Please Note: This has been a good week for me. I've been called shallow, elitist, and a moron among other things. Well, now I'm about to put a cherry on top of the sundae. I'm sure parts of this post will piss some of you off. Just remember that these are my opinions and you are free to disagree. Insults however will not be tolerated. If you can't provide a thoughtful argument as to why you disagree with me, feel free not to comment.
Despite what some of my commenter say, I don't think I'm an elitist. I didn't get up set when they released all the badge gear in TBC that was equivalent to Black Temple gear. I didn't get upset when they made it so a new 80 could get a full set of T9 gear with just badges. And overall, I like the concept of hard modes.
I am all for everyone experiencing the content and story that raiding provides even though many people do not have the skill, time, or desire raid in a focused progression guild. I agree that it is unfair for Blizzard to spend millions of development dollars on an instance like Naxxramus that only a handful of raiders saw the first time it was released. Therefore, in concept Hard Modes are a fair balance. They give the progression focused players a challenge, and they give the experience focused players a way to see the content.
In theory it's a win/win, but I don't like the way they have been implemented in WotLK. I've already talked about what I think makes a good hard mode and a bad hard mode. In this post I will address what I think is wrong in the current hard mode structure, and take a look at ways I think hard modes can be improved.
What's wrong with current hard modes?
Blizzard has tried a lot of different things with hard modes in Wrath of the Lich King, but they seem to have come upon a favored format. With both ToC and ICC they released the normal mode first and then made the hard mode available when you cleared normal mode. So the raid progression path is normal mode, hard mode, normal mode, hard mode. This structure has a few problems.
First, it forces progression focused raiders to participate in watered down content that they don't necessarily find enjoyable. To illustrate my point let me use an example. When my guild was progressing through Ulduar we one or two shot Hodir on normal mode the first time we saw him. After the kill one of my guild leaders lamented that before hard modes Hodir would have had a 3minute enrage timer. Without the time restriction Hodir is basically a don't stand in the fire tank and spank. For a progression guild, not standing in the fire should not be a challenge, The real challenge of Hodir is using all of the various buffs to maximize DPS. (For the record,I realize we could have gone for the hard mode right away on Hodir. In fact we did on Flame Laviathan and Iron council. However, that does not seem possible going forward given how ICC and ToC were designed.)
Second, the normal mode acts as a stepping stone to the hard node and takes away some of the gravitas that I think an Hard Mode encounter should have. Lady Vashj is one of my all time favorite encounters because it was so challenging and it felt so good to finally kill her. Now imagine if you had to do that fight with only 2 shield generators and no Striders before you could do the full version. It's like being forced to read the Cliff Notes version of a book before you get to read the entire thing.
Finally, I don't think the current structure provides enough rewards for high achieving players or enough ways for players/guilds to distinguish themselves in the early days of new content. It also doesn't provide any incentive to go back and work on old content that you haven't completed. In the first two months of ICC it was near impossible to rank the guilds on any server because guilds could kill most if not all of the bosses available right away.
Since Blizzard is bending over backwards to make sure 10man raiders don't feel compelled to run content in a format they don't enjoy. Why should progression raiders be compelled to participate in a format of content they don't enjoy? Here are some changes I think Blizzard could make to fix the situation.
My Proposed Changes:
Allow two paths for hard mode attunement: I know attunment is a bad word for a lot of players, but hard modes already have an attunement process. Having to clear an instance on normal mode before being able to attempt the hard modes is an attunement. I propose that we allow guilds to attune themselves to hard modes in two ways. First they could clear the normal mode of the current instance as we currently have to do, or you could clear the prior instance on hard mode. Basically, if you want to attempt Heroic Marrowgar, you have to kill normal Lich King or heroic Anub. I am not proposing any attunements for normal modes.
I like this idea for two reasons. First, it allows progression guilds to skip the watered down versions of fights that they may not find enjoyable. Second it encourages guilds to complete content. When ICC was released there was only one guild on my server that had killed heroic anub. My guild killed him in the first week of ICC, but several of the progression guilds on my server skipped him for months, and I think that is a shame.
Release hard modes first: I like this idea, because it rewards high achieving guilds, and it helps to create a more distinct path to measure the quality of a guild and ultimately facilitates the progression race that many WoW players enjoy.
I know the casual raiders out there won't like this and I can hear the accusations of elitism already. No one wants to wait for content, especially when they know it is ready. That said, no one has a problem with letting the elite marathon runners start 30 minutes ahead of everyone else in the Boston Marathon. We don't hear a massive out cry from the runners starting later saying it is unfair.
I am sure that some of you will make the point that hard modes and normal modes could be released at the same time, which isn't a horrible idea either. However, I don't think it would provide enough of a separation. Releasing hards and normals at the same time would allow guilds to practice on normal with alts and then try the hard on mains after they figured out the mechanics. I also like the idea of rewarding achievement. Allowing progression guilds to see content a couple of weeks earlier would be a nice reward and provide some incentive for players to challenge themselves. If you only want experience content, then what does it matter if you wait a little longer?
To use ICC as the example, in my vision the hard versions of the first 4 bosses in ICC would be released first. If you haven't completed ToGC, you know have incentive to finish it up. If you have completed ToGC, you have two content to measure yourself against with out having to worry about other guilds cheating by practicing the fight in another format. A few weeks later the Plague Wing of ICC is released for hard modes and the normal mode of the first 4 bosses are released. The guilds that having completed ToGC now have new content. They can still move up to the heroic content by completing ToGC if they want to. The other wings would be released in a similar fashion. Eventually casual raiders would have access to the entire instance. Then they could try hard modes by either completing ToGC or by completing normal ICC.
The current format of hard modes forces progression raiders to run content that they don't necessarily enjoy. The current format also provides little opportunity for guilds to distinguish themselves in the early days of new content and I think doesn't provide enough rewards.
With that in mind, I propose two changes to the current format. First, allow progression guilds to attune for hard modes by completing the previous hard modes as well as competing the current normal mode. Second, release the hard modes first to reward high achieving guilds and allow for a better way to measure the progression race that many players enjoy.