To be honest I'm a bit shocked, and judging from the forums there are a lot of people who share my surprise. Almost every tier of raiding has included ten or more bosses, and seemed to want to follow that trend judging from the comments they made prior to cataclysm about smaller but more numerous raid instances.
While I am surprised by the change of direction, I am not really disappointed. At this point, I'm not happy either, but it has potential. The question is can Blizzard pull it off. With this post I would like to talk about some of the issues and give my opinion on why this could be great and what pitfalls blizzard has to avoid.
Bashiok has made several posts on the forums trying to explain the new direction and answer some questions. In the end he gave two reasons for the change.
- "We're concentrating our efforts into a smaller number of fights so that each fight is bigger and better,"(src)
- "I mean that's a tough situation because our feeling is simply that people shouldn't be forced to play the game more than a couple nights a week to keep up on progression."(src)
If I'm giving Blizzard the benefit of the doubt, I like both of those reasons.
I've played this game for a very long time. I still enjoy it, but I have to admit that I don't have the same level of interest I did three or four years ago. I still want to progress and see all of the content, but I can't spend 5 or more nights a week doing it. Even if I could I don't think I would want to. I like spending time with my family, watching movies, and reading books. Ultimately I would love to have a schedule like the elite guilds that raid a lot at the start of new content, but scale back to just one or two nights a week once they get everything on farm. With just seven bosses, that type of schedule might be possible for me in the near future.
Another impact of playing this game for as many years as I have is that some of the fights become a little repetitive. How many dragons have I killed with breath's and tail whips? How many puddles have I seen that I'm not supposed to stand it? While there are several new and unique mechanics in Cataclysm raiding, I don't think any of the fights are ground breakingly original. If cutting the number of raids by 5 or 5 allows Blizzard to focus it's attention on what's left and create something true new and unique I am more then willing to make that trade.
The Doubt - Defining Quality:
I would definitely prefer Quality over Quantity, but Quality is a very subjective term. Judging from some of the other comments made by Bashiok, I'm not sure we agree on what quality is, or at least what type of quality is most important. For example, take this quote:
We're also spending a lot of time making the Firelands bosses as awesome as possible - - creating unique models, animations, effects, sounds, etc. etc. Previously a lot of bosses were larger versions of existing modelsI realize this is not an exhaustive list but it worries me that all of the attributes he talked about were superficial. Don't get me wrong I like looking at pretty pictures from time to time, but they get old quickly. Never once have I heard anyone say, "You know what? The Lich King looks awesome. Let's go clear ICC tonight." Pretty pictures are nice, but they don't draw people to the content over and over again. That responsibility is left to the Encounter Designers.
The good news is that the Encounter Designers and Graphic Artists are two different groups (I think). So if the artists have more time to work on the Graphics, then the Encounter Designers should have more time to work on the encounters. Everyone wins right?
I hope so, but I have my doubts. In my opinion Blizzard hasn't had a really innovative encounter in this tier of content. Some of you may disagree and point to the Sound meter on Atramedes or the Corruption meter on Cho'gall, but there really not that innovative. They are basically "Don't Fail" meters. If you figure out the mechanics and don't stand in the fire then they are a non-issue.
My worry is that this increased "Quality" Blizzard is trying to sell to us is just the same old fights with new graphics. If that's the case then in my opinion we are trading a lot of quantity for not that much Quality.
The Doubt - A ToC Example:
For the record, Trial of the Crusader is in my opinion the worst raid instance Blizzard has ever designed. The normal modes were way too easy. My guild one shot most of them and pugs were fairly successful fairly soon after its release. The hard modes on the other had were significantly harder, and may have been a little to hard. This created a huge gap in progression. On top of that, the hard modes were almost identical to the normal modes. In most cases the only difference was the boss hit harder and had more hit points.
In my experience this is a fairly common opinion, and some players are trying to draw a correlation between ToC and the Firelands since both have relatively few bosses. To be honest I think that is a ridiculous effort. The fact that ToC was bad doesn't have any direct impact on Firelands other then to provide an example of what not to do, but that doesn't mean ToC is irrelevant either.
First, of all it shows that Blizzard is capable of laying an egg. They can say that Firelands is going to be "EPIC" and "AWESOME" all they want, but that doesn't make it true. They have to do the work, and ToC shows that they aren't always successful.
The second lesson from ToC is that a small raid instance doesn't necessarily mean a short raid week. The heroic version of ToC was hard. My guild at the time could clear normal ToC very quickly but we would spend months working on the Heroic mode. We didn't clear it after a couple months and have short raids until ICC was released. We worked our butt off right up until ICC was released.
This leads to another possibility. If Blizzard feels the pressure to make these fights last then they may be significantly harder then what we are used to. In the end that means more wipes, fewer kills, and the same amount of time spent raiding as we would have if there were 12 bosses instead of 7.
Hoping for a Real Difference:
What I hope this change will lead to is a real difference between normal modes and hard modes. Early on in the hard mode experiment the hard modes were quite a bit different then normal modes. For Example the Iron Council was a completely different fight depending on how you did it. Bosses like Freya gained a lot of new abilities as you tried the harder modes. Not all of the early hard modes were a hit, but on average they showed a lot more imagination then the hard modes that have been released since Ulduar.
Maybe there is some change on the horizon. In an interview with getbuffed.com Cory Stockton said "The raid culminates in a fight against Ragnaros. That fight specifically is pretty hardcore. The heroic version of the fight is actually completely different from the normal version. We really wanted to go all out on that and make sure Ragnaros had a really awesome cool unique feel." (src)
Hopefully this attitude goes beyond just he final boss in the instance. If having fewer bosses means that Blizzard can get farther away from the "hits harder and has more HP" model of Hard modes that they've been favoring this could be a real success.