Myth Busters: Heroics are Hard

Widely accepted thesis: Cataclysm heroics are hard, much harder than Wrath heroics. Conclusions range from being excited about it to quitting because of it. Unsurprisingly, I’m here to challenge the thesis itself.

Wrath heroics were easy, right? Like, really, really easy? Are you sure? Let’s have a history session. The Dungeon Finder, and with it the practice of running heroics in high volume, was introduced in patch 3.3, i.e. at the tail end of patch 3.2, also known as the TotC era, which, in itself, primarily served the purpose of gearing up absolutely everyone to where it could be guaranteed that they’d be able to take on ICC and Arthas, because this was going to be the conclusion of a 15 years old storyline, the storyline that made Blizzard into what they are today, and they didn’t want anyone to have to miss it. Prior to the dungeon, during patch 3.2 itself, we already had daily dungeon quests that would, via emblems, effectively reward us with raid gear. Saying that everyone entered the Dungeon Finder ridiculously overgeared would be an understatement. Everyone? Let’s go further back in time .. maybe a month or two.

During that time, in the middle of the TotC era, I reached level 80 and was just starting to run dungeons, together with a fixed group of friends, who, like me, were just beginning to learn the finer details of WoW group play. And you know what? Those dungeons were pretty hard! The first heroic we attempted was Violet Hold – yes, the same Violet Hold where later the timers between waves were hotfixed to be shorter and shorter, because everyone was just standing around bored, the same Violet Hold which I came to hate because the mobs were dealing so little damage I would be constantly rage starved. That Violet Hold. It was freaky hard. Granted, we pulled a tough one with Xevozz, and wiped, and wiped, until we finally managed to get past him and with much cheering and rejoicing completed the dungeon. We were cheering about beating Violet Hold, picture that!

We were really fighting our way through those heroics. We were using CC, following a kill order, taking breaks between pulls. I remember being proud of avoiding Loken’s Lightning Nova by breaking line of sight, which was more efficient than running all over the place – later you would just stand there and take it, a minor scratch on the health pool, giving you at least some rage and releasing the healer from total boredom. I remember us executing the complicated positioning tactic to get Consumption Junction – something a few months later was dinging on every run (assuming there would be someone who didn’t have it yet) simply by blowing him up in under 20 seconds. I remember racing hard to get the Bronze Drake in CoS. I remember the terror that was the Black Knight when you fought him in appropriate gear. I remember how half a year later, all that was gone, nothing could put much of a dent in our huge health pools a Rejuv-tick wouldn’t fix, and every group member would be putting out damage comparable to what an entire group once used to do combined.

Wrath heroics were not easy per se. I don’t know how they compare with BC hard hitters like Magister’s Terrace or Shattered Halls, but would like to suggest that during BC it was much more common to “design to niche”, essentially leaving you in the dirt if you didn’t have the specific set of abilities to handle a particular encounter/dungeon. Also – and importantly – even toward the end of BC, high quality gear was much less easily available than even at the start of WotLK. To anticipate: no, I do not mean to say that gear is all that matters – what I do mean to say that it helps a lot. Back to Wrath heroics – for those who had not, pre- or post-3.0, acquired a set of high quality BC raid gear, they did pose a rather reasonable level of challenge. However, lots of people brought their legacy equipment over, the quality jump having been much smaller this time around, crafted epics were more accessible than ever before (not BoP to begin with), and Naxx was deliberately accessible and over-rewarding. Thus for most active – and vocal – players, the phase of challenging heroics passed pretty quickly.

Most importantly, by the time the Dungeon Finder rolled around and transformed heroics into the sort of gaming popcorn we perceive them as today, that phase was long, long, long in the past. By the time dungeon groups went from manually organised to automatically matched, an estimated 80% of the participants were overgeared to the point of being able to just power through. Even new characters were not exempt from this, as rewards were – deliberately – coming in so quickly, that after a week or two of running along with overgeared others you’d already be overgeared yourself. This is the “Wrath dungeon experience” that we remember. This is, curiously, what we compare Cataclysm heroics with.

Cataclysm reset us to zero. The gear jump was so big again, that whatever you acquired in Wrath raiding, wouldn’t matter. It didn’t give us a shortcut to superior gear, but kept us honest. Cataclysm heroics were brutally hard … back in December and early January, when I was carrying spell plate shoulders, an agility cloak and a self-crafted PvP piece in my bags to make the 329 item-level requirement – and everyone else in the group was doing the same. When we didn’t know the fights and were still getting to grips with how our abilities changed. We used excessive crowd control, we treated every trash pull like a significant battle, we really worked together. For a month or two. Come March and 346+ gear with some raid loot sprinkled in, a tank would typically say “I would ask for CC, but it’s better I pull the entire pack, that way I get more Vengeance, makes it easier to hold aggro”, a healer would say “hmm, it’s getting boring” and we’d go off, rampaging and destroying.

