Who Are Heroics For?

WARNING: This Post May Contain What Some People Might Consider SPOILERS for Cataclysm.  Mostly this is a discussion of game design, but there are a few faction names,  location names, and some of the current mechanics from the expansion mentioned here. Again, I’m not in the Beta, there’s nothing exactly ground breaking-ly new or shocking, but if you consider a few proper nouns without a lot of context to still be spoiler-ish, you have been warned.

So their been a bit of a buzz as of late revolving around the Heroic Dungeons in Cataclysm.  From what I can piece together from the various bits of Cataclysm news I actually look at (I try hard to avoid spoilers) it seems that the heroic dungeons are now available for testing in the beta and apparently they are quite hard.  Now of course, this is still the beta and that difficulty can be whittled away through the course of continous testing or even after launch via patches and what not (Helloooo Oculus), and it may stay just as hard or even increase in difficulty as more instances get added to the game in later patches.

The discussion has mostly been centered around the idea of whether ‘to nerf or not to nerf’ the heroic dungeons.  Some people really want to see us return to the days of the Burning Crusade in terms of Heroics, a focus on strategic pulls, crowd control, and those who don’t know what to do will have a hard time faking it. Others enjoy the model adopted by Wrath of the Lich King, in which heroics were an easy means to get some low level epics and badges to purchase even better epics.  Most conversations I’ve seen debating this make casual use of labels such as “casual” (ie “Casuals killed heroics”) or “hardcore” (ie “Heroics should be for the Hardcore players”) and excessive use of the terms “noob” and “bads” (which has apparently has become a noun right under my nose.  Hooray for an ever evolving language!  …and thank goodness for Urban Dictionary.)

Most of the time there is, in my opinion, a major component of the heroics discussion goes unmentioned.  Wait. Stop.  Don’t finish those eye rolls. I am NOT going to say that heroics were hard back at the beginning of WotLK.  In fact, you’ll never find me argue that the heroic dungeons of WotLK were very easy compared to their Burning Crusade cousins.  But note how I say cousins and not incarnations.  Because that’s what we need to be looking at, as well as how we look at the Heroics of Cataclysm.  These ‘variants’ of Heroics, in my eyes, are not an evolution of content but rather more like different flavors of ice cream.  Vanilla and chocolate are worlds apart, but are both technically ice creams.  The difference between these ‘flavors’ of heroics is not one of ‘difficulty’ but of purpose.  Allow me to look at the “history” (for lack of a better word) of Heroics in depth:

The Burning Crusade Design: Off Time for the Raiders

Way way waaay back in the savage age that was 2007, WoW’s first expansion – The Burning Crusade – was delivered unto a player base that was raised on grinds, super coordinated fights, massive dungeon crawls, and where only the best of the best would find themselves at the gates of raiding.  Burning Crusade, to say the least, did a fair job of cracking that world view into many little pieces that you’d have a hard time sweeping up and then would occasionally step on as you stumbled through the kitchen in the dark to drink milk from the carton even though your not supposed to and cause you to yell in pain, drop the milk, and then kick the cat because it sits there mocking you with its low light vision…  what was I talking about?  Oh yea, Burning Crusade.

Burning Crusade introduced smaller raids, shorter dungeons, and a token system that made getting your tier equipment much more bearable than taking it in the unmentionables from the RNG machine (I’ve run Molten Core dozens of times since starting to play, never seen Garr drop my warlock horns ONCE.  Thank the spirits for reskinned models.) This too was considered “catering to the casuals and the bads” at the time and was a sure sign that the game was dead (Spoiler: it didn’t die) but the one thing the game brought that was definitely not for the ‘casuals’ was the introduction of Heroic Dungeons.

Heroic Dungeons brought with them a massive leap in difficulty and access to epics outside of crafting and raiding. It also was the only way to get epic gems until Tier 6 was introduced.  But with the difficulty brought with it a hefty cost to enter.  The generalization usually given was that you had to raid to get the gear to do the heroics.  That idea is the key of figuring what Heroics were back in Burning Crusade.  They offered Badges of Justice to get raid level gear, they offered a variety of epics that could fit in those few slots you didn’t have the DKP or good enough rolls to score raid gear for yet (because as  D&D player, I understand the subtle art that is ‘getting better at rolling dice’…   I’m not lying…  nope…), and they dropped epic gems you could place in that slightly more permanent epic gear.

