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Accessibility in Cataclysm – Blessing or Curse?

A Note Before We Begin: In no way is this a “WoW is dying,” dead, or other kind of jilted lover post. Just thought I’d get that out of the way first 😉

Edit: Title updated to better reflect my thoughts.

Edit #2: I’ve been struggling to share the concern I have for Cataclysm-era WoW. This article may make it seem like I feel there will be a lack of content and that’s not the case. I’ve updated a paragraph regarding the amount of heroics (thanks GA). There will be as much to do as there always was, I just think we’ll be putting it all on farm-mode quicker than ever before. That’s the side effect of accessibility. Part of that is because of the dungeon finder, which I admit to loving. Part of it is because that’s simply how we’ve been trained in Wrath. In any event, after the article, please take a second to check out the comments section. There may be more there to answer any questions this post raises for you.

On the last episode of the Multiverse (incoming later today, thanks Ferrel!), guest, friend, and fellow blogger Green Armadillo drew my attention to an interesting behavior taking shape in pre-Cataclysm WoW. The behavior, as a direct result of the incoming emblem-to-Justice Point change, is that players are cashing in any left over badges they have towards heirloom gear, lest they be given gold instead. Most players, seeking the biggest bang for their buck, are picking up every peace of experience boosting gear they can get, totaling at 25% bonus experience per kill.

On the surface, that sounds great. The core of WoW has always been in its end-game, so players can be forgiven for taking the path getting them there quickest. The problem, of course, is rooted in the very same reason Tobold is declining to try the beta: the more you see, the less interested you become. Players will rush through old Azeroth, begrudgingly level through Outland and Northrend, and then enjoy the brevity of the 80-85 experience before diving back into heroics and raids.

Except, once it’s done, it’s done. There is no making Cataclysm new and fresh again. What is once rushed through is trudged through on the second attempt and given up on before the third. Before long, the player finds himself waiting for the next expansion, still unheard of through the pipeline. It’s a strange message Blizzard seems to be sending. The revisions to the old world seem to say stop and smell the roses while their emphasis on heirloom gear adds but do it as quickly as possible.

Taken at the surface, there doesn’t seem to much to complain about. Leveling is quicker than ever before, more raids, better graphics, new stories– the works. New players coming into WoW have never had it so good.

The problem is that Blizzard is setting themselves up to fill a role they doesn’t seem to be able to. Accessibility is great and I love that we’re moving that direction, but everything about Cataclysm just screams do it now, do it fast. Dungeons are quick and easy with fewer of them to worry about. Raids are broken into smaller, easier to digest chunks. Players only have to worry about leveling five times instead of the previous 10 (though the length of each level is yet to be seen). In short, the barrier to entry is lower than we’ve ever seen it before. The natural consequence has got to be that we’ll also complete this content quicker than ever before, sans the 80-85 experience. And that would work, if there was enough content to support it.

All of this would be fine if Blizzard moved to an expansion-a-year release cycle. That’s been their goal according to nearly every Blizzcon in recent memory. Yet, the fact that we still wait two years between each release seems to say that they just aren’t able to meet that. We’ve all said that their “release it when it’s done” policy was admirable, but, like all creative works, over-indulgence can be detrimental. This is where accessibility might just be the bug that bites their back.

Deathwing: ushering in a new age of... prosperity?

If the game opens doors to all players, more people than ever before will find themselves waiting between content patches. If you’re not a raider, Cataclysm will offer less to you than any expansion before it– unless you want to reroll. Less levels also means that heroics will go in one of two ways: there will be less gear in each dungeon or the gear will overlap. From there, we move into the path of least resistance, as players pick and choose which dungeons are worth running. We get dungeon neglect, similar to how most players find the ICC trio of 5-mans preferable to everything else.

Though the dungeon finder will surely alleviate that, it will also ensure that every player who wants to see a dungeon can– and as soon as possible. This will be the first expansion where the dungeon finder is available from day one. While the good side to that is obvious, the flip side is that they’ll all move into farm mode sooner than ever before. Doing dungeons will move into silent speed runs similar to what we have now, in all likelihood, before we even hit 85. And how long before that tires you out? Something tells me that’s not what the developers had in mind and is perhaps a silent evil they hadn’t anticipated when implementing the LFD tool.

Accessibility is good if you have the content to support it. While Cataclysm may offer some great things and a new vision to World of Warcraft, it might also usher in the longest period of pre-expansion burn out in the game’s history. Unless Blizzard moves to a yearly expansion– and sticks to it (*fingers crossed*) – all this accessibility is going to drive people away. I’ve always said that there’s wisdom in slowing the player down, even if they think it’s less fun. Wrath backed that premise up, as there’s basically two raids worth doing in the current game. And once you’ve been in and “seen the content,” how much is there to keep you coming back?

I’m not a hater, so don’t mistake this post for a rant. Honestly, I’d love it if they met their expansion-a-year goal. I’d be happy to play only WoW if it could support it.  But, here, I can’t help but feel like they’re banking on replacing us; for every one of us that drops out, two more people subscribe to WoW as their first MMO. Maybe that’s even good, fresh blood and all, but I have to wonder how deep this pool of new players actually goes. My prediction is that we’ll see a boom in population over the first six months and the first cries of “there’s not enough to do” by twelve. I hope I’m wrong because that would mean a whole year of people feeling detached from the game. Don’t get me wrong, lots of raiders will be happy– there’s lots of raids I hear– but, well, even the most hardcore raider will run heroics in his downtime. If there’s not enough variety outside of raiding, everyone loses.

