Hard Modes have been both a blessing and a curse this expansion. Blizzard wanted to make content more accessible to all different levels of players, while at the same time still provide challenges to those who wished to be pushed. They did this through Hard Modes. I have mixed feelings about the success of this strategy. While I do feel that it gave Blizzard the opportunity to open up the raiding game to more people, I’m not entirely certain that Hard Modes hit the mark as far as satiating the need for higher end raid content.
I’ve posted before about what I thought did, and did not, make an appealing Hard Mode so I won’t go into that particular rant again. (Hint: Dropping half your healers for DPS to meet the threshold for a fight isn’t it). However, as we are now into the last raid instance in this expansion, I thought perhaps another exploration of Hard Modes was in order.
This was our first experience, and I suppose the test, for Hard Modes in this expansion. It was, in fact, challenging. It required performance from all three roles in your raid, and it required your raid to stay focused and pay attention to what was happening in the encounter. If you did this particular hard mode in your Naxx gear, you worked for your kill. At least in my opinion. I did enjoy this hard mode.
I had a love/hate relationship with these hard modes. We struggled after our Yogg kill to get our first Hard Mode kill, Hodir. I think it took us 3 or 4 resets. There were a lot of things about several of the Ulduar Hard Modes that I really disliked. The first on that list being that a good number of the hard modes involved OMG MORE DPS to succeed. A lot of times that also meant fewer healers.
Of course there were a number of the Hard Modes that required more healers than usual, because instead of the hard mode require a disgusting amount of additional dps, it required a disgusting amount of additional heals because the “hard mode” was to throw out more damage. This in turn meant that you went from 3 healers on a 25 man hard mode, to 8 healers on another. This, to me, was not good design.
While we did finish all of these hard modes out, by the end we were mostly all in the next dungeon’s content gear and I do not think that some of them would have been achievable by us without the additional gear (hello Firefighter). And of course then there was Algalon, whose biggest challenge was the 60 minute timer that you were alloted every week. And every week you got to play the “pray to the internet gods” that someone did not go link dead during an attempt, or if they did that they came right back. While the Algalon fight itself was pretty cool, fighting the timer was not.
I did enjoy some of the hard modes, but I found a lot of them just flat out frustrating not only as a player, but also from a raid management perspective. I suppose in my opnion, I considered Ulduar’s Hard Modes to be hit or miss on the “success” scale. Some were alright, but some were just down right awful.
ToC. Where to start with this one. I think Blizzard missed the mark with this instance as a whole, so that surely doesn’t help any with the hard modes. My first thoughts on this were that they were out of balance difficulty wise. The first encounter was far more difficult than the following two in the zone. Almost disproportionately so. I think it ran us several weeks to see our first kill, granted we also never utilized all 50 attempts on it in any given week, because we value our players too much and allocated what we considered a “reasonable” amount of time on the encounter for learning attempts. However, you really didn’t have another challenging encounter until Valks. While the fights did have some different aspects to them, I am not entirely certain I’d have considered many of them “successful” hard modes.
And then there was Anub. Much like what happened with Ulduar and Algalon, many guilds just stopped pushing this encounter when ICC hit. Why? Because it had a horrendus learning curve, and most guilds spent an excess of 200 pulls before finding success. We finished it, but I am not entirely certain we could convince our guild to go back for another go at it or an attempt at insanity. I am almost positive that our add tank burned his block gear in effigy the night of our kill. While this was a challenging encounter, it required so many things to go “just right”, that any one mistake was a potential wipe. Encounters like this tend to run raid tensions high and are more stressful than fun.
I was glad that we finished it out, but I do not think that people “enjoyed” the encounter. Add on top of that the limited attempts methodology, which while better than the “timed” attempts on Algalon, is far from a good design mechanic.
And that brings us to ICC. We are currently 8/12 in our 10 man hard mode progress, and after only one week with 25 Hard Modes unlocked, we have downed 4 of them. Let me be up front, however, and say that we are taking advantage of the Hellscream’s Warsong buff, which right now is at 10%. We generally fall in the top 3% range of guilds as far as progression goes.
My first thought is…well, it took us several weeks of work on our first hard mode kills in all of the other dungeons, and we nabbed four in our first week in ICC that they were available. I would definitely state that some of them were far easier than our Normal LK kill. But then I question, well how much of that is attributable to the buff? I think probably there is some leeway that we have received by having the buff active, I do not think that can, or should be, denied. However…I also don’t know that this is a bad thing either, really. I know that they are supposed to be challenging. I know that they are supposed to be “hard”. I know they are for the crème de la crème to achieve. An extra, a bonus track.
Perhaps we arne’t the cherry on top of guilds, but we are a solid guild who makes solid progression, perhaps the hot fudge under the whipped cream. And, a bit, I am happy (so far) that I don’t feel like I’m ramming my head against a wall hoping that eventually the wall will weaken, and that my head isn’t destroyed in the process. Some of that is probably attributed to the zone buff, I know, but I still felt that our raid grasped the hard modes a lot better, to date, with this zone. Perhaps they were easier? I don’t know. I probably won’t honestly have a serious feel for the overall difficulty of them until we get deeper into them with our 25s.
Of course, I am also revisiting the topic of: are hard modes fun?
They aren’t necessarily, un-fun. Some of them share the same faults of some of the Ulduar/TotGC hard modes in that they are just OMG MORE DAMAGE/HEALING, and don’t really add much more to the encounters but extra stress. But some of them are intriguing, and I do enjoy…of course some of them I hate as well, so that that for what you will ;-) There are only 4 in total that I’ve not seen yet, so I will have to reserve some judgment on those. However, they seemed tuned decently for the level of play of my guild. Which of course means that they are too easy for some…and too difficult for others. Go figure!
Overall Thoughts on Hard Modes
Overall, I really cannot decide if hard modes was the way to go with content. Obviously Blizzard believes that it is, as we have seen them in every dungeon push this expansion. However, I really don’t know if I like them. I mean, I really do like that the content is accessible to everyone that wants to see it. I think that is great, and I have no issue at all with it.
But on the other hand…I don’t know that Hard Modes always offer the kind of additional challenges that guilds who are looking for challenges want. Some of them are innovative and unique, but some of them really aren’t. They are just…well, more. And more is harder, right? For better or worse, I think they are here to stay. And I’m not entirely certain how I feel about that. I also understand, though, that raiding is often considered one of the best things about the game, and is definitely one of the things where Blizzard puts a lot of man power and design efforts, so it shouldn’t be limited to only a few to experience. But sometimes I do pine for the days of Black Wing Lair and Black Temple, where boss kills weren’t frivolous, and each new kill was a thing of pride that often took weeks to accomplish. Not that we don’t have that now, per se, it just feels…different.
/sigh I just don’t know what I think.
What do you think? Do you like the ICC Hard Modes? Did you like the previous Hard Modes? Do you want Blizzard to do away with the Hard Mode Model in Cataclysm?