Heroic Dungeons were something for raiders to do when they weren’t raiding. Plain and simple.  It had a shorter lockout, it gave rewards that helped you out as a raider and it was more or less tuned to assume that you had some raiding experience.  It wasn’t designed to ‘prepare’ you for anything.  The entry costs for Lower Karazhan (that’s everything up to Curator in case you’ve never heard that term, which is likely because I’ve never heard it before and probably just made it up) could roughly be achieved by getting top end blues from normal dungeons, the better quest rewards from the long chains in Netherstorm and Shadowmoon, and crafted epics.

The Wrath of the Lich King Design: The Ladder to Raiding

Wrath brought a lot of changes to the game again (now beginning to establish the pattern of relearning the game every expansion).  Raids could be done as 10 man or 25 man (catering to casuals), Tier 6 was useful beyond the first quest rewards of Northrend (game is too easy lolz), that the game was dead (Spoiler: still didn’t die), and the biggest change, the one that has haunted WotLK through it’s entire life span was the purpose of heroics had changed.  Most people chopped this up to the previously mentioned ‘game is too easy’ and ‘catering to the casuals’ and that the once mighty heroics were nerfed to this.  But they weren’t nerfed.  Not in the least.  The concept was repurposed.  Kinda like building a target dummy so you can destroy it for easy fused wiring.  Heroic Dungeons were no longer a side activity for the raiders, it was a part of the progression.

I’m often shocked (shocked I say) at how many times this is overlooked by people who complained about the heroics in the current expansion.  I thought it was fairly obvious from the get go.  You get to 80 and do normal dungeons (Stage 1), then once you are geared to the point of doing heroics, you did those to start cobbling together your epics for raiding and your badges (Stage 2) and then your set to go off to the tier 7 raids and start reaping your rewards (Stage 3+).  Wait! Don’t start with the eye rolling again! I know just what your thinking.  Then why would they start giving frosty badges for running them if they were never designed to run once you were at Stage 3 or beyond?  Well, simple, there will still people at stage 2 waiting to get their stuff but there just wasn’t enough people to cobble together enough to run them.  So you had to be given treats to go back and help the stage 2 people in order to prevent the gear gap from solidifying and keep the content flowing.

This plan ultimately I think backfired.  While yes, those at Stage 2 were eventually able to graduate to stage 3 either by drops or by badges (the triumph badge change went a long way here.  The purpose of letting everyone get a chance to at least go into Icecrown Citadel was pretty obvious here I think, so I’m not going to get into it) but it created resentment of the stage 1-2 people by the stage 4-5 people.  They higher ups just wanted frosties, didn’t care about the stage 2 people, and saw them as an obstacle to their frosties.  Resentment leads to hate and hate leads some Yoda quote, yadda yadda yadda.  To be honest, if they had the Dungeon Finder ready to go at the beginning of WotLK instead of the end, I think the whole expansion may have played out much differently (Same thing with the Hardmode rewards, etc) but then again hindsight is always 20/20, right?

The Cataclysm Design: The Mystery On The Horizon

So what will Cataclysm bring in terms of heroics?  Well, the Developers have stated their intent to go back to a “Burning Crusade” style set up.  Not surprising considering the backlash from the ‘Progression Ladder’ style that Wrath gave us.  The question is how far will the pendulum swing in that direction?  Will DPS Warriors become moot once more without a solid form of crowd control?  Will mages and rogues be only ones not to kicked in random?  I doubt it.  Blizzard is too good about learning their lessons to do that again.  I think the real thing to look at with this news is that Heroics are once again going to be tuned for off-the-clock raiders and those of comparable gear level.  Ghostcrawler has made mention that he’d like level 85’s to once more have to turn to high level quest drops and crafted items to start to assemble a raiding set, not just Heroics.

As long as this thought process follows through and normal dungeon drops, quest items and crafted gear can actually get you prepped enough to enter the lowest tier of raids, and heroics don’t start taking on the trappings of the raid markings and CC-or-Wipe filled memories like Heroic Shattered Halls or Heroic Magister’s Terrace, I think Cataclysm could prove to be quite the rewarding experience.  I’m not without my worries though.  Namely in terms of reputation factions (what can I say, I’m a completionist and I like my bars to be full dangit), the tabards currently seem to only reward rep for heroic dungeon runs, and my limited gazings into Cataclysm haven’t revealed any confirmation of daily questions to increase rep like we had in WotLK (Okay, I know Tol Barad has some, but that’s the Isle of Quel’danas aspect of its design, what about the Earthern Ring?).  But these are minor things all in all, and for the most part, mechanically at least, I’m very much looking forward to Cataclysm, even if it means having to relearn everything (Wait… hunters stand behind their pets and shoot?!  WTF!?)

