Friday, February 28, 2014

Proving Grounds Will Gate Warlords Heroics

My twitter blew up recently when Blizzard put forth the idea of requiring you to achieve a silver medal in Proving Grounds in order to queue for Warlords Level 100 Heroic 5 man dungeons.

The News

Ion "Watcher" Hazzikostas, the Lead Encounter Designer for World of Warcraft

Here's an overview of our current thinking:
You will need a Silver Proving Grounds medal in a given role in order to queue for random matchmaking for a Heroic Warlords dungeon. If you form a premade group, you can zone in regardless and no such requirement applies.
In the past, challenging content and random matchmaking have often not gone so well together. Relying on item level does nothing to prevent a random group from getting, for example, a tank who may literally have never tanked before. Everyone has to learn somewhere, but we'd rather not have that learning come at other players' expense.
This solution represents a compromise in order to allow the content to see a broader reach via matchmaking, while minimizing frustration.
And yes, we realize that by formally using Proving Grounds as a qualification, it will be incumbent upon us to further refine their balance and mechanics. We'll be updating them for Warlords, and we're confident that we can make them a fair test of baseline ability within a given role.

Later, the statement was further qualified with the notion that Heroics at Level 100 would be more difficult than the ‘Heroics’ in Mists of Pandaria.

The Difficulty Cycle

This is starting to become a cycle.

In Burning Crusade, we had hard heroics. These were brutally hard and sometimes long dungeons requiring good communication and crowd control. This was before the days of an automatic group finder.

Then we moved into Wrath of the Lich King. Heroics were short, and quite easy. I still remember the utter shock we felt finishing Azjol-Nerub in less than 45 minutes the very first time we ran it. The idea of chain running came into vogue like never before.

As Wrath grew long in the tooth, and we started looking to Cataclysm, many in the community got wistful for those old Burning Crusade heroics. The Developers listened and Cataclysm saw a return of brutally hard and long heroics. When combined with the LFD group finder introduced during Wrath, the results were predictable and painful. Grim Batol and Stonecore bring back many a painful memory of long and arduous wipe fests.

Then we headed into Mists and we were greeted with shorter dungeons and generally easier Heroics. It felt like we were back to Wrath of the Lich King style dungeons. At this point, they did introduce the brutally difficult Challenge modes. Much like Burning Crusade heroics, the trash often was more of a problem than the Bosses, and they would also introduce scenarios.But the Heroics were much easier in early Mists than Cataclysm. 

Now we approach Warlords and much like the lead up to Cataclysm the Developers are talking about difficult Heroics again. I only hope the Developers learned a lesson from Cataclysm. Those heroics were unpopular for a reason.

I think some of the player base recognizes this as well. We are seeing a vocal backlash from the most unexpected of places. Higher end raiders like WoWInsiders’ Matthew Rossi are fighting the idea. He was around for Cataclysm. He’s taken this ride before and probably doesn’t want to do it again.

It’s as if the Developers can’t decide what level of difficulty a ‘heroic’ 5 man dungeon really should entail. I realize that game design is as much art as science, but the wild swings from easy to hard make it difficult for the player base to anticipate what a heroic will be like in a new expansion.

The development team needs to decide what role the Heroics will play and set a difficulty to them. You will never find an optimal difficulty. Players cover a wide spectrum of ability and game knowledge. Some will find it too hard and some too easy. I would just like to see a little more consistency rather than this hard/easy/hard/easy/hard cycle they seem to have gotten into.

Friday, February 21, 2014

A Wild Star is Born

My original plan hit a bit of a snag.

I started to really enjoy the Smuggler (Gunslinger) game play in SWTOR. He plays unlike anything I could play in WoW. My Smuggler hit 50 just before my subscription lapsed. I have a real life friend who is very active in SWTOR. He happened to have a level 50 alt and together we tackled Makeb. It was really great to be able to run with him again. We basically leveled up together in the early days of SWTOR.

Makeb was a nice planet, but I really missed the Class Stories. As I continued to level, I noticed that the more I played the Gunslinger, the more I enjoyed him. I decided to stay subbed, and I am now gearing him up for SWTOR raids.

But I'm not here to talk about SWTOR today. Lately, when we run our dailies or meet in the lunch room at work, my friend has been talking about this new game on the horizon.

It’s called Wildstar.

I hadn’t really considered Wildstar. Like RIFTS, Aion, LOTOR, Conan, Warhammer, EVE, and the dozens of other MMOs that have come out since I’ve been gaming, it didn’t hold much interest for me. I figured I’d play SWTOR for a while and eventually wind up back in WoW for Warlords.

About the same time, some of my old guild mates from WoW also started asking me about Wildstar. I never fully appreciated how much having a community, like the one I had in WoW, impacted how much I enjoyed the game.

With friends from every side asking me about it, I decided to give Wildstar a look. One night, while I was waiting for SWTOR's painfully slow patching process, I went on Wildstar’s site and started looking at videos. I started with what the obvious question “What is Wildstar?

I liked what I saw and fired up another video. And another. And another. I really liked the style and the humor. These guys aren't taking themselves too seriously. I really liked some of the ideas these guys were putting forth. They seem to ‘get it’. They seem to understand me. I don’t know if they have all the answers, but they seem to be asking the right questions. 

One example is their approach to Crowd Control.  They took crowd control, and looked at what made it work, what made it fun and what made it frustrating. I love the approach they ended up taking.

Disorient changes your keybinds. You can still move, you can still cast, but now forward is left and right is down. It is disorienting! But you don’t lose control of your character. When you get stunned, you spam the F key to break it. My favorite might be disarm. When you get disarmed, your weapons flies a small distance away. You are disarmed! Yet, you actively move over to your weapon and pick it up. You never lose control of your character. You never sit there and watch yourself helplessly get killed by that stupid Night Elf Rogue!

The game looks to be incredibly deep. I have no idea when it might release, but the combination of rejoining my old WoW buddies, my real life friend, and the design elements I've seen in the DevSpeak videos has put Wildstar firmly on my radar.