Tobold's Blog
Sunday, February 14, 2010
Would you play WoW on a hard server?

I picked up the original Bioshock for cheap one day on Steam, and just started playing it this weekend. Being a slow, old codger, and not used to playing shooters, I can still play that game perfectly well by choosing the easy difficulty setting. Meanwhile younger, and faster shooter veterans play the game on medium or hard. Why does everybody assume that this wouldn't work for MMORPGs?

With so many people complaining that "WoW is too easy", there should be a market for having a few "hard" servers, where all mobs have twice the health, and hit harder, while the players have exactly the same stats as normally. On a Bioshock forum the veterans discussing the game are "of course" playing it on hard. Why does everybody assume that for a MMORPG everybody would play on easy, while continuing to complain about lack of challenge? Maybe it is just a historical fluke, that the first MMORPGs didn't have difficulty levels, and now everybody assumes they wouldn't work, just because nobody ever tried them.

What about you? Would you play World of Warcraft on a hard server? If not, why? And what do think is the difference to a single-player game, where difficulty levels work perfectly well?
At first I thought you were going to say a higher difficulty option on a regular server, so your slogging away and nobody else knows it, cause their all on ez mode.

But a whole server dedicated to it? Cool - that'd actually attract me to play again.

But not just upped stats - give the monsters special moves and as a player you have to recognise them and manouver to the right spot to counter them. Some of the monsters in burning crusade had that ... have upped stats AND special moves.

That'd be cool!
For me playing on a "hard" server wouldn't make sense. The rewards just wouldn't be worth the effort in my mind.

Now when I say rewards I'm not just talking about gear here.

The main draw, for me as a person who does play games on their hardest difficulties, is the constant sense of achievement that I get. I love the feeling of knowing I overcame a particularly hard challenge. I love finding that one trick that lets me pass an area. I love that feeling of accomplishment when that little "ba-ding" achievement sound pops.

"But Bigeyez" you say, "why wouldn't you get those same feelings on an MMO?". Oh I definitely do experience those things in WoW...It's just that they tend to only happen once...the first time I clear a new raid.

The sense of accomplishment I get from another game, I just don't get as much, or as often, in an MMO. Clearing the Geth Colossus battle on Insanity in Mass Effect 2always leaves me with adrenaline in my system and a big stupid grin on my face. I just don't get that feeling from WoW. Sure the first time we down a boss or get an achievement the feeling is nice, but eventually those feelings evaporate as the boss/raid becomes just another farm run.

Thats exactly why I decided to turn away from hardcore raiding during Ulduar. Hard modes eventually just became work, and I no longer had that sense of reaching a new goal or doing something grand.

Why exactly can I replay something like Mass Effect or Call of Duty and get those feelings over and over while replaying content in WoW eventually loses it's shine?

Thats a good question, and I don't even know the answer to it. Maybe it's because encounters in most games aren't completely scripted like they are in WoW. Maybe it's because I don't spend as much time in those games as I do in WoW. Who knows. All I know is that I always play other games on their hardest difficulty, but would not do the same for WoW.
I would play on a more difficult server in an instant if it were offered. But that comes with a caveat or two:

- Only if the difficulty were not overly contrived for "difficulty's sake". I want difficulty to scale with level and keep up with the pace at which a character learns new spells and abilities. Dungeons should be "milestone encounters", where say, every ten levels or so you are tested against encounters that test your knowledge of your class/spells/abilities. Bring back the use of utility spells, crowd control and slow, tactical dungeon progress. Give every member of a 5-man group something they must/should/could do outside of the holy trinity aspects of tank/dps/heal in order to increase chances of success.

- Charge me more for this type of server. I wouldnt mind one bit paying more for content that was tailored for my tastes and/or playstyle, even if it was the same content that is on other servers - as long as I get appropriate rewards for the more difficult level of the content....either in terms of ILevel or uniqueness.

To your question about single player games:

In my opinion it all comes down to the "comfort" level associated with the ability of the player to maintain immersion. Being able to set a reasonable "comfort" level that allows progress without the "contrived difficulty" effect breaking immersion is important if death results in a loss of progress. If I'm dying all the time, and losing progress as a result, then I'll quickly lose interest in the game if I cant tone things down a bit and have a certain comfort level in which to learn the finer points to combat and tactics. This is why WoW was soo much fun in the Vanilla era. The difficulty progressed with levels and abilities around quests that required a player to kill things. By the time a player had run Deadmines a few times, they were more than prepared to run Stockades when the time came.

But now that WoW is catering to all playstyles with its "loot pinata" approach, many long time players are longing for a return to that type of era where things were exciting, death was more than probable, and loot was worth dying/wiping to attain.

