The original basis for this post on 5 man difficulty was drafted well before 4.2 was released, in fact it was just after launch of Cataclysm. In that first draft I was very angry and frustrated with the encounters, and could not name a single boss fight which I found challenging and entertaining at the same time.
As the content was tweaked in the early days of patch 4.0 it did not get much better, but when 4.1 was released (ZA/ZG 5 mans) there was a substantial change in the staging of the older 5 mans to make a progressive path through the gearing process. I re-edited the draft with less anger, adjusted for some of the changes, and then added back in the frustration and disappointment when I pondered ZA and ZG as experiences themselves.
ZA and ZA felt like mini-raids, which were designed to push players and punish them hard when execution was not perfect. Even if the actual encounter mechanics were partially random, the players were still punished. Poor design in my opinion, and something that I hope more than just a few in the Warcraft community have experienced and would agree with.
Now that 4.2 is live we have a range of small changes to some aspects of the 5 mans, and also easier access to gear, which in turn helps mitigate the poor encounter design. As you might be lucky enough to have a team that partially over gears the encounters, you can somewhat reduce the impact a mistake has, and potentially not outright wipe. This is no replacement for good encounters, it is just a happy side effect of players getting better gear.
Today I’ve decided to post this reflection on 5 man runs, as the feeling has been consistent throughout the Cataclysm expansion in a way I have not experienced before. TBC and Wrath did not feel like this. It is a personal taste on how you view the content, and also how well you feel the”curve” is being handled.
The main angst I feel toward the 5 man content is that to continue my goal of gearing up I must do these, yes they are frustrating at times. My goal of gear is conflicting with my sense of entertaining play. So once again we have two factors: Gear & fun as key parts of the discussion.