The raiding game has changed dramatically in Wrath: 10 and 25-man progression paths, achievements, hard modes, instance buffing & debuffing, gear inflation, and the tiered badge system, all have been introduced and played out in the (almost) 2 years that the expansion has been live.
There have been four distinct raid progression paths since that time: Naxxramas, Ulduar, Trial of Champions, and Icecrown Citadel. Each one has been handled a bit differently, and therein lies the meat of this discussion: what features rocked and which should have been thrown under a bus before they ever went live?
10-man & 25-man Progression
First introduced as separate progression paths with the introduction of Naxxramas, the first raid instance of the expansion. I won’t over dwell on this other than to say: I liked the option. I played in both 25 and 10-man raiding guilds during the expansion, and while I think I prefer 10-man groups, both are viable. The expansion is going to introduce a new twist to the works, adding lockouts that prevent 10 & 25 raiders from crossing the streams every week. Right now, 10-man (progression) raiders are under intense pressure to limit their group’s ability to be involved in 25-man instances, while 25-man guilds do not feel the same compunction. While I’m unsure about how this will affect me personally, I think for the idea of separate progression to remain viable it’s a solid move.
A lovely addition across the game, I don’t know many gamers who are not task oriented. Achievements give you that warm glowy “why, yes, yes I did do that” feeling of completion that the grinding for a gear piece (replaced a week later when Lady RNG shines on you) just cannot match because it is recorded forEVER!
The dungeon achievements, in my mind, are even better, recording not only your normal progression through the raid instance, but also giving you a reason to go back and try something new. Once you’ve mastered a strategy for a boss, you tend to do it that way every time, and the achievement system can often convince you to throw caution to the wind and try a new way of doing things.
I only have a couple of issues with raid achievements as they stand now: you get credit for doing both 10 and 25-man achievements. If the progression paths are linear, than you should only be able to be “scored” for one or the other, and not both.
Once past Naxx, you have your choice of three different types of heroic modes. Ulduar hard modes could be activated based on mechanics prior to or during the fight and did not require a full dungeon clear on normal prior to activation. Trial of Champions required the full dungeon to be cleared on normal mode to activate a new raid instance: the hard-mode dungeon. Icecrown Citadel also requires the entire dungeon to be cleared, but there is not a separate instance for hard-modes. Instead, before each boss you can activate or de-activate the hard mode for that particular boss.
Personally, I’d like to go back to the Ulduar way of doing things. I don’t like that I have to clear the entire dungeon before I can start working on hard modes for the earlier bosses. Part of the pain of progression is finding yourself swiftly decimating the dungeon, sharding a ton of gear that your raid team has already acquired, and finding yourself stumped on an absolute doozy of a fight that you have a mental block against.
Being able to activate hard modes “early” allowed you to spice up your raid nights while working on progression. Although the “switch mode” offered by ICC takes some of the guesswork out of activating a boss’ hard mode, it always takes out the fun of pressing the BIG SHINY BUTTON OF DOOM or discovering, you don’t have to kill those ancients… as long as you’re prepared for the consequences!
I’m also glad they removed the separate instance for hard-mode function. While I like to raid as much as the next person, running the same content twice (or three or four times a week) on different difficulties did not add any spice to the game. I like hard-modes, I wanna see more, but I also want the most control I can get over when I get to start facing that challenge with my team.
The Debuff of Doom
I have to tell you, I had quite a scare on Wednesday night. A guild-mate put together an alt-run for ICC, so I dusted off Aliera’s pauldrons and marched myself into the instance. However, on upgrading a new piece of gear I had a mini heart attack when I noticed my dodge hovering a little below 6%. I was only at 70% of unhittable (I usually run around 100%). I frantically clawed through my bags looking for my tank set, since I was obviously wearing some weird amalgamation of gear that looked like my tank set, but was obviously, obviously my ret set. In a panic, I sent a /tell to my friend who responded “the debuff?” /facepalm
I’ll tell ya now, I don’t like things that play with my stats on a limited basis. I understand the justification behind the debuff: gear was out of control, and something had to be done. However, I spend a lot of time poring over my character sheet…. in town. When I port into a dungeon, it becomes irrelevant because there’s nothing to be done for it. In one respect, that makes the debuff entirely irrelevant. In another, it does concern me in some vague and unidentifiable way. What if I didn’t stack that gem just right? I can’t know until I’m in the dungeon, and then it is too late!
Another ICC invention, the ever-increasing buff. Again, things that play with my stats inside the instance are bad, m’kay. I have mixed feelings about the buff. In principle, I’m firmly behind the benefits of the buff to the WoW community. More people seeing the content creates a greater link between players (I KILLED THE LICH KING! Really, me too! /high five) that was previously a smaller circle scattered across servers.
It (hopefully) helps prevent so much guild hopping “up” so that you can see the content. I know I’m no exception: when I moved guilds inter-expansion in the past, it has been almost entirely in an effort to see more content. While you might have a nice group, if you have a desire, no a burning need to see all the content every patch, you were pretty limited in the number of guilds that were going to be successful at it. The buff limits the need to move guilds for content-only purposes, and instead becomes one of better fit.
What I don’t like about the buff? I have no control. It’s an all or nothing deal. I can’t bypass the buff to kill bosses I had on farm pre-buff, try new content unbuffed, and then decide to turn it on. I can’t select whether I want the original buff or the full-blown buff. For some players, it makes the kill seem “hollow” when they’ve worked for weeks on a boss, they get a 5% boost, and then the boss dies. Was it the buff? Did we finally learn the fight? Could we have done it without the buff? You’ll never know now!
I want more latitude and more choice when dealing with the buff. My 25-man team is still stuck on the Blood Queen. Wanna know how long we’ve been there? Since the 10% buff. The buff has gone up 15% and we’re still on this boss. It is obviously not a gear/stat issue, but a coordination issue. I also don’t like the “well the buff goes up next week, maybe we’ll get her then” attitude. You know what? We’re sharding 2/3 of the gear we see right now. Stats are not the problem. In this case, the buff is an enabler that breeds poor team effort.
I’ve talked about badges/tier gear before, and I really don’t want to rehash a touchy subject. Gear inflation is a recognized problem (hence the debuff) and would really merit its own page of discussion if I was a numbers inclined person (har, har!) What else could use a better job?
The timing on release of content would be nice. Two years, 4 raid instances, plus VoA, and the one-shot boss of Sanctum; however, there hasn’t been a very… even feel to the release of new content. Naxxramas was an entry level raid that was quickly wiped out by those intent on end-game content, and the wait for Ulduar was too long. Ulduar was an awesome dungeon in terms of difficulty and scope, but following it up with the 5-boss ToC was a wrenching disappointment. ICC continues on, and is another dungeon of epic size. For some guilds, the hard-modes are done, and nothing awaits by the expansion, but I think the majority are still working on regular or hard-modes in some capacity.
Having different feeling dungeons is fine. While I personally love wings, I would be just as happy with a more linear progression path, so long as the number of bosses matches the time before the next dungeon hits the ground. I understand its a delicate balance act between the high-end guilds and the happy fun guilds, but even the happy fun people get tired of the same content and look forward to new releases.
I think I’ve rambled on more than long enough now: what features did you love and hate in the Wrath expansion? What would be your best piece of advice for the Blizzard team to take into the next expansion?