Ragar discusses the upcoming small group content on the PTR
Hello and welcome to the 5th edition of Formerly Hardcore, ZAM’s column on Blizzard Entertainment’s World of Warcraft. For this column, we’re going to take a look at some of the features from the patch 6.2 Public Test Realm. Right after I posted my previous column on the remaining bosses of Blackrock Foundry, Blizzard announced the PTR was coming up for the next patch – and here I thought I’d be doing something on Garrisons or pet battles for this week’s column.
Along with the PTR announcement came the first set of patch notes, which were massive. Since then we’ve seen a few iterations on those patch notes, datamined information from Wowhead and other sites, boss videos from guilds trying out the new raid encounters and so much more. I won’t try to cover everything that’s shown up in patch notes and build update posts in a single post, despite what the length of some of my columns might imply. Instead we’ll focus on a couple of new features from the PTR notes that immediately caught my eye: Mythic and Timewalker Dungeons.
Please Make 5-Man Dungeons Useful Again!
If you’re a player looking to raid, Warlords of Draenor has plenty of options for you, regardless of your skill level or time commitment capabilities. You’ve got Looking for Raid difficulty just to see the content and for the (theoretically) quick kills, then there’s three difficulties for the organized raid groups: Normal and Heroic for 10-30 players and Mythic difficulty for the more dedicated 20-man groups. So many possibilities for seeing the best content WoW has to offer, but how do you get ready for it? Well in the past and at the beginning of this expansion, that involved running normal and Heroic 5-man dungeons. You would run these instances to gear yourself out so that you could both down raid bosses as well as survive their attacks. In theory you’d also learn how to survive in the raids from this content as well, since you’d have some similar mechanics show up (eg “Don’t stand in the fire”, “Use the environment to block line of sight”, etc) and the 5-mans provide a more forgiving environment to learn those skills. These days… that doesn’t happen so much.
When I leveled my main at the beginning of WoD, I ran a ton of heroic 5-mans to get ready for raiding. Not too many normal dungeons, but that was more because I blitzed my way to 100 in 23 hours with a friend on launch day – no one would have been happy with my sleep-deprived tanking skills. Since then I’ve leveled four other 100s and have another at 97. With those characters, unless a friend wanted me to run something with them or I was just bored while leveling, the only 5-mans they saw were for the legendary ring questline. Why would I stop doing those 5-mans? They’re still enjoyable content, but I’ve seen them enough in the short timespan since WoD launched that unless a friend needs help in there, I only use them for loot and that’s just not necessary now.
To illustrate why, let’s look at the numbers for Heroic dungeons and LFR. To queue for Heroic dungeons you need an average item level of 610 and those dungeons drop 630 gear. Highmaul LFR requires 615 item level and drops 640 gear. Just looking at those numbers you’d think that Heroic dungeons would still be useful, but we’re missing the rest of the picture. You’ve got quest rewards from Nagrand that start at 590-600 and with a blue/epic proc can scale up to 620-630; a player who builds a Dwarven Bunker/War Mill in their Garrison prior to starting in Nagrand could potentially be LFR ready without ever stepping foot in a 5-man dungeon. Let’s say you’re unlucky though and even the increased blue/epic rate from the Bunker didn’t help you out. There’s still two other options for gear that make it unnecessary: the Auction House and the Garrison.
The Auction House is a fairly obvious solution and it’s just getting cheaper to make a character LFR capable as time goes on. You’ve got crafters throwing up tier 1 630-640 pieces to level their professions, higher level versions of those that are dropping in price as the price of Savage Blood goes down, Bind-on-Equip epics that dropped in Highmaul and Blackrock Foundry groups as well as world BoE epics from Salvage Yard crates. Unless you’re looking to buy Mythic BRF drops, getting your item level up to 615 with the AH is getting cheaper by the day.
If you don’t want to spend any gold though, you can still get LFR ready without a single 5-man just by using your Garrison missions. Unless you’ve been completely ignoring your Garrison followers, chances are most of them are level 100 or close to it by now. With level 100 followers you should start seeing missions for blue 615 equipment rewards: weapons, shoulders, bracers, trinkets, etc. You may not be able to fill in every slot with one of these reward pieces, but you can fill most of them. As you build up those 100 followers’ item levels, those rewards will start getting even better with 630 and eventually epic 645 pieces. These items can even proc Warforged, so you could see an additional six item levels when you get the reward. Bump those follower levels up high enough and you'll even start seeing caches from Highmaul and BRF containing loot from the Normal difficulty of those raids, giving you 655 and 670 gear before you've even set foot into those raids.