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Posted on September 24, 2010, in World of Warcraft and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.

  1. Great post, very interesting.

    At the time of TBC I was a fury warrior and guild master of a small, casual guild. We didn’t raid. But for those of us who had the time and were interested in challenge, the Heroics were *exactly* right. They were fun, they were challenging, and they gave a sense of achievement when we got through them. They were, looking back in a wave of nostalgia, probably our idea of progression.

    At the end of TBC I also became part of another smaller ‘crack team’ who focussed on Heroics in a slightly different way, and that too was fun. Especially as a fury warrior, one of the least wanted specs – for someone willing to stick with it, Heroics gave an arena to prove that the spec I loved was as fun and useful as other classes, in different ways.

    WotLK took that feeling away. It wasn’t a bad expansion, but throughout its lifespan both of my groups/guilds have said that Heroics just aren’t the same, and don’t give the sense of achievement – neither do the rewards from them. If you’ve got my casual guild saying that…

    Anyway. I’m looking forward to Heroics in Cata, hoping they’ll fill a gap that I think exists for both off time raiders and casuals looking for a challenge.

    • I think that sense of achievement in Heroics were really meant to be filled by… well… achievements. Granted, I don’t think it was a great idea, but then again I’m still fighting the up hill battle to grab my red proto-drake as well, so maybe there’s something to it.

      All I know is that there will be some serious “progression like partying” when I finally get Less-Rabi done…

  2. Very nice historical summary of the history of heroics so far. Loved it! I miss my BC heroics. I felt that once I had finished a heroic, it was like a mini-raid–you received badges off each boss that you felt you had earned. You explored the dungeon like a careful team–making sure to plan out your next step. It didn’t take more than an hour, if you kept up a steady pace.

    What feels so odd from BC to Wrath is that in BC, if you had your Heroic gear or Tier 4 or badge epics, it was still GOOD gear. You had a good set. It didn’t feel like the difference between heroic gear in Wrath and Tier 9. Maybe it’s just me. It’s probably that anything acquired in BC felt like it had been earned rather than farmed…

    I loved your post. I’m sitting here thinking about this “difference” in feelings from BC to Wrath that I can’t really put completely into words.

    • Glad you liked it. 😀 The Earned/Farmed thing was an important difference, and I think a lot of it has to do with a) psychology and b) raid accessibility.

      Psychologically, epics were not easy to get in BC. They could be crafted (with some serious effort… I remember the Frozen Shadoweave set was an insane test of patience for me), they could be found in raids, and with Heroics and Badges. Otherwise, you were looking at blues. Good blues, great blues, but blues none the less. It was psychologically rewarding to get an Epic in that scenario.

      If there was one thing I would have changed early on in WotLK, it would be that Epics didn’t start until i213. No i200 epics mixed in with i200 blues. But don’t change the stats (granted, not possible with how Blizz does gear budgeting but what the hey) just the color, and a lot of that player psychology is appeased. Then again, the triumph badges would have thrown that out the window too probably or maybe that change would have come along late enough that it wouldn’t have mattered. Who knows, right?

      As for accessibility, BC Heroic gear felt like good gear, because honestly, if you weren’t in a serious hardcore progression minded raid guild, it was probably some of the best stuff you were going to get. There weren’t a ton of Black Temple pugs, like there are ICC pugs because Blizz wanted everyone to get to see the content.

      So epics became easier to come by, and that good heroic stuff became not so good. I think Cata is probably going to aim for medium ground between these two concepts, and with the lockout changes, we’ll probably see less pugging, and more raid guilds, so that might slow the flow of epics as well.

  3. Great post. Let me comment a few things.

    1) While looking at heroics as part of pure gameplay, you also (in addition!) need to consider heroics as part of the immersive game experience. It is a RPG after all and we are not fighting circles and triangles, but supposed living entities with their own agenda.

    2) Back in TBC I did heroics a lot and before raiding. I am sure that it would have been impossible in a PUG. But I had a guild. It was one of the best times I ever had in WoW.

    3) When the second raid instance in Cataclysm is released, heroics will once again be used to gear up, will they not ? After all Blizzard seems to keep the Tx, T(x+1) gear system.

