Wednesday, March 14, 2012

My Cata Post-Mortem

Normally I save these review looking, post-mortem type posts until a month or two before a new expansion is being released, but it feels appropriate to do Cata's now. For one, I've almost "beat the game." My guild is currently 7/8 HM DS, and I will be upset if we don't have Heroic Madness down in the next week or two. Second, Blizzard is giving almost every indication that they can that Cataclysm is over. They have already done three "Post-Mortem" blog posts focusing on systems, encounters, and quests, and with the MoP press event happening this week you can bet that all attention will be focused on the next expansion starting Monday the 19th.

So, I would like to take this opportunity and look back at what I think worked or didn't work, before it's completely irrelevant (if it isn't already).

Stats and Customization:

Mastery: Most of my experience is limited to moonkin, but I think most people would agree that the addition of Mastery has been a complete success. There are a lot potential issues with adding a new stat to an existing game. It could be too weak, too strong, or to complicated, and each would create problems. However, after a little tuning, Blizzard integrated it into the game almost seamlessly. In fact, I had read over years worth of old blog posts before I remembered that it was an addition in Cataclysm.

Reforging: As a concept Reforging gets an +A, but the implementation of the Reforging system gets a C. The problem with reforging is that it's hard to walk up to Thaumaturge Zajir and do it on the fly with the assistance of add-ons, third party web sites, or advanced planning.

I think the Reforging UI needs a significant revamp. First, it would be great if there was a "learn" feature like there is on the talent tree, so that you can make changes and see the impact without them being permanent. This would allow players to sandbox configurations without spending a lot of gold to figure it out. Second, I think they could make it clearer which items are reforged and how they have been reforged. If you look at the tool tip of each item it just says "reforged." Why not "reforged crit to hit," or have the reforged stats highlighted in some way on the tool tip?

Talent Overhaul: The fact that Blizzard is once again revamping the Talent system in MoP shows that Cata's overhaul was pretty much a failure. It wasn't all bad, but I think our main criticisms that it wouldn't create more interesting choices or optional talents, has been proven correct and that is why Blizzard is making such a big change in MoP.

Raids, 5-Mans, and Encounters:

General Awards: Traditionally, I have done a list of my favorite and least favorite instances and such. I am going to try and get away from that format a little this time, but I did want to make a few quick comments in this regard.

  • Favorite Fight: Sinestra - To be honest, I had a hard time choosing fights that I liked, and Sinestra kind of won by default. It was a tough fight and I thought the Cutter mechanic was interesting.

  • Worst Fight: Spine of Deathwing - This was a hard one as well because in general I didn't like a lot of the fights in Cata. Spine won however, because the idea that DPS only matters for about 10% of the fight seemed really stupid. I also hated breaking the stun as a DPS because it was impossible to tell if you should continue casting or not. Dishonorable mentions: Rhyolith and Beth'tilac.
Looking-For-Raid: In my opinion, LFR is by far the best addition Blizzard has made to the game in a long time. My only complaint is that they didn't add it sooner, which will be fixed for the next expansion.

The reason LFR is so great is that it takes a lot of the headache out of having alts. I have leveled a lot of toons to max level over the years, and it's always a little bitter sweet. Once I get them to 70, 80, or 85 the question always came up. What now? Gearing them up to do any kind of endgame was time consuming and possibly expensive, but now there is a simple way to learn a new class without having to make significant time commitments. LFR is a homerun.

Revamped Instances: Revamping an old instance is a very risky prospect. First, Blizzard always gets called lazy for redoing old content rather then doing something new. Plus there is always the potential that a beloved dungeon is ruined. However, it is also something that players frequently request so that they can revisit some of their favorite instances from the past.

Looking only at the Cataclysm Revamps I think Blizzard has done an amazing job this expansion. The Deadmines was one of my favorite instances leveling up, and the revamp made it 10x better. ZA was another instance that I had a lot of experience with, and while I don't think they improved ZA at all with the revamp, I do think they maintained what made it great as a 10man when they converted it to a 5man. I was less familiar with SFK and ZF prior to the revamp, but I thought both were enjoyable in Cata. As a result, I think Blizzard has figured out how to revamp old content after the blunders in WotLK. I have no concern about the revamps Blizzard has planned for MoP.

Shrunken Raids: One of the more controversial choices made by Blizzard in Cataclysm was to drop the Abyssal Maw raid from Tier 12, and I found the explanation given to be not all that satisfying. To summarize, Blizzard stated that compared to Firelands the Abyssal Maw raid didn't look or feel that good. They also said that they wanted to get away from the 12 - 14 boss tiers and focus their development on 7 or 8 bosses to provide a better player experience.

