Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Cataclysm improves World of Warcraft

This being the internet, discussion is frequently held by extreme simplification, and wilful misrepresentation. Thus when I said "MMORPGs have become better over the last decade", I got responses accusing me of wanting only Farmville-like games. That couldn't be further from the truth. So to illustrate my point, I'm telling you that while I did find that Wrath of the Lich King made World of Warcraft better than it was under Burning Crusade, I also have a strong impression from previews that Cataclysm also will make World of Warcraft a better game. And that is BY making WoW a bit harder again.

I totally agree that WotLK made World of Warcraft easier, and in some cases overdid it, like allowing people to skip most of the raid content and moving directly from heroics to Icecrown. But that is how balancing works: Nobody knows where the exact sweet spot is, and any changes risk either not going far enough, or overshooting the target. But if some change goes to far, the next change swings the pendulum back. The overall effect is continuous improvement, in spite of no game ever being perfectly balanced.

Cataclysm is offering some features I've been asking for for years: A slow increase of difficulty with level, instead of having the same easy solo mode up to the level cap and then a huge gap from there to the end game content. I am also looking forward to Cataclysm again making your skill in playing your character class well, especially for healers, more important than your jump & run platformer skills. I want to play a MMORPG, not Super Mario. And I do welcome the return of crowd control instead of simple AoEing everything down.

Having said that, I would say that Cataclysm clearly proves my point that World of Warcraft is continuously improving, and NOT always in the direction of making the game easier. Sometimes to achieve better balance developers must make a game easier, sometimes they must make it harder. I acknowledge that effort, not only of Blizzard, but of all the other developers out there as well.

The kind of rant I am complaining about is from those who make extreme, and untrue extrapolations. Just have one serious look at World of Warcraft and at Farmville and tell me whether these "are the same", as the deranged ranters claim. World of Warcraft, even today, at maybe its easiest point in history, still is an extremely complicated game. Just look at the gigabytes of databases and thousands of addons players have created to deal with that complexity. Those not only prove that WoW is a complex game, but that it is PLAYERS who strive to make the game easier, you can't just blame Blizzard for everything.

I am absolutely certain that most of those currently complaining about World of Warcraft being "as easy as Farmville" will nevertheless play Cataclysm, and like it for a year or so. And then they burn out again, and will again loudly complain what a shit game World of Warcraft is. Thus my comment that those rants only tell you something about the state of mind of the ranter, and nothing about the quality of World of Warcraft, or any other game.
Don't forget the obligatory Wolfshead link.
According to blue posts, the reason the solo game (specifically the 84 and 85 zones) seems much harder is because they opened up the beta before the appropriate gear was in place. It would be like trying to solo through Burning Crusade zones in vanilla WoW gear. Sure, you'd think it was super hard.
I agree with your sentiment.

To say though that Wrath is "easy" is to take a narrow view of the game, even in its current state. As the developers have acknowledged several times, the introductory raid Naxxramas was undertuned and that first impression has seemed to color certain players' perceptions of the content going forward.

Heroic dungeons that were meaningful challenges at the start of the expansion have become increasingly trivial as players are made more powerful by the rising tide of current emblem gear.

Yet, the skill ceiling for PvE play in WoW has never been higher. Firefighter. Freya+3. Yogg+0. Heroic Anub. Heroic Putricide. Heroic Lich King.

Few, if any, raid encounters have ever required as tight execution from players, both personally and as a cohesive unit. If one were to fault Blizzard for the difficulty of the PvE content in Wrath, the best critique in my mind is that it was inconsistent. Too often players would run up against either disproportionately difficult or trivially easy encounters, disturbing the "flow state" of satisfyingly difficult gameplay.

For Cataclysm, the design directive seems to be for a harder baseline level of difficulty that ramps throughout the quest content to the endgame, entry level raids and beyond. The emphasis on new guild mechanics seems to also be part of an effort to promote more coordinated group PvE activity, which in turn allows the developers to expect more from players tackling said content. If that content is more consistent in difficulty, and can perhaps scale better with time, I think Blizzard will markedly improve upon an already compelling experience in Wrath.

