Cataclysmic Difficulty

Cataclysmic difficulty:

In my last post, I offered difficulty as a potential explanation for the steep drop in subscriptions World of Warcraft has recently experienced. I obviously can’t be certain whether or not that is the case, but it did get me thinking about difficulty in Cataclysm.Logo for World of Warcraft: Cataclysm

I have generally been of the opinion Cataclysm is not significantly harder than previous expansions. I do agree that it’s been a harsh expansion for the casual player, but that has more to do with general game mechanics than actual encounter difficulty.

The trouble is, a lot of things skew my thoughts on this. I’m a Wrath baby, so my only knowledge of the difficulty of classic WoW and Burning Crusade comes from second hand accounts and extrapolations based on doing the raids with 80+ characters.

To make matters worse, it’s been a while since Wrath gave way to Cataclysm, and I took a few months off WoW just before Cata launched, so my memory of Wrath is fuzzy.

We can all agree that heroic dungeons were positively brutal when Cataclysm launched. I will always take a small amount of smug pride in surviving playing a healer during the time when you would go OOM before the boss hit 50%. I kind of assumed all expansions had heroics this hard at their launch — I’ve heard mixed reports from those who remember those times.

I definitely thought that Cataclysm heroics have now been brought down to Wrath level through a combination of gear and nerfs (primarily the “your DPS sucks” buff, as a fellow blogger calls it).

But then I got thinking. I don’t remember ever encountering a boss in Wrath heroics (excepting perhaps the final encounter of Halls of Reflection) that would be unbeatable if your DPS wasn’t up to snuff, but I still encounter this in Cataclysm heroics. Good luck defeating Erudax or Ozruk if your DPS aren’t doing at least 10Kish.Break yourselves upon my body. Feel the strength of the earth!

There are still trash pulls in some dungeons that require crowd control, or at least will get pretty ugly if you skip it. Back in Wrath, I remember wondering why CC abilities even existed.

And then there’s the infamous changes to healing. I don’t have any problems with them anymore — I spam flash of light like a boss and never go OOM, but I firmly believe paladins are overpowered, so that hardly counts.

So maybe Cataclysm heroics are a step up after all.

That brings us to raid content, and this is an area I’m really not knowledgeable of, sadly, since I’ve never gotten to raid much (raid inaccessibility remains my biggest complaint with WoW, but that’s another topic), and I’ve never done a raid when it was current without any kind of nerf, discounting a solitary Halfus Wyrmbreaker kill many months back.

But I’ll offer what thoughts I can based on my limited experience. The tier 11 raids felt more or less like what I was used to in Wrath. There are some really easy bosses (Omnitron/Flame Leviathan), some “OMGWTFBBQ WHAT IDIOT DESIGNED THIS?” hard fights (Nefarian/Malygos, although in the case of Maly, that was more due to player stupidity than anything), and a lot that are kind of in the middle (Ascendant Council/XT-002 Deconstructor). But that’s post-nerf, and I imagine they must have been damn hard pre-nerf. The lack of an easy intro raid has often been criticized, and I think it really got the raiding this expansion off on the wrong foot.

And that brings us to Firelands. Having been in a few runs of that place now, I am inclined to judge it as unusually difficult. Barring one extremely lucky 6/7 run, most of my groups have killed Shannox and then crashed and burned, and even Shannox is a tad harder than what I’m used to for an intro boss. I wouldn’t claim he’s a hard fight in the greater scheme of things, but he certainly makes Halfus look like a pansy by comparison. And then there’s the fact that it takes longer to explain the strategy to Beth’tilac on Vent than it does to fight her, wipe at 50%, run back in, and rebuff. And Alysrazor. Oh, god, Alysrazor…The broken bodies of my fellow raidersSo taken all in all, I’m starting to wonder if people might not have a point when they say Cataclysm is harder than Wrath.

Now, Firelands complaints aside, I don’t really have a problem with Cata’s difficulty at this point. I can complete pretty much all my heroic runs just fine. Raids are a bit iffy, but that’s always been the case. Not that I claim to be an especially skilled played; I just run nerfed content on an OP class. But I firmly believe WoW’s difficulty should be tuned to — for lack of a better term — the lowest common denominator. MMOs are about playing with your friends, no matter how good or bad they are. If you want a challenge, go complete Starcraft II on brutal (that’s what I did).

