Hardcore Instance Running
Ok, you’re a l33t powergamer. What is there for you when you hit 60 th level? Find 39 other friends and you’re ready to form a raid group for the baddest of the bad:
The “original” hardcore dungeon, Molten Core was the first 40 man dungeon available. However, because it has been around for so long, it has been successively “nerfed” (made easier) in difficulty as new content has become available. As a result, at this point in time, the hardest part of Molten Core is finding 35-40 other people to get together at the same time and go raid it. The encounters, compared to the other 20 and 40 man instances, are fairly trivial (although still a challenge for someone who hasn’t worked in a 40 man team before). This dungeon is sort of a “learning” dungeon for the other hardcore instances to come. A truly skilled guild can clear Molten Core in 3 hours. For the unwashed masses, expect a 5-6 hour clear, or worse. Average clears are probably 4-5 hours overall.
After MC had been cleared over and over again and the masses were bored, and Blizzard wasn’t ready for the rest of their dungeons, they had to come up with something fast. So, they slapped together BWL, didn’t bother to test it, and released an atrocity of a dungeon. In truth, BWL isn’t that bad. Some of the fights are actually quite clever and require new skills and coordination not demanded of your raid team in Molten Core. Many of the fights though are won through clever use of “line of sight” with monsters, as opposed to true skill. However, with the debut of the new dungeon, The Temple of Ahn Qiraj, BWL has been getting nerfed, and is now more accessible to many guilds. Still, complex fights requiring specialized gear make it a challenge for many.
Known as AQ40, this dungeon is the newest and best Blizzard has made to date. The boss fights are truly well thought out, and there still remain two unkilled bosses (the final two). One of the optional bosses has only been killed two or three times – worldwide. AQ40 is better paced than its predecessors, and is truly a joy for hardcore guilds capable of running it. Currently, the final boss is quite difficult, and how close he is to being killed and how difficult he is remains debated. That he is unkilled as of yet remains undisputed.
Onyxia is an instanced dragon encounter on par with Molten Core. It used to be quite a notch on the belt, but now it’s mostly an afterthought. Outdoor raid bosses include 5 different dragons and a giant demon. These monsters spawn a few times a week on a set schedule in a set place. The demon is by far the easiest, and the dragons are of variable difficulty. The hardest part of these encounters is competing with the rest of the server to kill them: as a result, especially on PvP servers, things can get quite interesting when 200 people of varying factions are all vying for the same dragon.
I am of mixed opinion on outdoor raid bosses. On the one hand, it is quite cool to have giant dragons wandering the landscape, awaiting to be killed. In practical terms, it’s much less impressive. What usually happens is that the biggest “uberguilds” who always have 40+ people on simply kill the bosses the moment they spawn. This is frustrating if you are in an end game guild that is smaller, although I suppose no more frustrating than being in a guild who can’t kill end game content at all. However, the more crowded your server, the more rare the kills of these bosses for any particular player. This is made more complex by the fact that the dragon bosses drop specialized gear that is very helpful for AQ40, making kills critical for end game guilds.
I think that it might be better for these encounters to be instanced similar to Onyxia (who has a lair you enter). Perhaps a once a week instanced lair with one of the bosses randomly within would better service the community as a whole. Or perhaps I’m just a whiner.
As described above, WoW has a number of “factions” that one can get in good with. Befriending factions leads to items, recipes, and other phat l00tz. In addition to the PvP factions, there are a number of factions one can grind with in the game itself, typically by killing monsters, or killing monsters and turning in dropped items. Of late, Blizzard has more frequently been implementing new factions with better rewards. In some cases, these are linked: for example, in one of the new 20 man dungeons, the Ruins of Ahn Qiraj (the newest 20 man instance), one needs a certain type of reputation in order to create special weapons and armor (the components of the weapons and armor come from inside the dungeon, and you complete quests with a faction outside of it). You can gain this reputation via killing and quests both in the dungeon and outside of it.
Reputation grinding is not fun, in fact, in most cases it is painfully mindless and boring. However, Blizzard has made sure that many factions are critical for getting certain items, so many guilds will try to “rep up” (max reputation) a given player in order to gain access to the rewards. This is especially necessary for guilds that do the most difficult content, as faction rewards often are the best of class (best armor for resisting a particular spell shool, or best enchant for weapons, etc). From a design standpoint, this is probably necessary, but still pretty shitty as it is the antithesis of fun.
In some cases, the reputation system is better balanced, particularly in more recent content. For example, in the Temple of Ahn Qiraj dungeon (the newest 40 man instance), you gain faction with the Bronze Dragonflight (sworn enemies of the denizens of Ahn Qiraj). This faction comes from tokens off of bosses and random “artifacts” found rarely on monsters. Therefore, your “grinding” is limited to running the instance: which you were going to do anyway. In this manner, everyone will max their reputation, effectively double dipping. However, by the same token, to gain reputation for the items in the 20 man Ahn Qiraj instance, advancement is painfully slow, either via HUGE numbers of runs of the instance, or by grinding on monsters in a nearby zone for quest turn ins. The only reason people submit to this is that one of the best pieces of equipment in the game for certain melee classes is attainable at exalted. Naturally, everyone wants the best item in the game, so people submit themselves to hundreds of hours of mindless killing. It is understandable that Blizzard wants to keep the value on these items high, and make them very difficult to attain. But that difficulty should come from challenge, and not tedium.
In conclusion, this is probably the least fun, yet still quite necessary, and painfully time consuming time sink in World of Warcraft. Further, the rewards rarely benefit your character directly, coming in the form of trade skill enhancements rather than direct items, as is the case with PvP rewards. Conversely, a player who is the first to rep up and gain a special enchantment from a faction can often make a killing selling that enchantment to the rest of the server—at least till other people catch up and competition kicks in (curse you, economics!).