Admittedly you can still find some use for running Heroics with the current model; after all you can only get loot from each boss in LFR once per week (twice if you use a Seal of Tempered Fate on that boss). It’s still very limited though and doesn’t really do the 5-man model justice. While many of WoW’s players enjoy their raids, there’s a significant group (myself included) who like running small-group content as well. You might have a small group of friends that are on Mumble one night and want to run something. You could also have people who called out sick for raid one day, leaving you undermanned and needing to either use Group Finder or do something else. Using my group as an example, we may run light for raiding on our usual nights, but there’s usually four or five people in Vent on most nights who would love to run something together other than LFR or doing a pick-up raid. There’s Challenge Modes, but unless you’re in the mood for a race, there’s not much reason to do anything other than the daily for the reward bag.
Mythic Dungeons: New Boss Mechanics or Just Bigger Numbers?
We’ve talked about the problems that 5-man content has in WoW currently, but now let’s talk about the promising news that patch 6.2 is bringing. We’ll start with Mythic Dungeons, the next step in progression for small group content. This new difficulty tier will take the existing WoD 5-man dungeons and add a new difficulty tier on top of normal and Heroic. Per the patch notes: “Mythic difficulty is geared towards players that enjoy tackling difficult content in smaller groups and is designed to provide an alternate progression path.”
Exact information about Mythic Dungeons is sparse, but we do have some details to work with. To address our earlier comments about 5-man gear rewards, Mythic dungeons will drop item level 680 gear with a chance for the end boss to drop item level 700 gear. There’s a weekly lockout on Mythic dungeons though, so don’t plan on chain running each one to deck out someone’s alt, but that’s still some potent loot from a 5-man. To put this in perspective, current LFR gear is 640 (Highmaul) to 655 (BRF) and Normal raid gear is 655 (Highmaul), 670 (BRF) and 695 for the upcoming Hellfire Citadel raid. This means that someone who runs these new Mythics and decks themselves out in gear from there could then easily step into the new raid should they desire.
That large gap in item level between Heroic and Mythic dungeons does bring up some questions though. What’s the tuning for these dungeons going to be like? If their goal is to provide an alternate progression path for smaller groups, then that would imply a linear path where you gear up from Normals and Heroics, then move on to Mythic. The problem there is that if you’ve tuned these Mythic dungeons to be challenging for players in 630 Heroic gear, then you’ll have those in LFR or BRF gear coming in and steamrolling the content without breaking a sweat. Some of those players may not complain about free epics, but it does defeat some of the point of adding a higher difficulty setting. On the other hand, if we tune these dungeons to be challenging for players with LFR gear from BRF, then the smaller groups are being forced into LFR or pick-up raids again.
My other question for these new Mythic dungeons is related to the bosses within: how do they differentiate from their normal and Heroic counterparts? With the three raid difficulties, Normal and Heroic raids share the same mechanics but Heroic simply has more health and does more damage. In Mythic raids however, new mechanics are introduced to each fight to add another level of complexity on top of the inflated HP and damage. For example, Mythic Kromog summons Stone Pillars that have to be shattered and used to break line of sight against Call of the Mountain. Another example is Mythic Imperator Mar’gok: in addition to using two of his four runes at the same time, once you get him to 5.5% health, Cho’gall appears with his own health pool and completely different set of mechanics for you to contend with. While it may not seem like much to add in one or two new mechanics to a fight, it can have a profound impact on how difficult the fight is as well as adding in some extra variety to keep the fight interesting for those who did the normal and Heroic versions countless times. Will we see something similar with Mythic dungeons? I’m certainly hopeful that we’ll see some additional mechanics on this new difficulty to keep things interesting and add variety to the small group game. Besides, if I want to rerun content with mechanics I already know, I’ve got Timewalker dungeons.
Gotta Get Back in Time
The second 5-man addition Blizzard is making with patch 6.2 is something I’ve been expecting/hoping to see for years: Timewalker dungeons. Essentially Timewalker dungeons allow players to queue up for old dungeons they’ve outgrown level-wise, scales the player down to make the content challenging and provides loot that’s scaled up to be relevant to their actual level. You’ll keep all of your abilities too, so no shifting rotations – only your character’s stats and item level will be scaled down accordingly. If you’re level 100 and you’ve got a friend that’s level 72, the two of you could queue up for the Timewalker version of Shattered Halls or another Burning Crusade Heroic and both of you can get rewards that progress your character: experience and level 72 loot for your friend and level 100 gear for you. A nice change of pace from just dragging your friend through old content while he picks up all the loot to sell. There’s also talk about a daily quest that rewards item level 690 gear as well as a quest for a Seal of Tempered Fate, so this brings in another potential source for getting gear upgrades with a small group.