    • Thanks! In reply to your comments:

      1) This part I never understood the thinking behind. In fact, one of my very first posts were along this line of thinking. In my opinion, Heroics don’t fit into RP. At all. These are the big bads we vanquished levels before when we actually had quests involving these dungeons to go kill them. The Heroic versions are simply the same place, up the difficulty, and give better loot. There is no canonical or story explanation for them, other than the now defunct daily heroic quest to go bring so and so’s javelin or something as proof.

      The living entities with their own agenda are canonically dead by the time you have cleared all the normal versions, the story tends to end with the level appropriate quest that tend to send into the dungeon originally. So in Heroics, I think we’re just killing the circles and triangles.

      2) I wasn’t trying to insist that raid gear was absolutely, no exceptions, required for doing Heroics. People in WoW are renown for wanting their own thing, and finding a way to do it. If you could hold the opposite faction’s city in stasis for hours at a time, you can do BC Heroics in quest blues. And while I don’t mean to speak for you, I can’t imagine that your guild’s earliest attempts were a walk in the park, am I correct? But you found a way to do it and as you got Heroic gear, Heroics became easier, yes?

      Just as Rebecca mentioned above, they had their own kind of progression to them. But the sentiment at the time WAS that you raided, then you did your heroics for badges and patching in spots and what not. That was the “conventional wisdom” at the time if I recall. So kudos to you and your guild for breaking the mold! 😀 I kinda wish mine had… -.-;;;

      3) This is hard to say. We don’t know where heroics are going to go in Cata, nor how many tiers of raids, or how accessible raid content/gear will be yet. (Okay, let me rephrase that, I don’t know). Ultimately, there might be a point where for many people the difficulty of Heroics will slump down to the point of where normals were at-level, based on how gear scares through the tiers. Heck, even in T5 (to my Warlock at least) Heroic Black Morass was barely different to Normal Black Morass. But they will continue to be run as long as they award Justice Points and I’m assuming a once a day dose of Valor Points. In that way they will persist.

      As for adding new Heroics to continue to add better gear and more reason to run them? Can’t say. In BC, this wasn’t done until the last raid patch. In WotLK, it happened in correspondance to T9 and T10, but not T8. I assume this has to do more with the Gear Gap that anything, but I am in no position to know for certain. So that’s more of “wait and see” there.

  4. This is fascinating.

    I wasn’t around in the BC era and had somewhat dismissed the “back in the day, when dungeons weren’t nerfed for the casuals” griping as rose tinted binoculars, OMG-I’m-not-special-anymore-ism or some combination of the two. The idea that they might actually have been harder *for a reason* is one I’d never before come across.

    As a WotLK-era player, I’d *welcome* something of a switch back: difficult content which doesn’t require a raid team/3 hours of time would be WONDERFUL.

    Group content is by far the most enjoyable part of the game for me, but the nature of even 10man raiding means the choice between pugging or proper organisation. Having experienced the delights of raiding with nice guildies and caring about the people in the team, pugging is a means to an end, and nothing more. I’m not sure I’d want to continue raiding if pug raids were going to be the ONLY way I could do it.

    Organising raid nights means being there on time, committing to a full night, making sure you have the right 10 people, etc etc. Particularly in smaller guilds (like mine) you can’t just grab 10 people from gchat and go stomp some bosses.

    You can often grab 5 people, though. And having some content which would provide those five people with an hour-or-so’s worth of genuine challenge (perhaps with the potential of meaningful reward) would be wonderful.

    Plus, having to take alternative routes to gear up (rather than grinding out heroic after heroic) would hopefully reduce the speed at which instancing becomes a chore for so many people.

    • The return of ‘Useful Crafted Gear’ is one of my most anticipated things in Cataclysm. It seems sporadic which pieces would stick after tier 7 in WotLK. This crafted shield you’ll be using through Ulduar, but this epic chest piece will be tossed aside the moment something drops in Naxx, etc etc.

      As for the raid time/player thing, this another thing I think Cata will hopefully rock at. The changes to the 10/25 man schedule, the “Less bosses per Raid, but More Raids” thing also looks to help, and of course the heroic changes are looking to be absolutely great for smaller guilds (Not to mention that Heroics also grant Guild XP!)

      I am definitely with you on this. 😀

  5. I suppose it depended on which class and role you played in BC. If you were a Protection paladin you likely did not raid before doing heroics. You had to have your 102.4% uncrushable status in order to raid tank and getting that without doing heroics first was farfetched. I only got invited to tank Kara after farming the easier heroics for a while.

    In Wrath however, I cleared the spider wing of naxx before stepping inside my second heroic. The high end raid gear from BC was more than sufficient to start raiding so I didn’t use heroics to prepare for raids almost at all.

