Sunday, November 21, 2010

Difficulty As A Motivation

Over the weekend, I soloed a flurry of level 70 heroic dungeons on my mage.  This project has been simmering on the back burner for a while now, but I really wanted to get my best effort in before Cataclysm.  I got stuck on the second boss of the Black Morass/Opening The Dark Portal event and decided to give the dungeon a shot on my arcane spec rather than my usual instance-soloing frost spec.  This proved so effective that I promptly blazed through half a dozen dungeons, including some that I just couldn't beat previously.

(With patch 4.0 changes, my Arcane blast spell crits for more than 25K damage, which means that I can easily kill just about any level 70 boss in the 30 seconds that the Mirror Image spell keeps them busy.  On top of that damage, AB now automatically applies the Slow spell debuff.  This is actually more effective for single target crowd control than Frost is, as the Slow spell was balanced with the now-outdated assumption that players were going to be spending 20% of their time recasting Slow if they wanted the effect to stick.)

Though this tactic did allow me to cross a number of items off my to do list (all but the last boss of Arcatraz; if any mage has soloed this, I'd be curious to know how), in many cases it was so easy that the dungeons were no longer fun.  Playing as a frost mage requires carefully juggling aggro and freeze effects.  Playing as Arcane involves spamming Arcane Blast until everything is dead.  There were only a handful of encounters (notably the Raven boss Anzu, who I actually had to switch back to Frost to deal with) that were still in any way interesting with a character as powerful as a modern day level 80 Arcane mage facing level 70 heroics. 

The Issue With Difficulty As A Motivator
Ghostcrawler, WoW's head system designer, posted a lengthy philosophical piece last week explaining how they felt that healing in the Wrath era had become overpowered, much as my mage is now overpowered for many dungeons that I was working on.  Cataclysm is designed to challenge healers with more limited mana regeneration to address various (and significant) issues that resulted from the old status quo.  The problem is that, unlike my choice to solo old instances because I'm bored, these changes don't occur in a vacuum.

Group content in World of Warcraft (and most other holy trinity MMO's) is designed to require 20% or more of players to play healers.  This constraint on class requirements for groups has created a situation where large numbers of players who do not want to play healers are doing because someone has to (and/or because their personal wait times are lower as a result).  When someone is doing something that they want to do, you can appeal to their sense of reason that increased challenge will make their victory more enjoyable.  When someone is only doing something because their guild needed another healer, increased challenge only makes an unpleasant task even less enjoyable.

I believe the crab when he describes the problems that resulted from healers who never ran out of mana, and it's entirely possible that the game the crab envisions for Cataclysm would be more enjoyable than the one we have today.  That improvement is reduced to an academic point, though, if the majority of players (who choose DPS) have dramatically less access to actually playing the game because the guy with a healing off-spec no longer thinks he can handle healing the instance and decides to queue with all the other DPS instead.  It's going to be very interesting to see whether Blizzard sticks to their guns if the increased difficulty leaves the highly popular random instance grind unplayable. 


  1. Yup, this is going to be interesting. Another side is that a lot of people are far more reluctant to risk failure in groups or with people they don't know (who will judge them immediately on a one-off fail) than solo or with friends.

    So it could be that healing will become more fun for more people and still fewer healers will want to queue for random instances.

    The other side is that the people who like healing welcome the notion of weeding out the poor healers -- they don't necessarily see that healers in general are in demand. For them, they can never be in enough demand. (Well, maybe if the entire server was whispering them with invites as soon as they log in.)

  2. Then there is healer burn out, especially with the LFG. I played holy pally for a good 6-8 months after the LFG was introduced, and would have to say I was an effective healer. In enjoyed learning a new play style and mastering the art of keeping a group alive.

    But after collecting all my T9 gear I stopped... spamming one spell (Flash of Light) over, and over for (then) badges become boring and repetitive. Silent PGs chewing through "Heroic" dungeons in under 10 minutes.

    In the end, there was no challenge. The changes to healing have me intrigued, so I'll most likely go back to healing after Cata drops.

    I also rolled a warrior and tanked all the way through old world content, just to see what it was like. Loved tanking, a real challenge at times.

    GC is right: once you lose the challenge, it becomes boring.

  3. I, like Nytehunter, rolled a tank and a healer when DPSing got boring. And then when tanking and healing got boring, I stopped playing.

