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.

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