I think in this case the old addage would apply:

Make it and they will come.
I personally wouldn't play on a hard server because I'm more of a casual player interested in game mechanic over mastery. I don't however see any reason why a hard server wouldn't attract "hardcore" gamers. Except for the ability to be able to "pwn nubs". Maybe it wouldn't work on an MMORPG because there's a lot of satisfaction derived from rank and superiority. A hardcore gamer would prefer to be a big fish in a small pond (and complain about it) rather than be a small fish in a big pond.
I would. I never really played Diablo II multiplayer, but I loved playing it in single player with Hardcore triggers. The higher the risk, the more rewarding the reward.
No I would not. Word of mouth is the most powerful form of advertising and if I'm going to try and get someone else addicted, I don't want their first 10 levels to be any harder than they have to. They're bad enough for new players as is.
That's not to say that the option wouldn't be nice. I wouldn't mind trying a slightly more difficult setting, provided the option to go back is always available (and won't cost me $$$).

To be honest though, WoW is hard enough to be somewhat of a challenge but easy enough where just about anyone can pick it up.
Also despite me being only 24, I play single player shooter games on "regular" or "medium" difficulty. I've never had fast enough reflexes or reactions which is why many hard modes or even PvP in WoW are not for me. What I do have is good peripheral vision... an asset when raiding. Having a better monitor setup would help me out a lot, but that is a ways down the road (until I can find or build a proper desk). Having to move my eyes to see the other monitor isn't the best setup (yes I use two monitors).
I would absolutely play on a hard server. The most fun I ever had in this game was back in BC, running heroics with my old guild (which is now disbanded). Each of the heroics required you to run it on normal until you hit the required rep. Then on heroic, you had to use crowd control and specialized tactics to defeat everything. There was this one room in Shadow Labs where there was the ogre in the back, and in the middle, surrounding him in a fan, were about 24 or so mobs in groups of 6. You had to CC at least two or three of them, and then you had to make sure that the other mobs went down before those CCs broke (if they couldn't be reapplied like sap). In those days, a heroic took about the same amount of time as a raid takes right now. It took around 2 hours. We put them on the calendar for nights when we weren't attempting Kara. Then Kara was an all week affair. We only had maybe two nights and could only clear up through Curator or so (with Chess being about as far as we got).

A few nights ago, I went with this one tank guy I know, and a healer, and went to get some RP gear from old BC instances. We went to Shadow labs, ran in, aggroed the boss, and then AoEd all 24 or so mobs right there on the spot. And we almost died. If this was a level 80 instance, it would've been a cake walk since none of the mobs would've had any of the special abilities which cause problems.

By "hard" server, I don't mean "Everything is in super heroic mode where all mobs have double health and extra abilities". What I do mean is that all the nerfs they took to the content should be undone. Mounts don't show up until 40. Quests that are red are nearly impossible to solo. There are still elite mobs outside of Deadmines. Some changes are a good thing, such as being able to cast your fishing line anywhere, but you shouldn't get skill ups from catching garbage or nothing.

In short, I should actually have to play the game to play the game and earn the gear that I have. It shouldn't be a "Hey, you showed up to the party and you were at least looking at your screen. Here's your epics." type of show.
I suggested hard servers (and easy ones if you like) several times myself. In my opinion it allows players to maintain the illusion that "it's just so hard and there is no way around" while also offering different difficulty settings.

By the way: The reason I usually play on hard is because medium and the rest is usually designed for players who like to run into the mobs and fire them down.

At hard and harder settings you usually have to think before you act. That not only makes the world more credible to me, but also increases the value of the game, because it takes much longer to beat a game at these settings. Actually on hard settings you need to use consumables - which is really great :)

One typical problem here: Just doubling or tripling the health on all mobs is not good. Playing Fallout 3 on very hard is often even less credible, because you need to pump 20 headshots into the guys so they fall over.
And they still often don't do enough damage. Means: They also need to pump 20 shots in your head for you to fall over.

One think about WotLK:
The current dungeon at heroic is always hard enough. The difficulty at normal, if you only run with pickup groups is also absolutely hard enough - no matter how brilliant you yourself are.

When I say "WoW is too easy" I am talking about everything but the current high end raid (which is 99% of the content!).

Now, let me gain exp only by achieving goals (which is not necessarily killing monsters) and you made me a very immersive experience, where I can fear the monster. I love to fear monster and evade them.

On reason why Blizzard is reluctant: They are about to try to merge servers more and more. Having different rules among different servers doesn't help with that.
Well it depends a bit on the amount of difficulty. I wouldn't want to play on a sever where my priest had to level in groups because only heavily armed melees or kiters would be able to solo a perfectly normal outdoor mob. However a server with the difficulty of BC, minus the easy dungeons like Karazhan..count me in! Even for a formerly hardcore now casual like me that would be cool because the quality of PUGs would go through the roof. Some additional rewards for playing the big boys game would be nice though. I'm thinking mostly about fluff like remodeled sets that look cooler, different mounts and things like that.
Double the health still wouldn't mean much. Most only have 12-15k @ 80, 30k isn't exactly hard to burn through as a dps.
No, I wouldn't play on a @hard@ server if all that meant was the mobs having more hitpoints and so forth. That's not the point at all.

