Thy dungeonman! Thy hunger! (Part 2: Preparation)

In part 2 of the 5man dungeon series we’ll be analyzing the preparation time and actual difficulty of those instances.

Before we get started, I’d like to add a few things to yesterdays entry, just to make some things clearer:

In the beginning I mentioned two viewpoints I’ll be tackling in this series, but I didn’t talk about that much in the rest of the posting, because for the most part, it didn’t really make a difference if you played solo or in a big guild or with lots of friends. The LFG tool made a difference for solo players, because finding a group took a long time. But the difference wasn’t -that- huge, because even in a guild you often weren’t able to instantly put together a group of 5 consisting of a tank, a healer and 3 dps. Guilds had the same problems…they had an abundance of damage dealers but usually lacked tanks and healers and if a tank wasn’t online, or busy running another dungeon/raid or not in the right level range, you still were screwed, even with a guild. So often times 3 damage dealers from the same guild grouped together with a guild healer or tank who happened to be available and started spamming /2 /3 to fill the missing tank or healer spot. They saved some time, and the chance of the group disbanding was slightly lower, but if you didn’t plan ahead and got five people together for a dungeon run, you still had to put effort into forming a group. And whispering all the tanks on everybodys friendlist took a while as well.

 

Getting ready to run Stratholme 10 man style..or 3 groups waiting for tanks and healers

Travelling to the instance didn’t go much faster either, because players were still scattered around the continents. And the second part of yesterdays posting affected all players, regardless of their friendlist or guild size. Dungeons got smaller and shorter, that’s not something you can really change. So, I’ll still be looking at the whole topic from two viewpoints, just don’t expect every single aspect to be vastly different for solo or guilded players.

 

Alright, enough of that, let’s start with the second part of our little dungeon running analysis, shall we?

 

Todays posting will be about preparation. What do I mean by that?

Well, players have to, or had to, prepare in a certain way for a dungeon in order to get the most out of it. Most dungeons have quests associated with them, so having the quests in your log would be a good idea to get those additional xp, gold and item rewards. Nobody wants to lose time wiping to trash, doing extra hours clearing trash respawn or worse, having the group disband after hours of playing and finally reaching Baron Rivendare. Players who knew the potential of their class and maybe even visited the instance before, especially if they were the tank or healer, made a huge difference for the whole group. And sometimes there were more requirements to a dungeon, which took some effort.

You are not prepared…oh wait, yes you are…nevermind then…

 

A small fraction of the BRD quests

Let’s assume it’s 2005 and you want to run a dungeon you’ve never been to before. Your gear could still use some upgrades and you’re not lvl60 yet anyways. Let’s go to Zul’Farrak in Tanaris!

Zul’Farrak has, well it used to have, seven quests available. Six for both factions and one for either horde or alliance.

Where did you have to go and what did you have to do in order to get those quests?

  • Divino-matic Rod: The questgiver is in Gadgetzan in Tanaris
  • Gahz’rilla: You had to go to the Shimmering Flats in Thousand Needles to acquire this quest. But you had to enter the instance at least twice to be able to summon this optional boss. The first part required you to get a tablet from the instance and then you had to kill two Lvl50 elite mobs in the Hinterlands (usually with a group) to get the hammer, allowing you to summon Gahz’rilla on your second visit to the instance. In addition, this quest was also part of a quest chain, so you couldn’t just accept the quest, you had to finish a bunch of quests before that.
  • Nekrum’s Medallion (Alliance): Available in the Blasted Lands, again this was part of a quest chain, requiring you to finish other quests before this one became available
  • Scarab Shells: Available in Gadgetzan as well
  • The Prophecy of Mosh’aru: Part of a quest chain in Tanaris at the eastern coastline, not in the main quest hub Gadgetzan
  • The Spider God (Horde): Available in the Sen’Jin Village in Durotar. Horde pendant to the Nekrum’s Medallion quest and also part of a quest line
  • Tiara of the Deep: Offered by Tabitha in the Dustwallow Marsh
  • Troll Temper: Another quest directly offered in Gadgetzan

So, in order to be ready for Zul’Farrak, just in terms of quests, you had to visit five different zones on two different continents and finish at least three whole questlines just to be able to accept those quests. You also had to enter Zul’Farrak at least twice to be able to summon the bonus boss, also requiring you to find a group outside of the instance to forge the summoning item. If you had all these quests and did finish them, you’d get a huge experience reward, some useful items and gold. At the appropriate level you’d get 1/4 to 1/3 of a level, just by turning in those quests, which was a lot. Leveling took a long time back then and 35-40k experience was a huge deal around lvl45-50. Not to mention the XP from the quest chains, solo kills while questing and mob kills inside the instance.

But at any rate, it took some serious effort to gather all quests for the instance. People usually entered the instance multiple times, because they didn’t have all quests ready in their first or second run, so they’d return a couple of times to finish everything off. Besides, the dungeon offered some really good loot and you could level from 45-50+ in there, which was the suggested level range. If you were a Paladin, Warrior or even Hunter looking to get the Epic 2-Hand Sword Sul’thraze the Lasher, you usually were in for a lot of runs until you had both rare sword drops in your backpack to create the epic item. Yes, epic items were a big deal back then.

