Warcraft’s Dungeon Difficulty

I’ve been trying to write a post about the difficulty of heroic 5 mans for a very long time, but kept deleting them as they ended up being too much of a rant (even for my standards – sheesh).

With the initial release of Cataclysm expansion, then the exposure to Heroic modes the dungeons felt fairly tough, and at the many in the community saw this as good and a return to the difficulty of The Burning Crusade. Then the Trolls were released and they made the other dungeons seem friendly. There was a slow softening of the mechanics in the old dungeons too.

As its still on my mind this post has two parts; the first was my initial impressions when the cataclysm dungeons were released, and the second is where my head is now that we’re about to get the last 3 dungeons for this expansion.

Many moons ago I drafted:

There is a good discussion based around the LFD tool & the Call to Arms update over at the ExtraLife Forums, and that community has raised a range of great points.

I think part of the issue of why folks dont tank pugs is because every boss in a 5 man has a special strat. There is no fight that I can think of which is a straight tank ‘n ‘spank. This means that every group requires significant control, it is much harder to coordinate the actions, and if not coordinated then the group wipes.

So we have 5 man boss strategies which are intolerant of mistakes, and a very high skill entry expectation. In theory I don’t mind that, but it means that I (and I suspect other players) will not pug/lfd as taking a set of guildies increases the chances of success so much. It means that the constant event dodging has become all we are doing.

Even a 4 of 5 guild group can still be a total waste of time, as one player can still repeat wipe the group. That makes everything so frustrating and borderline pointless. Why spend 1.5 hours doing a run which is frustrating and expensive?

I’d suggest that the instances should be tuned back a little so that the bosses require strategies which are of increasing difficulty and require more coordination as you proceed through the instance. This does not have to mean making the encounters simple, but instead making it far more obvious what the intended action from the characters is meant to be. To be clear: don’t just nerf them into hell, adjust them to be more forgiving.

e.g. Add emote based warnings to the boss abilities at least a few seconds in advance. Make the abilities not require as much instant reaction or twitch response. Make that ability that needs to be interrupted have a longer cast time so that a newer player can see it, remember, and hit the button; not just realise afterward. A 2.5 second cast is long for a raider who knows what to do, but very short for a pug.

e.g. Don’t require 2-3 forms of crowd control in a group to do trash pulls well (StoreCore!). So much CC just adds so much more opportunity for mistakes to make the trash a savage difficulty. What about making one or two need CC, but when one is killed the other gets buffed a little?

Adjust so that 3 of out 5 players need to be good, rather than 5 out of 5.

And so now we’re pending patch 4.3, I’ll add:

I still feel the feedback above is right, and there has been a recent explosion (via Gevlon) on the class now being secondary to the “dance“. He’s spot on – progression is impacted by these dances.

The original dungeons had too much “dancing” but they’ve been well nurfed so that the dance is a little less important, the 2x troll instances still have way too much, and I’m expecting the 3x Deathwing instances to be the same. I really hope they will not be, but I can’t see how it would be different.

By comparison the three dungeons released at the end of Wrath were an odd mix. The Forge of Souls and Pit of Saronite Valley (I forget the name) were playable and good, and the Halls of Reflection were brutal; initially. If the new three dungeons at the end of cataclysm are tuned like the Forge of Souls then I’ll be ecstatic – short, plenty of lore, some good encounters, some clever trash that could be mitigated by the group’s technique, and a sense of humour as well. It was missing the silly dance / gimmicks.

The community seems to have pushed Blizzard into creating the gimmick fights (boo for class homogenisation), and the community (ie. you, me, and all the other haters/bloggers/commenter/whiners) should take responsibility, and start pushing back the other way. The pendulum has swung too far away from class abilities, and too far into dancing strategies. Avoiding the fire on the ground is one thing, but a dungeon boss with three phases and multiple layered affects is just silly. No wonder the die hards want a danceroom; they’re probably the people who like the mechanical dancing.

A counterpoint is that the class pendulum can swing too far, and we’ll see dungeons where you avoid certain classes. Given that many classes are already ripe with overlap, then I can’t see this happening anymore, but the lesson should be retained. Expecting a run to always have one particular class is poor when you can only take 5x characters at a time.

Where is the balance between mechanics and class requirements?

Well I’m not sure, but I had some ideas on good trash and boss examples:

  • in Ramparts the casters surrounded by a special, where a Line of Sight pull was always better than running in.
  • The Tigers in ZA who appear out of nowhere and attack when you get close. They’re fun, but easy to stuff up, and not a wipe fest unless you really stuff up well.
  • The Scouts in ZA who must be the kill priority. Good idea. However having patrolling Scouts that mix, merge, and screw-up other mobs is a very good idea, and somewhat nasty.
  • The devotees in Stonecore who are normal mobs, but have a large ugly patrolling Ogre mixed in is great. You need to watch the big guy, avoid the sides, and path through the smaller ones. Darn good trash.
  • The Firehawk boss in ZA is horrid with a bad group, and very challenging with an average one. Not bad overall.
  • The last fight in ZG is great, when executed correctly and nigh on impossible if you’re with idiots. Also not bad at all.
  • Bronjam in Forge of Souls is a great little battle.

