Monday, May 04, 2009

Ulduar and encounters with multiple difficulty levels

While I'm primarily playing World of Warcraft at the moment, I've been unimpressed by the length of time its taken Blizzard to add content onto the end game. It's not that the current raid content is too easy, just that there wasn't enough initially in the expansion to support raiding guilds. It's a situation very similar to when World of Warcraft first launched and Molten Core/Onyxia was the only raid content available. Blizzard has taken steps to fix the issue by filling the new dungeon, Ulduar, with encounters that have multiple difficulty settings. The theory goes that as guilds gear up and get used to clearing Ulduar they will start doing the encounters on a higher difficulty, which will stretch out the life of the new content. It makes sense on paper and worked very nicely with the Sartharion fight. However, I wonder if it will have the same effect when used in a full length raid dungeon.

The problem I see is that a raid dungeon is structured differently from a single boss encounter and may not get the same mileage from having multiple settings. Guilds would usually save Sartharion until the end of a raid night then try a few attempts at a harder difficulty level. If the guild leaders didn't think they were going to win, they could always make the encounter easier by killing off a drake. The encounter was only as long as the guild wanted it to be. This is a bit different from a raid dungeon where after failing on a harder difficulty setting a couple times, a guild still has to complete the rest of the dungeon. This basically stretches out the length of time a guild spends in Ulduar compared to the early dungeons.

I do hear that the boss encounters in Ulduar are better designed then Naxxramas and are very unique. A friend of mine was recently giving me the rundown of a fight done on motorcycles, where you set fire to oil slicks. Still, no matter how entertaining the vehicle mechanics are in a encounter, its a bad idea to artificially keep players in the same dungeon. Players will get bored of the same fights in the same dungeon even if the difficulty can be changed. It makes more sense to put varying difficulty encounters outside the main dungeon so guilds can challenge themselves while visiting a different location. Of course none of this would be a problem if more then one raid dungeon per tier was available to guilds. However, I'm guessing the Blizzard staff is stretched pretty thin between all the new games in development. Plus, they most likely haven't yet streamlined the process of making 10 and 25 man versions of each raid dungeon.

In the future, I am hoping the next full length raid dungeon is accompanied by more single boss encounters. There's still a lot of room for additional dragons in the Wyrmrest Temple and other single boss locations could be added. Anything that encourages a raiding guild to move between raid instances is a positive in my mind. As it stands now I'm thinking that players will burn out quicker on Ulduar then they did on Naxxramas.