Blizzard seems intent on taking a new direction in Cataclysm – making the game more challenging. I’m very curious if the follow through, and if they do – even more curious if they stick with it.
The basis of the change, without going into too much detail, is making CC required in instances again as well as making healing more challenging. What is surprising to me is that WoW today has been built on accessibility and easing the game every step of the way. I wrote recently how my Shaman had managed to beat pretty much the most challenging of bosses in PUG’s. The game has hit its high subscriber base from designing every class to be competitive in any role it can assume.
I’ll give a brief history of my experiences in WoW and how I have seen things change, and then chat about whether this move is possible, advisable, and/or sustainable. After the break.
My first raider in WoW was a druid, back in Vanilla. Back then druids were few and far between (no Tree or Boomkin form) and I secured my spot on a raid team for one button, and one button only – Innervate. Back then raiding was such a challenge, mana was at a premium, and my main job was to replenish the mana of the core healers – usually a priest. My Vanilla experience was a full time mana battery with healing capabilities. Most characters had one clearly defined role and spec, and if you wanted to raid as that class, you stuck by it.
TBC fleshed out the characters a bit more, but dungeon runs were still a challenge. Going in without your guild (because you knew the strengths and weaknesses of the players) rarely happened. Heroic Shattered Halls was a complete cluster f*ck if you didn’t have the right CC, and the right players responsible for that CC. While characters became much more well rounded, content access was still at a premium. Our casual guild (who raided hard) was ranked as a top 10 guild on the server at one point, and we hadn’t even killed all of the bosses.
Wrath finalized the current path. Nearly every spec of every class was end game playable, and the content was the most accessible it has ever been. Still a shortage of tanks and healers, but enough people could fill those roles well enough that a 20 minute wait was pretty much the longest wait for a DPS only class to get into some content. The dungeon finder is out, and in full swing, and a group of 5 random strangers across multiple servers can easily dominate the hardest of 5 man heroic dungeons. PUG groups form day and night for 10/25 man ICC (the end game of Wrath), many with heroic mode toggles. More people experience the most content available in WoW to date.
While that history is a severe simplification, all roads travelled by Blizzard have led to an easy to play, moderate to master experience. I am curious why they want to make the game more challenging since their success seems to have hinged on that mantra. Regardless, this is the vision they are working towards for Cataclysm. Spending 5 years training a playerbase to play a certain way towards the easy path, and then changing to make them have to relearn their expectations is, by all accounts, a very interesting goal.
Now, perhaps I only found Wrath to be extremely easy because ‘I learned the hard way’. Players who entered the game end of TBC, or WRATH, only know the ‘new’ way. Through hundreds of dungeons and raids, I have literally seen CC used a handful of times. It’s just not necessary. I have met rogues that don’t even know what Sap is. Mages don’t Poly (even in an emergency – it’s not a natural reaction to immobolize the mob anymore to try and recover). It has been completely removed from the game, and by recent accounts, is something people are going to have to pick up real quick on launch day. Will it succeed?
I applaud Blizzard for trying something new and attempting to inject a bit of challenge into their playable game. I just don’t understand the motivation. By keeping the absolute end game (Lich King) still very difficult to kill they have seemed to keep the hardcore raiders pleased. By allowing the rest of the player base to defeat most of the other bosses, the more casual component seems to be pleased. So, at this stage in the game, why alienate your core subscriber base? You tought these players to play one way and made it easy for them. Now you are going to make them struggle through a 5 man dungeon. Is this good design?
I’m looking forward to watching how it all plays out.