I’m not exaggerating, nor am I showing off. Except when having fresh 85s in the group, our guild heroic runs have long began to increasingly resemble the “Wrath dungeon experience”. Not quite there yet, but certainly on our way. It turned out that Cataclysm heroics are not “clever hard” – they’re “numbers hard”. Klep wrote about this in January already. To sum up his post very briefly, there are two very different kinds of reasons to use crowd control: to counteract an encounter mechanic, or to reduce incoming damage. The latter becomes obsolete as soon as you gear up a bit. Quite evidently, what we got in Cataclysm, after much advertising and discussion, was pretty exclusively of that second sort. So, here’s the thing: Cataclysm heroics do not require crowd control any more. With every passing week and the increasing average gear level of the population, they require less and less coordination. By design.

Heroics are not hard – not all that hard, at least. It’s just that it’s the first time the Dungeon Finder exists in a time when there is no vast difference between player gear and dungeon level. And it’s been a culture shock to many having to relearn that a dungeon run can be something other than a trip to a vending machine.

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7 thoughts on “Myth Busters: Heroics are Hard

  1. Kring

    The TBC heroics were much harder than Cata heroics, especially if you didn’t have a warrior tank, a priest healer and a bunch of mages. In TBC hybrids were at a huge disadvantage compared to the “real” classes. (Let’s just not mention Paladins but tank Paladins didn’t really exist in the first few months. I’ve even seen a DD decline to join a group for heroic SH because the tank was a Paladin. 🙂

    The reason why they were harder is mainly that they had more mobs that pissed you off. One of the best instances ever for me was heroic Mana-Tombs. Each and every mob in there had a special ability. You got a group with different mobs out of these:
    – Heals other mobs to full if not CC-ed or interrupted.
    – Mana burnes a mana class for about 90% of their mana and does substantial damage if not interrupted.
    – Puts a heavy ticking Immolate on random players (random aggro)
    – Charges and stuns the puller.
    – Fears
    – Stuns the main target which leads to an aggro loss
    – Puts up a poison DoT effect.
    – other things I can’t think of now.

    It wasn’t possible to do heroic Mana-Tombs without CC and interrupts because the mobs would win no matter what your gear was. (The only way was probably if the DD nearly insta killed the mobs, but that was nearly impossible.)

    I think what people mean when they say “Cata heroics are hard” is that Cata heroics take to much time for lousy 70 VP.

    Reply
    1. Rem Post author

      Yes, that’s the sort of crowd control / tactical elements that cannot be easily beaten with gear. I believe Klep listed very similar things in his post, and we had to deal with some similar mechanics in LotRO. Cata has none of that, it’s all about managing incoming damage, which was disproportionally punishing at the beginning and is getting disproportionally easier with time.

  2. Scraddog

    We don’t take mains into the current Tier of heroics any more unless it’s gearing runs for someone.

    I remember doing wrath heroics at the start of the expansion and taking a long time, things like not having the gear to be able to defeat the end boss in HoL.

    Yes we were that bad at one point.

    now in the current tier on our mains we just burn through not quite chain pulling but we don’t take forever, CC stands for Cleave Cleave in these groups and mains in full raid gear(near as makes no difference) are used as a backup and to support alts.

    Curently we are looking forward to ZA and ZG as we’ll farm them to death for crystals and to gear up alts as they really are a two stop loot shop.

    We don’t do hard mode raids yet but having neffy being the only raid boss we have not killed on normal we are in the situation where these new instances are only going to be good for our alts and once we have “learnt” them they will be consigned to the farm status for gear and mats.

    Kind of sad really 😦

    Reply
    1. Rem Post author

      This is funny, because once upon a time, dungeons were intended to be exactly that thing that would keep you playing your main, instead of rolling an alt once you reach level cap.

      And when I say funny, I mean sad.

    2. Scraddog

      Several guilds have been in the situation where the only upgrades in gear for them come from the end normal mode bosses or from hard mode raid bosses for a while now and any raiding guild that has made solid progression is going to find themselves in the same situation.

      My old guild are just getting some of them ready for raids and I beleive it’s this sort of group that Blizz is aiming at with these instances, the not quite ready and just need that little extra gear to make the full blown raids that bit easier crowd.

      You can’t really blame Blizz for trying to make the progression from heroics into raids for this tier a bit easier and I’m all for content being available to as many folks as want to see it.

      But saying that not everyone is going to be able to kill Neffy in current raid gear as it’s a really harsh unforgiving fight.

      So I can understand the split between full geared raiders using the new heroics for alt gearing and those using it for intial gearing for raids as the step up can be pretty harsh.

    3. Rem Post author

      You’re motivating me to write a post I wanted to write for a while already. There are so many posts I’d like to write! 😀

  3. Pingback: The Skill Paradox « Do Not Try This At Home

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