WoW: The Decline of Cataclysm, Part II

A FEW MONTHS AGO, after Activision announced 600,000 subscribers had left World of Warcraft, I wrote a long post describing my thoughts why. To sum up: daily random heroics, which in Wrath I felt were quick, painless sprints and a central part of the game for casual players, had morphed in Cataclysm into ugly, hour-plus disasters. WoW‘s playerbase, loaded with its fair share of space cadets, simply couldn’t handle the triple whammy of a gear reset, talent reset, and the increased difficulty of dungeon encounters. Heroics became something to avoid at all costs, and if you weren’t interested in raiding, that didn’t leave you with much else to do. Hence, people left.

I didn’t unsubscribe myself, but I did take a 5 month break where the only time I logged in was to test the new iPhone guild chat app. Having leveled several characters to 85 and underwhelmed with the launch raids, I figured I’d check back in after the summer, at which point the playerbase would hopefully have gotten a little better.

Having dipped back in over the last week, boy, is that NOT what happened.

TO START, I skipped the newer higher-level heroics, assuming the original Cataclysm launch heroics would go quicker. Wronng. As it turns out, because the newer heroics give double rewards, the only people still running the older ones are undergeared people who can’t get into the troll dungeons yet. Effectively, pugging Stonecore, Grim Batol, Deadmines or Vortex Pinnacle is no less a trainwreck today than seven months ago, which kind of boggles the mind.

After picking up an upgrade or two with leftover Justice points, I started queueing for the revamped troll dungeons of Zul’Gurub and Zul’Aman, thinking I’d find more experienced players there. Wrong again. Despite lousy gear and 5 months off, I somehow found myself routinely topping the damage charts in dungeons I’d never run before. I had one group that wiped 11 times on the final boss in ZG, and somehow, the new players we brought in as others quit kept getting worse. A warlock doing 10K got replaced by a shammy doing 7K who got replaced by a priest doing 4K, which is roughly what I would do if I wielded a fishing pole instead of an axe. I’ve yet to complete a troll heroic in under 45 minutes, nor have I had a run that finished with the same 5 people we started with. Trying to run troll heroics via LFD is a pitiful mess.

SO WHAT HAPPENED? In the 4.1 patch, Blizzard added a weekly cap to Valor points, attainable without running heroics at all. If you clear most of the bosses in the new Firelands raid as well as the new boss in Baradin Hold, you’re capped on VP for the week. As a result, those overgeared players in ICC25 gear who used to balance out the LFD population in Wrath aren’t running heroics any more. It’s mostly undergeared, inexperienced players fumbling their way through.

I find the whole thing remarkable. Cataclysm‘s biggest flaw – the fact that heroics were such a headache – should have naturally corrected itself as players got better gear. But the steps Blizzard has taken – intentionally or not – have kept the heroic experience completely unpleasant. At a time when the game is losing players, and with Star Wars: The Old Republic looming on the horizon, I’d like to think Blizzard would have an eye on making heroics a little more fun.

I have a simple solution. That 980 weekly cap for Valor points? Raise it to 1400, and make that extra 420 points available only via heroics. Offer some incentives for geared players to actually run a few heroics each week and balance the LFD population out, because as it stands, I’m ready to take another 5-month break.