On WoWInsider they had a topic entitled – The return of hard heroic 5 mans. It referenced a blue post which said that 5 mans would be making a return in Warlords and that they would be harder than the Mists ones had been. I wrote a fairly long comment to the post, so it occurred to me that if I expanded on it a little it would make a good blog entry.
Let’s face it in Mists 5 man dungeons were sidelined. You could level in the normal mode ones, at the start of the expansion the 463 gear wasn’t bad and it filled in some holes. However, with LFR available and offering higher gear if you wanted to be optimal with your playtime, and were focusing on gearing, then 5 mans didn’t have a lot to offer. This only got worse as the expansion wore on and other options became available. True if you want to just play you can go run a 5 man, but if you want to play and achieve something at the same time than 5 mans don’t offer much.
The gearing ladder
When LFR was first introduced in 4.3 things were different. It was the end of Cataclysm and the end of the expansion always makes it easier to gear and LFR didn’t interfere with that. There was a set of three new heroic 5 mans which offered 378 loot, the same item level that dropped from the previous raid tier of Firelands. This made for a shortcut to the last raid of the expansion. LFR dropped mostly 384 gear, it was the last two bosses which dropped 390 that made it seem like running LFR was less of a choice, if you wanted to properly fulfill your potential. However, mostly LFR didn’t drop significantly more powerful gear. You get your tier bonuses of course but if you had a set of 378 gear then you could easily walk into normal Dragon Soul and not be a burden on the team.
In Mists things changed. The difference between gear levels became much wider and more significant. Previously a drop in performance was not so noticeable between people with varying tiers of gear if they were skilled, that’s not true now. Mists heroic dungeons only came in one set, at the start of the expansion, and they dropped 463 gear. The first LFR dropped 476 but the next two dropped 483 and this was just within one tier. The actual raids themselves dropped 489 and 496 gear. Valor gear was available but only at the lower rate of 489 and it was locked behind reputation grinds. Still was the start of the expansion so putting in a raid progression is to be expected. If you were raiding then you could jump into Mogu’shan Vaults in 463 gear from dungeons, get some 489 gear from there plus some valor pieces and miss LFR which is what I did. However, that’s only an option for characters you raid on. Still it’s the beginning of the expansion so fair enough, the gear jump is bigger but there’s always been a gear jump between current tier and past tier, so that’s ok except for what happened next.
The next content patch didn’t bring new dungeons but it did bring a bit of new gear. A couple of slots were now available for valor at 496, behind another reputation wall but they were added. As there were no new raids then this is still an alright state of affairs. It’s when the next raid tier – Throne of Thunder – dropped that the problems started in my opinion. The LFR for Throne dropped 502 gear which was better than the best gear from the previous raid tier, ok this happened with Dragon Soul LFR and Firelands too and it’s not a huge jump. However, what really hurt was that the 489 and 496 valor gear, the previous tier valor gear, didn’t become available for justice. New valor gear of 522 for some slots became available, however this was again locked behind a reputation grind, for this reputation though you needed to raid. So for someone that doesn’t like raiding, or can’t raid and doesn’t like LFR, barely any new gear was added in 5.2. You could get a neck at neutral and there were a couple of pieces of 476 gear which is worse than what was already available.
There was no progression, no real gear upgrades available for the non-raider. There were stuck pretty much with the same gear choices they had when the expansion dropped. 5.3 introduced the Latent armor from Battlefield Barrens but it was only 489, which was out of date the previous tier. A set of 502 boots could be obtained from the quest line to provide one upgrade. Then there was the addition of heroic scenarios which could be done once a day for a reward of a Heroic cache. This cache could obtain nothing but gold but sometimes there was a random piece of 516 gear which was available for most slots. However, it was completely random what you found, if you found anything. Unlike in a dungeon where it’s random what drops, you couldn’t pass duplicates to a friend or vice versa. Heroic scenarios also required a pre-made group of three with a minimum ilevel of 480. They were the best way to valor cap so they were a nice addition all round. However, unless you had a really active guild you couldn’t choose when you went as you had to wait for people to be online, then badger them to agree to run one. I never managed to run them anywhere near as much as I would have liked. They weren’t made for pugs, in fact they could be tricky if you were at the minimum ilevel, so for someone who liked running dungeons through LFG they were still stuck.