Every time you wanted to run the instance you probably went to Ironforge/Orgrimmar or Tanaris to try your luck finding a group. If you already had another player you could camp both locations to increase the chance of finding allies to join you. I’ve talked about finding a group yesterday in detail, so I’ll just repeat that it took a lot of time. Once you had a group assembled at the instance portal you were ready to go. A 100% full clear run usually took about two hours if the group wasn’t above the recommended level and took a lot longer, if it was possible at all, if some group members were underleveled, especially if they filled key roles like the tank or healer. That happened more often than not, because after a while you got desperate and invited a lvl44 tank just to be able to do something…anything. To be on the safe side, you really had to free up your evening and plan for a 3-4 hour investment…probably after days of gathering quests.

Zul’Farrak also had a famous event, where players had to fight off waves of mobs for over 5 minutes. This was often a cause for wipes when the tank was inexperienced in quickly getting aggro of constantly spawning mobs or when healers couldn’t keep their mana up for the whole time. Using smaller spells, utilizing the MP5 regeneration rule and not topping everyone off were important skills to learn. Overzealous damage dealers were also a problem. With the number of mobs coming up the stairs, there was enough random damage on the damage dealers already and if some didn’t let the tank build up aggro and so got aggro themselves, they’d be in a lot of trouble as the healer had to waste mana to heal them.

So knowing your class was important, especially for tanks and healers. But knowing the responsibilities of other classes was important as well, especially for damage dealers. You could always spot a good DD from a bad one from miles away. One would carefully watch his aggro, get mobs off the healer, do focus damage on single mobs and use stuns or other CCs to control the fight making everything much easier. The other would probably run around, accidentally pulling random trash mobs, running into patrolling enemies, drawing aggro during difficult encounters by focusing on the wrong enemy and letting the healer die in order to do more phat dps….or just die right away.

Oh and not all quests gave you an item reward that was actually useful for your class…don’t be silly.

Zul’Farrak has nine bosses and three possible rare spawn bosses. Two of the boss encounters have two boss mobs at once and one is a battle against a full NPC party of five. There’s a ton of trash packs and patrolling mobs all around the instance.

Here’s a lovely shot from 2005:

 

Wipe! After two hours, the group disbanded when wiping again later

Okay, now let’s look at a current instance. It’s 2012, you’re leveling through Pandaria and decide to hit a dungeon. What do you do?

Click a button to open the dungeon finder and click a button again, to queue for a random dungeon. Then wait 1 second (for tanks) to 20 minutes (for damage dealers) and anything in between for healers. Click a third time to enter the dungeon once the window pops up. Finally! You’re entering Stormstout Brewery. The loading screen does its thing and you’re in the instance, being greeted by a friendly NPC. Now it takes about 5 more clicks (what an ordeal!) to accept both dungeon quests. Both offer an item reward specifically designed for you character class. There’s a third quest outside of the instance, which is part of a quest chain leading to the instance, but there’s almost no reward for it and the followup is actually one of the two quests offered to you inside the dungeon. you get the quest even if you don’t have the prequest.

There are three bosses in the instance and hardly any trash at all. It takes about 20-30 minutes to clear the whole dungeon instance and that’s it. You’re not really in danger of dying unless you stand in the bad stuff like an idiot or don’t follow the on screen instructions to click on something to avoid death during the final bossfight. Even if your group is terrible and you wipe (never happened to me so far, even with the worst random groups) you’re in for 45 minutes to 1 hour at most. And that includes all preparation beforehand, because there is none. Quests are finished on the first run through the instance and unless you really need an item from a boss, which is unlikely while leveling these days, you don’t really have a reason to go back. You might hit the random queue again and get the same instance again, but the bonus reward from the random queue is usually enough to keep you motivated for another 30 minutes.

 

So you see, running a dungeon changed from being a huge time investment, often taking days if you were serious about it to a casual stroll, giving you at least very useful quest rewards without any additional effort besides clearing the short dungeon once.

Finding a group, collecting all the quests beforehand (not all quests were shareable) and finishing a two hour dungeon (ZF wasn’t among the longest dungeons, two hours was actually just about average) was something special. I’ll talk about the rewards in detail later, but you usually just had green quest rewards and getting powerful blue items through boss encounters and dungeon quests was a big deal. You couldn’t just queue quickly again and run 5 dungeons in one evening. Back then I cleared a dungeon maybe every couple of days for multiple reasons. I didn’t always have 3-4 hours of free time, sometimes I just couldn’t find a group and on other days I just wanted to progress in a zone, collect quests for a dungeon and work on my professions.

Today you can do all that (questing, professions etc.) and just queue for a short dungeon run in between. It’s nothing special anymore. It doesn’t feel like you “want” to run a dungeon and get to work to do so, it feels more like “Meh, I guess I could queue for a random dungeon…whatever” these days. And that doesn’t even take the heavily reduced difficulty into account.

 

Wow, this has gotten longer than I thought. Guess I’ll talk about the actual dungeon difficulty and trash/boss encounter challenges tomorrow while also looking at the complexity of encounter mechanics. We’ll also look at other areas besides boss mechanics and gimmicks that made a dungeon interesting and challenging: Patrolling enemies, trash packs placed close to each other, overall density of mob placement, raw damage output of bosses and more.