So if Cataclysm really is harder, then Blizzard did screw up, in my view. They have said they plan to return to the Wrath model of difficulty in Mists of Pandaria, so it seems they may agree.

What do you think? Do you find Cataclysm much harder? And if so, is it a welcome change, or does it just suck the fun out of things? How do you think the game’s difficulty should be tuned?

9 thoughts on “Cataclysmic Difficulty

  1. I would like to disagree about MMOs being about playing with your friends. This probably applies to the, for lack of a better word, “casuals”; and I’ll admit, when I started, I was all about playing with my friends and just my friends. We didn’t get anywhere and we didn’t care. Then the scale in my brain of “friends versus accomplishments” started to tilt. Now the only friends I play with in the game are those that I’ve met through the game (including my boyfriend). MMOs are about playing with other people – but not necessarily those you would consider friends. The people I play with now may some day be added to my social circle, but for now they are individuals that share a common goal and a similar skill level.

    I do think that Cata is harder than Wrath and for the most part, I appreciated that. Not everyone I played with had similar appreciation and that’s where the problems started for a lot of players I think. My previous guild recently fell apart, largely I believe, because of this difference. Some of us were OK with having to ratchet up the awareness and performance while others wanted to waltz through everything like we had done at the end of Wrath. Since Wrath was really the first raiding experience for a large portion of the new raiding population, most had never gone through a difficulty reset between expansions. (Including myself, but I have spent a couple years now reading blogs, and the archives to those blogs back to vanilla raiding, so I think I was a little better prepared for the challenges of a fresh raiding tier.)

    The raids aren’t as bad as they were in vanilla, I don’t think. I’ve heard horror stories about having to grind for weeks and weeks on one boss to get one drop for your main tank that makes all the difference in having a chance of surviving the next encounter. The fights are designed to be much looser now with skill able to make up for a good chunk of lack of gear (within reason, of course).

    I think if anything, it’s the raiding population that has changed and that’s what is contributing the most to the perceived increase in difficulty. In vanilla, you had to fight for your raid spot and have huge amounts of time to devote to the task. Only the best got in and you were evenly matched with others with the same skill and dedication. In Wrath, the focus was accessibility, both in time and skill. Guilds that would have had maybe 50 people to pick from for a raiding roster now have 500 people wanting to get in. Some of those people have the time, some have the skill, some have both. Talent is split across more raiding guilds. My previous guild had 4-6 players at any time that could pull off current content and would have to carry the rest. And it was the same with the guild next to us, and the next, and the next. If we could have pooled our resources, we could have put together groups that could succeed where we were failing separately. Unfortunately, the guild perk system that helps stop guild hopping also makes it harder to negotiate guild mergers. That, and ego. A lot of people don’t want to step down and be a cog in someone else’s machine.

    Hopefully the addition of the 3rd difficulty level with the raid finder will help smooth things out. I’m a firm believer that everyone should be able to see the content – at some point and in some fashion.

    • Well, I guess it’s a matter of perspective, but I never saw much point to going after accomplishments in a game. After all, it’s a game. None of it really matters. Hell, that’s what appeals to me about it — whether I fail horribly or become the greatest player on Earth, it doesn’t matter in the slightest. There’s no pressure. No offense to you for feeling differently, but I’m afraid I don’t understand the perspective.

      And on a more personal note, I find it impossible to take pride in any accomplishments in a social game, as I never know whether I can really take credit for it. I’ve done 6/7 Firelands with only three wipes, but how much of that was because of my healing? Probably not much. This is one of the things I so enjoyed about the Molten Front; all the achievements are individual, so when I earned my Flamebreaker title, I knew I actually earned it. No one carried me. It’s still not something I take a great deal of pride in — again, it’s merely a game — but at least I know that what minor form of success I achieved I earned myself.

      I am glad to hear you say you believe everyone should be able to see the content. Most of the serious raiders I’ve encountered feel very differently.

      • I like killing the internet dragons, not just harrying them about their lair and then laying down among the bones of our previous attempts. Most of my friends don’t mind just poking dragons or even not visiting the dragons at all.

