Permanent gear is a massive design flaw in an MMO. Keep that in mind while reading.
Inquisition on Sunrest has been running tier one experts for a bit now, and our general core is geared-up enough to start hitting up tier twos. So far we have completed Darkening Deeps, and had a marathon attempt at Charmers Caldera that ended in multiple wipes on the final boss.
The difficulty jump from normal dungeons to T1 experts was noticeable, but in a good way. The runs were a solid challenge, and the twists on familiar bosses were interesting. Overall the instances on expert feel like the ‘real’ version, with the normal version being somewhat of an extended sneak peak.
The jump from T1 to T2 was actually greater than I had expected. Not only are the bosses more finely tuned, but the trash can and will cause wipes, and careful pulling becomes a must. If the normal versions are a sneak peak, and the T1 version is the real deal, then T2 is what many would call hard mode.
At least, all of the above applies when you are running the instances at or near the expected power level. As soon as your power starts to creep above expectations, the instances get, well, dumber. Instead of careful pulls you AoE stuff, and instead of carefully planning for a boss, you eat half their abilities and just brute-force them down.
On the one hand, that increased feeling of power is a nice reflection of your characters progression, and when you are running the same instance for the 10th time, the speed-run approach is kinda nice. However, if this is all you are doing, I can’t imagine it being very fun long-term, and I think this is the trap a lot of players fall into.
If the minimum requirement is X, many players won’t attempt the instance until they are at power point Y, skipping the whole ‘at level’ experience and going straight to speed-runs. It’s pretty crazy that certain games even encourage such behavior, but then again the cult of the shiny has a wide following.
Going back to the first line of the post, all of this stems from the general problem of power creep, which is inevitable when you have permanent gear and an end-game that revolves around getting more of said gear. The only ‘fix’ is to release content fast enough that most players don’t fall into the rut of speed runs for too long.
A shortcut is to release super-hard (or impossible) content to stall the players, and then slowly nerf it down to a reasonable level. The other option is to just produce more content, but that has well-known limitations. Neither solution actually fixes the root issue of players becoming too powerful and killing the difficulty of an encounter, but at least it distracts us long enough not to really care.