Expectations regards difficulty in MMORPGs

Over the last few days we’ve played several sessions of World of Warcraft’s 8.3 patch, Visions of N’Zoth, and in parallel we’ve also played through the early parts of Neverwinter’s Undermountain content (Module 16).

Playing both games it’s interesting to see differences in how difficulty is, or isn’t, presented. Neverwinter in this module seems pretty standard, the content for our modestly geared characters is easy enough if we’re not careless. An overpull can lead to me having to heal like crazy and for us to use our potions and other buff items to snatch victory from disaster. That’s on normal groups of monsters. Boss fights have a few mechanics to watch out for but are relatively standard fare so far.

Over in WoW you have the Horrific Vision mechanic that kind of turns expectations of difficulty on its head. You will fail some, and might end up failing them regularly. Our first attempt at this instanced challenge content, set in a void-corrupted version of Orgrimmar, was an abject failure. We knew enough from guild discussions to not get distracted by all the harder side content on the map. So, we made a line straight for Thrall and still only managed to get him down to about 40% health before wiping: not even close.

My first reaction was: “screw this, it’s unwinnable”. I’m afraid I’m not the most patient of people when it comes to gaming. My husband was annoyed that we might miss out on some progress by not having won this; for context he’d assumed his first failure on his monk main character was because he got initially distracted by some side content. His monk is much better geared than my main or his alt that we duo together. That is a factor of course, some players reading this might laugh at how easy their first run was, but to us it was mathematically impossible due to our low(ish) gear level.

You are not ready to explore deeper…

That’s not the end of this post though. On handing in, we received enough momentoes currency to unlock a first upgrade on our cloak; this would make subsequent runs easier. With the three-use Sanity Resoration Orb ability available, we were able to take Thrall down on a second run without much difficulty. The quest chain doesn’t really stress enough, in game, that failure is likely on early runs, perhaps that it should be expected. If we do more of this, and time is always a factor, then I’ll be able to do a follow-up on just how the difficulty curve looks. As a side note, some of the instanced scenario story-content in this patch was also tuned to be unexpectedly difficult, we wiped on a fight late in the chain but when we released we were able to rejoin the same fight without losing progress. In the context of the story its difficulty wasn’t out of place, but it is unexpected to have to fight so hard just to get a quest done.

What interested me is the starting point of difficulty here. There’s such a contrast between Horrific Visions and Neverwinter’s current content. It’s more noticable to me because the difficulty for both of the previous two Neverwinter modules, set in Chult and Ravenloft respectively, was set so much higher from the offset. I was very pleasantly surprised with the starting difficulty in Undermountain. Then in World of Warcraft with this latest patch we have new content, one of the pillars of this patch, that starts out feeling nigh-impossible. I’m not sure if there’s any comparable trends to be identified here, as I’m talking about a late expansion patch for WoW and a standalone patch for Neverwinter. In both cases I am talking about what I consider general content – this isn’t about top-end group or raid content. It does feel like the Neverwinter and World of Warcraft devs have quite different design philosophies where difficulty curves are concerned.

Conjured food and drink

Although I’m sure it doesn’t taste that great, and the lack of variety could get on my modern-sensibility nerves, in MMORPGs I do enjoy playing with classes and items that can conjure food and/or drink. I suppose it’s less of a thing in most modern games, as your character having to equip food and drink is a distinctly old-school mechanism. It seems I’m spending a good amount of my gaming time in old-school games at the moment, so it’s a mechanic I’ve encountered more of late.

In Everquest 2, my main is an Inquisitor (a type of Priest) and as such can summon food and water. Sounds a bit unappetising, but needs must and all that. It saves him ever having to obtain normal sustenance, though I suppose that’s self-defeating in that it’s never encouraged me to get on with levelling my provisioning (a k a cooking) alt…

Abandoned…

In World of Warcraft Classic, we have a Mage in our main dungeon group. This means all our food and drink requirements are met automagically. And, boy, do you have to take mana breaks often in this version of the game.

Instead of relying on a friendly Mage, there are also a few items that can conjure food or drink of some kind in game. My Hunter has a staff that can conjure muffins. That’s pretty handy for her as her boar pet is not at all fussy about she feeds it to keep it happy.

The other old-school game that I’ve been playing of late is Dungeons & Dragons Online. True to form, your characters definitely need sustenance – though only when recovering from an untimely death in the tavern nearest the current dungeon. In this case none of our trio group have a spell to conjure food & drink. I’ve read that Druids have goodberry, but I’ve not played that class enough to vouch for this.

Who could resist a ‘dirty kobold’?

*Must resist urge to play another alt*…

Visions of NZoth, patch 8.3

Yesterday saw the European launch of patch 8.3, Visions of NZoth, for World of Warcraft (retail).

In about two hours we played as a duo through the first sections of the new story-line, with NPC dialogues and a host of activities unlocked in Uldum, one of the two feature zones of the patch.

Although its early days for this content I imagine it might be somewhat Marmite (UK English for a love or hate thing) to many players. Our retail guild was hopping compared to the last few weeks, but one player did log over to a low-level alt to get away from all the purple and tentacles (theyd been playing it most of the day, whereas I only had the evening after work).

Im rather partial to anything Titan or Old-God related story-wise, so Im happy so far to be diving into this new content. Reusing old zones is a sensible thing from a dev resource perspective, and it happens that the two main zones that are being reused are two of my favourites aesthetically. I love Egyptian history/mythology, so anything with great pyramids and animal-headed creatures is fine with me. Our characters finished up with the quest to go on to the Vale of Eternal Blossoms for the continuation of the storyline, I knew this was coming though and am looking forward to it as that is a rather iconic location as well.

So far, from a gameplay perspective, its just been standard Battle for Azeroth open world activities: daily quests and bars to fill in a given area. The quest chain is enjoyable though, I won’t have a problem repeating it on a few alts. We havent got to the step of doing our first Horrific Visions yet, a challenge mode instance that has been likened to the Mage Tower of the Legion expansion. I would thought on paper that I would have next to no interest in these instances: I hated the Mage Tower. But these can be played with 1-5 players, and I am a lot more interested in difficult content for a group than I am in soloing it. Im not sure how long this content will keep me engaged, but my first impressions for the patch are positive…

Weird and wonderful creatures

We’re ploughing through the Undermountain module (16) content in Neverwinter, and I wanted to post a few screenshots of the weird and wonderful creatures we’ve been encountering.

A dinosaur, in a cave!

This module takes us deep into the Underdark, inside the mega-dungeon of Undermountain. All though it’s called a ‘dungeon’ nominally, much of the lower levels are caverns. The deeper we descend the more unusual and otherworldly our opponents have become.

We’ve also encountered a range of NPCs, from the standard array of fantasy races, to the less well known deep monstrous races. All have been injected with a good dose of personality, and in some cases comedy, as we’ve quested through each zone.

There are some notable boss fights in the open world (the rare spawns) and in the expedition instances that punctuate the transitions between zones. These showcase some well known D&D monsters in contrast to the lesser denizens encountered (the trash mobs in MMO parlance).

Do not stand in front of the manticore…

I’m rather enjoying the module so far, the zones are varied in tone and ambiance. It’s nice to see a wide variety of opponents between them too!