On a final note, this is all completely opaque to those not already steeped in MMOs. Hotkey bars with tens of relevant skills, a combat system with defined group roles, hundreds of different PvE dungeon and raid encounters each with idiosyncratic mechanics, the social obligations of a team sport if you so choose to participate... to say nothing of the monthly fee and overabundance of content that makes a new player's initial experience overwhelming. It surprises me that so many people even try a game like WoW let alone stick with it.

It is also intentional. They have said they want to make the world feel dangerous. They don't want players pulling multiple mobs without concern. They have said they want to slow down the pace of questing/killing mobs to be more 1v1 encounters interspersed with moments to regen resources before tackling another creature. If you want to take on more, you should be able to; it will just be hard.
I totally agree that WotLK made World of Warcraft easier, and in some cases overdid it, like allowing people to skip most of the raid content and moving directly from heroics to Icecrown.

Well having a specific raid route where you more or less have to clear certain instances has a very huge problem. People get left behind and can't reach the point where the current raid target is. At least without serious help that is. Imagine starting raiding with an alt today at 80, and you have to clear all the previous instances before reaching ICC. How long do you think it would take to catch up for a regular raider?

Remember that huge flowchart from BC? That was laughed at a lot at that time and kept people back a lot. Later on it was improved IIRC but at BC launch it was silly.

Not that I'm raiding anyway, but having such a system wouldn't be that good in my opinion.
Was WoTLK raiding really that easy?

I would venture a guess that <50% of raiders have the Kingslayer title. Very few of those that do have beaten Arthas on heroic. Even fewer had much success until the nerfs (Icecrown buff) started ramping up.

How many players have beat Yogg-Saron, even though we seriously outgear the instance now?

The fact is that the critics overlook the difficult content and complain that accessible content is too accessible.
I'll buy cata play for a month but i can't see myself staying any longer. Way too into atitd now.
I'm afraid that Blizzard's PLANS to make cata harder will break. Remember they HAD a plan to make different tiers of emblemes. Heroics supposed to give only emblem of heroism, you could only get higher emblems in raids. Then they yielded to the morons and started to give out the highest emblem for doing the first daily.

I assume the first patch after cataclysm will nerf the mana requirements of heals, because they will see that half of the players couldn't complete a single heroic.
Sean Boocock wrote:

"MMOs. Hotkey bars with tens of relevant skills, a combat system with defined group roles, hundreds of different PvE dungeon and raid encounters each with idiosyncratic mechanics, the social obligations of a team sport if you so choose to participate... to say nothing of the monthly fee and overabundance of content that makes a new player's initial experience overwhelming."

This. I don't think the veterans realize what a huge learning curve WoW has for someone who is completely new to it. I don't argue that it should be lowered even further than it has been in the past. But it certainly takes a lot of effort to get past the initial brick wall. It IS a very complex game. Although it maybe takes the perspective of a newcomer to fully realize it. There are so many things that older players take for granted that actually are thingst that need to be learned and experienced.

The new tutorials have definitely helped up a lot, as the changes to the UI - those that are done and those that are in pipeline. But this doesn't mean that WoW is super-easy for anyone. It still requires an effort to grasp it.
good post. good comment thread.
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While I don't feel WoW is super easy as far as gaming, I do feel it is easier than others I have played. When bloggers say that WoW is easy, I think before getting upset and feeling insulted, one should step back and look at the source. How many MMO's has this person played? If they have played just about every one out there while you have only played a few (like myself), then maybe they are right. Personally, I don't know their perspective because, well, I don't have their experience. Either way, I'm going to keep doing what I enjoy.

We all have different perspectives depending on how long and how MANY online games we have played. I personally still have some trouble in LoTRO. In WoW I can go online and find out the best gear and build relatively easily. In LoTRO there are some other variables and builds may change according to dungeons. There is no DBM, OMEN, or Recount in Lotro, so yes, I'd say that WoW is easier in that regard. I have to pay much more attention in LotRO so that I don't screw up. Even LotRO blogs aren't necessarily as thorough when giving info on classes. I think there is a learning curve to each of these games, but the addons available in WoW make it much easier to close that gap in most cases.