All in all I think this turned out to be a mixed bag. Generally speaking I would much prefer 7 great fights then 12 mediocre fights, but in the end I think we got 7 mediocre fights in firelands instead of the 7 great fights we were promised. Having unique art does not make an encounter great. Nor does a gimmicky flying mode like on Alys'razor, a gimmicky steering mechanic on Rhyo'lith, or a don't take damage when damage is sometimes unavoidable buff like on Staghelm.

In short, I'm not really against smaller raid tiers because after 5 years of raiding I am interested in shorter raiding tiers, but I don't think blizzard achieved their stated goals for having the smaller tiers.


Two Equal Raid Formats: I've already discussed this at length and will not go into to much detail in this post, but two equal raid formats was a big feature of Cataclysm that I can't ignore in a post mortem.

On the positive side, Blizzard has done a very good job of balancing the two formats in terms of difficulty. Of course there are examples where 10man is easier then 25man and vice versa, but for the most part they have been reasonably balanced. Unfortunately, that is the only positive in my opinion.

As anyone who reads my blog with any regularity knows I am a 25man raider who prefers the 25man format, and I think it's fair to say that having two equal formats has resulted in the slow decline of the 25man format. I think it's also fair to say that Blizzards solution of more loot and Valor Points has had little or no affect on this decline. While I have proposed solutions to make 25man raiding more attractive in the past, I am quickly coming to Lissanna's point of view that two equal raid formats just won't work. It's bad from an organizational stand point because one format will generally be easier to organize then the other. It's bad from a design stand point, because blizzard has to create an encounter that can work for two different formats in the same general space. And it's bad from a resources stand point because blizzard has to spend resources on an aspect of the game that is shrinking in participation. All in all, two equal raid formats has been a failure in my opinion.

Quest Design and 1-60 Revamp: All in all, I have to say the 1-60 Revamp was a huge success. In my 5 years I've leveled 9 toons past level 60 and I have a pretty good idea of what questing was like before and after the revamp, and it is unquestionably better now then it was in the past. Blizzard has criticized itself for some of the zones being to linier, but I didn't have any problem with that. I love how story driven the new zones have been and how natural the progression within a zone has been. In fact, I only have two minor criticisms.

First, I think Blizzard when a little over the top with the gimmicky quests and themes. From the overall Indiana Jones theme of Uldum, to the Joust quests in Hyjal and the PvZ quests in Hillsbrad to name a few, it just got to be a little to much for me.

Second, this is a bit of a catch 22, but progression through the revamped zones is extremely fast once you combine Heirlooms, guild XP bonuses, rested XP, and experience gained from gathering or instances. Sure you can turn off your XP gain, or not use heirlooms and such, but that presents it's own problems. I'm not sure what blizzard can do about this, but it literally took me 3 different toons to see all of the different 1-60 zone revamps.

Archaeology: The best way to describe Archaeology in Cataclysm is that it's was a good first draft. Despite what its haters say, there are some really cool aspects of archaeology, but it has some very big problems as well. Blizzard has already recognized many most of the problem. It's too grindy. The travel time between dig sites is to long. The dig sites and projects too unpredictable. All in all, it’s just too random.

I would be very surprised if Archaeology didn't get a fairly big revamp in MoP, and it will be interesting to see what changes Blizzard comes up with. Personally, I would like to see some sort of currency being accrued as you complete projects so that you can request or purchase as specific quest after you completed so may artifacts.


Lore is generally not something I like to talk about in my blog, but I have been reading a lot of the WoW books recently and the Lore of the game is something I've grown more interested in. These are couple of items that I had originally planned on including in my MoP wishlist, but ended up scrapping because they didn't fit.

Give the Old Gods a Break: If I remember correctly, right after WotLK was released a player asked why there were so few Naga in the new expansion. Blizzard responded that they felt players were a little tired of them after there large presence in TBC. With that in mind I am more tired of the Old Gods then I ever was of the Naga or any other race or faction.

I am tired of the tentacles everywhere, of the faceless ones running around, and of the big gapping mouths spotted around the map. I realize that the Old Gods are arguably the biggest bad in the game, but I'm tired of them after two expansions of heavy old god focus. Please skip them in MoP.

Garrosh Hellscream: As someone who played Alliance for almost 4 years before switching to Horde, I have long felt that Blizzard has been a bit unbalanced in how they've treated the two factions from a lore perspective. The Horde had Good Guy Thrall (there has to be a meme there) in charge for years which excused the idiots he had underneath him in the minds of a lot of players. The Alliance on the other hand was leaderless for a good amount of time and then when Varian Wrynn did step up he behaved like the idiots underneath Thrall. In short, Horde looks good, Alliance looks bad.

Cataclysm has been a step in the right direction in fixing that. I love that Garrosh is still pretty much an idiot who is alienating his allies, but also realizing that his style of leadership also had some negative consequences like they did in the Stonetalon Mountains. I think the tone that Garrosh's development has taken has been perfect, and I can't wait to see how it develops in MoP, when hopefully Varian Wrynn finally leaves his idiocy in the past and the Alliance in general wakes up. The good news is that judging from Chris Metzen twitter quotes I may get my wish.

