Bravo, Blizzard! You’ve finally done it! Heroics are now, verifiably, “serious business.” That isn’t sarcasm, folks — I’m genuinely happy about this development and it seems I’m not alone. Apparently, this thread makes Zarhym very happy, and I imagine much of the development and support team must be just as proud of their work.
During my first real trip into the realm of Cataclysm Heroics, I met a fellow who’s name I can’t quite recall, but clearly had some experience in the dungeons already. Whether that was because he and his guildmates had barnstormed their way to Level 85 (and an average 329 ilevel, needed to queue for Heroics) or the guy had spent some time in beta, I’m not sure. Either way, it quickly became apparent that there was a difference between him and the revolving door of players who kept leaving the group after a wipe or two, which he (and now I) affectionately called “Wrath Babies.”
That being casuals weaned on a diet of steamrolling dungeon bosses and turning off their brains in the process. I’d like to think I belong to a guild of moderately successful players, members of a broad World of Warcraft “middle class” who desire to push as much content as they can whilst not dedicating their entire lives to the endeavor. We’re not Paragon, but we’re not about to roll over and feign death after our second wipe to a difficult encounter, either.
I suppose what sticks in my craw the most about the thread I referenced above, though, is the idea that Blizzard needs to change their philosophy and “stop catering to elitists.” Thankfully, most of the people who replied to this whiner likewise berated him for his blasphemous thoughts. It seems like common sense that things towards the end of current content should be more difficult than what has come before it, but let’s look just a little deeper. You might recall that going from Burning Crusade to Wrath, what Blizzard sought was a way to take casuals from the beginning of the game’s storyline to its very end, and since most of the major plots — including the one that some people had been waiting to finish since the end of Warcraft 3 — ended in raid dungeons, the decision was made to dumb things down a bit. Normal mode boss encounters would be much easier than they were in the previous expansion and now Hard Modes would be introduced to appease the higher-level players.
In some ways, this still reduced the “specialness” of clearing a very difficult encounter, but it wasn’t an entirely terrible idea. The main problem is that players at the level of being able to do Hard Modes are generally hungry for new content, which means that the portion of content that truly challenged them was incredibly tiny. When someone says the game is “catering to elitists,” I’d like to point them to the fact that most of the content in the game is designed for casual players, and this goes triple for Cataclysm. Loads of new and involving quests in old zones, dungeon redesigns to make them less confusing to traverse, and a streamlined leveling process represent just a few of the ways that the 1-80 game has been tweaked to make things easier for “casuals.” That’s not to speak of the new, higher-level zones, either. For a person progressing through the game at a truly casual pace — maybe only playing a couple hours a day — Hyjal through Twilight Highlands easily provides several weeks worth of content. Though a lot of the regular mobs are tuned to hit a little harder and have a few more hit points relative to their Wrath counterparts, I can’t recall a single non-dungeon/daily quest that required more than one person to complete, and those asking you to go up against elites almost always gave you some sort of help.
Put in perspective, a few Hard Modes for the “elite” seems like a pittance, an unsatisfying meal of tooth-breaking hardtack for those players soldiering through the most difficult content in the game. And, once again, we’re talking about that middle class here. The guilds which comprise the “competitive PvE scene” (and, yes, I feel like a tool for saying that) have already or come close to clearing all normal raid content within the first week of the expansion’s release. That takes a special breed of gamer that I don’t think you can ever fully appease, because they have the goal of “being the first” firmly planted in their minds, and that drives their progress beyond all other aspects of the game. While their input is great for tuning encounters, it should by no means be used as a measure of their true difficulty.
So, taken in context, Cataclysm‘s Heroic dungeons are a godsend. The encounters are not easy, trash often requires crowd control, and best of all, the new abilities given to bosses in Heroic teach essential skills for raiding content. Heroics now collectively comprise the gate so desperately needed to keep idiots out of 10 and 25-man content. It seems to be of little coincidence that some of the added mechanics seem ripped straight off of Wrath raid bosses (such as the expanding void zones from the second boss in Throne of the Tides, which are reminiscent of Professor Putricide’s final phase). The game now requires that you play smart to access the next level of content — separating the “Wrath Babies” from the “Cataclysm Men” — while at the same time expanding the amount which is catered towards players who want a challenge.
In Wrath of the Lich King, my guildmates and I were blazing through Heroic dungeons just as fast as we had in their regular modes while leveling up. In Cataclysm, that’s been reduced to a slow and steady pace. We wipe to bosses; hell, we wipe to trash on a regular basis. Heroic runs take longer, too. There will come a time, when we’re loaded up with raid gear, that this content will become easy again, but the point is that it should be by that point. It shouldn’t be a cakewalk before we even get there.
Blizzard has essentially turned Heroics from “5-mans 1.5″ into “10/25-man raids .5,” if that makes any sense. It’s a subtle distinction, but an important one, and a decision that I can comfortably salute the development team for making. So, if you find yourself frustrated with Heroics, or crying about them like a baby, may I kindly suggest that you man up a little and learn how to play the game? Nothing of any real value can be lost from catering to the lowest common denominator.