Currently there’s a couple of limitations with the Timewalker Dungeon feature - we’ll start with availability. Timewalker Dungeons are currently limited to select Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King Heroic dungeons, so if you were hoping to Timewalk down into Blackrock Depths or Dire Maul, you’ll have to keep waiting. In addition Timewalker dungeons are part of the new weekend event rotation Blizzard is adding with patch 6.2; currently Timewalker dungeons make up two of the seven available events, so I would assume that it’s BC and Wrath weekends. Rewards haven’t been specified yet other than that they scale to the player’s level once you’re out of the instance, so there’s also the matter of incentivization. The only details I could get from forum posts and YouTube comments were that trash drops were 640 epics, but nothing about how far the dungeon loot from bosses will scale up; it’s still early in the PTR though, so this info will likely come out as Blizzard nails down the exact role of Timewalker dungeons.
Many players have been questioning the fact that the Timewalker dungeons are locked behind this weekend event wall and I can see their reasoning. You can already run the regular dungeons every day and the gear looks the same, so unless the loot is significantly higher than 640, there really doesn’t need to be a gap to prevent overfarming like the weekly Mythic lockout. On the other hand, if there is indeed a daily or “once per weekend event” reward with 690 loot for running these Timewalker dungeons, that’s relevant equipment and Blizzard will want to gate that similar to the Mythic dungeon loot. In addition, adding in these new 5-mans further fractures the pool of available tanks and healers for Heroic and Mythic dungeons, making it even harder for players trying to run that content to get a group. If we keep the Timewalker dungeons tied to a weekend event, it operates like one of WoW’s holiday dungeons: by limiting the content to a window of time, you get all the players to focus on it and keep the queues somewhat focused, providing more tanks and healers to keep people moving through that dungeon queue. If the Timewalker dungeons are always available, players will use that 690 quest reward bag and the Mythic dungeon loot to outgear the content faster, thus depleting the pool of potential players even faster. There’s also the matter of wanting to keep some of the nostalgia factor for those old dungeons around by keeping players from reburning themselves out running it, but the other factors probably play a bigger role in the weekend restriction.
There’s plenty of other features in the 6.2 patch notes that are exciting, including Tanaan Jungle and the Hellfire Citadel raid, but these new options for 5-mans are the main thing I’m looking forward to when the patch finally goes live. Now my friends and I can have relevant 5-man content again while still improving my gear for raid night.
I do have the feeling though that what we’re seeing here with Mythic and Timewalker dungeons is just version 1.0 for the feature. It’s possible that we may not see any additional boss mechanics in this batch of Mythic dungeons simply because of how it falls in as a catch-up mechanism, but once they have the feature in place, it would be relatively easy for Blizzard to treat 5-mans as their own separate progression path and add in Mythic mechanics for bosses. It would mean extra work for the art and encounter design teams, but adding new mechanics and spell effects to fights you’re already building is less work than creating completely new 5-mans. Same thing with Timewalkers – the scaling tech is already in place, so reworking existing content to fit into that is a simple way to provide 5-man content to go with another raid down the road.
There is the question however of how these features will affect new 5-man development. With Mythic and Timewalker dungeons available, what does this mean for getting new 5-man content after each expansion launch? The cynical side of me sees how this could mean fewer new 5-mans, but honestly I think this gives them more incentive to add in at least a couple new 5-mans each expansion after WoD. Let’s assume the next expansion has two patches, 7.1 and 7.2. The base game would launch with X number of dungeons and could hold off Mythic dungeon difficulty until the raid opens, giving both raiders and small groups their progression paths. 7.1 hits and it would have one dungeon and a new raid that opens a few weeks after the patch. The same thing could happen here – once the raid opens up, the Mythic dungeon could unlock and this one has better loot to compete with the raid. The same could be the case with 7.2 with another new raid and dungeon. The expansion launch Mythic dungeon gear could scale up to the new Mythic item level well, though there’s probably a more elegant way to handle that while keeping the old Mythics relevant.
That’s it for this edition of Formerly Hardcore. We’ve talked about Mythic and Timewalker dungeons, but there’s still plenty to look at from the patch notes for 6.2. What are you looking forward to the most when the patch finally goes live? Hellfire Citadel? Adding a Shipyard to your Garrison? Finally finishing your legendary ring? Let us know in the comments below.
Michael “Ragar” Branham