Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Difficulty With Timed Challenges

WoW Mount Management would like you to know that this particular Bronze Drake is a Mount. It is not to be confused with the Albino Drake, the various Proto-Drakes and Nether Drakes, etc, which happen to allow you to ride them places but are not formally labeled "mount" in their name.

Heroic COS was the daily on my Alliance server yesterday, which meant that about half a dozen members of my guild completed their very first timed run through the zone in the approximately 90 minutes of peak hour time that I spent online. I was one of them, and was fortunate enough to run it in a group where everyone already had the mount, so my mage now gets a member of the Bronze Dragonflight to personally fly him around places.

The timed run is basically a race against the clock to clear the entire dungeon up to the final boss in 25 minutes, and then run to catch a special optional boss who will run and teleport away if the clock runs out while you're fighting him. If you win, everyone gets the achievement and one party member can get the drake if they don't already have one. (It's also good for an Emblem of Conquest and four Stone Keeper Shards if you own Wintergrasp, since the guy is an extra boss.) We got to the boss with maybe 90-120 seconds left on the clock, but he fortunately doesn't do much except die quickly, and we beat him in the nick of time. Taking down the nominal final boss of the instance felt anticlimactic after the frantic rush to clear the timed run.

Of course, therein lies the problem. This type of challenge is very very tough when you're trying it at the correct level, somewhat easier as gear inflation works its course, and presumably becomes trivial once the level cap increases.

Coping with mudflation and challenge rewards
Various games have taken different approaches to this issue. WoW has outright retired certain special mounts and titles from more difficult level-appropriate raids. Gear inflation takes care of some of the work of devaluing rewards on its own - characters who can breeze through the content don't need the rewards, but that alone doesn't always solve the problem.

EQ2 takes the additional step of not allowing mobs to drop the good loot if the party is overgeared. Then again, no system is perfect - EQ2 allows higher level characters to "mentor down", and the resulting character is apparently still more powerful than a character of that level would typically be. There's also the sometimes sticky issue of raiding guilds renting their raid slots to players who need to kill a specific raid mob for their Mythical Weapon quests. In some ways, this sort of thing is necessary in an era where routine instance PUG's have their mythical weapons (much like WoW PUGS that demand 3K DPS and the epic gear achievement for 5-mans).

Expansions present another kind of issue. SOE is planning to replace Mythical weapons in the new expansion, but is talking about allowing players to retain their current weapons in an additional trinket-like slot. If this requires new players to somehow get groups willing to take them through the old content, that could be a problem in the new expansion. (LOTRO has a similar issue with the pre-Moria level 50 class dungeon quests, though the items in question can at least be bought off of the broker if you've got enough money.)

In the end, I guess the best approach is to determine whether a specific reward is really meant to be a prestige item, and remove it or not based on that. The Bronze drake does not appear to have been intended as a true prestige item, and it has the lack of rarity to prove it.

Sometimes that's approrpiate, especially when you consider that this was Greenwiz's 72nd mount. Still, I do feel just a bit like I snuck in under the wire on this particular achievement. It simply was not as hard as it would have been six months ago (when I would not have won the mount by default on most runs). It's another small step in a trend in WoW that is increasingly diminishing the significance of the very incentive rewards that Blizzard is hoping will keep us playing the game.


Klepsacovic said...

It was a tough achievement in only heroic gear, or maybe I was in less at the time. Point is, it was tough. Now it's trivial.

While I don't like that it is now trivialized, I'd dislike seeing it removed, since that punishes people who happened to start playing at the wrong time. But maybe it makes sense that a bronze drake would be time-limited.

Anonymous said...

I got this mount back in December and remember trying many many times to get it. This was before I stepped in naxx and my only epic was a boe cloak.

I stopped running instances till 3.2 . When I ran this with a pug we were all in 226/245 gear. We finished with 6 minutes left. The Mage didn't have the mount and was happy to take it. I tried to explain how much blood and sweat went into getting this mount originally but it isn't something you can understand without experiencing.

I never got the za bear and never tried. If I were to go back and get it now, it wouldn't have any significance. Blizzard is deffinitely better off rewarding the experience. I'm surprised the iron/rusted protos are still in...

Stripes said...

I think this post isn't some much about timed challenges, but about _any_ sort of "hard mode". It gets less hard as player level or gear goes up. Earth, Wind & Fire is hard now, but I would bet it is _easy_ for a bunch of level 85 players.

Looking at the achievements I think there are some for "kill blah-blah with gear of ilevel X or lower". One could do this for things like the Bronze Drake (I would assume you would have to tack on "character level of 80 or lower" here too).

So in theory if you still wanted the bronze drake after the next expansion you could turn of XP gains when you hit 80, and get gear of the appropriate level and then find 4 other people that want to do the same.

Which gives you roughly the same "tough" challenge for clearing things fast enough (depending on how new game mechanics change how powerful a level 80 player is), but unlike "the Shattered Sun" (which has been removed from the game) it would still be doable.

I think that sort of thing would be nice. Nicer still if we can voluntarily down-level ourselves & gear for a run.