What I would play on, in any MMO, is a more complex server. One where fewer things were automated. One where, if you want the benefits of timesavers like faster travel or access to all your banks anywhere in the world or in-game maps, your character has to do something in-game that explains how he has access to these things.

Most MMOs begin with this type of gameplay and then gradually remove it. Take travel, for example. In a new MMO you often begin by travelling on foot until you reach a certsin level and/or earn enough money to buy a mount. Then as you travel you open up certain faster forms of transport such as flying beasts and air balloons.If you haven't been to the area overland first, you can't travel there by air.

Then as the game gets older, the requirement to visit the stations first is removed. And mounts turn up as free rewards in expansion packs and as veteran rewards. Eventually little stones or teleport stations are added so you can go anywhere from one central point, or even just by opening your map and clicking on it.

I'd play on a server where none of that ever happened. Where if you want to go somewhere, you have to GO there. Where if you want an in-game map you have either to make it yourself (with an in-game skill, not by you the player drawing it on a piece of paper!) or buy it from an NPC. Where if you want something from a bank in another continent you need to find a branch of that bank, if there is one where you are, not just go into the local bank.

In other words, I'd play on servers where everything that happened in-game did so according to internal logic of the world the characters live in, not convenience of the outer world the player lives in. When I talk about a "harder" game or current games being too "easy", that's what I mean. Not mobs being harder to kill.
It seems to me that the main impact of hard servers would be their effect on people's behaviour on "normal" ones. Imagine the conversation:

DPS_A: "DPS_B, how come you're only doing 2K DPS, when I'm doing 3K?"

DPS_B: "Hey man, this is only the normal server. If you're so clever, why aren't you on the hard server?"
Now this conversation could work both ways. Perhaps A's criticism is reasonable giving B's gear, perhaps it isn't. The point is that the answer would be the same in each case.
It's an interesting idea although I'd bet that very few people would play it on hard. I think that multiplayer games offer a level of competitiveness that single player games don't so it's a lot more appealing to be the top dog on an easy server than the bottom one on a hard server.

Plus I don't really see a problem with WoW's difficultly as it stands. Surprisingly enough I think real new players find it quite tough.
Why does everybody assume that for a MMORPG everybody would play on easy, while continuing to complain about lack of challenge?

Well, this is pretty much what happens right now in World of Warcraft, isn't it? Estimated 95% (or is it more like 99?) of all those claiming to have completed all content and run out of challenges have not accomplished a single hard mode. They say they don't need to and the rewards are not worth it. So how would a "hard server" where everything's the same, only twice as hard, be "worth it"?
I think I would, I like MMOs to require an amount of thought and tactics required to survive. Normal Wow doesn't really reach that until raids. that's really the lure of final fantasy online. It's pretty deadly in comparison.
I wouldn't play a hard mode version of WoW because, for me, the current difficulty is just about right. That is, once I accomplish something, be it as a result of a grind or as a result of an intelligent use of game mechanics to defeat a boss, I feel sufficiently satisfied and proud. Increasing the difficulty probably won't increase the satisfaction at this point.
Maybe it is just a historical fluke, that the first MMORPGs didn't have difficulty levels, and now everybody assumes they wouldn't work, just because nobody ever tried them

Been tried and works fine - just play City of Heroes/Villains. Or soon also Champions Online it seems.
I'm not interested in WoW until Cataclysm comes out.

When it does I'd rather it were hard than easy. What's the point of new 20-60 zones when people raf to 60 in under a week?
Already am playing on a "hard" server: a low population, RP realm that only has a handful of guilds interested in high end raiding. The guild I'm in doesn't have very high gear or skill standards for recruitment and we work with what we have. That isn't to say that the players in our core raiding teams aren't good (they are) but that we aren't swimming in heroic mode gear that would make a lot of ICC encounters easier.

Case in point: Festergut. We've wiped on him for many hours each week for the last four or so. Our problem? Tank survivability. We have the DPS to meet the enrage timer and we have the coordination for the fight down. Inevitably, though, a healer will miss a heal or get caught vomiting while another healer is trying to save a clothie and a tank dies. If our tanks all had 60k buffed hp, then our healers wouldn't be so under the gun to keep them from being two-shotted.

