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Columns: Grouping Up

By Gareth Harmer on December 04, 2014

Grouping Up

Much has occurred since my inaugural column on World of Warcraft. I’ve managed to climb to the giddy heights of level 100, tearing through the Spires of Arak and rolling hills of Nagrand on my way. I’ve improved my garrison, expanding it to the maximum size possible and recruiting new followers. And I’ve been diving into group content, from dungeons through to heroics and even the Molten Core Raid.


I’ve certainly been busy, but is it the worthwhile kind, or generic filler makework? From my own perspective I’m having a blast, but I can understand why our own Suzie Ford can see several flavors of grindfest looming on the horizon. After all, there is only so much content that can be crammed in before repetitive daily tasks start to take over. For Blizzard’s latest, the challenge is to make them as interesting and different as possible, and for the most part it works.

Dungeon Hero

Ever since my first trip to the Deadmines, I’ve been hooked on Warcraft’s 5-player instances. For me, they’ve made sense as a place to explore, with bosses and encounters that actually belong in these dangerous and mysterious places. It makes the experience so much more satisfying than just putting three loot piñatas in a tube and telling us to go ham.

I’m also wishing that I threw myself into the dungeon finder as I leveled up, as a small number (such as Auchindoun) became unavailable once I’d hit the new level cap. As a result, I was left doomed to running the same four instances until I’d geared up for Heroics. This isn’t as bad as it sounds, but it did become annoying after a while, mainly because of the continual influx of freshly capped players this early into an expansion. Plus, if I’m honest, they’re fairly easy – the biggest challenge with normal dungeons is other people.

Gearing up for heroics required a bit of dedication, ingenuity and calling in favors. In Warlords of Draenor I’m limited to only equipping three crafted epics per character – a jewelcrafter’s neckpiece and tailor’s robe quickly took up two of those slots. In addition, I toured around Nagrand looking for rare creatures and unfinished quests I could use to fill in a few gaps. Plus, the occasional Garrison mission would net me a nice piece of loot. Blend this with whatever I could scavenge from dungeon running, and I managed to push myself over the threshold. Or so I thought.

Proving Yourself

Warlords of Draenor has a problem. A huge number of players – 3 million by some estimates – have picked up the expansion, and a large number of those (including me) are lapsed veterans making a return to the game. We remember the days of gearing up, running dungeons, and easily being able to get into Heroics. But how does Blizzard make sure that someone who hasn’t picked up the game has caught up with all the latest changes? What if they tried a new class and just boosted their way up? In order to make sure that underskilled players didn’t enter heroic dungeons before they were ready, Blizzard put in a gate – complete the Silver Proving Ground challenge for the role you want to play.

Sounds great in question. Only snag is, it’s not quite effective in practice. It’s not a good simulation of the dungeoneering experience, it doesn’t make sure players have the appropriate skills (like moving out of the bad stuff), and it favors certain classes over others. For some, it’s a trivial low wall to hop over. For others, it’s a barrier that forces massive changes in playstyle, spec, build and approach to defeat. It’s not a litmus test, because the baseline is different for each class and spec. Considering the unbalanced nature of classes at the moment, I can’t help but feel it’s the wrong thing to do, particularly at this point in the expansion.

I’m also not a fan of what they’re doing to the wider community. On the one hand there’s the elitists demanding that others learn to play and that the test keeps the riff-raff out of their Heroics. But on the other hand, there’s a group of players that have been enjoying Heroic content before, and feel that Blizzard’s put a wall between them and endgame content they’d expected to access. It’s created a bitter war on the forums and elsewhere, with some choosing to bounce straight out of Azeroth and unsubscribe.

As for the Heroics themselves, I don’t understand what the fuss is about. They’re hard – think latter Burning Crusade such as Shattered Halls, or the Ice Crown Citadel set – but not impossible, and they’re certainly not the frequent wipefest I feared. They’re made immensely easier by being able to perform the basics like interrupting and repositioning, but there’s never been a time where the group has simply given up. In fact, they’re – dare I say it – actually good fun.

Ready to Raid

As of now, I’ve managed to collect enough gear to throw myself into Warcraft’s toughest challenge – raiding. To celebrate World of Warcraft’s 10th anniversary, Blizzard crafted a new version of the original Molten Core, beefing all the creatures and bosses inside to fit the new level cap. It still requires 40 players, and reuses many of the old combat mechanics. I laughed. I cried. I felt the strings of nostalgia play across my swooning heart as my fingers thumped at the keyboard. I shouted at the screen, incredulous that people can’t point the business end of a core hound the right way. I tried all my old tricks to avoid dying to a wipe. I died anyway.

But I did kill Ragnaros. One more turn of the wheel, eh?

This week the new Highmaul raid opens up, with a whole mix of difficulties available. As the first taste of full-on raiding this expansion, I can’t wait to find out how Tier 17 compares to everything I’ve seen before. But, while part of me thinks I should be doing everything I can to grind Apexis Crystals for more gear, another part figures that they’ll come in time. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s to pick the grinds you love. For me, that’s all about the group play.

Gareth Harmer / When he's not blasting or fireballing his way through a virtual world, Gareth "Gazimoff" Harmer can be found dissecting the mechanics of online games. Chua at heart, he's also our resident columnist for all things WildStar.