Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Has Blizzard found raiding perfection?

Back in the old wild west days of vanilla and Burning Crusade, Blizzard tinkered with how to tune endgame raiding instances to make them challenging enough for the most elite guilds formed in the world while also making the content accessible. As it turns out, their solution was t make progessively harder and harder raids until they ended up with Sunwell, which is still damn hard on 80's in my humble opinion. Sunwell was basically impossible, and that's if you could even get to it! I played when Karazhan was the opening endgame raid and that place was brutal. But it was a far cry from the instances leading up to the Sunwell.

Then to cater to the masses Blizzard would bring the nerf hammer down hard on these raids, especially right before a new expansion. Thus, Sunwell became hard but doable with a serious raid team while other TBC raids beame truly useful to 50-70% of the raiding population. And so the cycle continued into Wrath of the Lich King, where Blizzard dedicated themselves to making the endgame more accessible. Thus, they made the rehashed Naxxramas not all that hard to open the door to more people. Ulduar continued the trend to a degree, but Ulduar also had some very legitimately hard bosses as well. But without a nerf hammer, the only way this content ever gets easier is by overgearing it, which became instantly possible with Trial of the Champion, which was a joke to hold us over.

All in all, this system basically pulled a Goldilocks. First, it was too darn hard for anybody to enjoy except for an elite few. Then, they made it too darn easy by nerfing it completely in one fell swoop or making the instances weaker. How could you find a middle ground that fit both the goals of catering to the real pros of Warcraft and achieve maximum exposure to endgame raiding? Along comes Icecrown Citadel to save the day.

Although there has been much hemming and hawing every month about the new 5% bump in the raid bonus, Icecrown has kept the attention of raiders for many months because they gated the content out every 3-4 weeks initially and then have increased everyone's healing/damage by 5% every month or so until they reach 30%. Now 30% is a nerf on the order of the old nerfs of content, but by slowly rolling these out it gives raid teams that maybe get discouraged on a certain fight a chance to get that extra bit of DPS or healing necessary to finish the fight and move on. Even at 10%, not many raid teams had downed Arthas. Once 15% hit though, many of your better raid teams got him down and as time goes on, this is a much more enjoyable progression than just a nerf at the end. Plus you can turn it off if your raid team wants to challenge themselves. What a brilliant system we have here.

Do you cater to the hardcore pros? Yes by not only allowing them to raid the content as normally designed forever, but also allowing them to prove themselves by making the content too hard for most guilds initially. Do you cater to the regular raiders? Yes because you give them a continuing sense of accomplishment as things get slightly easier every month and they move forward. Do you cater to the masses? Yes because eventually you still get those people into ICC where they can down a few bosses even if they cannot get them all.

So while other changes may be positive or negative like getting 10 man and 25 man raiding on the same weekly cooldown, I really like the concept of extending the longevity of dungeons like Ulduar and ICC with this progressive buff over time. In my raid team that I'm not a regular on, we struggled mightily with Marrowgar and Saurfang at 0%. Then at 5% we really had issues at Festergut and Rotface. Just as we started getting those down, we hit 10% and starting taking on Blood Princes and Professor. In our last guild run at 15%, we downed 8 bosses, leaving only Blood Queen, Putricide, Sindragosa, and Lichy to go. Now that we have 20% I highly suspect our weekly run will get to Sindragosa and start learning that fight more. And once we get to 30%, we will likely have learned enough about the Lich King encounter to down it in a hard battle. We're not elite, and this has been a blast for us.

So all in all, I think this experiment has worked perfectly. I just hope they do not tweak a good thing in Cataclysm!

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