Thursday, January 27, 2011

Justice for Normals

The developers have heard the complaints about heroic dungeons and they have responded. In patch 4.0.6 the rate at which you will be able to earn Justice Points by doing normal dungeons will be greatly increased. Not only are they doubling the Justice Points earned by doing a daily random to 140, they are giving 30 Justice Points per boss for Halls of Origination, Lost City of Tol'vir and Grim Batol.

The idea, it seems, is to make normal dungeons more rewarding and to help players enter heroic dungeons with more gear. But how does this goal measure up to reality?

First of all, let's consider how good a source of Justice Points normal dungeons will actually be. Bosses being worth 30 versus 70 Justice Points seems like a big decrease, but they also die a lot faster. Heroic Anraphet has 4.9M health while normal Anraphet has only 2M. If you wanted to farm Justice Points and had the choice of fighting either of those bosses repeatedly, you would choose normal for the simple reason that 30 divided by 70 is greater than 2 divided by 4.9.

It's not that simple, of course, but heroic trash has a lot more health too. The ratio isn't consistent, but aside from the fairly common 309,960 / 387,450 mobs, heroic trash usually has about 75% more health than normal trash and bosses have between 2.3 and 2.8 times as much health. Adding up the total health of normal versus heroic Halls of Origination gives the slight edge to heroic in terms of Justice Points per mob health, and of course the time to run between mobs is the same on both difficulties.

So heroic is the clear winner for Justice Points assuming that you have the same amount of difficulty with both. If your healer drinks more on heroic, if your dps die more, if you ever wipe or stop to discuss strategy, if you mark mobs for CCing when you could be using AoE abilities to do more damage, then normal is a better place for you to earn Justice Points. The number of slots you can expect to get 346 items in from normal dungeons and heroics will reach 10 of 16. If this does prepare you for heroics, it also leaves you with few things left to upgrade when you get there.

I think all of this runs the risk of substantially mischaracterizing the people who are going to play normal difficulty dungeons on an ongoing basis. I seem to be talking as if everyone who plays the game is only interested in a frantic gear grind. I know that this is not the case, but I think that how the frantic gear grind works has ripple effects that will affect everyone. So let's divide the audience for normal dungeons in two categories: 1) Those who are playing normal dungeons because they like to play WoW and that is what is accessible to them in the play time they have; and 2) Those who are playing normal dungeons only as a stepping stone to gear up for heroics.

The first group is a group that doesn't get talked about a lot. If you only log in for 30-90 minutes at a time (maybe a little more sometimes on weekends) and you only play WoW two to three times a week then it is a pretty safe bet that you also don't spend a lot of your time talking about WoW on forums, reading WoW blogs or otherwise making your presence known in the WoW community. The dungeon finder was a huge boon to people who play in this category because they could run dungeons in the limited time they actually play the game. The dungeon finder can still work for this group of players, but only for normal, not for heroic instances. A typical random heroic takes too long to complete, and may be too difficult.

The second group has a playstyle that is going to be antithetical to the first. If I felt like the best way to upgrade my chest piece was to run normal Halls of Origination 11 times then I would do it, but I certainly wouldn't want to take my time doing it, explain fights, or possibly even exchange pleasantries.

By making normal dungeons a viable source of gear for people who are having trouble with heroic dungeons, these changes will force these two groups to play together, which will be less fun for everyone. They will be a disservice to the first group because they diminish the rewards of the dungeon in favour of rewards to be purchased from a vendor. They will be a disservice to the second group because they give people the impression that the way to solve their gameplay problems is by grinding better gear. If Corla's friends are ascending, then at 346 chest is not going to help you, so people are going to end up grinding up gear in normal dungeons that have become boring for lack of challenge and then find that they are still having the same problems with heroics they were having before.

Tomorrow I'll be concluding my Normal Dungeon Manifesto with a list of suggestions that would improve normal dungeons by making normal dungeons seem like a worthwhile goal unto themselves and by responding to the needs of players who run normal dungeons.

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