Wednesday, February 18, 2009

T7 Content Dilemma

I guess the main issue on my mind these days is finding a proper motivation for taking on challenges in the content of WoW. Or, more accurately, finding a motivation which I can use to convince my guildmates to take on the challenges of WoW. From the combination of "casual raiding" causing poor scheduling structure and of the challenge/reward skew in current content, even Eye of Eternity runs are rare. Why struggle through the painful and costly wipes of Malygos or OS+1, when we can farm the regular OS and Archavon for nearly the same rewards?

Now, why do I desire challenges? More than simply wanting the challenge for my own tanking practice, but because I have a lingering hope that WotLK raiding will follow BC raiding: early content is easily farmed, while high-end content requires in-depth, dedicated practice and experience. For a player and a guild that had so little experience with this kind of challenge, I want to make the most of the challenges available in our current content, so the transition coming up isn't so drastic and frustrating. With all of the T7 content cleared, and with a relative inability to field a T7.5 team, my focus thus falls on finding a way to practice for T8; farming T7 isn't exactly exciting.

I really want to be involved in these harder encounters, and I have the personal motivation for attempting them. I had very little experience with BC raiding, as I hit 70 after 2.4 released. My biggest achievement before 3.0.2 released was clearing the entirety of Zul'Aman - the Dragonhawk boss was the single hardest hurtle that Comitatus has ever overcome. We spent weeks training at least two 10-man teams worth of players to avoid firebombs and dps down the dragonhawk adds at just the right pace. Clearing the rest of that raid took only another week, once we had nailed down the Dragonhawk; our celebrations were over beating the Dragonhawk, rather than Zul'jin. By fun coincidence, that first kill gave our Guild Leader the healing shield to fill out her Holy set - I thought it was fitting.

With the arrival of WotLK, raiding has really taken a nerf. I can attribute this to two main game changes: the weakening of healing effects and the translation of content to casual levels. First, the healing effects: with the removal of downranking, Holy Priest tank healing is thoroughly unpleasant; Guardian Spirit is a nice tank save, but is nothing compared to the power of GH1 chain-casting. The effects are far less dramatic on the other healing classes, but Resto Shaman certainly had something to gain from downranking as well. At the same time, mana regeneration for healing classes has changed, likewise being less powerful than it was in BC. With all of these healer weakenings, the new content in WoW must necessarily call for less healing from the healers.

At the same time, there's been a constant call for weakening of raid difficulty from many more casual raiding guilds. To see the end-game content in BC, you needed to practice a great deal to learn the encounters. All of the content after ZA also required a 25-man raiding team, which many casual guilds (mine included) cannot bring to bear on a regular basis. One of the best possible changes in WotLK has been the release of all raids in both 10- and 25-man versions. However, the content so far released has been a joke compared to the difficulty of even ZA's Dragonhawk Boss. No fight in Naxx10 took my guild more than 12 attempts to learn (Sapphiron was the hardest, simply because we hadn't built many Frost Resist sets by then). OS and Arch are so easy that they're pugged regularly.

I find that the only challenges now come from the Achievements that Blizzard has incorporated. When the content becomes trivial for a guild to clear, the only thing left to do is to aim for achievements. But achievements aren't easy, and they offer no reward aside from having them. I don't rightly know that anyone cares about what achievements you have, unless it gives you an awesome title. Many achievements also take non-ideal party make-ups, which may require swap-outs of guild members already in the run. I find the achievements to be poor motivator for taking on higher challenges. Even in OS, adding a drake adds a single piece of gear. The challenge of the encounter goes up considerably, and after a few wipes, casual members just get frustrated and decide to kill that drake and be done. People will also turn down Malygos in favor of slamming Arch; 2 Emblems is 2 Emblems, regardless of who you kill for them.

I assert that a reward is only as valuable as the challenge that must be overcome to acquire it - While Naxx10 turns out a lot of pretty gear, the only piece I have that gives me any real pride is my car door (the pieces from Heroics are also pretty great, as those encounters will always carry some challenge, simply because of the personnel limit). Malygos took three nights of continuous work, totalling roughly 8 hours of gametime. This is nothing compared to mastering the Dragonhawk, but it is at least something.

So, how much gold are players willing to pay for a few extra epeen points and a little pride, but no additional loot? Is the experience worth it, or should we just suffer through T8 when it hits, giving an abrupt challenge? Or will T8 be just as soft as T7? Remember that, with us all at 80 already, more soft content could be cleared in a couple of weeks. What happens to the raiding experience, then, when there's no challenge for top-end, "harder" raiders?

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