The greatest things that Blizzard has “discovered” were the idea of having multiple difficulties, and the idea of raid sizes not being static. I put discovered in quotation marks because, as Ion Hazzikostas even mentions, difficulty levels in video games isn’t precisely new. In fact, it’s a very old concept; but no one until now has really applied it with rigor in an MMO. Wrath of the Lich King really was the start of difficulty modes, but rolling into Warlords of Draenor we’ll have four official difficulty modes: LFR, Normal, Heroic, Mythic. LFR being tourist mode where you can faceroll your way through, to Mythic being the hardest of the hard.
It’s funny, because I don’t really Flex raid (which is the difficulty just above LFR today), but I love the fact that it exists. It’s great for folks who want to get into raiding but need some practice at a lower difficulty, or the folks who just want to raid as a group, but don’t really care for progression. I think adding a difficulty between stupid easy (LFR) and moderately difficult (Normal) was good, because let me tell you, Normal raiding the past two expansions has been a bit of a harsh wakeup call for a lot of raiders, especially those of us who raided 10 man in Wrath.
Non-static raid sizes, basically, the raid scaling in difficulty from 10 to 30 people and every step in between, is also amazing. No longer do I need to bench people. I can just have a core 10 people, have a few extras, and go from there. I feel like Heroic raiding will likely still favor static rosters with no bench, as having that solid core of people is still really important at higher difficulties.
The other part that I’m pretty happy with is the idea that LFR—tourist mode—won’t drop tier sets or super awesome trinkets. One of the frustrating things is being “stuck” running lower difficulty content with people who are going to yell at you for being a try-hard just so you can get those pieces. By making separate loot tables, Blizzard is divorcing LFR from the other raid difficulties. There’ll be no reason for someone raiding higher difficulties to venture into LFR, keeping two populations that are often at odds apart.
The Potentially Bad
Now, they have a potential issue here with Legendries. If they pull a Mists of Pandaria and make you run LFR 20 times just to get the random drops for it, then they’ll have undone any of the work they did to separate the two audiences. I think if they want to go this route, they’ll need to be hardcore about really disincentivizing raiders from moving down the difficulty ladder.
Which bring us to another potential issue: raid lockouts. Today, the highest and second highest difficulties lock each other out. If you’ve killed up to boss 7 in your raid, regardless of either difficulty, you couldn’t kill those bosses a second time in a different difficulty and get loot. With the new system, no difficulty will lock the others out. This brings back the issue around high-end guilds pressured to run lower difficulties to get loot to hit those World Firsts. Or not even the World First guilds, but Mythic raiding guilds.
Nobody wants to be the person who’s holding everyone else back, and since the game is largely gear-based, it creates an incentive for players to run as many difficulties as they can to get more loot. This has already happened once before in WoW’s history: Trial of the Grand Crusader. Folks would run it on 10 man normal, 10 man heroic, 25 man normal, and 25 man heroic, every week. Running the same raid 4 times a week is a bit crazy, and draining.
“But Talarian,” you may ask, “isn’t that their choice? Why should we stop people from doing that if they don’t want to?” Well, depends. I’m already on record as stating that game designers can absolutely influence the community and player behavior via game design. If Blizzard is truly concerned about high-end raider burnout, then they’ll do something to keep those raiders from running all the raids during the week. One option might be to only allow for loot from one difficulty a week.
Another interesting option is one Theck brought up ages ago; he proposes that when you defeat a boss on a specific difficulty, you get personal loot rolls for every difficulty below it, on top of the normal loot drops. Basically, you’ve proven you can beat the higher difficulty, and you don’t need to run the lower difficulty. It has some quirks around off-spec items that may need extra UI or thought.
@TheckPhD Heck, it could a Spec Bonus for Lv. 3 Barracks. The loot is put in your Garrison Loot Cache, "gathered by Followers". @WatcherDev
— Brian Packer (@thesmall001) April 30, 2014
A slight variation on the idea was brought up by Brian Packer on Twitter, where you could tie the lower difficulties to your Garrison and have followers “raid” lower difficulties for you to possibly get loot once you defeat the higher difficulty that week.
Now, to be fair, they’re probably mostly okay for later tiers. Ion is on record that Tier 17 Mythic gear will be better than Tier 18 Normal gear, so if that’s the case, later tiers in the expansion bring the number of raid difficulties with upgrades down to two, which might be just fine in the long term. The first tier is still going to stink though, short of another solution, as everyone will be starting from scratch.
@promdates @DaikatsuCTR @ArielleEJ @HamletEJ @CoffinBurier Blarg, sorry, many tweets. Yes, T17 Mythic higher item level than T18 Normal.
— Watcher (@WatcherDev) April 30, 2014
One of the strange things about the entire system is how it interacts with Heroic 5-Mans, however. We know that Heroic 5-Mans will be decently hard. Not Cataclysm hard, mind you, but harder than they are today. And gated by Proving Grounds, as well (a silver, which isn’t terribly onerous today). But apparently LFR 6.0 loot will have a higher ilvl than 5-Man Heroics.
.@itschrysaetos 6.0 LFR ilvlis between Heroic dungeon and Normal raid, same as today.
— Watcher (@WatcherDev) April 30, 2014
The tourist mode, which is already really easy today, will have better loot than the higher difficulty, skill-gated 5-Man dungeon content. Watcher claims that it would kill LFR to make them equal because the Heroic dungeons are available day 1, but LFR is gated; wings appear week to week. But if the harder content has less rewards, nobody will do them. See: Heroic Scenarios today. I’d argue H Scenarios are more difficult than LFR, but they give pretty crappy rewards (well, they are one of those efficient sources of valor today). Don’t see too many people clamoring to do heroic scenarios anymore. But I don’t have that data, I suppose.
Which is another thing. There’s been almost no mention of scenarios in all of this. Were they a failed experiment?
Originally the Heroic 5-Mans were touted as an alternate progression path to LFR, but if the gear is worse, not much of an alternate path, that. If there’s no change, then I think between the gating, the harder difficulty, and no real rewards, they’ll be as empty as they are today, or emptier, even. The only saving grace is you can chain run Heroic 5-Mans, so when you can’t run LFR anymore that week, you might fill other slots with lesser gear. But that’s really not an alternate path anymore either, that’s just filler. We’ll see how much weaker Heroic 5-Man gear is. If it’s not significantly weaker, then it may be okay.
Overall, I like the changes, or largely indifferent. I’ll be honest, I don’t raid higher than Normal today (Heroic tomorrow). I mean, we’re just starting to dip our toes into the highest difficulty in the next month, but that’s an artifact of an extremely long raid tier. I’m not sure we’ll have it in us to bang our heads against the highest difficulties for long given it’s effectively the same content we’ve been raiding for nearly 8 months already. So with that in mind it doesn’t really affect me around the higher levels of difficulties. We’re just not hardcore enough to worry about running all the lower difficulties all the time. We may dabble in them, but no more than that. It’s an interesting point from an academic perspective, though.
But more difficulties and the flexible raids of all types (barring Mythic) really are great changes that will help raiding overall in my opinion. I’ll be waiting to see how the 5-Mans play out though. I’m pretty skeptical their plan will work well. #WoW, #GameDesign, #GoodDesign, #BadDesign, #DesignExperiment