    I get healers in the LFG all the time who go "pull more at once!" and as a tank in the DF I'm constantly picking up the pace, often running to the next group, while the dps are still aoeing the group I was on. If they pull, so what, the healer can pick it up. I'm outgeared and i've grown used to the skills of my class, so tanking is easy, with or without a healer, I know how much damage I can withstand. tanking is BORING, so I pull five packs plus a boss for something NEW and FUN.

    For all the healers (who are really DPSers with heal off spec) you won't have because healing will be more complicated than "spam this," you'll have me, a real healer, who'll be topping off life bars at the end of six minute boss fights while I still have 50%+ mana. The people who enjoy healing, who want to be the best healers they can be, will heal again.

    I'll be resubscribed, and I'll be having FUN again. And supposedly I'll want to stay subscribed longer since the challenge will be sustained, rather than "figure out which spell to spam, then faceroll it." Which is only a challenge for 30 seconds.

  4. I've been doing the same thing - finishing up a few BC rep grinds, soloing heroic modes on my mage. I've got to say, though, that Anzu kicks my butt in frost or in arcane. How did you handle him?

  5. I quit healing fairly early in Wrath because healing was too easy and all the interesting decisions of BC were gone.

    I look forward to the return of interesting..though the queues may suck as DPS.

  6. I intend to heal less/none in Cata. I love making complicated healing decisions. However, I do not like to do it while juggling movement mechanics.

    Doing triage while staring at the bars on healbot and managing my mana is interesting. But if I have to be twitching out of fire all the time, it is not. This was exacerbated since my first healer was a pally and with a limited amount of instant heals and hots while I moved.

    So with the right fights, the cataclysm healing model would be fine. The more emphasis there is on raid awareness and movement, the smaller percentage of my attention i can devote to healing. If I am going to have to jump around like a DPS, might as well be a DPS.

  7. @Anon: Anzu is hands down the toughest fight I'm beaten in TBC, and it took a lot of deaths just to learn what to look for. I still don't think I can beat it 100% of the time because you have no room for any mistakes. Some tips:

    - Be sure to kill the last boss first, to open the gate for a shorter corpse run.

    - As Frost, you're looking to get to the first banish/bird phase without using your cooldowns or taking massive damage. Ice barrier, frostbolts, deep freeze, and water elemental freeze (for FOF crits) were enough to get me through here.

    - Your first priority for the rest of the fight is not to kill yourself by casting with the manaburn curse on. This does huge damage that's hard to recover from, and needs to be decursed immediately.

    - Your second priority is to use whatever means necessary not to tank the boss while stunned or cycloned. You can (and will have to) tank the birds while stunned with ice barrier up, but the boss will just shred you if he gets 6 seconds of free DPS. Mirror images can tank the boss fine, the cyclone can be counterspelled, and you'll need to save your ice block for when he casts the un-interruptable stun while you don't have mirror images up. You can't reactively remove either CC with ice block, but the boss won't be able to hit you while in the ice block, even if you're stunned.

    - You're probably going to need glyphed evocation to heal up at some point. Preferrably during a banish/bird phase (either while the birds are coming down, or with icy veins when they're almost all dead). Time it so that the boss does not interrupt your evocation, as this will probably mean a wipe.

  8. Nope Ghostcrawler the former Marine Biologist is wrong.

    Like dead wrong... so wrong that by 4.0.5 he will be forced to "calibrate" or "tweak" healing.

    What GC does not "get" is the relative lack of sophistication on the part of the most players (read as those 3 non tank non healer types in EVERY 5man).

    GC will have a pretty expansion that will teach any leveling dps NOTHING of how to integrate pew pew with 5 man heroics. So the JUMP in game skill between 85 leveling and end game heroics will be HUGE. Wut I need to watch aggro? Wut I need to stay out of fire? Wut I need to actually be aware of boss fight mechanics?

    Bottom Line 3/5 of the user population will be sad campers about 2 months after expansion drops.

    3/5 of your player base is a majority and while the EJs out there will love lording their skill over noob dps. This can only last so long before Blizzard starts to notice it in Sub numbers OR in satisfaction.

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  10. I was going through some old links of mine and decided to read your post again. The quoted text below seems to have been mostly spot-on, though the shortage appears to be in tanks and not healers:

    "That improvement is reduced to an academic point, though, if the majority of players (who choose DPS) have dramatically less access to actually playing the game because the guy with a healing off-spec no longer thinks he can handle healing the instance and decides to queue with all the other DPS instead. It's going to be very interesting to see whether Blizzard sticks to their guns if the increased difficulty leaves the highly popular random instance grind unplayable."


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