And finally, the thing I read or hear most isn't that WoW is easy now... I hear that it is EASIER! There is a big difference in those two words. One is a baseline assessment and the other is a comparitive assessment. Was WoW easier in WotLK than BC? As far as getting gear and into raids was concerned? Definitely. I could barely get into a BC heroic and that was mainly based on my gear and other requirements, so I definitely did nothing more than a charity run or two through Kara or Gruul's. Recently my guild had someone running with us in blue gear for ICC25 because of the buff (and we know about Grev's blue runs in ICC).
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"Cataclysm clearly proves my point that World of Warcraft is continuously improving, and NOT always in the direction of making the game easier"

lol Cata isn't even released yet and you've already proven a point with it...
I would take a deep breath and wait before you judge the changes in Cata - a lot of blzzard's announced changes for expansions, especially those concerning nerfs of sorts, should fall under the 'I believe when I see it' category. for example there were several 'mana nerfs' in TBC and regen stats were leveled again at the start of WotLK, but the fact is they were never very noticeable.
There's certainly a lot content in World of Warcraft, but i would not say that it is a complicated or complex game. When I think of complex games, I think of games where the number of variables I have to track reaches or exceeds the number I cam capable of tracking. You can power off your brain and play WoW perfectly fine--if you did that in a complex game, you'd probably play horribly and get nowhere.
I don't think Cataclysm will be the saviour many old skoolers and more serious gamers are waiting for.

Sure, the dungeons seem a little bit less forgiving, but my groups on Beta have still AoE:d everything down. 3-4 months after release I'm pretty sure we will steamroll heroics to gather emblem X just like in LK.
Sounds like some positive changes are coming. I am glad to hear that they plan to make endgame progression harder. Hopefully that translates directly into not skipping tiers by getting endtier badges out of heroics. That was a bad idea.
And its ok to say that. Sometimes in the process of making things better you truly do make them worse for a while. Its called making a mistake. It is called trial and error. No, they are not trying to make it worse and eventually the over all effect is to make it better.
The ranters also need to come to grips with the fact that the world doesn't revolve around them and what they find most fun. Sometimes better is simply better for most. Not better for them. Boo hoo, get over it.
Then you haven't tried cutting-edge progression raiding in WoW. That has always been "complex and complicated," never more so than in Wrath. Dungeons, even in heroics? Not really when you overgear them by five item tiers. Most of the questing experience in the current game is fairly benign unless the player makes an effort to tackle more challenging mobs. If you treat leveling as a meta-efficiency game, then no, it's not hard.

I don't think Blizzard has much room to maneuver on that particular front though. They are making an effort to make the leveling experience a little more dangerous and difficult, but many people play MMOs to "power off your brain" - like a socially connected Solitaire game with more compelling rewards. The designers have to tread a fine line between making each moment to moment questing/leveling experience exciting, and tiring out players looking for a tamer ebb and flow.
"I do welcome the return of crowd control instead of simple AoEing everything down."

I'm curious about how the player-base is going to react to that.

While quite a few players long for those days (me included) there's a substantial number who like it the way it is now: sprint through the dungeon, AoE the trash and burn the boss down as quickly as possible.

Heck we ran Old Kingdom the other day and we AoE'd the trash with the bosses.

Of course people who started playing in the last six months or so don't know any different.
@Mike: I agree that's it going to be interesting to see how the new people who've grown up on AOE * infinity handle things. I feared that myself when I first saw Ghostcrawler say they were bringing CC back in a big way in the 5 mans. Don't get me wrong I think it's a great thing. Otherwise why not make 5 mans just a room with a boss in each corner. Now a days trash is irrelevant.