        Pride in social accomplishments is pretty easy for me, it’s about being under the same banner. There have been times that I was not present for a particular kill but took almost as much pride in it as the folks that were there. The kill doesn’t belong to the players so much as it belongs to the guild. Perhaps I would make a good candidate for a gang member… But so long as you perform your job and stayed out of the bad, you are a contributing member and can take credit. If you’re the one that’s constantly tanking the floor in the center of a pool of fire… or your heal target dies despite proper use of cooldowns… then you might not be so eligible for credit. Because it is a social game, if the team wins, each player wins. Guilds might not always name an MVP for the fight, but it’s really not that different from organized team sports. Except for the sweating.

        As for seeing the content… WoW is a game that really does revolve around a story. I think a lot of the more serious raiders forget that after they’ve blitzed their way to max cap and log on just to raid. The story HAS to be accessible to everyone. The developers and writers put a ton of effort into it and it’s worthy of being seen by anyone in the game that has the inclination to see it. That said, it doesn’t mean that if they fail at basic raiding mechanics they should still be eligible for hard modes in current content. But I do think everyone should get a chance to participate in killing each boss, even if it’s a watered-down version or they get around to it months later, because it’s part of the story. The friction between the “casuals” and the “hardcore” seems to stem largely from a group of “entitled” individuals that want not just the story, but all the same glory. Which makes as much sense as me demanding a World Series pennant after joining a local D-league softball team.

      • I would also argue that some of the friction between casual and hardcore stems from players who believe that they should be the only ones able to beat content. I’ve seen it before about nerfs…DON’T LET OTHERS BE ABLE TO DO THE SAME AS ME, IT RUINS IT FOR ME!! That never makes sense to me.

      • I don’t get it either. I guess they’re the sort of people that can only build themselves up by knocking others down.

        Blizzard didn’t help by making the tier helm and shoulders, the most visible pieces of gear, only available from raiding. It gave an obvious visual queue to separate the “leet” players from the “bads.” I feel this added extra friction to an already contentious divide in the playerbase.

  2. I started playing WoW just a month before BC was released. Though it took me some time to level up, I did spend quite a bit of time with multiple toons at max level in BC. I did heroics and raids at this level in all three roles. I remember Heroic Magister’s Terrace, you didn’t go in unless you had three that could CC. CC was necessary and after designing that awesome instance (I loved it) they realized they needed to add more CC for the classes that didn’t have it. Like letting roots work indoors and giving hex to shaman.

    In LK though, they wanted you to bring the player, not the class. So they made CC less than necessary and gave everyone AOE to level those playing fields. Pro CC players who maybe used to have to chain trap and such, never used those skills in LK dungeons. People got used to the “go go go!” lifestyle that came with LK dungeons.

    Cata was pretty unforgiving. Big changes to tanks and healers as well as the need for DPS interrupts and CC really shook things up, literally. Healers suffered some of the biggest challenges. In BC, I remember mana management being key to good healers, watching the 5 second rule and chain chugging potions was required for some fights. The one potion per fight rule changed that and in LK mana management wasn’t too difficult. Cata however found heals doing a lot less for a cost of much more, and the struggle to adjust to healing at level 85 scared some healers away from it…some came back, some never did.

    DPS requirements were also stepped up and this left some people struggling if they didn’t have the exact right talents or rotations. This push seemed to send a message to the DPS that they needed to step up their game or start digging fossils for fun instead. As a result, far more players became nasty or critical of what the DPS were capable of doing and instead of the blame going to tanks or healers for wipes, Cata put the blame on the DPS for not interrupting or flat out doing enough DPS.

    I think what Blizzard learned from their dynamic shift in the game is that going from a game that supported casuals on many levels to one that only the best of the best could initially succeed at, cost Blizzard a lot of subscribers. The numbers have been steadily dropping since Cata was released, even though the game brought a fresh new face to leveling and lower levels that was much needed. I think Blizzard is going to focus on making the game for the casual player again in the enxt expansion to try to win back old subscribers and draw new ones. Monks and Pandaren have been sought after for a long time and this may be what they need to get their game back.

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