explaining why the Tournament. Frankly, it makes sense that you would not want to send a big army against an enemy who can raise dead, but instead find the top champions and send them as small squads – it makes less sense that you choose champions by jousting, but that’s another story. I personally don’t like the option of NPCs chatting in a major area to give story clues: to me, it feels interesting the first time, deadly boring (and spammy on my log) any time after that. NPC background chat is great to establish mood (witness the ongoing complaint the Horde has about the difference between Stormwind and Orgrimmar), but as a tool to further story, it feels too much like watching a diorama in a museum. That said, at least this time we DO have an explanation for an instance, and it’s in the game (unlike, say, Sartharion, where a flimsy explanation was in the books, and no tie-in was made to the rest of the game to this day).

This leaves me with the third type of complaints – that it just doesn’t feel epic enough. In vanilla WoW, we fought an Elemental Lord and his lieutenants; a scheming black dragon who had infiltrated, corrupted and influenced the whole Alliance; her brother, who was intent on creating a new dragonflight to dominate the world; an Old God and his bugs; and the main lieutenant of the Lich King. In Burning Crusade, we had an imprisoned Pit Lord; a Gronn (admittedly, why did we kill Gruul?); the two lieutenants of Illidan and their minions; Archimonde (although really, we only had reason to fight Rage Winterchill, and only to do it once to get the key to Black Temple); Illidan and his lieutenants; Kil’jaeden and various Burning Legion figures (including a captive dragon, another pit lord, a captured Naaru and two eredar). In Wrath so far, we had the main lieutenant of the Lich King (again ;-P); a crazy Dragon Aspect; a black dragon creating a new dragonflight (again…); an Old God and his corrupted Titan jailors – and the Titan messenger trying to sterilise the world. If you look at it that way, even with a couple of raid instances not very well explained, it’s difficult to be excited because we’re fighting not one, but TWO Jormungars. The other bosses are not better: an eredar lord summoned by mistake by the comic relief; two lieutenants of the Lich King we never heard about  before; and a Nerubian King who a) we have beaten before at lvl 73; b) just happened to be burrowing beneath the Coliseum (and kudos to Tirion for not thinking about that…. /facepalm material, that). Last week the point was painfully obvious to us, as we went from fighting Algalon (constellations do his bidding, he creates big bangs), to fighting… the beasts of Northrend. I understand that it’s difficult to give players more and newer epic fights that up the ante from the tier before. However, I can understand the players when for the first time they are let down in this progression.

I think this is long enough for one post (I’m starting to see why the main tank in my raid thinks I’m verbose) – in part II I’ll switch gears and try to divine Blizzard’s perspective on Coliseum.

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