And then by comparison some bad trash and bosses examples:

  • The trash before the first boss in ZA is a pain. Too much CC needed combines with many interrupts or specials from the casters. The trash in ZA is harder than some of the Bosses, and that is just silly.
  • The x2 tigers and 2x hunters at the top of a set of stairs is irritating. Some cc seems to work, others cannot target. The fight is far better with some control applied, and without it you’re asking for trouble.
  • The forge in Deadmines is shitty, as there are multiple control points, with overlapping powers with timers and randomness. In fact most of the fights in the new Deadmines are irritating.

We could also debate the Dungeon Journal and the amount of information available online for all there instances, with the suggestion that these tools have made everything easier. But the honest truth is that the bulk of the LFD / random community do not research much. They don’t read strategies, learn though mistakes, and some certainly seem too arrogant to contribute even when their actions should be obvious.

Call me a pessimist – those poor players are only learning though pain, and the game should not be designed for them. It should also not be designed at the dungeon level for the guys who are bloody brilliant at the game either. I’m a flawed player and I do my utmost to play well, and I make mistakes. It frustrates me that small mistakes are unforgiven at the moment. Large ones should be damaging, no issue. But small ones should require some extra effort to work around, heal through, pick-up or some such. Let me screw it up and learn without demoralisation (gee, this armchair game design is easy…cough. I really should buy the Warcraft devs a coffee or three for all the advice I’ve espoused).


Try this ethos – the fights should have:

  • A mandatory requirement of either crowd control, or interrupts, or dispels, or something needed. This is to avoid the churn and burn packs (which I like by the way – I’d have a churn and burn in every instance anyway). Don’t combine too many, as then a single miss can cascade into a total slaying.
  • Enough opponents to make it not avoidable given the environment. If its many mobs, then have AoE be effective, even if one of the targets is a little more special.
  • A secondary components which can be handled via intelligent play or a second form of CC. This could also be exposed as a good pulling technique, such as used in some of the Burning Crusade dungeons. Basically if the team is willing to be tactical they should be rewarded. eg. Is a line of sight pull better (Ramparts)? If I add a trap at the edge of the line-of-sight pull, then we can snag one and still use crowd control as well. Can an Mind Control be used to steal a buff that provides a bonus like in one of the tBC’s dungeons?
  • Boss can/should have phases, but keep the fight’s stye so that the phases are at the very least logical within the creatures. I like my dragons to have tail swipes, it makes sense – keep thematic consistency.
  • The difficulty should ramp up over the course of the dungeon run.

There is a sarcastic side of me who thinks that having a brutal trash pack as the first encounter will separate the wheat from the chaff, but I’m not sure that punitive measures really affect positive changes in skill and attitude.

There is a final argument for keeping it mean. Let the player base reduce and leave the hardcore players enjoying wow. As at 2011 I think that ship has sailed, and the opportunity for revenue is as much a driver as you’d expect in a commercial entity. If you’re after a savage unforgiving and highly elitist game then I’m surprised you’re even playing Warcraft, as something with permanent death might be more your taste.

Anyway, apologies for the rant and ramble if you got this far. Its probably helped me more than it ever will the community, but I hope there is something that triggers a thought in there for you readers.

Happy dungeon delving; may all your companions be heroes.


One thought on “Warcraft’s Dungeon Difficulty

  1. Hmm… no humour etc? I take it you’ve never been through the Zandas with a troll, or watched them playing tricks on each other, etc. One of the most brutal trash packs in ZA is actually playing a rather gruesome game of man-in-the-middle. Or listened to the two engineers before Foe-reaper in Deadmines…

    Ugh, Deadmines. I do agree that DM is a terrible place for trash, what with confusing debuffs, cc immunity, sudden mob movement making them hard to control, claustrophobic environment making camerawork a godsdamned nuisance, etc. One particular sore point is the Foe-reaper fight itself. Making a single player responsible for success or failure, and that while forcing the player to use a set of abilities unrelated to their actual character? I despise whatever design philosophy resulted in that monstrosity. Even worse on EU realms, where you’re not even guaranteed that whoever just jumped into the prototype understands english and *can* be helped in the first place.

    While I’m at it, the place is too damn long, and forcing the party to run through the whole place a second time – with a periodic slowing debuff! – in HC was an extremely poor decision.

    The new instances look to be short and well crafted, though. Got big ho[es of actually being able to face the RDF again.

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