Thursday, November 19, 2009

Five Bullets in Your Six Shooter

The Devs have released news on how Ice Crown content will be gated for release. After using gating in Trial of the Crusader, it comes as little surprise to me that the Developers have chosen to gate IceCrown.

Icecrown Citadel is going to be broken up into four distinct sections: The Lower Spire, Plagueworks, Crimson Hall, and Frostwing Halls. We plan on releasing these four sections of Icecrown Citadel over time and not all immediately when patch 3.3.0 goes live. At this point I can't give precise dates for these release dates as they are determined by when patch 3.3.0 goes live. Once dates are known with more certainty, I'll update the community so they can plan appropriately.

The first section that opens will include the Lord Marrowgar, Lady Deathwhisper, Icecrown Gunship Battle, and Deathbringer Saurfang encounters. Progress beyond that point will be prevented for several weeks. Then the Plagueworks will open with Rotface, Festergut, and Professor Putricide becoming available. After another period of time, the Crimson Hall will open and you can then fight the Blood Princes and Blood-Queen Lana'thel. The final Frostwing Halls unlock then occurs after that, making Valithria Dreamwalker, Sindragosa, and the Lich King available. We believe a staggered release of the content will allow players to experience Icecrown Citadel at a sustainable, measured, and ultimately more enjoyable pace.

There are other elements that gate access along the way. Players may not attempt any Heroic versions of 10 player encounters until they have defeated the Lich King in a 10 player raid. Similarly, players must defeat the Lich King in a 25 player raid before they can attempt a Heroic 25 player encounter. So players must master every normal difficulty encounter in Icecrown Citadel before attempting Heroic difficulty.

The Lich King may not be attempted until Professor Putricide, Blood-Queen Lana'thel, and Sindragosa are defeated. Furthermore, the Heroic difficulty of The Lich King encounter may not be attempted in any week unless the three aforementioned encounters have been defeated in Heroic difficulty that week.

The Ashen Verdict provides reinforcements and material for players to assault Icecrown Citadel, but this support is not endless. Raids will have a limited number of attempts total each week to defeat the four most difficult encounters in Icecrown Citadel: Professor Putricide, Blood-Queen Lana'thel, Sindragosa, and the Lich King. As these boss encounters are unlocked, the number of attempts available per week will increase. The initial number of attempts provided for defeating Professor Putricide is only five. When Blood-Queen Lana'thel unlocks, the amount of total attempts remaining will increase to 10. Then when Sindragosa and the Lich King unlock, 15 total attempts will be available to defeat all four bosses. After a raid has exhausted their attempts for the week, the Ashen Verdict must withdraw their support and the four most difficult bosses all despawn and become unavailable for the week. The limited attempt system is a feature of both Normal and Heroic difficulty.

There will be no explicit rewards for defeating the Lich King with a specific number of attempts remaining as there was with Trial of the Grand Crusader. There will also not be an achievement to complete Icecrown Citadel without being defeated by a boss encounter, or letting a raid member die. (i.e. A Tribute to Insanity).

In the weeks and months after all twelve encounters are unlocked, additional attempts against the final four boss encounters become available. This represents the Ashen Verdict growing more powerful and gaining a stronger foothold in Icecrown Citadel. To further help raids, Varian Wrynn and Garrosh Hellscream will begin to provide assistance by inspiring the armies attacking Icecrown Citadel. This is represented as an additional zone wide spell effect applied to all players that will increase their hit points, damage dealt, and healing done. This effect will also increase in effectiveness over time. Players may opt out of the spell's effect if they so wish.

If you've been asking yourself, "How will Blizzard stretch Ice Crown all the way to Cataclysm?" Here's your answer.

So let's break it down.

We have 4 gates in Ice Crown: The Lower Spire, Plagueworks, Crimson Hall, and Frostwing Halls. Each Gate opens up a new area. The delay between Gate openings will be "several weeks". To me "several weeks" indicates more than two, though I doubt it will be as much as the literal definition of 7. So for the first "several weeks" all that will be available is the 4 Bosses in The Lower Spire: Lord Marrowgar, Lady Deathwhisper, Icecrown Gunship Battle, and Deathbringer Saurfang.

The goal, according to the Developers is a "sustainable, measured, and ultimately more enjoyable pace." They know the race for World Firsts causes guilds to rush through content as fast as they can. I think the Developers are trying to get everyone to slow down and enjoy the journey a little bit. Good luck with that.

The limitations on Heroic difficulty are necessary because of the new difficulty toggle. On a per Boss basis you can switch between Normal and Hard mode. These rules are to prevent you from clearing the early Bosses on Normal and then activate "Hard" when you get to the end.

We can also see the identification of 3 "Keeper" type Bosses: Professor Putricide, Blood-Queen Lana'thel, and Sindragosa. I'd bet my shield those three plus the Lich King are the "Teir Drop" bosses. Saurfang propably drops the other token.

In addition to gating the release, they've brought back the Limited Attempts mechanic from ToC. It only applies to the "Keeper" Bosses. The rest of the Bosses you can take as many shots at as you like.

I believe the Developers are trying to encourage a quality over quantity approach to raiding. The guild that raids 6 days a week and the guild that raids 2 days a week both have the same number of limited attempts at the Boss.

It is interesting to note that this is the first time that the limited attempts mechanic has been applied to a Normal mode Raid.

But 5 attempts seems like a really small number to start out with. In ToC, you had an average of 10 attempts per Boss on Heroic.

It will largely depend on the difficulty of the Encounters. The Developers could have had a limited attempts mechanic on Normal ToC and it wouldn't have affected my guild except on Faction Champions. We one shot each new Boss on Normal the night it was released.

So 5 attempts might be more than enough. When we get to the Crimson Halls, hopefully we're one or two shotting Putricide and we'll have 8 or 9 attempts left to learn Lana'thel. Then by the time Frostwing Halls is released, we'll have 12 or more attempts to learn Sindragosa.

The limited attempts mechanic does concern me from the aspect of problems that are outside of a players control like disconnects or wipes induced by bad lag. But if you are having disconnects on 5 straight attempts there are larger issues than the mechanic. That player needs to be removed, at least until he gets his connection issue under control.

The final bit of news from the Developers is the zone wide buff. We've seen these before. For instance towards the end of Burning Crusade, you got a zone wide buff for Sunwell. This is a great help for guilds who are working their way through IceCrown. As the buff gets stronger, you'll have a greater margin for error. This will help guilds break through progression walls and continue on in the dungeon.

I think it could also be helpful for guilds to retain their top players. If a player thinks about jumping ship, they may decide it's not worth it. They may think that in just another week or two, the Buff will get their current guild over the hump. So it'll be better to stick out with our friends than run off to a slightly more progressed guild.

I do like the quasi Role Playing/Lore/Story elements used to try to explain the gating and the buff. It's a nice nod to the importance of those elements.
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