Yesterday we stopped right at the dungeon difficulty of the Wrath of the Lich King expansion. Towards the end of that expansion, Blizzard released the Icecrown Citadel content patch which brought the ICC raid instance, but also three new dungeons, which were suddenly more difficult than previous heroic dungeons and quite a lot of fun, especially as a tank or healer. Using crowd control on mobs wasn’t really necessary, but in some situations it helped a lot. Another great addition was a lengthy questline for a weapon players could forge by finding an item in these dungeons, but that’s just a sidenote as I’ll probably make a seperate “quest” article someday.
But these three instances were a precursor of the changes to the dungeon difficulty Blizzard intended for Cataclysm. If you remember yesterdays posting, I mentioned how dissatisfied a lot of players were with the WotLK difficulty and wanted to go back to the previous TBC model of incredibly difficult heroic instances. Well, Blizzard listened and made some changes with Cataclysm.
Regular dungeons in Cata weren’t really difficult, but an important change could already be observed here. The step to less class responsibility and more environment responsibility (clicking on stuff) was progressed with another addition: Dancing!
Welcome to another entry about the evolution of dungeons in World of Warcraft. We’ve already looked at several changes like dungeon size, time investment, quests and more in the last couple of days and today we’ll investigate the challenge dungeons used to pose and how that changed over the years. Contrary to other changes, this isn’t a constant evolution in one direction as the difficulty has constantly been going up and down through the expansions and with the addition of heroic versions.
Let me give you a quick summary of todays topic.
To make dungeons more accessible, Blizzard made a lot of changes to the way players can participate in them. Searching for quests is no longer required, looking for a group doesn’t take any effort anymore and the rewards (which we’ll cover as well), are much better these days while being awarded after shorter and faster instance runs. These changes attracted more players to the dungeons and due to the anonymity of the cross realm LFG tool, trying hard or having put effort into gear, enchants etc. didn’t really seem necessary to most players. Also, new players with much less game knowledge also got easy access to all kinds of dungeons.
But we didn’t arrive smoothly at this state, there were a couple of ups and downs and instance difficulty changed quite drastically over time, which is why I’ll be looking at each expansion individually again. Let’s start with WoW classic.
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.
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.
In case you’re confused about the title: Shame on you! Also, click this link!
Okay, dungeons it is.
Dungeons were an integral part of World of Warcraft right from the beginning and that hasn’t changed. What has changed, is the role of the dungeon and the way and reason we run them, so this is going to be another comparison posting between current WoW and classic WoW. Enjoy!
I’ll try to view this topic from two perspectives:
A player enjoying the game solo, unguilded, in a very small or inactive guild or in general with a low number of acquaintances to play with. So a player who might have a tough time quickly gathering a couple of people he knows in order to run a dungeon
A player with a larger friend circle and/or larger and more active guild who can easily ask around his fellow guildmates to get a dungeonrun going
What different aspects will we be looking at during the next couple of days?
Queueing time: How we progressed from a simple “looking for group” channel to a one click tool that automatically arranges a group
Running time and instance size: How long it takes to run a single 5man dungeon due to length, trash mobs, number of bosses and death run distances
Preparation time: What was necessary to get the most out of a dungeon in terms of xp, gold and item rewards through quests, how much knowledge about the game, class and dungeon was required and were there other prerequisites?
Actual difficulty: How hard were the encounters themselves and what could cause a wipe
Complexity of mechanics: What mob/boss abilities did players have to pay attention to? What’s the amount of player abilities that were required? How numerous were these and how did the priorities change?
Relevance to progress: How are dungeons used to progress through leveling and endgame content
Direct and indirect Rewards: Bosses drop loot, quests give items, reputation, emblems, points…what did we get, what do we get today?
Attunement and heroics: Heroic dungeons weren’t open to everybody right away and their role in the game changed as well
So, I just dinged 90 with 1.5 zones to go (2.5 if you count the 90 zone “Vale of the Eternal Grind”) and only a single dungeon finished so far. I’ve done most of the playing with rested experience.
At all times I wore the equipment I used during the lvl85 endgame content to see how much the character strength really depended on gear. We all know how important gear is, but I wasn’t really ready for this result, because my character actually got weaker with each level. The hit points increased and I got a few (about 3-4) agility points per level, which didn’t do anything.
Just like before, I’ve lost dps, speed, haste, energy regen, hit chance, crit chance, expertise, mastery and dodge while gaining some health. Parry stayed the same (I got a .01 boost from 88 to 89) as did stats like armor and attack power. AP actually rose ever so slightly due to the higher agility, but haste fell so fast, the higher damage didn’t stop the dps from falling.
Azeroth is a huge game world with a lot of variety between the different zones. It has an enormous amount of lore, countless characters with a detailed backstory and even a lot of the items in the game have a story behind them. With such an enormous world and so many things happening all around you, it shouldn’t be a problem to go out there and have an adventure on your own.
Well, I’ve tried, but it’s really hard, and Blizzard seems to be trying their hardest to implement changes that somehow directly affected my current “adventure”.
You see, I really like customization and trying new things that are a little bit off the beaten path in games. When WoW was fresh I didn’t really bother all that much with this, because I still had plenty of fun with the regular content. Especially when playing your first character everything is new and exciting. But after a while you start to see a pattern. Enter a new zone, do a bunch of quests, get some new items and gain a level or two, go to the next zone, repeat. Well, if you like playing just for the story, that’s probably fine the first time around. When you start a new character and eventually end up in a zone you’ve already quested through with your first character, things might get ugly. Suddenly Random NPC-Guy #25 has lost his treasured hanky…again! In the same place! And it has been picked up by the same Random Evil-Mob #412! Again! What are the odds? Especially considering that Random Evil-Mob #412 should be dead, because I already killed him.
