TBC raiding: linear and non-progressive?

Tobold recently post his impressions on patch 2.1. The general consensus seems to be that raiding currently requires a full-time commitment and it is killing WoW. While WoW is quite unlikely to collapse outright, because the effects of MMORPG interia will reduce the collapse to a slow bleed. Would you abandon a character and the community that you spent the last two years overnight? I don't think so, because there is no alternatives available that are significantly better.

While I agree that WoW endgame has several outstanding issues, I don't think that the problem is as bad as the doomsayers make it sound. Patch 2.1 did have a lot of changes that should make somewhat easier. They do not address the major flaws, though.

What are the major flaws then? In my opinion, strictly linear progression and non-progressive content.

One thing that TBC has done really well is the 5-man instances. There's lots of them and they stay a viable option at level 70 thanks to the Heroic system. They are and remain challenging to even raiders, but are not too difficult. Since every individual heroic instance has a 1-day reset timer, people are encouraged to try out different isntances to stop them from getting bored. However, this freedom of choice vanishes the moment you start raiding.

Although the attunement chart suggests that Karazhan, Gruul's Lair and Magtheridon are your starter raid instances, the only real choice is Karazhan. Gruul and Magtheridon will wipe the floor with your raid unless you are epicced out from Karazhan, PvP or Heroics. Gruul is generally considered to be the easier of the two, so once you are farming him and Nightbane, you can enter Serpentshrine Cavern. Once Magtheridon goes down you can enter the Eye in Tempest Keep. Once both Lady Vashj and Kael'thas Sunstrider die, you can enter Mount Hyjal. Once you have killed the first boss there (and A'lar, the phoenix god boss in the Eye), you can enter the Black Temple.

Do you see the prevalence of preconditions there? Let's compare it with Vanilla WoW.

Zul'Gurub, Ruins of Ahn'Qiraj and the Temple of Ahn'Qiraj are instantly accessible. Molten Core, Blackwing Lair and Naxxramas require a single attunement quest each, are not linked and at most require a single instance run. Onyxia has a lengthy attunement quest, but is required only after you have progressed deeper into Blackwing Lair. While the relative difficulty of the instances does set a recommended sequence, you can switch instances if you choose to do so.

TBC raiding is strictly linear, with the trouble spot at Gruul and Magtheridon. These are very difficult encounters at first, and you cannot proceed any further until you defeat them, leaving Karazhan as the only place you can go.

The status of Gruul and Magtheridon as gatekeepers is enforced by the nature of their instances. These are very short instances in the style of Onyxia. A handful of trash mobs, followed by a boss. The trash mobs do not drop any interesting loot, nor do you gain any crafting materials or reputation in the process. If you keep wiping, there's nothing to show for your efforts, just a hefty repair and consumable bill. This discourages guilds from even attempting these encounters.

In small-group/solo PvE content, PvP and vanilla WoW raiding, the idea of progressive content worked. Any effort was rewarded by something, be it random epics from trash mobs, reputation or crafting materials. Even if you wiped horribly on some boss in Molten Core, you did gain something which made the next raid slightly easier. This is not the case with Gruul and Magtheridon. Each time is as hard as the previous one.

Gatekeeper encounters are fine when they are buried in the middle of normal raid instances, since you can clear everything up to the gatekeeper encounter. However, Gruul and Magtheridon are Onyxia-like encounters, not full instances. The progressive content model breaks down, which discourages guilds from trying these encounters. So, they return to Karazhan. So if you were looking forward for endgame raiding consisting of 6 instances instead of one, it's no wonder people became frustrated. As well-designed as Karazhan is, I can see myself become bored of it eventually. The upgraded loot will keep people interested for a while, but will it be enough?

The introduction of Zul'Gurub back in the day was a very welcome addition to raiders who were burned out by Molten Core (pardon the pun). I hope Zul'Aman has the same effect for TBC.

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