Thursday, September 30, 2010

The danger of high rewards

I remember last year's Brewfest in World of Warcraft, mostly because of the Tankard O' Terror which dropped from the event boss Coren Direbrew. At the time I made a handsome profit, because I could buy them cheap while the event was going on, and sell them on for twice to three times the money once the event was over, and the Tankard was the only iLevel 226 boe weapon in the game. I haven't even bothered to do this event this year, because it is so pointless now, something Larísa laments.

Coren Direbrew is a prime example of the biggest flaw of the Wrath of the Lich King expansion, a flaw usually and badly described as "Waaaaah! WoW is too easy!". And most certainly, for most players today the Brewfest event boss is "too easy", as in poses no fun challenge at all. But if we look at the situation closer we'll notice that Coren Direbrew in 2010 is EXACTLY as hard as he was in 2009. He hasn't been nerfed, and he still got exactly the same abilities and health. If you went there with a group with the kind of gear people had in 2009, you'd find Coren Direbrew a fun enough challenge. And the same is true for the rest of the game: Blizzard didn't nerf everything to make it too easy, and most of the content would be challenging enough to be fun if you'd go there with a group equipped in the kind of gear the content was designed for.

What went wrong was not that the content was made too easy, but that players were made too powerful. Again people tend to oversimplify that fact and blame "the Dungeon Finder", but to be precise the Dungeon Finder by itself didn't make the game much easier. The real culprit is the level of rewards given out for running heroics. Dungeons which were originally designed to for people to get iLevel 200 mostly blue gear, with a single iLevel 200 epic as end reward, should not have handed out emblems with which to buy iLevel 232 to 264 gear. WotLK would have been a better expansion if the emblems would only have given out iLevel 200 to 219 gear.

The too high reward level didn't serve any good purpose: Instead of making raiding more accessible, it made several raid dungeons instantly obsolete. And because the emblems gave too high rewards compared to the heroic dungeons they were found in, players were encouraged to run heroics completely overgeared. And of course Blizzard couldn't adjust the difficulty level of the heroic dungeons, because they were in fact quite challenging for a group wearing only the kind of gear a freshly dinged level 80 would wear. But for a group in emblem gear heroics are trivial to a point where many abilities became useless, and players just AoE'd everything down. Players always run after rewards, but with the rewards for running heroics being too high, that striving for rewards only ended up destroying the challenge and the fun.

I love the Dungeon Finder, and I so hope that in the next expansion the rewards handed out for running level 85 heroics are more appropriate to the difficulty level. There must be a sweet spot somewhere between Burning Crusade where everybody was stuck in the first progression raid dungeon, and Wrath of the Lich King where emblems made the first progression raid dungeon obsolete. Nobody wants to run the same raid dungeon for a year, but handing out rewards that allow people to completely skip it is not the solution. There should be some raid progression, albeit faster than in the Burning Crusade. And preferably a Raid Dungeon Finder functionality to save us from stupid and tyrannical PuG raid leaders. Heroics should equip people for the first raid dungeon, nothing more.

What Blizzard did in Wrath of the Lich King is equivalent of handing out more levels, without actually providing all that much more content for those higher levels. Not a good idea, that only makes people burn out fast.

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