The last raid tier of the expansion – Siege of Orgrimmar brought no new dungeons and no new valor gear. It did however bring Timeless Isle which meant you could get a set of 496 tokens, it also finally downgraded all valor gear bar the useful 522 to justice, it did at least slash the price of the 522 and the reputation requirement, but it still required one. However, the previous raid tier – Throne – dropped 502 gear in LFR and 522 in normal. Siege LFR dropped 528 gear superseding the 516 dropped by heroic scenarios and edging out normal mode gear again. A new raid level of flex was introduced which dropped 540 gear,with normal dropped 553 which is a huge jump.
It’s the end of the expansion, it’s supposed to be an easier time to gear which is why Timeless Isle was brought in. However, Timeless Isle doesn’t drop gear for the previous tier like the Dragon Soul three heroic dungeons did, it drops for the tier before that. At the same time the gap between raid and non-raid gear widens even further and the amount of stats is now significant. As I said before skill can no longer counter not being up to date in gear.
So what am I saying? I’ve said all this before and this is a rehash but it is a rehash with a purpose. I’m pointing out that the gearing model for Mists was very unfriendly to anyone who didn’t raid, and I am actually including LFR in that even though I don’t count it as raiding. If you wanted to actually play your character but just for a short space of time and actually make some progression, there weren’t a lot of options available. In the past there were always dungeons, you’d run them and they might drop upgrades, at least at the beginning. They would drop justice points which would purchase the previous tier, they would also drop valor points and you could purchase items from the current tier. You could play your character in a relaxed, quick and easy instance and make some slow and steady progress at the same time. There was no such option in Mists and it’s this that I want to highlight for Warlords.
Warlords and 5 mans
The blue post said that 5 mans would be back in Warlords, I didn’t find anywhere where it said that there would be more new 5 man content throughout the expansion. However, I do remember from blizzcon that one of the devs acknowledged that this was a big demand so I strongly suspect there will be new 5 mans. What that blue poster did say was that Warlords 5 mans were going to be tuned to be challenging, not as hard as the hardest heroic dungeons of the past but they were going to be approaching Cata heroic level.
In my opinion this is a disaster in the making. What that blue said about people liking challenging content in smaller groups is true, and will be even more true when Mythic goes strictly 20 man leaving 10 man heroic teams looking at doubling. I personally do prefer smaller group sizes so 20 man runs is not something I look forward too. However, dungeons are supposed to be for the average player. It was the average player above that I was talking about, and how hard it was for them to have any gear progression in Mists. You only have to look at LFR to realise that blizz has no idea about the capabilities of the average player, they tune LFR much too hard for the masses. The average player makes up the vast majority of the playerbase, they need something to play, progression, gear etc. just as much as everyone else. So if they make heroic dungeons too difficult then random groups for it will be a nightmare, it will be the start of Cata all over again and you’d think that blizz would have learned their lesson by now.
I loathe LFR, it’s a toxic environment. Queuing for it takes longer than a couple of dungeons, so that’s before you’ve even got in there, then it’s a couple of hours to clear if you are lucky. You come out with nowhere near enough gold to cover your repairs and nothing else most of the time. Now, if this was a normal raid then that would be a pretty normal time scale, three hours is fairly average though it can be less or more. Not getting any loot is also pretty normal especially if you are someone like me who passes for other people. You can also only get loot once a week, maybe more if you have coins but it’s limited. With random heroics you could run till your eyes bled if you wanted to and get drops everytime.
Now, I understand that blizz didn’t like people rushing gearing like that, as it was too fast and so they chewed through content too quickly. Having the gate of a week makes LFR seem like it’s a real raid, as it’s one more thing they have in common, and it also slows down gear progression. The problem is that LFR replaced heroics in the gearing ladder and the two are completely different. With LFR you do get some valor but it’s far more time efficient to get the points elsewhere, it takes a long time, it’s difficult as the people in it make it difficult and the drops are on a weekly basis. With dungeons you get valor, not much in Mists but you used to get a large chunk of the weekly allowance, you get drops as many times as you care to run it and it’s quick and easy, or at least it should be.
Now I didn’t play alts at all in Mists really. I used to play alts a lot, I’d queue for a random heroic, run one or two, maybe get a gear drop but I’d accumulate some points. Sometimes, not necessarily that play session or even the next, I’d go on over to the points vendor and I’d buy a new piece of gear. It was slow, incremental progress. If you pushed it you could gear in a hurry but you could also just enjoy playing, and get a little progression while you were at it. I’m sort of hammering that point home but it’s a big deal for me.
So what could Warlords mean for 5 mans?