    I guess for me everything was backwards!

  6. Sorry I haven’t finished the article but I just wanted to chime in and tack a few more points onto your BC Heroics argument:

    1. Blizzard did not originally intend for any guilds in BC to be 10 man guilds – they were very surprised by how popular Karazhan was. It was always designed to be a simple lead into “proper” raiding. I think they intended players to run Karazhan with a small subsection of their massive 30-45 player guilds, gear up and struggle equally hard to gem their item with rewards from Heroic Dungeons.

    2. The attunement to Karazhan was to complete normal level 70 dungeons. The Champion of the Naaru chain, which was kind of the attunement to enter Tier 5 raids, required you to complete 5 Heroic Dungeons – the hardest ones – as well as the Tier 4 raids. This further cements in place that Heroic Dungeons were designed to be as difficult as Tier 4 raiding.

    At the time Blizzard did not associate party size with difficulty. Now we look at content and go: well, for a first time player they will move from solo play (easy) to small groups of five (harder) to a raid weekly 10 man perhaps or VoA (harder) to a raid of 25 (hardest).

    • Personally, I think the size thing was the other way around. The leap from 5 -> 10 -> 25 in BC was a clear line of changed difficulty. The 5 mans were at the bottom, the 10 man was the introductory raid and everything past that was 25 man. Heroics were a weird floating point in that they were useful to raiders of any tier for badges (since there was only one kind to gather), rep, and gems.

      Before WotLK launched, Blizz made a big deal about how the 10/25 man thing was not a 25 mans were the harder version of 10 mans, but that they were tuned equally for party size so that guilds can play through whatever they wanted. Of course since 25 mans had the better loot that made the 10 mans a breeze, that’s what people wanted. Since there was no 40 mans whose loot made 25 mans a breeze, they became the defacto “Harder version”. Granted, the position of Heroics began more solidified has a pre-raiding objective, and running them post-Naxx became childs play, but raiding was meant to be the roughly the same difficulty for each group size.

      Now whether or not they SUCCEEDED at that is another discussion…

  7. As for heroics in Cataclysm I think they will be aiming for something like this:

    Keep Heroics as the stepping stone to the first raid zone (progression model we saw with Wrath)

    Introduce progressively harder Heroics as content during the expansion to help provide a non-raid path of progression for fresh 85ers (ToC then ICC 5 mans)

    But what I really hope they’ll do is:

    Remove the reward for raiders to complete heroic content when they are way, way, overgeared

    Create challenging heroic dungeons for “raiders in their spare time” that reward raiders appropriately

    • I imagine if you remove the reward for raiders from doing the random daily dungeon, you’ll be up-ing queue times and creating a scenario where you’ll have a bunch of 85’s sitting in Ironforge complaining in trade chat about how the game is boring and there’s nothing for their elite skills to do once they’ve done their raids for the week. (This was surprisingly quite the common problem on my old server during BC. I always told them to roll alts. And then they called me a long list of very rude names. /shrug).

      If you keep coming up with increasing difficult dungeons for the geared up people to do, I’d imagine you’d end up a scenario where you have a ton of people and they only way they have to get their “Daily Frosties” or points, I guess now, would be to do something like H-ToC every single day. Which could possibly lead to even grumpier people. (or equally grumpy people)

      I don’t think there’s an easy win in this one really. I guess there’s always divide up the development team so we get less raid content, more 5 man content per patch (I for one would be fine with this, though I doubt I speak for most). Or some elaborate re-working of the gear/point/dungeon system to make it more complicated (No, you see, your average iLvl is 331, you need 325 or lower to get Valor points in this dungeon. You have too good of gear, so you don’t get nothin’).

      I still like my April fools idea of the Nerf Tabard that nerfs your gear to Blue level regardless of what your wearing, then give points if you’re wearing that!

  8. You’re a fucking idiot…

    “The generalization usually given was that you had to raid to get the gear to do the heroics.” You pulled this generalization out of your ass, or you read a retarded forum threads by a bunch of know-nothings. The BC heroics didn’t require raid gear to complete, and they didn’t have some other purpose than wotlk heroics either.

    It’s obvious your knowledge of the game is limited if you think that. Competent people could complete BC heroics with quest blues, and a few normal dungeon blues.

    Also, you say you’ve been playing wow since Vanilla, yet didn’t know what fucking _bads_ means??? Wow you must be a total fucking noob. And no, I’m not trying to be sarcastic.

    P.S. You’re writing style is shit, you should probably quit.

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