Are the 5 mans fixed?

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.

I’m told Heroic is for gearing (in the manner that says Cat is for Fight), and it’s hard so we will feel challenged, because that is how you make a game rewarding. The older 5 mans are easier now, due to gearing levels and also some slight adjustments. Apparently this means we can gear-up for raid level through them, into the new 5 mans, and then raid. And the experience is fun.

I call b*llsh*t. Here are my observations on the 5 mans with regard to fun & gear:

  • If the 5 mans were fun before then nurfing them should have made them less fun. There seems to be a general mood of boredom with the old 5 mans, but I don’t think that is because they have been nurfed, I think it is because the players are very familiar with the material. The fun might have been when they were new, and that fun is arguable, but now they are neither very hard or new, so they exist as a tool to distribute points over a selected time period (monkey mashes the button, monkey often gets rewards, monkey continues to mash the button; and looks confused when the pain results).
  • We can do 7 per week now, which is a great change (a seriously good change that is bloody brilliant for all players) – to a max number of points. The limit is there so that a player cannot gear-up in a single week, so we keep paying per month; but also so it is slightly easier to get that reward each week. I can’t help but think the phase “Time is money friend” is a driver for this.
  • The old 5 mans give 70 points, and take 45 to 70 minutes to pug. Less people fail these now, so you tend to get through with 1-3 deaths. More if you’re the Tank, or a dps who cannot hold back threat (ahem, cough).
  • The 2 new 5 mans give 140 points and take 70 to 120 minutes to pug. These are the “hard” encounters so you’ll tend to have 3-6 deaths. These fights require much more attention to detail, a lot more crowd control, and have punishing trash and boss mechanics.
  • Any more time and deaths that above and I think you see people leaving the groups. When a group needs new members it tends to kill a ZA/ZG run, but for the older 5 mans you tend to get replacements and can battle on. You’ll get your points through persistence rather than performance, but for ZA/ZG you go back to the queue.

What does this mean?

  • To my suss it is sometimes better to run more of the easier 5 mans than fewer than the harder ones. If you are not going to reach the cap regardless of which method you use and your time is limited – the older 5 mans are a lower risk for same reward. So a better overall proposition.
  • Further even some of the older 5 mans are too intolerant of poor players, that you are better off leaving group and lining up again; especially if you’re a Tank. Deadmines and Stonecore are good examples where you know it will be a janky run with a pug so just drop group, do a few dailies and then try again later.
  • It reminds me of the Violet Hold instance in Wrath where you rarely saw somebody quit, as it was quick and a repeated mechanic. If the group could do the first boss, they tended to be able to do the entire encounter. Fast points meant for higher appeal. It could be contrasted directly against Occulus and the amount of people who quit that run on zone in. I know I often did.

What we have then is an imbalance due to design on which instances are worth playing through. As time is money, we see that the risk/reward ratio drove the choices we made in Wrath, and will continue to drive the choices we make now. The goodie bag for tanks changes the ratio to a moderate degree.

I think this basic premise also extends to both guild runs and pugs. In a guild we all have an impression of who you’d rather take to a run, and who will be a risk. It is something that raid leaders battle with, and it is something I ponder when doing 5 mans as well. Thankfully I am not often skipping a guild mate for a pug, as most of our guildies have a clue.

I should say too that the risk/reward ratio is slightly different for some guilds like mine. Playing with my guild-mates is fun regardless of what we are doing. Playing with PuGs is still always pain, with the degree of pain relative to who you play with, and how poor/skillful they are. I don’t think many people would try to argue against the fact that players will run the 5 mans until they get they gear they need, then they slow right down. Why run it when all you get is superfluous rewards?

Would the players slow down participating if it was still entertaining? Probably not. They are doing it for the gear. Gear is not equal to fun, it is part of the progressive game of diminishing returns, in which we participate in because of the goal itself. “I need more gear, so I can get more gear; …repeat.” I get that and understand and accept that as part of my motivation.

This is not to say that I don’t play, or that I don’t enjoy it on some level. It is OK. It is just not ideal for my play style, or to the goals of the process (points = gear). If the goal is to slowly gear us up by playing every night, or even a solid 3-4 hours 3 nights a week, then the rewards should be slowly cumulative, with a baseline reward then additional boosts for fantastic performance.

