Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Effect of the Gradual Icecrown Rollout on Difficulty

With WoW's patch 3.3 presumptively slated for release next month, Blizzard has announced its delayed access plans. As Larisa colorfully puts it, they are once again "treating the gamers like children, only handling out a few of the candies at one time so the chocolate box will last longer". Still, there are some interesting tweaks this time around.

How much gear will players have BEFORE Arthas?
Blizzard isn't announcing how quickly each new wing of the dungeon will be released, other than to state that it will be "several weeks" before the second wing opens. That's several weeks with access to four bosses, each of whom drops loot of their own, along with current tier emblems. (These emblems will also be available two per day for random 5-mans, plus an extra 5 per week for the weekly raid quest.) As more wings unlock, players will have access to even more loot.

The end result is that players will have unprecedented access to current tier raid loot BEFORE the final boss becomes available. This means that Arthas may well be tuned assuming that the raid is already fully geared in Icecrown raid drops.

The raid that nerfs itself
The other kind of new feature is that, as weeks progress, players will be allowed additional attempts at the bosses and an increasing buff to their stats. In other words, the content will actually make itself easier (technically players will be allowed to decline the bonuses, but I doubt that many will).

This point may be a logical progression from the first one. Normally, server-first guilds have to kill the final boss clad mostly in gear from previous dungeons, while less elite guilds can expect to slowly accumulate gear upgrades as they move forward over time. If Arthas is tuned assuming that players ALREADY have current top-end gear, that option goes away.

Reflecting on Wrath Era Tuning
Overall, the major news story of the Wrath Era is Blizzard's attempt to fine tune their new system for multiple raid difficulties. Naxx provided much needed accessibility but too little challenge. Ulduar added challenge but did so with occasionally gimmicky hard mode requirements. TOC was somewhat of a filler dungeon, with a weird two-saves per group size per week hard mode option, and came with the first of two mid expansion gear resets needed to offset the improved loot being generated by all these hard modes. Now, finally, Icecrown will apparently make players wait for possibly months for the chance to fight Arthas, before even allowing anyone to take on the optional hard modes.

If nothing else, I hope that Blizzard is able to finish refining the model for allowing all raiders the ability to participate in the expansion's marquis fight. Changing courses with every patch of the Wrath era blew the entire incentive structure for the expansion out of the water. Perhaps carefully rationed, self-nerfing raid content will find the balance that Blizzard's group game has been struggling to achieve for the last year.


Anonymous said...

I hate myself for doing this, but that should read marquee fight, not marquis (you had me confused for a mo).

This also makes me wonder quite when Cataclysm is coming out. 'A few weeks' between wings could mean as much as two months.

Pangoria Fallstar said...

Also, if this works out, you know that it will be the model followed by every level 85 raid dungeon in Cataclysm.

It's an interesting model that has quite a bit going for it, I like it.

Betty said...

Honestly I can't see Cata out before april/may, there's going to be plenty of time to farm this dungeon. None of the prior final dungeons (naxx, sunwell) were The Lore Dungeon of the xpac. Black Temple was around for a rather long time before Sunwell hit and Blizz are pushing for casuals to experience as much content as they can.

Blizz also seem to be changing their loot/difficulty model every tier, not minor revisions but fairly major changes. Admittedly I think cata will overall see the smallest changes to the formula but I doubt ICC will be the final iteration of the model.

Pangoria Fallstar said...

@Betty, yeah, but 3.3 is the last major patch, in other words the last raid and the last dungeon of WotLK.

With 3.3 coming out pretty darn soon, and given a 4 month delay until our next major update we're looking at Cata coming out Late February-Early April.

Stripes said...

" With 3.3 coming out pretty darn soon, and given a 4 month delay until our next major update we're looking at Cata coming out Late February-Early April"

Running out of 3.x content isn't the same as a 4.0 release date.

In an ideal world where Blizz can make content as fast as they want 4.0 will land as soon as 3.x is used up.

In the programmers world 4.0 won't be available until 4.0 is done.

In the real world a little time can be shaved off of that by leaving out content ("that will wait for 4.1"), by leaving out features ("that will wait for 4.1!"), and by letting quality slip ("you can do a 4.0.1 if too many people trip across that bug!").

There is only so much "shaving" you can do and still have a good release though.

(also in the real world, you can make 3.4 with some sort of post-Arthis raid, but doing that will take staff that might have been better left on 4.0...maybe, depending on what is holding up 4.0)

What's my main Again? said...

If there is anything holding up 4.0. The new starting zones of Cat were semi playable during blizzcon... how much more of the content is already finished?

I have to say I'm more excited about Icecrown then I have of any other raid content since wotlk was released. Thankfully we aren't stuck with just a single boss a week... though I hope they don't stagger the release of the wings too much.

Its interesting how we moved from mandatory fire resist capes to attunements for each tier to now waiting a few weeks for the different wings to unlock.

The downside is that due to the gradual release of content... once arthas is released we will probably see hardmode clears within a day or two. Because all of the guilds will already have all the gear necessary to clear the heroic version.

Michael said...

My guess is that the race for world firsts won't really count for the normal version.

Instead the week that the final normal bosses are available there is the race to complete those three, then all heroics are available.

Think of it this way. Presuming normal version is not super hard, every semi-serious guild will have similar gear by the time Arthas Normal mode is available (that is up to 6 weeks killing the first group of bosses, 4 of the next group, 2 full weeks of killing gate 3, thats a decent amount of gear once you include a heap of frost emblems).

Then there will be hundreds of guilds competing for the Arthas normal mode and plenty of guilds in the running for heroic first kills (with only 15 attempts available first week).

Finally world firsts will be a real competition.

Betty said...

"Finally world firsts will be a real competition."

I still think one of the current top guilds will get the world first.

Hoping that normal modes are on par with BT and hard modes are sunwell/ulduar hard modes

ZacharyPruckowski said...

If there is anything holding up 4.0. The new starting zones of Cat were semi playable during blizzcon... how much more of the content is already finished?

It's pretty easy to do small areas like that and have them available for a limited demo. But Cataclysm also involves re-building the entire Old World and redoing every item in the game, plus adding 7 new upper-level (78-85) zones, 3 new battlegrounds, 8 new dungeons, and whatever we get in terms of raiding at launch. Not to mention balance changes and redoing everyone's talent trees. There's a lot to do. I think it's safe to say there are hold-ups.

My guess is that the race for world firsts won't really count for the normal version.

They didn't count for anything in ToC, and the only one anyone remembers from Uld was Yogg-Saron. No-one cared who got World-First Mimiron, just who got World-First Firefighter.