As for the nostalgia aspect I wonder if part of the "Wow was so great back in vanilla" feelings had something to do with what came before it. I remember that I knew I was done playing Everquest within 5 minutes of playing beta. EVERYTHING felt like an improvement then. Groups, soloing, controls, maps, marked quest givers, XP for questing, custom UI's, the whole package. Warcraft was such a huge step out of the stone age of MMO's that I knew I'd never go back. Oh I tried a year or two ago but even with all that had changed there, it was like running underwater. Lots of movement without getting anywhere fast. All this talk has just made me wonder if that feeling I had back then (and it was indeed glorious) might have been shared by others (obviously it was) and if recalling that feeling is perhaps why people look back on that time so fondly. They want to recapture it.
Barrista, WoW in one sense has always been easy. The solo PVE content very rarely required much thought; if you were level appropriate it could be done easily. Even the much vaunted raid content isn't really that difficult; the hardest part is keeping a team of people together who are willing to dedicate the time and effort to become good players and defeat the content. A few years ago there was a Chinese squad of gold buyers who decided to raid full time. They shredded through BC content like a hot knife through butter--- even when most of them were still in blue gear. The hardest class in the game is guild officer.

To Tobolds main point; he's half right. Veterans will bitch and moan because their experience has worn the shiny off of WoW (or any other MMO), and they may long for the bad old days out of nostalgia. But the flip side of it is that they see the game without the aura of newness and excitement... and it's really, really, incredibly, pathetically lame. That's now WoW's fault; it is what it is. It's just the core fact that all MMOs are a giant hamster maze with no cheese at the end. It's just that when the shiny has worn off and you see you've spend thousands of hours running this maze, and you've got nothing but a few fun memories... its depressing.
I think WoW has done an amazing thing, they've both made their game more accessible and harder at the same time. In terms of difficulty, compare the first end boss of WoW, Ragnaros, to the last, Lich King (leaving aside the Halion bonus fight). Ragnaros was virtually a tank and spank with some add control. Lich King is a 5-6 phase fight featuring complex dispel mechanics, huge raid awareness, high dps races, etc. But at the same time and while I have no hard numbers to quote, I bet an exponentially higher number of players fought and killed LK than Ragnaros during vanilla.

The problem for a lot of "old hardcore MMO" players is old games used to disproportionately value time investment. Seeing everyone run around doing the same thing only "they" used to have the free time to participate in makes old-hardcorers conclude that things are too "easy" to get into. Their complaint basically is that the entry barriers are too low.

But these same people completely overlook the _depth_ and variety of challenges (10s v. 25s, hard modes vs. regular, ICC buff vs. no buff). Sure anyone can spend a week facerolling through heroics and start fighting Marrowgar, but I bet there is a smaller percentage of players who have killed hard mode LK than who killed Kel'thuzad in vanilla.

In the past MMO-difficulty (on the PVE side) was basically "do you have 39+ other people with similar playtimes as you, and are you patient enough for the leadership to coordinate everything". Now the numbers and time requirement is very flexible, but the depth of challenge is immense.
I'm pretty sure that reading Wolfshead made me actively dumber. Thanks for nothing, Jormundgard.
Why don't I have any desire to play wow anymore? It's a great game and if anyone wanted to start playing mmorpg's I would recommend them to wow, but personally, it bores me to death. I still have friends playing it and I'm glad they enjoy it. I find it hard to believe that Cataclysm is going to do anything for me.

I find it hard to believe that I'm in the extreme minority. Are you guys still that jazzed about wow?

Fortunately, there are, I hope, several games coming out in the next year (maybe) that will get me back to gaming.

Or maybe I've finally out grown them all. I hope not.
To make this short and sweet WOTLK was unbearably easy to raid I mean no attunement practicaly free epics and no seperation of the true raider's and the common LFG's. In vanilla wow and BC raiding was difficult which in turn made the game more inticing to play and defeat. In my opinion blizzard had to make the little boy's and girl's happy so what did they do revamp and make it so easy to raid that you can get a 25 ICC clear high as a kite and so drunk some raider's passed out on their keyboard's. I mean come on that ridiculous which made me cancel both my accounts after 5 year's of playing. Some of my friend's have informed me that the new expansion will return WoW back to it's glory days and create that seperation once again. I have been offered on many a occasion by blizzard to return for a free 10 day trial on my account's but for what the game is to easy. Now I may give the new expansion a try and I hope blizzard has fixed a huge problem in which I know alot of people have canceled their accounts by.
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