the lost challenge

Good afternoon everyone.

This is a post for the new category of “what did not fit into the comment box”. It is (like the upcoming posts in this category) triggered by things found in various other blogs which have me tempted to write lengthy comments which few people will read.

Recently, there has been a lot of talk on how Blizzard is nerfing the lower tier content to become easier. Take, for example, this post on some plans to streamline current Wrath heroics. (or this more satirical version, which unfortunately may yet become reality). It points to a constant theme: Existing content will be made easier, and less time consuming to complete. And most comments have been less than happy with these plans. Alternatively, you can take a look here, for a bit more in depth view on what is/has been done.

There is a recurring theme to this. Blizzard is lowering requirements for people to get ready to experience the current tier’s content. And they are doing it on a larger scale than before. It has been the case with most raid instances that once the next tier content was out, access to and requirement for the existing content was lowered (Karazhan, Molten Core or Blackwing Lair anyone ?). But while running through older content was once a requirement to gear up, this has now become neglectable. People no longer need to fight through Ulduar (or force themselves to endure TotC) to obtain what is needed to enter Icecrown Citadel. No, they can now get 98% ready by simply running these “streamlined” heroic instances. And they do this. And while they do this, complaints about “irritating mechanics” and “stupid encounters” pop up in the official forums.

Some of us (that is the people who have fought our way up the “difficult” path when some of the now nerfed content was actually shiny and new) feel that the game is being dumbed down. And i would agree to this. Making things easier does usually give this impression. But if i look at the current content, the challenges are still there. And there, Blizzard seems intent on bringing challenging encounters for people to fight through. So is it really the plan to simply make the game easier ? Somehow, i doubt it.

Yes, Blizzard is making it easier to reach a level where people can experience the current content. And in a way, this is successful and needed. It was not so long ago when i read a post in a blog (sorry, i no longer have the link) where someone complained that their alt was forced to “experience Northrend content without being able to fly past” simply because cold weather flying was not available before lvl 78. Now, this limitation has been lifted somewhat, but people still need to have one character who obtained the book the normal way before just buying their way out. Isn’t this also making things easier ?

I have my very own view on this. And to a large degree, it is based on my experience trying to level up just weeks after Burning Crusade was released. It was.. strange. I would not say it was difficult – it really was not. It was more difficult than it is now, and definately more time consuming. But it was not really a challenge – with one notable exception.

Getting a normal instance run through Razorfen Kaul, Uldaman, Maraudon or Zul’Farrak was next to impossible. Even accessible and comparably fun (and easily accessible) places like the Scarlet Monastery cathedral required hours of waiting for a group to be found. And more often than not, someone in the group would get bored and call in one of their lvl 70 friends to boost the group through. By the time i was ready for places like Dire Maul, Scholomance, Stratholme or Blackrock Depth and Spire, i had already given up on experiencing “the challenge™” in the old world. So, in all honesty, i did not learn to play my character well before hitting the outland instances. And even there, it was more like breezing through with the help of some high level firepower than trying to do things right.

Now with Wrath of the Lich King out, with 10 more levels, and a whole new bag of instances and heroic instances to hone your skills, things have gotten even worse with that regard – which in the end leaves Blizzard with huge areas of the game which are used by a small percentage of the playerbase. Nowadays, you can actually do a /who insert_name_of_non_wrath_instance_here and be hit with less than 50 names. And if you select the right instance name, you will most likely find.. none. Like the day i was working through Dire Maul for my own achievement. Every once in a while i would check who else was there, only to find that my poor paladin was the only character on the server to be stuck in Dire Maul.

Why is that so ? Or rather, why is it so now, while it was different when the server was younger ? Apparently, most people want to experience the game where it is fresh and new – and that, truth to be told – can only be done with a character at level 80 with a certain minimum gear requirement. So most people will try to reach that state – as fast as humanly possible. And while doing that, most people will try to circumvent whatever is percieved to slow down the path.

Why is it that even after the nerf, 9 out of 10 times when Occulus is the random dungeon, the group will find themselves one member short ? Why is it that more and more groups choose to not fight certain bosses, despite them loosing badges over it ? In my eyes, it is simply because in the end, they feel it is more beneficial to just race on past that content, in order to reach the shiny goal of being lvl 80 and entering Icecrown Citadel.

So, in all honesty, what Blizzard is doing (or intending to do) is what the majority of their subscribers want – if they are willing to admit it or not. I would bet that some who posted their disdain on the discussed heroic changes will actually come to appreciate them when they want to quickly get an alt up to the raiding requirements.

If we look ahead towards Cataclysm, which undoubtedly will bring new levels, and new challenges, we will see that more of the old places will be either removed (see the old naxxramas, which i would have loved to see before it flew off to Northrend), reworked (see Onyxia), or simply forgotten.

Does that mean the challenges which Ercles is mourning have passed ? No. They are still there. They may not be the same challenges as people remember, but they still exist. And it is up to us to find them. Each and every one of us who complains that things have gotten just that much easier. Noone forces us to take the easy path. It is still possible to gather a group of friends and hit Zul’Farrak to experience the stairs event anew. And it will be just as challenging, if you choose your friends well.

In the end, there are a few things which i consider sad.

Streamlining content will cause people with less skill run into challenges which are meant for people who know what they are doing. They will have a much steeper learning curve than would be necessary, if the current heroic instances had retained their difficulty. That is, if they had not chosen to pass them by anyhow.

Streamlining content causes people to miss out on some fantastic quest lines and story arcs, and as odd as it sounds, it makes the game just so much more difficult for the genuine new players. Not because the game itself is more difficult, but because it is even less likely to find characters which share both the level bracket and the leveling speed. Which makes people loose out on the fun the lower 70 levels can offer, if you share them with people who progress at a similar pace.

So – i challenge you. All of you. I challenge you to find your own challenges in the old content. And to complete them. Alone, or preferably with friends. The challenge is not lost. You just need to remember that it is where you find it.

– oh.. and of course, i would not mind to read about it, too.


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