  • Encounters will hopefully be designed in future with less immediate fail events, and some mitigation built in. Thereby get more people through the encounters without significantly changing the overall time spent. This will heighten the sense of reward without really changing the amount of reward gained. Perfect – a higher sense of achievement with low game impact.
  • What do I mean by less fail and mitigate by design? Eg.
    • Violet Hold – Bad that you had to restart from scratch when you wiped. Good that the encounter was short overall.
    • Rock Boss in Stonecore – a party killer due to latency between the need to run out and the range of his damage radius. If the radius was smaller then high latency connections would have a little easier time. It also kills parties for good reasons, but dying because you live on the other side of the world is poor.
    • Gimmick fights, which are not avoidable. Occulus in Wrath’s final boss was a gimmick fight, which was hinged on the healer doing well. By comparison using the drakes to clear the trash was actually ok.
    • The “feel” of Deadmines is wrong to me in terms where the boss encounters happen and how they happen. In the original Deadmines the upper deck of the instance was the final fight. If you got there you knew it was the final battle. In the new version getting to the upper deck is the start of a series of boss encounters. It feels like the instance could not be re-designed to add or change much, so bosses were just lined up in sequence so you could smash each of them in strict order.

I have some other thoughts on rewards, which I want to make but cannot place into the logical stream of the post without making this far too long. Here they are in no particular order.

  • A player could be rewarded consistently throughout the experience, rather than just an allotment of points at the end. Divide the 140 points rewarded amongst the bosses, with the final boss having the lion’s share of points. This means that if your group disbands you still get something rather than just a cooldown and a repair bill. eg. 10 per boss kill, then 90 at the end? Would it matter if one instance had slightly more points than other? Or encounters with less bosses might reward 15 per boss instead, with the end amount adjusted.
  • Allow us to obtain points in a wide range of ways, but retain the cap. They’ve done this with the point conversion system (another very high value feature). Continue that theme.
  • Increase the reward from each boss kill from 70 to the same 140 for the 5 mans, thereby a kill in a raid which takes 1 hour rewards a similar amount of points. Otherwise you have players being better off farming 5 mans than raiding.
  • Make the Rep reward token you can buy with excess point BoA, so getting rep on alts is faster.
  • New items which fill some of the item gaps could be added to vendors. An example would be weapons. There is no “point purchasable” way to get a new weapon (ilevel 353-359) in pve at the moment, and I don’t think there is a way to get a Helm or Shoulders either. While these are iconic areas of the characters it does mean that luck and determination will grant these upgrades, rather than a process of steadily earning them.

Happy hunting.

ps, I’ve taken part of the post and made it a poem:

Happy Monkey’s Mirror by TyphoonAndrew

Monkey mashes the button,

monkey often gets rewards,

monkey continues to mash the button;

and looks confused when the pain results.


7 thoughts on “Are the 5 mans fixed?

  1. I like your idea that the Valor Points are spread out amongst the bosses of an instance, to help prevent the soul-crushing horror when your group disbands on the final boss.

    In my opinion WoW suffers from two main problems:
    1) Specific slots affect your power level too much
    2) Social pressures drive players toward a higher item level

    If you’re walking in with full 359 gear but a 333 weapon, you’re way behind. There’s no way around it. Trinkets and Tier bonuses offer a similar drastic effect. The luck-based element exacerbates this issue – I’ve abandoned characters in the past because they didn’t get a weapon upgrade in two previous tiers of content!

    GearScore was the worst thing that ever happened to WoW. Everyone is now obsessed with their GearScore/Item Level, increasing the pressure to “win” that loot. People feel that they “must” cap Valor points every week just to keep up – even if the prospect of doing so bores the to tears… or causes them to cancel their sub.

    For me, the gear is unimportant – I want new challenges. Even so, I still love getting an upgrade – but I’m much more excited about shoulders and helms (aesthetically) and weapons and trinkets (mechanically) than other slots.

    I’ve been playing WoW since release, but I still felt like I was being “carried” until my iLVL bumped up over 359. How messed up is that?

    There is no great solution though – WoW’s business plan is to make gearing up take as long as possible without causing ragequits. If gearing up was trivial, we’d all “clock” WoW in a couple of weeks after each patch and cancel our subs until the next one drops.

    As a thought experiment – if you could log in tomorrow with an optimised BiS set of Heroic Firelands gear: would you take the offer?

  2. I agree totally – the gearscore affect has really changed our mindset. I’ve used it to take a measure of a character’s capacity to help the run, and I know that I should not of, but it is one piece of information amongst a range of things that are useful. Using it alone is silly, with other information is useful.

    There is another affect that I’m unsure about too – where the ilevel alone now is the actual indicator of power. A blue or purple item used to be rare and noteworthy, and we started raiding in greens & some blues. Now we can start a raid wearing craftable epics, and some blue items were better than purple items. It used to feel like a purple was an enhanced version of a blue, the same basic offering but enhanced in another way.