Sylvanis Windrunner: Like Garrosh, I am happy with what they've done with Sylvanis in Cata, but unlike Garrosh I am unsure of her future. Prior to Cataclysm it was easy to dismiss some of the atrocities that the Forsaken were involved in because they were so focused on the Lich King. However, now that the Lich King is gone, I think the faction needs a big story overhaul if it is to remain relevant. How can Garrosh and the Horde in general continue to ignore Sylvanis' deceit and double dealing. Personally, I would love to see Sylvanis (with some of the forsaken) split off from the horde and become its own bad guy faction, with the playable forsaken being those people that have rejected Sylvanis's extremism.


Matt said...

Agreed on the Forsaken. In general, if Blizzard is going to continue to make them amoral at best, then they are going to have to also give up on the Horde and Alliance being equally "good". The undead have always skewed that perception by default, and while I haven't gotten through all the new quests yet the race doesn't seem to have changed much.

Reforging is another symptom of a general WoW problem--the game does not give you nearly enough information to play effectively. Should I reforge crit to haste or mastery to hit? The answer is located in some spreadsheet the existence of which 90% of the playerbase is unaware.

Anonymous said...

I would on the spot stop to play my forsaken characters if Sylvannas was not my leader anymore.
I was looking up to Thrall as my leader, as a troll to 2 thirds and half as a tauren. Never was Thrall my leader as a forsaken.
And since the introduction of Garrosh and the Trolls getting more story/leadership of their own, the binding to the racial leaders has gotten stronger than the one belonging to The Horde.

Nyphur said...

To Cata's credit, the first tier was freaking awesome. Three raids, perfectly balanced fights so that even casual guilds tended to get a new boss every week or two, and some fantastic bosses. It was absolutely brilliant raiding in that first tier.

As one of the leaders of a very casual raiding guild, though, I can conclusively say that LFR killed our guild. Not that the entire Firelands tier with just 7 bosses hadn't taken its toll, but LFR was the final nail in the coffin. Proper guilds with multiple static groups who raided 2-3 times per week seemed fine, but we literally could not put a full proper raid together from the week LFR came out onward. There are three reasons for this:

1 - When the final raid tier turned out to be only 8 bosses, a lot of the guys who had stuck out with us through Firelands with its 7 bosses gave up and quit. Some stayed to complete the LFR once or twice and then got bored of the bosses and quit. It was a good a time to jump ship.

2 - Since the LFR raids were the same bosses as the new tier, LFR provided an easier way to run almost the same content. People were noticeably less excited to run proper raids.

3 - It was virtually impossible to recruit to fill spots, all the guildless casual raiders just started running LFR instead of looking for guilds. When we filled spots for raids, every pug would claim to know the normal mode tactics but 90% of them only actually knew the LFR tactics. Every single rogue pug we took would also quit after killing the first boss or doing the pickpocket thing for the legendary.

People have said that if LFR killed any guilds then they obviously weren't very good guilds to begin with. But that's kind of the point, isn't it? Guilds that weren't big, organised and hardcore enough were hit. The most casual raiding guilds were essentially forced to become more hardcore or quit.

Joshua said...

Some good points raised. Part of the problem I see at the moment is that over the last few years since WotLK Blizzard has tried to appeal to a much wider range of players. While this is understandable it has created a problem in that they can't address some of the many problems the game has without pissing off some section of the playing community.

The 25 v 10 man raid issue is a perfect example. If Blizzard took the steps a lot of 25 man raiders wanted them to take they would lose a lot of 10 man raider subs (this player included).

As someone who played vanilla, tBC skipped WotLK and came back for cata it was shocking to see what had happened to raiding content.

Was the company who gave us Kara, SSC,The Eye, BfMH, Black Temple and Sunwell really the same company that gave us BoT, BWD, FL and DS?

Almost everything has been simplified now to the point of being Linear. Gear progression, raid progression, quest progression. All linear.

As an earlier post alluded too, while LFR has made it easier to level alts (because lets face it, there isn't enough to do in the game on your main.) it has also made the content so accessible that everyone has seen it in a few weeks. And as someone who is also working their way though HM DS I can say that the fights aren't so much different to Normal and LFR that they are a must see (dont get me wrong they are harder, but you dont see anything amazingly different).

It's this obsession with everyone seeing all the content that is driving this. But all that is being achieved is that there is less content. A lot of people (myself included) didn't see all of the BC content either, but it wasn't a big dead because at least there was something you hadn't seen right up until the end. Always there was something to strive for.

Most of the raiding player base were 8/8 in DS LFR in the first week it was released. So what about the other 6 months?

Ill end my rant here as I've gone on too long already.