I've been thinking a lot about hard modes lately. At a macro level I love the concept. I agree that all players should be able to see the content with a reasonable amount of effort. At the same time I think there needs to be very challenging encounters that keep the more "hard core" players interested in the game. So, as a concept I love it, but there are times when the implementation has been lacking. In this post I want to talk about my two key issues with hard modes, and what I think makes a good hard mode.
(Some of this post may come off as elitist, but I don't intend it to be. I have written this post from my view point of a relatively hardcore raider. I don't think anything I am going to say is offensive, but if you take offense I apologize.)
Issue #1 - Easy Normal Mode:
To say that normal mode Trial of the Crusader has been a disappointment would be an understatement. In my opinion it is the most under tuned instance I have ever played.
Some of you may be thinking: "Wait. This is normal mode. It isn't intended to be hard." I disagree. In my opinion Normal Mode should not equal Easy Mode. Just because the Hard Mode is meant to be more challenging doesn't mean that the Normal mode shouldn't present some challenge as well.
I know some of you disagree on this point, but there has been nothing challenging about ToC. Here is what my experience has been so far: Northrend Beasts = 0ne shot, Lord Jaraxxus = one shot, Faction Champions = two shot, Twin Val'kyr = one shot. When I talk to my friends in other guilds, they say they have had a similar experience and not all of them are very progressed.
I don't think any of these fights should be guild killers on normal mode, but they should take a couple of attempts to figure out. I know one guild that hasn't had any issues with ToC but can't get Yogg Normal Mode down. If this is what the Ardent Crusade is using to test players for the assault on Icecrown Citadel then Arthis is a wimp or we are in a lot of trouble.
Issue #2 - Static Hard Modes:
In my opinion, increasing the Health and Damage on a Normal Mode does not make for good Hard Mode. Hard Modes should be different, and have more going for them than just increased stats.
Hodir is the perfect example of a bad Hard Mode in my opinion. What separates Hodir Normal from Hodir Hard? Nothing! Hard Mode brings absolutely nothing to the fight. He has all the same abilities and buffs. He has the same Health. He has the same damage out put. The only thing different is that you have to DPS a lot harder.
I'm not saying Hodir Hard Mode is a cake walk, but if you know how to do normal mode you pretty much know how to Hard Mode. Doing the Hard Mode is just doing the Normal Mode better, and that is no fun.
Another Hard Mode that I find disappointing is oddly enough Yogg. I'm not saying it is a easy fight because it's not, but compare Yogg +4 to Yogg +1. They are pretty much the same fight. You have to worry about your Sanity more, and you don't' have Hodir to save your butt if you do something stupid, but Yogg doesn't gain any abilities. There is nothing extra to the fight other then you have less health, do less damage and the tentacles have shorter cast times. If you've seen Yogg on normal mode you've pretty much seen it on hard mode to. Hard Mode is just doing Normal Mode better.
Good Hard Modes:
Good Hard Modes add something to the fight that wasn't there before. Most Hard Modes have something new in some degree. Flame Leviathan has new abilities based upon which towers you leave up. XT has the life sparks and the void zones. Iron Council has new abilities with each mob you kill, but the best of the best are Mimiron and Freya.
In my opinion these hard modes are so well designed that they almost don't resemble the Normal Mode of the fight. Having to deal with Ground Tremor, Unstable Energy and Iron Roots makes Freya so much more difficult that you can't fight the add pacts the way you did in the Normal Mode. You have to worry about getting interrupted and getting rooted near the Snaplasher.
Mimiron is a whole nother story. It is regularly regarded as the best fight in Ulduar for both hard mode and normal mode and I have to agree. What is so good about the hard mode is that it completely changes the fight. When my guild does normal mode we assign different groups to different areas. There is a lot of things to worry about, but as long as you spread out and pay attention then you don't have many issues. In Hard Mode the fires completely throw that out the window. First you have to worry about the fires completely engulfing your section and not giving you a good place to stand. Then you have to worry about the fire suppressant that can silence and kill you. While Mimiron Normal Mode gives you a little preparation for the Hard Mode version, it isn't much. That is what makes it a great hard mode.