Yesterday was a very interesting day when it comes to Heroic Dungeons.
Rohan at Blessing of Kings did the WOW blogging equivalent of sticking a hand grenade in a hive of killer bees, calling for Heroic Dungeons to be nerfed. This follows Ghostcrawler’s informative, but rather oddly timed post where he says that yes, heroics are hard and that's what Blizzard intended. Meanwhile, the 4.0.6 patch notes are released detailing a very long list of nerfs to the very same dungeons that Ghostcrawler was talking about keeping difficult. As Janyaa at Muradin Musings aptly pointed out, it seems like Blizzard is giving us an inconsistent message
Rohan’s point (and I encourage you to read his post if you already haven’t) was that Heroics are positioned as a “necessary stepping stone” to raiding, and as such the difficulty level is simply a barrier that a large percentage of the player base are unable to get past and is therefore being turned off of raiding.
NERFS HAVE THEIR PLACE
I can understand where he is coming from, and I have seen people who have been intimidated enough by the difficulty of the Heroic Dungeons that they have either switched to an easier role, given up raiding or given up the game altogether. In our guild, for instance, we had 7 people say that they planned on healing in raids come Cataclysm, but now that we're here we have only 2, plus one other who stepped up and respeced when the lack of healers became evident. In each case, the people who have stopped healing did so because healing in heroic dungeons was difficult enough so as to prevent it from being fun.
I’m sure by now most of us have had the experience of entering a random Heroic and spending 2 hours running up against a brick wall. The inevitable end result of these evenings is a feeling of frustration and that you wasted your time and have nothing to show for your effort. I can only speak as a healer, but depending on the gear level of the group, it can be bloody murder going through a dungeon when you have 2 or 3 people who are undergeared. And as Rohan pointed out and we I'm experiencing with my own guild, this can deter people from even wanting to step foot into a raid.
One of the major drawbacks with using difficult Heroics as a gear gateway to raiding is the time that it takes to run them. Spending 1 to 3 hours (sometimes more) on a single dungeon run is frustrating and restrictive when you are a player with limited play time. And that is made worse if you don't get a drop from it. Making the dungeons easier would speed things up and allow people to run them more frequently, thereby getting more drops and more Justice Points and allowing a quicker journey up the gear ladder.
However, the biggest problem with heroics right now is that some encounters have specific ability requirements that can make it completely impossible to complete the fight without them. Baron Ashbury is a great example of an encounter that is essentially impossible if you do not have at least two players with a reliable interrupt. As well, without two CCers, Lady Naz’Jar or Beauty are very difficult if not impossible to defeat. It is not fun to zone into a dungeon and know that simply because of the class make-up of your party that you cannot hope to complete it. Nerfing encounters to be more accommodating to a wider variety of group compositions is a good change.
THE BENEFITS OF FAILING
On the other hand, the thrill of getting a great group together, random or not, that can persevere through the difficult encounters (Commander Springvale, I’m looking at you) is fantastic. There was nothing in WotLK short of raid bosses that compares to the exhilaration of downing a heroic boss or figuring out a mechanic that your random group of strangers has worked on for an hour.
There are other benefits of very difficult heroic dungeons as well, especially if you look at them as a gateway to raiding. It stands to reason that a player who does not take the time to learn the skills needed to successfully make his way through heroics has no business stepping into a raid in the first place. Heroics that are difficult teach players teamwork, communication, how to deal with boss mechanics and most importantly, patience. These are all essential skills in raiding, and a player who lacks one or more of them can be a hindrance to a raid until he learns. Easy heroics teach impatience and the infamous “Gogogogogogo” attitude that we had to deal with ever since the Dungeon Finder was introduced.
Also, it's important to know that these heroics do get easier the more you do them and the better your gear gets. The difference (at least for me) of doing heroics with an average gear level of 329 to doing them with a 341 average has been astonishing. The interesting thing about my experiences is that I have had the worst luck with Holy Paladin drops in Heroics. Most of my gear has come from high level normal dungeons, faction reputations or Justice Points. It is actually very easy to get a level of gear that makes heroics much less terrifying and frustrating without ever setting foot in one.
Of course, knowing the encounters tends to help as well, and the more you run them the more comfortable the mechanics will become. Given the amount of information that is available on the fights in these heroics, there is no excuse to walk into a dungeon without at least a passing familiarity with it. If nothing else, ask if you don't know the encounter. A vast majority of the time someone will tell you want to do and what you need to avoid.
WHEN TO USE THE NERF BAT
In my opinion, an encounter should only be reduced in difficulty if an average group in appropriate gear would find it nearly impossible to complete without perfect play. It makes no sense to nerf encounters so that any random PUG can get through it with no difficulty, particularly if there are undergeared people in the group. On the other hand, just because well geared and coordinated groups can breeze through an instance does not mean that it is too easy, either. A properly tuned encounter should require communication and coordination but should not require a specific class or ability, nor should it be so difficult that you need to be wearing full heroic gear in order to have a reasonable chance of success.
I hope that Blizzard is not downgrading these heroic dungeon encounters to cater to people who get the minimum item level requirement for heroics and expect to breeze through them like we all did in Wrath. At 329 these heroics should be bloody hard! As it is designed right now, once you are at the minimum item level, it is still in your best interests to continue questing and farming normal dungeons until you have enough gear to make the heroic runs a lot smoother. A lot of people will jump straight into heroics because that's how it was done in Wrath and its what we're used to. As Ghostcrawler pointed out in his post, there is a lot of great iLvl 333 gear that's available in the Twilight Highlands quests and in the higher level Normal Dungeons, and getting this gear makes running Heroics much easier.
However, if an encounter is legitimately too hard for an appropriately geared group, then the Nerf Bat should start a-whackin’.
FINALLY, THE POINT
Heroics do not need to be nerfed. They do, however, need to be tweaked and rebalanced to allow for the realities of the Random Dungeon Finder. I think it is important that any reasonably geared group of any composition should have the ability to at least have a chance of completing a dungeon. The heroics will still be hard, just not so dependant on group composition, the evil Random Number Generator or other things that are quite often out of the players control.
Looking at the changes that Blizzard is proposing, I don't think they are doing anything so major to these encounters so as to reduce the difficulty back to Wrath of the Lich King levels. The era of silent zergs with random strangers is still a thing of the past, at least until the gear levels escalate and the Loot Piñatas start popping.