Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Uphill Both Ways, In The Snow

A couple of recent posts (well, one is a link from a recent post), by Larísa and Klepsacovic, reminded me of a couple of times I've had similar experiences of having to fight carefully through an instance and actually use quite a bit of teamwork and communication in order to proceed. They've also got me thinking about another thing but I'll get to that later.

In both of their posts, Larísa and Klepsacovic talk about how they've suddenly been left in the middle of a low level instance missing one or two players, and how they carried on regardless, and most importantly, enjoyed it.

I Like It Hard

I arrived at Klep's lowbie instance post via another of his where he advocates reducing the number of people in a regular dungeon to four. It's an interesting idea, especially since in my experiences levelling my hunter, warrior and rogue the low level instances have mostly been facerolls assuming everyone in the party is at least somewhat competent. Throw in heirlooms and you end up with almost comically overpowered characters.

Take, for example, one of my own sub-five experiences. I'm levelling an orc prot warrior, and a short while back, level 28 or so, I put myself in the queue for a random instance and we get Razorfen Kraul. Almost immediately one of the DPS, a hunter, appears to disconnect. The healer, a shaman, seems to be a bit slow on the uptake too, so I pull a bit more carefully. After a while I notice he's not actually healing at all, because he's also disconnected. That leaves a rogue, a (presumably frost spec) mage, and me. Not sure about the rogue but I am almost fully heirloomed (missing the bow to go in my ranged slot).

We to see how far we can get until they come back, except five minutes later neither have returned. We then votekick them both and wait for replacements, and in the meantime continue further, because hey, it's actually not going so badly. And so we continue, for about half an hour, managing to kill (I think) two more bosses, with none of us dying. Sure, I had to stop quite a lot to bandage and eat, but with my heirloom gear and their DPS things were dying too fast to do any life-threatening damage. The rogue was sapping, the mage was sheeping, increasing the odds in our favour whenever possible. It was, as Klep and Larísa discovered, a lot of fun. For me, it's how five-man instances should be played: crowd control, careful pulls, and actually having to worry about wiping. It's fun, in my opinion, whereas the speed-pull AoE-everything method in today's five-mans (the ICC ones excluded) is really quite boring for most of the party (it's still an interesting challenge when I'm tanking).

The fun didn't last forever, or even until the end of the instance, for we did eventually get a replacement healer and DPS, and from there on things went downhill. The new DPS was a rogue, and since he was similarly heirloom'd up, apparently decided he was capable of tanking stuff, and rather than let me pull, did so "for" me. I considered asking him to maybe let the tank do the pulling, and thought about asking the healer to maybe not heal him, but in the end I decided to go with the flow and just pull quicker, not giving the rogue a chance to get aggro. This is not easy as a rage-starved level 28 prot warrior, incidentally. Luckily we were near the end so the gogogogo didn't last too long.

Back In My Day

I really don't want to come across here as a nostalgic know-it-all pining for the golden days of vanilla WoW and how it was all so much better back then. Hell, I only started playing a week before Lich King came out, so I don't even know what it was like back in the day. I have, however, experienced challenging five-man content: when Naxx and OS were the only level 80, places like Old Kingdown or Utgarde Pinnacle were a real challenge. Patchwerk was a tough boss, reqiuring a level of DPS that now seems like a joke (you needed six damage folks each doing a massive 1,500 DPS to beat his enrage timer). These days you can almost treat Naxx like a very big five-man, certain bosses notwithstanding (Four Horsemen, for instance, or Razuvious).

What can Blizzard do to avoid people facerolling level 85 content? They've already said they don't like the current round-em-up-and-AoE mentality, and plan to introduce more crowd control in Cataclysm. I really really hope this comes true. As Reversion said:

It might be a nightmare at first. Forcing people to use CC (as they have said will happen more) means fights are going to be harder and more complicated. Tanks will have to do more than just AOE spam. Also healers are going to have to get better at triage instead of just ‘topping people off’. All this means instances runs may well be a rude awakening for many. Personally I am hoping for it. I am hoping it will blow away the current level of stagnation in randoms and get people think more and do more. I only hope that overgeared morons will not be able to steamroll their way to 85. I want to see them slam hard into the wall and learn to play again.
The other problem I see is the degree of gear inflation present in Wrath Of The Lich King. As I said above, Patchwerk was considered a serious DPS check in the early days of the expansion, and yet you now have classes capable of almost ten times that level of damage output. Tanks in the Naxx days would be lucky to reach 30k health with raid buffs, yet now they prance around with 55k unbuffed. Moreover, avoidance has become so high that Blizzard had to reduce dodge by 20% across the board in Icecrown Citadel or face some serious balancing issues with boss damage.

So is the solution simply harder instances and smaller increments between gear/raid tiers? I doubt it's that simple, but I for one would like to see such things. I would like challenging content that isn't only based around raids (or PvP but that's a whole other ballgame). Perhaps too with the proposed changes to the emblem system, people won't just run heroic instances for the Cata equivalent of frost emblems, but instead do them because they're a fun challenge.

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