In any MMO there are dungeons, most of the time now-a-days they are referred to as Instances. The idea is of grouping up with your mates and taking down a number of foes to eventually get to the boss. The boss fight is usually some big monster or challenge which the game designers throw at you and hopefully your team can get the odds. It is a trial as old as Dungeons & Dragons itself. World of Warcraft has given us some epic dungeons to remember. My personal favorite was the old school Scarlet Monestary. Now it seems with Mists of Pandaria they are trying something else with these dungeons, Challenge Mode.
Instances by their own right are fun. They are a quick way to pass the time in an MMO and usually don’t take too long. Challenge Mode now comes in to give players an even faster reason to finish instances. I cannot really say how I feel about this idea in WoW. I don’t think it is bad for the game, and if anything it is one of the pieces of Pandaria that I truly like the most. The faster your team can complete a dungeon the quicker you are to getting a medal. Gold, Silver, and Bronze make up the winnings. In some ways I definitely like the challenge that this presents to players. There are several catches though.
The first is that your gear is taken away and replaced with gear appropriate to the dungeons. Therefore, the game designers have decided what you should use to run in Challenge Mode. The good news is that Challenge Mode is an option for players when they enter a Dungeon. So, back to the gear, your gear is now standardized for the instances to run through it. You do not have your purple sets of awesome anymore to wipe out characters. In many ways, this is something that has gone against Blizzard’s philosophy of gaining new gear with each instance or patch. With Challenge Mode, the playing field is equal. I do agree with this concept to put all players in an equal state, however, I think it takes away from all you have earned in the game before.
The next element to Challenge Mode is the rewards. I am not really happy that Blizzard has stated the rewards are mostly cosmetic in nature. However, that seems to be the way all MMOs are going lately. So after evening the playing field for timed dungeons, I am now competing for mostly cosmetic items. How these items relate to the medals you win is another matter. They have mentioned some great rewards though, mounts being one of them. While, I think better rewards should be offered, this part of the Challenge Mode is not the part I fear most.
The final element to Challenge Mode is the players. While most likely teams will be formed in the game and players will only do Challenge Mode with people they know, I still think about my endless times in pick up groups. As a solo player if I enter a Challenge Mode group and make one minor mistake, I will bet the group kicks me from the instance. There are many ways to compete in MMOs, but I think Challenge Mode is only geared for a certain type of player. It's really for guilds to try and compete for the top slot on their server. This aspect of the expansion does look great on paper, but I think it will fall short when it comes into the players' hands.
If anything Challenge Mode represents a growing trend in WoW, which is breaking up the original classic MMO we all loved into a very large batch of mini-games. With instanced PvP, and then Arena PvP, to raids, Blizzard has been breaking up the WoW pizza into slices for a while now. The idea of the pet game takes the MMO even further from its true form. The more Blizzard breaks up the game, the less of an MMO it becomes in the most classic sense. This type of trend works for some games, but the MMO market seems to be pushing more and more towards the open world focused games for the next decade.
I still believe that Pandaria will be amazing. Most of it focuses on getting back to exploration. I think it will have tons of great new content to offer players. But after reading about Challenge Modes, while I do think it is a good idea, I am not sure how much it was really needed. We will just have to wait and see... get your Goblin Stop Watches ready, the starting line begins at the portal.