Well if they go ahead and make them challenging then they will be much too hard for the masses. Queuing for them randomly will be an exercise in frustration and failure unless you have a mostly pre-made group. Obviously there’s going to be an item squish but I’ll use the same item system as now, just to demonstrate my point if they continue with the current gearing ladder. Say that the initial heroic dungeons give 600 gear, then LFR would give 614 perhaps, normal raid 626, heroic raid 640, mythic 656. Those gaps are similar as we’ve just seen for Siege. Right next raid tier would be LFR at 644, normal raid at 655, heroic raid at 670, mythic at 683. Gaps for that were harder to guess as we’ve not had a new raid tier after flex (or normal as it will be) was introduced. However, if they put in a new 5 man with the current gearing system the dungeon would drop 620 perhaps. My logic for that number is the minimal 476 gear that was introduced in 5.2, the 489 in 5.3 and the 496 in 5.4, all well behind the gearing curve.
A gearing ladder like that would maintain LFR’s dominant position, the position that blizz has given it in Mists. It would totally undermine 5 mans completely. The average player would be in a better position as they would have new content, they would have something to do and progress with. However, they would still be miles behind the gearing curve and should they want to raid with their friends one night, they would have to be carried. Given blizz is implementing flex and cross realm to all raids but mythic, and really pushing for the whole “play with your friends” angle, you’d think that they’d make gearing a little more friendly for your average player. Getting a new alt up, or someone starting later in the expansion, they are going to be at an acute disadvantage. With LFR having a weekly lockout there would be no catching up, as you would be limited by luck and drops. It could take months for someone to get enough gear, by which time the next tier has dropped and they are still behind.
I wish that I didn’t see this as being how blizz will implement it. Unfortunately however I suspect that this will be the reality of 5 mans fate in Warlords.
What I wish Warlords would mean for 5 mans
I want choice to be brought back or implemented. I would like LFR to finally be tuned correctly for the people it’s intended for, and for the rewards to be appropriate for that. If they tune it correctly then they won’t need to make it so compelling for other players to run it, they won’t need to entice people in to carry the groups. I would like the gearing ladder to be more like 600 for dungeons, 600 for LFR, 608 for normal, 617 for heroic, 629 for mythic. Then the following tier. 615 for dungeons, 615 for LFR, 628 for normal, 637 for heroic, 659 for mythic.
This would mean that nobody would have to run LFR or dungeons if they raided. It also condenses the gear jump so that the ilevel increase isn’t so steep. If people have older gear and they are skilled they’ll still be viable. Dungeons and LFR would be on the same level as one another so you could choose which you’d prefer. LFR would have the same gear as the other real raids, so if you wanted your set bonus, a particular trinket proc etc. then you could look there which could give it an advantage. It would also finally be the tourist mode, enabling people to see the content, that I’ve always believed it should be. I’m not against LFR in principle, opening up the content to more people sounds like a great idea. It’s just However, if you just wanted gear, had only a short amount of time to play each session, then dungeons might be a better fit. It’s all about choice.
I would also lose the daily bonus so people can play whenever they can during the week. Once a day or a long weekend session and not be penalized on valor points for either choice. What does it matter whether somebody gets to valor cap on reset day, or the day before reset day? Blizz claimed a lot during blizzcon that they wanted people to play with their friends, that they wanted people to be able to play how they wanted. Well it’s time for them to back up those statements with actions and make the game more friendly again to the average player.
I also wouldn’t make the 5 mans too hard. The average player just can’t cope with that. Maybe as we’ve had new raid difficulties added it’s time for a new difficulty in the 5 man format. Challenge modes are timed, they are a race and not difficult in the traditional sense, so perhaps we need mythic dungeons. Like heroic scenarios they can only be done with a pre-made group. If they can’t be queued through the dungeon finder then it’s obvious it’s not meant as random content. Leave normal dungeons for levelling and heroic dungeons for the average player. Introduce mythic if they want to make a 5 man challenging. That way there would be something for everybody.
Will I benefit if they roll out 5 mans like this? Absolutely, I might actually play the game again. Right now I login for raids and not much else. When they killed alts they killed a large part of the game. I used to do other things too like soloing, like grinding for mounts and pets, or reputations or vanity items or achievements etc. However, maybe I’m an all or nothing person or I got burnt out. Either way the game lost a lot of it’s appeal when it became unfriendly to alts and to the average player. There’s a lot more I’d love to see them add or change but that’s a topic for another day.
Please blizz bring back choice and make Warcraft friendly to the average player again.