    I did like when they started to homogenise the gear stats though – having Tanks needing far less balancing in stats is better – and likewise having gear that is useful to a wider range of classes. It is better than before, but not far enough. When we can reward people directly by choice each kill, that will be ideal.

    I guess it is contradictory, but i would take the gear if offered by that question. I said something very similar in a podcast a year or so ago – the gear up is only something I do to play.

    The “challenge” is the content, the “fun” is doing it with friends. I’d sacrifice some of the challenge happily to remove the need to grind reps and get lucky on drops. I’d still play every week regardless, but what I did would probably change and evolve. I’m a gamer, I have to play.

    The idea of being carried is there too – but I think I know when I’m being carried and when I contribute. I was raiding in half blue gear in 4.0 and carrying my weight. The gear has made a huge difference to my performance though, which is where the drooling nerd in me wants better gear. I know its not 100% needed, but i want it to make the game somehow better.

  3. I cannot believe you used to drop from Occulus, it was the quickest instance in Wrath and was so easy (it was even shorter than Violet Hold because you had to wait around for 2mins at a time).

    Zone in, chain pull all mobs to first portal, zone in – kill boss, get on dragon, fly straight to the first 3 platforms killing 4 easy mobs on each one. Go to 4th, kill boss. Fly up to next level, kill a bunch of random spawns on the 3 platforms – fly to middle, burn boss, fly to top – final boss dead regardless of drake make-up. All-up it was a 15min instance with at least one person who knew where to go and to tell everyone else what buttons to mash for final boss.

    To this day I can’t figure out why people thought it was so bad when it was so easy and short.

    I can’t see valor points ever being spread among bosses in an instance. Blizzard have designed everything to keep a group together until the last boss is dead. If there isn’t a good incentive to stay around until the end, even more people would drop out.

  4. The last fight in Occulus was crappy, people did not know it, and you’d get almost to the end and then disband. There was no point in doing 95% if you could not complete it. This is why it is better to give small rewards throughout and a big reward at the end.

    I did Occ a lot, but it was always when I knew I was the tank, and the healer was competent. Otherwise I’d rather just skip and run another. It was also an instance where people who changed forms suffered – as a Bear & Boomer it pissed me off to go from Dragon to normal form all the time. The other instances at least you could just chain pull.

  5. Great post 🙂 I found myself alternately agreeing and disagreeing with your points…

    On the one hand… I run heroics on my main to get valour points and don’t really enjoy it much, esp the Q times since my main is a DPS class (although with 4.2 and more people also after VP the Q times are shorter, even for deeps). Roflstomping content with guildies is always a good option of course. On the other hand… I enjoy doing instances and heroics on my various alts… mostly because I do them as a healer (priest, shammy, druid) or a tank (lowbie stuff on my warrior).

    If I think back through the game… well haven’t instances always had that feeling of ‘hard, then easier, then boring’? I wonder whether it’s larger game changes that affect the dungeon experience negatively – like the LFD tool which has done more to destroy community than any other change I think. It’s just too easy for anonymous pugs to live the greater internet dick wad theory than ever.

    And maybe even the removal of attunements, or maybe just our ‘age’ as gamers in terms of the length of time we’ve been playing? I mean I look back to TBC and I spent months running dungeons to pick up my pre-dungeon set plus get attuned to Kara, but it always felt like the goal I was working on was worth it. Was that because the ability to start raiding took more effort and felt like more of an achievement? Or because I wasn’t the hardened old WoW cynic I am now… I don’t know….

    I do agree that ilvl kind of reduces everything to a number even more, and it does become at least a benchmark for assessing suitability when considering an unknown pug. But the truth is, skill has a lot more to do with performance than shiny epics. The epics are like the icing on the cake, and the cake is the player’s ability to play their class well.

  6. I don’t really remember the Wrath heroics being boring. There were some that I didn’t like, but I ran them a lot (like a frigg’n lot). I had a DK, Druid, and Paladin tank that I ran on every opportunity I could. It was my default way to play if I was not raiding, and some days I’d line up just for fun – especially on the Pally. I had no other goal except doing runs. The pace of the runs was so much faster, that they had speed as a factor in entertainment. Culling of Strath at high speed was good, and Utgard Keep is still my favourite place to ZergTank.

    I take your point about age, perhaps my attitude has changed due to other factors, but not to such a degree to explain the entire shift in my attitude – the game changes have had far more impact. The curve and style of the Cata H runs is more a factor than me aging 3-4 years.

    Epics are groovy and all, but it is such a bloody grind to get another toon geared. If a dedicated player can’t up-gear a toon in 3-4 weeks of runs then it is too long. I’d like to think that an experienced player should be able to switch mains without a total backstep – but that shortcuts the $ for blizzard.

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