The fact of the matter is, that everybody experiences exactly the same story, due to the quest-heavy gameplay. While you sometimes have the choice of going to another zone for a few levels, especially with the expansions, the experience is insanely linear. Chances are…no, there’s not a chance…it’s a fact: Nothing you do in WoW hasn’t been experienced exactly the same way by millions of people before you. People with the same class, spec, equipment and professions have done exactly the same quests in exactly the same order with exactly the same outcome. They’ve seen the same “shocking” twists, killed the same “super evil” enemies just before they could blow up the universe and there’s nothing special about anything you’ll be able to do, especially while leveling your character.
It was more or less like that right from the start, but it has actually gotten a lot worse. Nowadays, the first expansion, The Burning Crusade, is considered to have a very unstructured and badly paced questing structure compared to later expansions and the overhaul the 1-60 content received with Cataclysm. To me that’s a very good example how the gameplay experience progressed.
I remember my first questing through the Outland zones quite well. At first it was a lot of fun, the rush and excitement of the very first WoW expansion was really something special and that experience will never be reproduced as long as WoW exists. But I wasn’t even halfway through Hellfire Peninsula when I started complaining about the quest structure in the game. All quests were in one zone, you hopped from quest hub to quest hub and when you left a zone you could rest assured you had seen everything. In WoW classic you didn’t have any choices either, but the zones weren’t self contained and a lot of quests lead to other zones or another continent and there often were quests “hidden” in remote corners of a zone, only available through rare quest drops or by simply being available at unusual levels (like the lvl40 quest in Westfall).
These days Blizzard doesn’t think that’s such a good idea so they force feed you all the content, making sure there’s nothing left to discover after casually finishing a zone.
I actually had to accept the quest at one point, because I couldn’t farm leather anymore…the damn thing kept popping up every 2-5 mobs and throwing the old one away each time to skin the mob got pretty annoying.
So, questing and story isn’t something where you can experience something unique or at least create a custom experience, which leaves the gameplay or the way “how” you play through the linear content.
The year was 1998. Two years ago I had bought a new computer (Pentium 133) and one year ago I took my first steps into the world wide web. I’ve been reading about this game “Ultima Online” for a couple of months now and was pretty intrigued, so I started playing my first MMORPG in 98.
I won’t bore you with endless details on how incredibly awesome and unique this game was (maybe later). From 1998 to 2004 I’ve been playing UO, but when the expansion “Age of Shadows” was released in early 2003, I started looking for an alternative. You see, UO used to be a completely open game, with no quest direction, no character classes or levels. Everybody had dozens of skills at their disposal and using them improved those skills, which was measured in points. However, there was a limit on the total number of skillpoints a single character could have (700), so you had to make decisions which skills to raise to grandmaster (100 points). The variety of character builds was completely insane and the game wasn’t focused on combat alone either. You could be a craftsman (carpenter, tinkerer, alchemist, fletcher, blacksmith, miner etc.) or pursue a profession more suited for serious role playing (beggar, cook, fisherman etc.) and of course be a swordsman, archer, mage or anything else you could think of. Equipment came in different qualities and a few pieces were magical with damage or armor boosts, but the main strength of a character came from his skillset and the player’s ability to make the most of it. Leveling a single skill to grandmaster level often took weeks, if not longer.
When Age of Shadows came along, they changed the focus of the game from skill based to item based. Raising your skills became much easier and the skills themselves became a lot more powerful. In addition to that, items got a lot of stats, armor got more resistances and the game introduced artifacts which made the good old vanq/power broadsword look like utter garbage…the investment of millions of gold instantly devalued, nice one.
Well, I didn’t like these changes and the new custom housing feature (player housing was in the game right from the start, but now you could design your own home), collecting rare items (something that never catched on in WoW, I’ll talk about this as well one day, since I believe I’m the only WoW rares collector) kept me playing for a while.
A friend introduced me to WoW in 2004, but he couldn’t really persuade me to play, because I knew how good the classic UO was and even the current UO sounded better than what WoW was supposed to offer when it was released.
Welcome back to part 2 of my little analysis of the leveling difficulty. Last time we went over the way the character’s skills and equipment during leveling (especially in the 1-60 content) became much stronger. This time we’ll take a look at several other aspects that had an impact on the leveling difficulty and speed.
First up is travel. This is actually a more complex topic with more consequences than just reduced leveling speed, so I’ll go into more detail about traveling in a later entry.
Blizzard introduced several convenient changes and additions to the way characters can travel through the world, reducing the time to get from point A to point B, either by making mounts available at earlier levels, adding flight paths, flying mounts, teleporters and many other things. I won’t go on about the advantages and disadvantages of these changes, so let’s just acknowledge the effect they had on leveling. While leveling through quests, a player has to travel…a lot! Either from questgiver to quest-objective, from questhub A to questhub B or to a different zone or continent. With every aspect of travel made easier and faster, while also introducing completely new methods, it’s clear that a huge amount of leveling time has been cut. We could argue that Blizzard just removed dead filler, thus allowing players to get to where the action is faster, but I don’t quite agree. We’ll discuss this in detail some other day.
What do we usually do while leveling? Killig stuff! Well that’s what players used to do most, but nowadays I’m not so sure anymore. Anyway, combat plays a huge role in World of Warcraft, during leveling, after reaching the level cap, PvE or PvP and even the tradeskills often involve combat.
What could Blizzard do to make the core aspect of a game called World of WARcraft less important? Again, a lot.
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