The current content in my circumstance is hard enough. It will be months before I see the Lich King in 10 or 25 man, having clawed my way there with the rest of my guild. That struggle will be the best part though, even if I could take my 10k dps Warlock main to another guild/server with a better progression environment.
In a single-player game like Men of War (my pet example, as I'm enjoying it quite a bit) there is often the option for saving and reloading. That helps me find the right difficulty level, as I get to try things out and go back if they don't work.
I rarely play games on "hard" mode if by "hard" the game means "more hit points" or the like. Why make the experience take longer when I'm just doing the same actions more often? Maybe the more HP opens up new combos to deal more damage, which might be ok. I'm in my 30s and don't have so much time to sink into these anymore (though it is still a solid hobby). I appreciated that Zombieland was only 81 minutes long; for that kind of story, who needs more time?

If "Hard Mode" meant "better AI" that would be meaningful. I want that in an MMO.
(a bit off-topic, but brief)

I like Nils' suggestion to grant XP for alternatives to killing mobs. I miss being asked to trap monsters. If there was some sort of immediate penalty (even just a bad sound) for breaking CC unless the hunter (etc.) allowed it, that might help give dps more opportunity for involvement in battles.
I think this was tried by Guild Wars, however, I didn't like the way GW's PvP and PvE are nearly different games all together. They had their "hard mode" to complete once you did the whole storyline with regular difficulty you unlock the hard mode. The hard mode mobs drop better stuff of course to make up for the additional time and heart ache it takes from you. I personally never made it to hard mode.

I just started WoW about 2 weeks ago and I keep hearing the same thing from everyone too, "It's too easy". I've played quite a few MMO's and they aren't missing much, maybe just increased death penalty, I've always been fond of those.
I wouldn't(play on a harder server). I play wow for the nice easy fun not because I'm looking for any sort of challenge.

I simply want something fun to do in the evenings after the kids fall asleep.
I think the idea is that you could play "hard mode" on a normal server, simply by fighting higher level mobs. The problem, as has been brought up before by you, is that people aren't rewarded proportionally for fighting harder mobs.
I just finished Mass Effect 2 on "hard". Why? For the additional challenge.

But for mmorpgs? My first answer is that I'd only do it if the rewards were better.

But if I think a bit about it I might play on the hard server. No doubt all "serious players" would only have contempt for those playing on easy servers.

And what's the fun in content you can steamroll? I'd rather have a bit of a challenge.
It's interesting that you mention scaling monster health and damage for a "hard server" -- in single-player games, the degree of difficult usually varies not just the monster health, but how many spawn and what sort of tactics they will use.

Imagine if more of the mobs in WoW behaved with one level higher intelligence -- animals would flee towards the herd when attacked, and humanoid mobs would try to set up ambushes, call for help, and try to cut off avenues of escape.

In my mind, WoW on hard mode would be a bit more like the first time you discover murlocs (as Alliance) -- they move around, but in particular, if you can't finish one off quickly, it will come back with more murlocs, and you'll soon be overwhelmed. (I remember this happening in Westfall, and it was immensely more challenging than the "fight one kobold, then fight another kobold" that I experienced in Goldshire. But there are almost no mobs like that now in Wrath, and even at higher levels in Vanilla, a lot of that difficulty seems to have been streamlined.

Imagine if e.g. level 10 mobs might have a few basic responses ("fight until dead", "run away when attacked"), but then level 20 mobs would learn a few more ("help out friends", "attack when player below 50%, run when above")... etc.

I'd certainly be interested in WoW on those terms; soloing would still be possible, but it would be a lot more challenging than it is now -- you'd need to use terrain like choke-points and kiting when facing a group, and even when solo, you'd need to be more careful.
Hard servers, would I try it ?
Maby not cuz it would meen that I culdent do hc and watch tv at the same time.
But on the upside, Im guessing that these servers would have alot less lag.
Unlike single player games (lately, ME2 comes to mind), MMO difficulty is highly based on the people you're playing with and therefore on things you simply cannot control.

Take a group of 5 people, all in ilevel 200 stuff and put them in, say, Halls of Reflection, normal mode. There, you got 2 things:
- The dungeon difficulty, which is static. Your own experience and awareness will decide how difficult it is, for you.
- You got 4 other people as well. On top of your own experience and awareness, you have to count on these 4 guys to be on the ball as well thus making is more or less difficult.

Who hasn't done a dungeon with apparently low items people and just breezed through it only to find it insanely hard with very well equipped people because they just didn't bother paying attention? My guess is we all experienced that.

So, a difficulty setting for an MMO has no appeal whatsoever to me, especially since most of the time, this difficulty will be in the range of # of XP you need for levels, corpse runs, expensive repairs, rarer drops and all that, which are NOT difficulties but silly time sinks.

Time sinks do NOT make something harder...just more boring. EQ proved that a long time ago.

PS: If they popped a server where monsters had advanced AI thus making them very much unpredictable, I'd move there in a flash. Won't ever happen in WOW though since you need the entire game (classes, etc) to be designed around it.

PS2: Try Left for Dead on hard modes with random moronic players, then try again with friends who knows what they're doing, you'll get the picture :)
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