While a couple of weeks ago, I talked about some of the finer aspects of Classic WoW – what I perceived to be a better community – there are other aspects of the early game I’m delighted to see gone. There is much debate going on at the moment about how much content should be accessible to who, with a vocal minority insisting that only top end raiders should be given privileges, such as the best mounts and titles, for completing content before others, or even that only a tiny percentage of players should be allowed into that content in the first place. Often, amongst all the howling and yowling, you can identify a familiar refrain of how things were so much better in the past.  And one of those ‘better things’ was that less than 1% of the player base got to see raids like the original Naxxramas. A vocal few clamour for a return to that, so that the peons (the other 99% of players) can only fetch up in a lamenting pile at the gates to these august raids and never be allowed inside.

It makes me grin that some actually consider this somehow proper. For a start, in whose book of business management is this a good way for Blizzard to deploy its staff, i.e. catering to less than 1% of their customers? (Bearing in mind raid development must take an awful lot of employee hours.) Some players want this exclusivity back because they were lucky enough to be in that 1%. Their tune would inevitably be different if they hadn’t been. I was there back in Vanilla WoW and have many fond memories of it, but I don’t remember so fondly how it was impossible for guilds like ours to raid. You needed 40 people for most of it, even if a few instances were tuned for less, but at that time we didn’t have a hope in hell of fielding a large team of any size, never mind begin learning the tactics. This was because when players reached max level, the loot hornier ones just tended to abandon us for existing, successful raid guilds. We knew we had no chance of hanging on to enough people to start raiding. Our only option would be to join a huge raiding guild ourselves, but we knew we just wouldn’t get on with the politics of them, and anyway, we wanted *our* guild to raid. Thankfully, Blizzard offered that to the smaller guilds in TBC with the advent of true 10 man raids. But the 25 mans were still the province of the hardcores. I can only think wistfully of how great it would have been if we’d had 10 man versions too of raids like Black Temple, Serpentshrine Cavern and all the rest. Like the model Blizzard uses now for raids. No doubt such thoughts are anathema to those complainers who curse the day Blizzard started making raiding more accessible. Really, though, they should simply accept reality. A return to the old ways is never going to happen. Blizzard has grown and evolved over the past eight years; they now want more of their players to enjoy more of the game. While the  hardcores might gibber and foam about how pet battles and farming will be put in for the peasants, so keep out of *their* content, Blizzard clearly regard all of the game’s activities as being equally interesting to players. Which for most, they are. There’s no point weeping for the past. The original Naxxramas was gated not only by its extreme difficulty, but by the cost of attunement to it and having 39 other people to do it with. No one in their right mind would want a return to that. While some might gush about the player base remembering it with affection, I doubt the 99% who never saw the place love it at all.

I’ve seen the more polite end of the hardcore spectrum, (yes, there is one, although some forums might lead people to believe otherwise), rhapsodise about content having a certain ‘mystique’ because it *was* so inaccessible to 99% of players. But it doesn’t feel right to me that so few were allowed to enjoy the game to the full. I’m of the mind that raiding shouldn’t just be available to everyone with no effort to be made on their part. I think it’s good that players might have to work for it a bit, rather than simply tumble into the laughably easy style of raid we see now in LFR. But – things change, time moves on. The past will never return. Blizzard clearly eventually realised it wasn’t the best plan to keep developing WoW in the direction of only relatively few players getting the full experience of it. While some things have been made much more accessible, the hardcores have been given heroic modes as a mollifying gesture, but that’s not enough for them. Some don’t want anyone else even to *see* end game content, at whatever difficulty. (I think it’s important to point out here that the true top-end raiders, in the biggest and best guilds in the world, who achieve all the world’s first raid completions, never stoop to ranting and raving on forums about accessibility. They just get on with what they’re best at and to my knowledge don’t care what other players might do with content after they’ve conquered it.)

Another point to bear in mind, which has been mentioned on various forum threads I’ve seen recently, is that the fond recollection some old school raiders have about everyone being fantastic players back then (as opposed to how they see players now) is entirely false. I’ve read threads where people are saying that some old school raiders now coming back to the game after a long break just can’t cut it. And I can corroborate this. No slur on some of the people we’ve had in our guild, who were considered pretty hardcore back in the day, but some of them are not necessarily good raiders now. In one case, a couple of years ago, a guildie told me another member, newly returned to the game, who was once part of a well known raiding guild on our server in the early days, had taught him all he knew about tanking in Vanilla. I was astonished by this revelation, because the ‘renowned’ old school player was, at that time, one of the most likely to be killed by the floor, if not something else as preventable. The fights we have nowadays are far more complicated than what the old school were used to, and those who’ve not kept up with the changes by playing consistently through the expansions have to learn how to raid all over again. You only have to compare the original Ragnaros, his abilities, and the amount of phases (one) in that fight to his updated, 5 phase, multiple ability incarnation in Firelands. So perhaps Vanilla raiding wasn’t so much about a greater level of player skill than about the organisational ability to herd 40 people of the right combination of classes, in the right direction, (which admittedly must have been an extremely wearisome task).

However, there are things that some old schoolers say that I agree with. I don’t dispute the epic moments they describe when talking of when people saw certain bosses for the first time. There were some colossal lore figures as bosses in Vanilla and TBC. I don’t disagree when such players suggest it should be more of a challenge for people to get access to raiding, if only by finishing one tier before starting another. I get what they mean entirely when they recall how the availability of a new raid in TBC spurred people on to finish Black Temple, because that was the only way they’d get into the new raid. They went for that little extra push, and I imagine it was a great buzz for them to down Illidan when only a week or so before they might have struggled with him. Incentive is a great motivator. As far as I can see, Blizzard is attempting to bring that back in Mists somewhat, which is a good thing.

I don’t disagree that players should strive hard to get through the raids, rather than find them too easy. What I don’t think is right is when the difficulty is tuned so high only the hardcore elite can complete it while it’s current. At one time in WoW’s history it was the norm that even the best raiding guilds would bang their collective heads against a boss for months on end before beating it. Only extremely dedicated guilds can survive that kind of slog. Most will founder on the rocks of demoralised boredom and burnout if raids are tuned too high. Somewhere, there is an acceptable middle ground, and that’s what I think Blizzard is striving to find – perhaps through trial and error, but striving all the same. Heroic modes are supposed to be for the hardcores who want raiding as hard as it can possibly get.

When some dissenting players can give ‘evidence’ of raiding becoming easier, in that bosses are downed too quickly in an expansion’s life for their taste, they neglect to think of one very important factor: the player base as a whole has become more savvy at raiding since Vanilla and TBC. More players are doing it, having started with Kara and working through everything thereafter. This, I believe, is partly responsible for them eating through content more quickly. They have simply become better players. LFR might still be plagued by stumbling numpties, sociopaths and fools, but I’m talking about the mass of mid-range guilds like ours, and the level of skill we have, and which we have built upon, who aim to complete normal modes of raids while they’re current, and perhaps venture into heroics thereafter if they want, or feel ready for, a greater difficulty. These guilds make up a large amount of the player base, and I imagine that most of them welcome a challenge and don’t want to faceroll the content. But neither do they want raids that are guild breakers.

There are arguments for and against the introduction of LFR, which has opened up raiding to all, (of a sort), and the discussion of which merits a topic of its own. But if anything has removed the mystique from raiding, this is it. However, that aside, you can see the development of the game from different perspectives, and there are arguments, just as compelling as those voiced by the hardcores, illustrating why WoW raiding is far better now than it was. It is all down to perception really; there is no ultimate truth, only viewpoint.