Stuck in easy mode.

As I explore more content in TBC (Hellfire complete, working on Zangermarsh now) a new issue has arisen, or rather I’ve noticed an issue that has likely been going on since just after launch.

The better and smarter you play WoW, the easier it gets.

Now the above might seem obvious, but if you really think about it it’s somewhat strange. One enjoyable aspect of any game is overcoming a challenge and feeling good about it. Let’s take a game like Civilization for example. At first you are just learning the game, so you play it on an easy difficulty level. Since you are only learning, the game still offers a decent challenge, even though it’s limiting itself and not playing as well as it could. As you get better, you turn the difficulty up and are rewarded with a tougher challenge. The enemy will double cross you, tech faster, etc.

WoW and many other MMO’s are the exact opposite. Their peak difficulty is right at the start, when you don’t fully know your class, you don’t know exactly how to complete quests, and you don’t have access to a higher level character or an auction house full of gear. The better you understand your current MMO, the easier it becomes, yet unlike other games there is very little you can do to increase the difficulty in a natural way. Most games limit you in accepting higher level quests, and WoW makes it nearly impossible to kill anything 4 levels above you no matter your skill, due to hardcoded rules that apply a huge penalty.

My current situation goes a bit further. Due to being in a very solid and experienced guild (we are all former hardcore raiders), we regularly run the 5 man instances in Outland, usually whatever is 1-2 levels above us. As these runs are usually a success, we get a good amount of blue gear in a short amount of time, and generally can’t use that gear for a level or two. What this means is that when I hit say level 64, I already have 4-5 blue pieces of gear with a level requirement of 64, meaning I’m using it at its most powerful point. Add in fully available gems and enchants and the power scale goes up even more.

Given my situation, it’s no wonder that when I do a quest designed for a character my level, that quest is a joke in difficulty. The difficulty is not tuned to someone in near-perfect gear, but rather for the ‘average’ player, someone in a mix of greens a few levels below them. The problem is I can’t skip those quests and attempt tougher quests, as those are simply not available.

So my real problem is that until I hit level 70, and make the choice to get into raiding, there is little I can do to increase the difficulty. Would it be that difficult to implement a few difficulty levels for quests and instances? Something along the lines of heroics, but instead of just giving you a max level version, the difficulty scales for that level. So when we zone into Ramparts for example, we can select easy/normal/hard. The loot and quests would be the same, but maybe the experience gained would be higher the tougher setting you pick. Tune the difficulty to allow imperfect or under geared groups to succeed at easy mode, a balanced and reasonably equipped group to succeed in normal, and a near maxed group to enjoy hard mode. Simply adjusting a few damage modifiers or adding a mob or two would be enough to change up the difficulty.

Is this something that’s technically more difficult to implement than it seems, or is it simply an oversight by the current generation of MMO games?

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
This entry was posted in MMO design, World of Warcraft. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Stuck in easy mode.

  1. Graktar says:

    I think it’s just an oversight of current generation games. Anarchy Online introduced scalable mission difficulty what, 6 years ago? 7? City of Heroes also offers scalable difficulty, though it applies to all missions across the board rather than being a mission-per-mission choice. I don’t think any fantasy MMOs have offered difficulty choices, which is either an oversight or a design decision, since the tech can’t be that hard.

  2. Bonedead says:

    If your phats isn’t bop you could just sell it and use lesser gear, making it harder. :p Gimp yoself foo!

  3. alcaras says:

    You could run orange quests to increase your difficulty…

  4. syncaine says:

    Orange quests are just 2-3 levels higher, which is still not a challenge. The problem is a mob 3 levels higher is not that tough, but a mob 4 levels higher is near impossible due to the hard coded penalties. Even removing the hard coded 4+ penalty would give players more options.

  5. Neef says:

    I won’t go so far as to say it’s “bad design”, I’m not going to second-guess a runaway hit like WoW. However, other games have done it SO much better, I wish WoW had incorporated some of their technology.

    As Graktar said, Anarchy Online had variable difficulty years ago, and by variable I mean almost analog granularity. You could pick a mission with essentially greys (and crappy loot) or a mission with deep red one-shotters (and fabulous loot). No other game has yet matched this level of scalable challenge.

    Of course, human nature is a constant, and as soon as you add scalable difficulty, you get a whole crop of balance problems. Oh noes, paladins can solo “+4” quests, but Mages are stuck at “-1”. Write a forum post!!

    Nonetheless, I think the whole “too-hard/too-easy” issue is only going to be resolved by a variable-difficulty game. I think that’s one of the areas where new MMOS truly have a chance at out-doing WoW.

  6. Thallian says:

    Oversight is my opinion, and I have made a few large rpgs. City of Heroes lets you change dungeon/quest difficulties to like 6 different settings. Its not that hard to scale numerical values and increase rewards accordingly. Seems to me WoW is just trying to drive people through a playground until they reach the “endgame” and the hooks are sinked in them. I think it is interesting how difficulty due to unfamiliarity naturally decreases with time so the MMO’s constantly add more moves for you to ‘learn’ until the number exceeds a number you can personally care about and you start forgetting you have them. (maybe that just me)

  7. duh says:

    You are a hardcore player. It’s OK, deal with it. The second you are in a experienced guild and are doing regular instance runs you are hardcore. Accept it and move on.

  8. Pingback: Hardcore Casual finds himself “stuck in easy mode” |

  9. Ploporc says:

    HC player goes through the instance once to get the quests and maybe a random blue while leveling. He is the happier the faster it is over. A casual player has his limitations (time) and while he might possess some skills is still limited to whining over content. I find you wanting Blizzard to do extra work to allow you to separate yourself from the “casuals” to make you feel better. And that is rather selfish of you. Accept your limitations as a (skilled) casual player, roll another alt and gtfo whining.

  10. mbp says:

    Hi Syncaine

    You really have to give to go back and look at where Guild Wars has gone. If you want hard core – non raid content pve gaming that’s where you will find it.

  11. I’ve found that WoW was difficult at the beginning because there was a steep learning curve. I agree that it has become progressively easier the more time I put in. But now I’m back to square one. I’ve been 70 for a while now but I have found that the game requires more and more time to keep getting better. I am pretty much stuck now tryng to riase enough gold to get a flying mount so that I can complete the process to attne for Kara. The game, while still enjoyable, has become a huge time sink…and I guess that’s the whole point, at least where Blizzard is concerned.

  12. runningelk says:

    I think the journey to 70 is such a small part of the game though. Easy(ish) questing and rapid avancement make the arrival to 70 easier and once there, a lot of avenues of increasing difficulty are open to you: raids, heroics, etc.

  13. Chalkdust says:

    You should check out if you are recruiting or looking for a guild. We are the fastest growing guild recruitment website for WOW. Its 100% free. At 1,000+ guilds it couldnt get any easier than this.

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