So another patch has come, and the trend of nerfing heroics continues, with more and more of the teeth knocked out of those instances that everybody groans at (or quits out of) when they come up in the randomizer. Along with the predictable groaning from more experienced players that actually liked 5-mans that made them work for their badges and loot.
This trend is likely to continue, and for one very good reason: the random LFD tool, which makes the instances more and more accessible, which means tuning them to the lowest common denominator. I honestly can’t get too upset about the changes to Old Kingdom, for example, when it means I’m no longer going to get as much heartburn from people that don’t listen when I say “I’m going to pull them back here to the stairs” and wipes when, as a result, we get half the mobs in the room all at once. When you’re removing all effects of server reputation and nearly all chance of playing with the same people repeatedly, tuning to that lowest common denominator is mandatory unless you want to drive both your more experienced and less experienced player base completely insane.
The new 5-mans in Icecrown, when they came out, were significantly challenging compared to other 5-man content, and even despite the nerfs they still are. If I see the loading screen for Nexus on my random screen I can expect to run through there like I’m on rails and chat about what’s on TV for most of it; if I see the one for Pit of Saron or Halls of Reflection I sit up straighter and prepare to focus hard on what I’m doing. I was driven out of true random pugging almost completely by Halls of Reflection, and I still don’t believe it belongs in the random system at all. (Or that it needs to be nerfed harder. It’s just not *fair* when two mercenaries can spawn, stun the tank and the healer, and then rip the rest of the party to shreds.) But, at the same time, learning them was *fun* and doing 5-man content that was actually a challenge was fun as well- as long as I was running with skilled players who all knew each other’s capabilities, i.e. guildies.
Right now there is a giant cliff face between the most accessible group content and raiding. It used to be that heroics were the stepping stone between normal 5-mans that can be handled even when half the party doesn’t know what they’re doing, and later content where everyone did, but now that Blizz has decided to turn the heroics into the system to gear up players for current raid content without needing to do old raids, they can’t serve that function anymore; they have to be as accessible as the standard 5-mans were. As it stands, players have essentially no training grounds to really learn the skills necessary to do truly challenging content- there’s just heroics, which are facerolly now and will only get moreso the longer the LFD tool exists, and then ten-man raids.
What I’d like to see introduced is challenging 5-mans along the same lines as the initial versions of the Icecrown instances that are *not* available through the random system. You could put it in the Looking for Raid tool, which is server-only and tends to reinforce maintaining a server reputation, for pug purposes- but more importantly as I see it, it would be very accessible to guilds, even the smallest and most casual. They should be midway in difficulty between the standard heroics and ten-man raiding, and likewise midway in reward. You could put all the crowd-control, tricky pulls, and odd mechanics you wanted in there, to entertain experienced players, without impacting the random system and causing high rates of desertion.
It would also feed into what I see as the emerging role of guilds as Blizzard continues their design direction toward greater accessibility, which is guilds’ most important role being an environment for fostering learning and skill development. Not everybody has the manpower, schedule compatibility, and commitment to field even a ten-man raiding team, but difficult five-mans would be something almost every guild could tackle. If anybody can gear up outside of the raiding system, then that reduces the motivation on the part of guild recruiters to insist on already-geared applicants, and shifts the importance much more to skills and the willingness and ability to acquire them- and a middle ground between raids and increasingly dumbed-down heroics would be the perfect place to tackle them, and be a good “interview” trial environment for candidates in the way that heroics were a year ago.
Speaking as an officer, I would *love* it if I needed to worry only minimally about someone’s gear and my primary role were to find people I enjoyed working with and then work with them to get them raid-ready. Now that we’ve got worrying about gear much more out of the way, a good environment to do that work in, without having to worry about 9 people at once, would be an excellent next step.