Monday, January 25, 2010

Taking out the trash

Normally I try to make my gamer-centric articles pretty accessible to the public.  This one though would be too long and clumsy to try to do that.  As such, if you aren't much familiar with games you probably won't be able to make any sense of what I am going to post today.  You are certainly welcome to try though!

Back in the early days of WOW dungeons were set up to require crowd control (CC).  The tank had extremely limited ability to control multiple monsters at once and monsters generally had really nasty abilities that required them to be locked down.  You needed several of your party members to CC so that only 1-2 monsters would actually get to fight your group at once.  Every pull was done this way and any time the CC got screwed up you would generally die and have to run back.

Fast Foward two years to the Burning Crusade expansion.  Things have mostly stayed the same, the big exception being the ability of the tanks to collect and hold multiple monsters.  In this scenario it is entirely possible for a tank to keep a 4 or 5 pull under control, but the monsters had such hideous abilities that if you didn't CC them you would just die.  I remember well groups of 5 where one of the monsters would mind control, one would fear the whole party, one would fear the tank and the last two would hit like Mack trucks.  CCing was a necessity in order to keep the monsters from wrecking the party.

Fast Forward two years again to the Wrath of the Lich King expansion.  This time things will be different.  Tanks have even better ability to control crowds of monsters and monsters just don't have nasty abilities like they used to.  Nearly every dungeon is beaten by the tank grabbing all the enemies, collecting them into a pile and everyone using their Area of Effect (AOE) spells to burn the group down.  Nobody much pays attention to the abilities the monsters use since as long as they are attacking the tank nothing will really go wrong.

There are good sides and bad sides to each situation.  In the old days when CCing was necessary you could get automatic invitations to groups just on the basis of being a class that had good CC.  If the group didn't have a Mage along nearly every dungeon was massively harder so even annoying, bad Mages could get groups.  It also meant that every pull took time to set up, lots of communication was required and there was a lot of downtime.  This could be particularly frustrating if you are someone who had nothing to contribute to the CC discussion so you had to just sit around and wait while everyone else organized how the pull was going to go.  Another big downside was the time commitment;  in many old dungeons it was expected that clearing the dungeon out would take 3 hours unlike current dungeons which take 30 minutes or less.

The way dungeons go these days every pull consists of the tank rushing into the monsters and everyone blowing up the enemies in a big pile so no discussion or strategy is required.  This is great in that everyone spends all their time doing something instead of standing around, but unfortunately for many classes AOE is boring as hell.  It often means hitting a single button, waiting for 8 seconds and then hitting that button again.  It is rare that there is any reason to explain how pulls work or what the monsters do so new players can walk right in and start playing without holding everyone back.  This is great from an accessibility standpoint, but poor from the standpoint that people want their victories to feel impactful;  if every rube can wander in and defeat the dungeon then it feels meaningless to have done so yourself.

Blizzard is of course wanting to make things better for the next expansion.  They have a terribly difficult job ahead of them though, because they simultaneously want to add more strategy and thought to pulls so every pull isn't just AOEing and keep dungeons fast and accessible.  This is not easy because any time you force the players to stand around and prepare before each pull you are making the run take a long time.  In addition, the only way to force this sort of behaviour is to make the pulls extremely dangerous and punishing.  If the difficulty of the pull is enough that you have to use all your CC abilities to keep things under control then any new player who wanders is is likely to get completely demolished until they learn each pull and each monster.

Blizzard wants content to be accessible to new players but they also want it to be challenging for experts.

Blizzard wants dungeons to require care and planning, but they also want to be done in 30 minutes.

These desires unfortunately cannot all be met at once.  I am reminded of some old saying about cake, consumption of said and the simultaneous possession of same.  I expect I will be playing regardless of which way they swing, but there are certainly a lot of dollars riding on them getting it right.


  1. I agree with everything you said except for your conclusion : these desires CAN all be met at once.

    All it would take would be giving one or two extra abilities to each kind of mob you find in a dungeon when running it in heroic mode (along, of course, extra health and damage).

    Take Halls of Lightning for example :
    you could make the current heroic version become the normal version (because let's be honest, Heroic HoL has never ever been challenging to begin with, even in ilvl 200 blues 2 years ago) and then give every trash mob one or possibly two extra abilities in heroic mode.

    The little dwarves before the first boss could go yell for assistance towards a big pack, forcing you to slow them down or stun them or whatever (I used to play a warlock back in the early days of the game, and I was really loved for knowing how to use Curse of Recklessness on every humanoid running away in fear when they neared death). The big hunter-like Vrykuls could be given one or two hunter spells (wyvern sting, frost trap, etc..) or some new hunter-like abilities (a death grip style arrow for instance).

    The elementals near the forge boss could use a little revamp as well: the fire guys would cast dots burning you while the water guys could use a deep freeze - CC type spell or whatever.

    I think the assumption that "newbs" want easily accessible stuff to run through is flawed. Sure, they might enjoy not meeting a damn brick wall as soon as they hit the max level, but once they've done all those dungeons once, they'll be as bored as we are.

  2. I don't know that this would work the way you suggest it will. If you add new abilities to the mobs they will be substantially more challenging to new players. This means that each group will have to explain the fights and tell people how to react to them before doing them which dramatically slows down the pace of the game.

    If a group chooses not to explain then they are likely to die to these types of effects when people react badly or not at all. If the dungeon is challenging for those running it for the 8th time then it must require extreme care and planning from a fresh group. I certainly wouldn't mind this but it would make pickup groups drastically less likely to succeed.