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
Wow, that’s a LOT of stuff. We better get going!
A little bit of history on the LFG tool, which we all know and
hate … love … well, we know it exists, and everybody’s using it. On to the history lesson:
The LFG tool we know today was introduced in patch 3.3 and it makes finding groups consisting of a tank, a healer and 3 damage dealers a breeze. One click and a couple of seconds to half an hour later and you’re grouped with 4 strangers from other servers, ready to play through a random dungeon. This is somewhat simplified, but we don’t need all the details.
A lot of people don’t remember what came before this feature. Well, we already had an LFG tool, but it was a lot less user friendly and only able to look for players on the same server. This was introduced in patch 2.0 and slightly improved in 3.1 with the ability to select a role, and search for other players already in the queue.
Before that, the LFG tool was actually hidden in the meeting stones and players could enter a queue at the meeting stone. It was really weird and not used much at all.
And before that? Well, times were tough at the beginning. There was a global LFG channel, but it wasn’t linked across all zones and continents…good thinking Blizzard. As a result, players usually stood in Ironforge or Orgrimmar, spamming the LFG channel for 5man runs and when the group was finally full, the group travelled to the dungeon entrance, which also took a long time. Everybody waited for everybody else to arrive at the meeting stone to summon the rest of the group. Often times it took just as long as the group assembly. Warlocks were really popular back then. The LFG channel was modified a couple of times from global, to local, then it got removed and then it was global again…or something along those lines, can’t remember the exact order anymore.
Before TBC, gathering a group of five people could take up to an hour, if not more when you were a damage dealer. Getting that group to the dungeon entrance usually took another 30 minutes, because nobody wanted to stand around at the summoning stone and when enough players were there to summon the rest, half an hour was over. But more often than not, a group disbanded during that process. Roles with more responsibility had an easier time. Tanks and healers could just pick three DPS from the large pool of players looking for a group (that hasn’t changed), but the travelling still took a long time and you really appreciated players who were prepared and ready to go.
This shows how much easier, streamlined and faster the whole process became. the LFG tool removed a huge organizational aspect from the game. Everybody can agree that this resulted in being able to run a LOT more dungeons, even as a pure damage dealer. So it’s all good, right? Well, I’ve got one problem with that: Dungeons evolved from an occasional activity, which often took a significant amount of preperation and overall time investment, to a very simple part of the game, not taking a lot of time while giving pretty big rewards on multiple levels.
The LFR tool also removed players from the game world. No waiting at an instance, no travelling through the game world creates players that don’t know anything about the world layout. I can list old dungeon entrances in my sleep, but I have a hard time telling you where a dungeon is located the more recently it was released. It’s really sad.
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
Dungeons are getting smaller and shorter with each new expansion, it’s an epidemic. The bosses who (I assume) run things around a dungeon also seem to be severely lacking funds, thus resulting in critically understaffed dungeons. Where there used to be almost a dozen, no, not trash mobs, entire trash packs before each boss, there is hardly anything standing between the heroes and their loot piñatas now.
The changes from expansion to expansion weren’t drastic, but noticeable. Blizzard never made really huge modifications in one go, so while some people got upset, it was never a gigantic uproar and when the next set of changes came, players were already accustomed to the old changes and didn’t remember how it was at the beginning…or they never experienced it because they never played back then.
In classic WoW there were instances like Stratholme, Scholomance, Blackrock Depths, Wailing Caverns and others. Huge unstructured dungeons players regularly got lost in. Getting from one boss to the next didn’t just involve a lot of walking, there were also huge numbers of trash packs on the way. Getting a group from one Ziggurat to the next in Strath often took longer than a whole “heroic” isntance run does today. And those trash packs weren’t pushovers either unless you outgeared the content, in which case you didn’t do those dungeons in classic WoW. You had to pay a lot of attention all the time.
In TBC, dungeons got more linear, but not less difficult or less packed with trash mobs. Instances like the three on Hellfire Peninsula were usually one long tunnel, but there were multiple trash packs between bosses, usually requiring accurate pulls and good timing, especially with bosses patrolling between trash packs. The average size of a dungeon did get reduced a little bit, but more due to the fact, that there weren’t any behemoths like BRD or labyrinths like Wailing Caverns anymore. Other than that, the mob-density and difficulty didn’t really change. I’ll talk about heroic instances later in this topic.
