Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Group Instance Bosses Gain Some Smarts

I'm coming back from a nice long weekend today in which I probably spent way too much time playing WoW. However, I did use the time to my advantage and managed to beat several level 70 instances which had earlier kicked my ass. This time around though me and my friends came armed with better knowledge and some of our own homebrewed strategies. Its necessary to have a specific strategy since a lot of the boss fights in the Burning Crusade aren't simple tank and spank fights. Instead the developers took the tricks and annoying abilities of the old world raid instances and spread them around generously in the 5-man instances of the Outlands. Heck, they even came up with some new tricks.

As I noted in a earlier post about PvP, the MMO industry has a real problem with simply increasing boss stats to increase difficulty. In the original game the developers usually saved the clever boss fights that required coordination and communication for raid content only. This could have been an early design decision or simply the result of most of the raid content being patched in after launch. Whichever the case, with the coming of the Outlands the decision was made to include more complex fights in the 5-man content.

This increased complexity can be annoying sometimes when your group is facing something new and you die very surprisingly. (Hungerfen's exploding mushrooms) Yet the encounter is more like a puzzle and less like a grind when the developers put some thought behind it. Even if you look a strategy up online it still takes some practice and good timing to put it into execution. Plus while a strategy might work for one party it might not work for another that has a different class composition. All of these factors come into effect to make the average 5-man instance in the Burning Crusade a lot more fun then their Azeroth counterparts.

The majority of this fun factor comes from bosses having a lot more help during encounters. After all adventurers are showing up in groups to kill them so why shouldn't dungeon bosses also have a group of compadres to help defend themselves. A lot of the hard encounters involve minions which can heal, do damage, explode or even lay down blazing trails of fire you can't cross. If you're an old time gamer then the Nethermancer Spethra fight has to remind you a bit of the Tron motorcycle game. In Shadow Labs there's even a Ogre mage who mind controls your entire party and makes you duke it out against one another for 15 seconds. As I said before, "Fun".

As more dungeons are introduced to extend the life of the game it will be interesting to see if the developers can pull more challenging encounters out of their skulls without going to far. There is already some negative posts on the scripted encounters in Kharzhan which complain about the difficulty when compared to the Heroic mode dungeons. Basically the Kharzhan encounters are longer and harder but don't really give much better loot. With the quality of rewards being so close between raid and group instances developers are going to have to walk a thin line when designing encounters or risk making the 10 man raid instances as empty as AQ40.