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.

This entry was posted in MMORPG, Neverwinter, World of Warcraft. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Expectations regards difficulty in MMORPGs

  1. bhagpuss says:

    This is what I used to refer to as the “sawing the legs off the table” school of game design. We saw a lot of it a few years back and it appears to be coming back into fashion. It seems to happen when there’s a discrepancy between what developers think the average player can do and the reality. Content comes in above the benchmark, there are complaints that it’s too hard, it gets nerfed; next time (or usually several times later, since developers seem to be slow to change) the content comes in under the benchmark, there are complaints that it’s too easy and the cycle goes around.

    GW2 has suffered horribly from this, see-sawing from too hard to too easy again and again, pleasing almost no-one. In the end, developers need to make a choice; it’s been proven over and over that you can’t keep everyone happy where difficulty is concerned – at least not without having actual difficulty settings.

  2. kiantremayne says:

    Possibly the difference is that the WoW content you were doing is a gateway to the new raid – you don’t really need to get and upgrade the cloak unless you’re going into Nya’lotha, so Blizzard may well have tuned for raiders rather than the unwashed masses. Which is a bit shortsighted because, as you say, it’s a major chunk of the content and the expansion storyline so even non-raiders will want to run this stuff at least once to see it.

Comments are closed.