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World of Warcraft Column: Challenge Mode Dungeons

By Joseph Sanicky on November 09, 2011

As most of us know the next World of Warcraft expansion is imminent… in a far off sort of way.  One of the biggest incoming changes announced for Mists of Pandaria is the introduction of Challenge Mode Dungeons to the game.  The gist of these dungeons will be that gear will be normalized across the board and players will be in a race against the clock and scoreboard to beat out their colleagues. This rather simple concept has the possibility to enact some powerful ramifications both gameplay and community wise.

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To fully explain my point on how incredible a challenge mode could be for the game I require a somewhat extended foray into an older game I used to play, in order to fully elicit the impact of my idea.  If you don’t mind a reminiscent analysis and explanation of an old gem of a game please read on, otherwise feel free to skip ahead to the break that signifies I’m once again addressing WoW.  Keep in mind contrast is the mother to all meaning, so this tangent is not without reason!

TANGENT TIME


A true masterpiece of action and competitive gaming. Ah, the memories!

In 2004 Japanese developer Team Ninja released a 3D update to the old NES game Ninja Gaiden.  While the game garnered enough success for a couple online DLCs, multiple re-releases, and two sequels the real achievement, in this gamer’s eyes, is the incredible community and competitive scene the game has to this day.  Across all iterations of the game the Iberian’s community has devoutly played, dissected, mastered, and competed in all things Ninja Gaiden over the years.  The community is so strong that the members all donate yearly to keep up the dedicated servers that host the thousands of instructional and competitive videos on the site, that one of the members who was a professional web designer decided to make the glorious site you see in the link, that the still active members are planning a meeting in Las Vegas next year in which members from all around the world are flying to the states to meet each other, to see the men behind the avatars, and enjoy a week of comradery and fun.

What spawned all of this?” you may be thinking to yourself.  At the heart of it all was the game Ninja Gaiden.  A brutally difficult and rewarding action game centered on an equally badass protagonist the game featured the only action gameplay that was comparable to Devil May Cry back in the day.  Before the slew of action games we have this generation these two set the foundation for destructive difficulty and unrelenting violence.  Furthermore the game was much more than just an exercise in masochism but a hyper-competitive contest of sorts.  The scoring system, called the karma system, granted players points based on kills, combo count, a time limit on each encounter, number of ultimate techniques used, and end-of-chapter magic count/enemy kill total/total time and gave bonuses accordingly.  Beyond this there was a “mission mode” that set up players in an array of scenarios that bordered on frightening to suicide-inducing (facing two or three bosses at once!) with a set of weapons and magic available to scale the difficulty accordingly.


If you were ever unlucky enough to confront the berserker or that boss in the background, you’d be soiling yourself right about now.

The game and community it created exemplified all that a competitive game can be, bringing out the best of not only the players but the society around it. It was truly a classic jewel that this gamer will never forget, as to this day he visits the forums and keeps up with those old friends.

I recommend you view some videos of the best of the best to get an idea of just how incredible a feat their actions were.  Kyoiori’s chapter thirteen video has a wonderful mix of all the techniques needed to be a master at the highest levels, and remember because they are hosted on a private server funded by the players the download speeds are quite insane.

BACK TO WARCRAFT

Now that you understand my competitive gaming background I feel it is time to address WoW’s Challenge Mode.

Needless to say the possibilities are nearly endless.  The basic formula of “create an even playing field and let players compete” itself can garner a tremendous amount of success within a competitive community.  The picture painted of the ChallengeMode at BlizzCon would have players competing for the best time through a dungeon with normalized gear.  In this scenario there would be an (assumedly) hardcore group of players who would tirelessly pursue the number one slot via new strategies and tactics. 

Group compositions would be experimented with ad infinitum until the number one spot was reached, at which time others would copy this and try to eke out a few seconds here and there to surpass them while others yet tried radical new methods to get a lower time.  Hopefully obtuse combinations of classes, glyphs, and talents would be tried to the point where new and never before heard of stratagems would be created.  Perhaps one group would try a kite heavy comp, while another stacks crowd controls to succeed, while another might forgo a tank with an intense burn comp.  Like I said, the possibilities are nearly endless.

However, that can’t be the end of it; the Ninja Gaiden player in me demands more.  An adept scoring system could take the re-playability of this function and push it to near infinity.  Something similar to the karma system I outlined above, with points for certain actions, ways to lose out on points based on time or number of kills, or whatnot, or some other interesting mechanic  that both limits and incentivized inspired play could create a truly glorious challenge for those willing to put the time into the system. 

Take the few ideas I mentioned above for instance.  What if the kite comp could garner more points by, say, making a fight last as long as possible (garnering bonus points for actually taking more time) while staying within the minimum DPS limit that would otherwise cut the bonus points off?  What if the burn group got a set bonus for a certain clear time versus other farming techniques?  What if there were min-challenges inlaid within boss fights that a healer-centric comp could exploit that other comps could not?  If various incentives were put in place for diverse play-styles the competition could become not only fierce but stupendously varied and exciting!


Just thinking about the possibilities for a challenge based on this fight gets my blood pumping.

Don’t stop your imagination there!  If there were set-piece challenges hand-crafted by Blizzard similar to the mission mode in Ninja Gaiden, with limited weapons, spells, or actions, extremely fun gameplay could result.  We’ve seen Deathwing’s demise on the PTR (spoiler alert?) and how the fight is based around four platforms and jumping around them fighting the pieces of Deathwing’s body. Creative use of those raid-wide buffs and debuffs, a time limit, a very intense set of priorities and objectives, or other such game-play devices could create a multitude of fun challenges for players to either simply complete or sleeplessly compete over!  Furthermore setting up such encounters in more “bite-sized” pieces could satiate both the casual crowd and the competitive players who have less time for long encounters but more time overall over the week.  Dailies could be incorporated into this system, as could achievements, exclusive pets for certain challenges beat, rare drops from certain challenges based on score or time, et cetera.

I’ll say it again.  The possibilities are endless.

Blizzard has a truly exciting idea on their hands here.  This Challenge Mode was definitely the most exciting announcement for me concerning Mists of Pandaria if you’re a competitive gamer who prefers PVE to PVP.  There is simply so much potential in the idea that my gut won’t stop screaming at me that I’ll end up disappointed.  Regardless of that I’ll continue to eagerly await and imagine what can come of challenge mode dungeons, and hopefully you will too!

Discuss your ideas for some interesting challenges below, maybe someone at Blizzard will see one they like and it will end up in the game, one never knows!

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