Then Wrath of the Lich King came and things changed again. The dungeon size stayed more or less the same, but the amount of trash was reduced in a clever way, as were the bosses. The number of trash packs and mobs in the pack were reduced slightly, but that’s not very clever. Blizzard designed instances, so they wouldn’t require as much precision pulling anymore. Trash packs were weaker, just AoE-ing them down got more popular and effective and here and there trash packs could be skipped. So you had a huge room (Halls of Lightning) full of Trash packs, but without any effort you could skip 50% of the room. Some bosses (Halls of Stone) were skippable as well. While this wasn’t in every instance and with every boss, it was both easier and more frequent than before. Skipping trash during a Baron speedrun took a lot of coordination, timing and a good overview, while skipping trash in WotLK instances was pretty straight forward and just required running past the mobs. There were a couple of 5 man instances introduced in later patches. Those instances were already a precursor to the way Cataclysm would handle things, so I’ll skip ahead to that expansion to avoid repeating myself.
Next up is Cataclysm and here Blizzard didn’t just change the way current dungeons work, they also made modifications to the old dungeons as well. The overall changes included quests, which were now available inside the dungeon, but I’ll talk about that in detail later. Blizzard also modified the layout ofdungeons like the Wailing Caverns to make them more smoothly playable and other dungeons like Shadowfang Keep and the Deadmines received new bosses, a new storyline and basically became a new dungeon in the old level layout, removing the original versions of those instances. The new instances weren’t necessarily shorter than before, although they contained a lot less trash between bosses. But players didn’t really notice. Why? Because the amount of trash you actually had to fight was already reduced in WotLK and Blizzard just got rid of skippable trash without increasing anything else. So the time to clear a dungeon didn’t increase or decrease at the beginning. However, due to constant and pretty severe nerfs, the once pretty difficult heroic instances were made a LOT easier than they were at the beginning of the expansion, so Blizzard managed to reduce the time required to clear a dungeon after all, just through other means.
The current expansion, Mists of Pandaria, kept the very low difficulty and introduced a new “feature”, which, just like in Cataclysm, was hinted at with the final patch of the previous expansion. New instances weren’t all available as a normal and heroic version anymore. The first time Blizzard did this, was with the final Cataclysm patch, which introduced three new “heroic” instances, which didn’t have a normal version. The game offers nine new instances, but only five of them are available during leveling. Now Blizzard didn’t have to balance content twice anymore but it also shows, that the difficulty was still so low, that there was no need for separate level 90 instances to gear up for heroics. The new heroics ARE the regular lvl90 instances and heroic instances (compared to the TBC original) exist by name only in MoP. But I’ll talk about heroics in detail later. The amount of trash was reduced again and in some instances like the Stormstout Brewery you encounter 2-4 trash packs (depending on your definition of trash pack, because some are part of a boss mechanic) in the entire (!) instance.
MoP also introduces scenarios. I’ll just say it: Scenarios are scripted instances, so easy they don’t require tanks or healers anymore, but they still give rewards on a similar level. The queue times for all players are almost instant, because roles are more or less irrelevant. However, due to their heavily scripted nature, they take almost as long as an entire 5-man dungeon, while only giving an item reward once at the end. So you get reduced queueing time, (even further) reduced challenge, but also smaller rewards, some of which are still too good, but the rewards come later in this topic.
Overall there have been reasonable iterative changes from expansion to expansion, but they all went in the same direction: To reduce time between bosskills and the overall time spent in the dungeon.
With the difficulty reduced, players don’t have to worry about dying as much as they used to. In fact: I still haven’t died in a LOT of the current MoP dungeons and I couldn’t tell you the entrance to all dungeons, because I never saw most of them. But even IF you die: Getting back to the point where the group failed has gotten really easy, because the instances themselves are smaller and the way TO the instance is shorter as well. With the addition of several spirit healers and the ability to fly while dead (!) made the whole thing almost trivial.
Faster queueing times, shorter and easier runs and less penalty for dying also made players care a whole lot less. Why give it your best during trash mob fights if there’s not really anything at stake?
Remember trash respawn? Of course you don’t because players didn’t experience that for years after the nerfs during cataclysm! I’m not even sure if trash still does respawn in an instance. Even if you wipe multiple times, the whole instance is over so quickly, you never EVER get even close to trash respawn. It’s sad how little effort players have to put into running a dungeon these days…and I’ve barely gotten started on the subject. There’s two or three more parts coming on this complex subject, so stay tuned for tomorrow.