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Blizzard’s Dungeon Design Philosophy (Part 1)

I have been playing World of Warcraft since July 2008. That means I began playing during The Burning Crusade expansion when patch 2.4.3 came out, the last patch before preparations began for the Wrath of the Lich King expansion. While I did manage to hit the level cap of 70 prior to Wrath of the Lich King’s release, I never experienced any of The Burning Crusade’s raid content with the exception of Karazhan. Even then, Karazhan was not “current” content and I was unable to clear the entire thing. I never even did heroic 5-man content. My guild was a close-knit group of friends that mostly did regular (non-heroic) 5-man content.

Admittedly, I joined the party a little too late to be able to experience The Burning Crusade’s end-game content. As a result, my first foray into any current Warcraft end-game content did not occur until Wrath of the Lich King was released. Upon reaching the new level cap of 80, I was able to experience heroic 5-man content as well as my first significant raid via Naxxramas. I was very happy with Wrath of the Lich King overall. I found the heroic 5-mans to be generally fun, and the feeling of clearing Naxxramas with my guild is something I still recall fondly.

Actually, I was happy with World of Warcraft in general, and since I tend to get very passionate with things I enjoy, I began reading Warcraft news sites and blogs. Slowly, websites such as MMO-Champion and WoWhead entered into my daily routine of things to check. It was through these websites, and specifically discussions with a friend that began playing significantly before me, that I began to see the criticism that accompanied Wrath of the Lich King’s end-game content. There were three main criticisms:

  1. Epic quality gear no longer felt epic because it was too widespread.
  2. Entry into heroic 5-man content was no longer restricted by something other than player level.
  3. The dungeons themselves were far too easy.

Things are Special When Only I Have Them

When The Burning Crusade was released, players criticized the jump in gear stats, coining the phrase “green is the new purple.” It referred to the fact that players who had spent a good amount of time in pre-expansion World of Warcraft and gathered the highest quality purple gear were replacing it almost immediately with inferior-quality green gear. Well, when Wrath of the Lich King was released, players criticized Blizzard for making purple the new green. But is that complaint truly justified?

In The Burning Crusade epic gear was available from three sources: crafting professions, heroic 5-man dungeons, and raids. Those are the same sources of epic gear as in Wrath of the Lich King, so the perceived problem cannot originate from some new source of epic gear. Let us compare the number of epics which could be crafted between expansions using WoWhead’s filter system. The Burning Crusade had 181 crafted epics while Wrath of the Lich King had 128 crafted epics. Clearly crafting professions are not to blame.

Moving onto heroic 5-man dungeons, The Burning Crusade had 62 epics available from heroic 5-man content, while Wrath of the Lich King had 125 epics available. It is true that Wrath of the Lich King had just over double the number of epics available from heroic 5-man content, but these numbers are a little misleading. With the exception of Magisters’ Terrace, The Burning Crusade‘s heroic 5-man model was as follows: every boss dropped blue quality gear except for the last boss of the instance which would always drop one epic. In Magister’s Terrace Blizzard changed the system so that each boss would drop an epic. In Wrath of the Lich King, the first tier of dungeons followed the same heroic 5-man model. Only the last boss of each heroic would drop an epic. However, whereas The Burning Crusade had only Magisters’ Terrace deviate from that model, Wrath of the Lich King had four dungeons: Trial of the Champion, Forge of Souls, Pit of Saron, and Halls of Reflection. All of the bosses in each of those dungeons would drop an epic.

To complain about the availability of epic gear from those four Wrath of the Lich King dungeons is to ignore the valuable contribution it made in its respective tier of content. The gear was a saving grace for all players who were unable to get specific drops because of bad luck. When Ulduar was released, no new 5-man content accompanied it. That meant players who were unlucky with gear drops in the first tier of content had to continue farming it if they lacked the overall gear to tackle Ulduar content. You may be thinking “yea, that’s how this game works.” That may be true, but that does not make it fun or the better system. However, when Trial of the Crusader was released, players had the ability to farm gear from the accompanying Trial of the Champion 5-man. The gear was item level 219 which put it on par with Ulduar 10 man gear, but it came at a time when that raid content was no longer “current.” Trial of the Crusader’s normal mode 10-man loot was item level 232. The heroic 25-man loot was item level 258. That means raiders were being handsomely rewarded for their effort while players who were unable or unwilling to raid, or players unlucky with gear drops, were able to make good use of the new content. The same holds true for the Icecrown Citadel 5-man heroics.

In other words, the addition of those four Wrath of the Lich King dungeons did not take anything away from raiders. Yes, non-raiders had access to more epic quality gear, but that gear was completely inferior to current content raid gear. Inspecting a player (either visually or via right-clicking on their portrait) would immediately reveal whether that player was a raider or not because the heroic 5-man gear simply could not compete. How does that cheapen a raider’s personal feeling of accomplishment? Are the critics suggesting that if the gear was colored blue instead of purple, no one would have a problem with it? It would not make sense to have some gear of item level 200 be epic while other gear of item level 219 is blue. Blizzard took the position that gear above a certain item level should be considered epic, and that makes a lot of sense.

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