WoW needs Cataclysm. It was growing long in the tooth before we’d even heard the buffeting of Deathwing’s approaching wings. My fear is that they’ve made a bargain they can’t support. In a year with major releases like SW:TOR and Guild Wars 2, perhaps the smartest move isn’t to rush players through with heirloom items and streamlined end-game.

I have to ask, once they’ve seen it once, would any player re-roll and do the same 85 levels over again or would they try something new? I’d have to think Arenanet and Bioware may just see Cataclysm as a blessing in disguise.


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  1. Green Armadillo

    I didn’t have the number in front of me during the show taping, but the Wiki claims that Cataclysm will launch with 10 heroic 5-mans, now that Deadmines and SFK are back in. That’s actually pretty close to the 12 we had for Wrath’s launch. If we get two new “classic heroics” per content patch, the heroic count will be even by the end of 2011.

    Also, the high end leveling content situation may not be as bad as the lower level cap makes it sound, since we’re getting five new zones for five new levels (down from 7 in Outland and 8-9 in Northrend depending on whether you count the sparse Crystalsong). The point being that half as many dings does not necessarily mean half as much content.

    At the end of the day, anyone who is willing to re-roll multiple times will have plenty of things to do in Cataclysm. It looks like each continent will have an independent leveling track from 20-60, and there’s always that pesky second faction to consider. People who are not willing to do that will probably wash out of the expansion far sooner than a year out. The reason why the gamble may pay off is that the market of former WoW players is so large that Blizzard can afford to lose some existing players temporarily.

    1. Chris

      Hm, 10 new heroics is more than I recall reading, so that’s not as much less as I had thought. That raises another concern, though, in that itemization for five levels across 10+ dungeons will be a challenge. If there’s too little loot, players won’t be happy, but if there’s too much we’ll likely see either lots of reskins (not necessarily a bad thing, but not the most exciting either) and dungeon favoritism. Admittedly, though, both are better than too little variety.

      I also agree that 5-levels doesn’t necessarily mean less content. From what I’m hearing, it actually sounds pretty packed, so I’m really looking forward to leveling through it. That being said, I don’t see many people wanting to do the 1-85 grind again, if for nothing else that most people have done Outland and Northrend a couple times over by now. That 20 level gap in Cataclysm content, while necessary to keep from making the TBC and Wrath content obsolete, just doesn’t seem very appealing in comparison.

      Really, the main sentiment I’m left with is that speeding things up so much isn’t going to be a good thing in the long run. That speeding up, in my opinion, has much less to do with there being five levels instead of ten and more to do with how readily available everything is. Don’t get me wrong, as I player, I adore the dungeon finder. Love it. But, this will be the first time we’ve seen it available for a full expansion pack. That means we’ll be seeing dungeons as soon as it’s possible to see them and farming them much, much sooner than before the finder was introduced. My concern is that we’ll move past the fun of leveling and experiencing the world and into “I only need X more badges” mode earlier than in expansion previous. For me, it’s that kind of thinking that always leads to burn out. Accessibility also seems to mean “farm” sooner rather than later.

      I’ve been struggling all morning with an appropriate title for this post and, really, to articulate what it is I’m trying to say. I don’t think Cataclysm is lacking in content or that it won’t be as much fun as “back in the day.” Quite the opposite, actually. If there was ever a time for the playerbase to drift away, though, the next two years will be it. At least that’s how it seems.

      1. Green Armadillo

        The breakdown on heroics is 8 new 5-mans plus the two recycled dungeons, which were originally in, then out til patch 4.1, and now back in again. My guess is that, since they’ve already done the work to break up the old dungeons for dungeon finder while leveling, we can expect a couple of new heroics each patch, with loot art based on the stuff that dropped in that dungeon originally.

        Having spent a lot of time in the dungeon finder on my most recent trip through Northrend, there’s a huge difference between having 4 dungeons, 8 dungeons, and 12 dungeons available when you click the random button. If you’re at a level where there are only a few choices and trying to do a random once daily, you’re really going to feel like you’re repeating content. I don’t know why, because when I’m playing DDO I will sometimes literally complete a quest and then immediately repeat the same quest on higher difficulty, but it really feels repetitive if you get the same dungeon three times in a week off of the random selection (a more likely possibility than not in some level ranges). By contrast, with the full sixteen dungeons available on my main, I often get sent somewhere I haven’t been in weeks.

        You also tend to get very small loot tables on normal, simply because players aren’t going to get that many more shots before they outlevel the content. It’s also worth nothing that we’re talking about a 6-fold decrease in combat ratings over five levels, and level 85 dungeon loot that beats ICC-25 gear by 100 ilvls. Supposedly, they’ve even tuned the content assuming high quality gear. It’s going to be very interesting to see how this works out (and, in particular, whether the difficulty is so high that people don’t want to dungeon find because PUG’s are unlikely to succeed).

        P.S. As to players drifting away over the next two years, that may be part of the plan. Blizzcon is in about two weeks, and they’ll need to announce the Mystery Fourth Game if they want anything new to talk about. Blizzard isn’t going to turn off the lights on Azeroth anytime soon, but they might want players to be ready for something new by 2012/13.

  2. Scarybooster

    I refuse to but Cataclysm for this same reason. The expansion will be like a 15 year old boy orgasm. I was hoping they would slow leveling down so people would enjoy the new content, but they have not. They deadlocked themselves in a “gotta be max level now” mode. I enjoyed taking 3 toons to 80 and several others past old world, but I’m not buying Cataclysm to be pushed to 85.

    I think they only made the cap to 85 to lessen the grea blow and make the Northrend raids still challenging at 85. The litch king will still be a stepping stone at 85 to end game raiding. It is clever move not to make current end game raiding obsolete (remember how stupid Sunwell was forgotten so fast?), but I think players will still skip them for the ultimate goal.

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