Hardcore instance running is essentially the “endgame” of endgames. As a result, it is subject to a few annoying things. First off, whatever the “toughest” 40 man instance is starts out at a near impossible level to complete. This is because Blizzard doesn’t want you to be able to “beat the game,” so to speak.
Molten Core’s first pull, for example, initially required battling three very tough “trash” monsters that were harder than all of the other trash up to the first few bosses: thus effectively cockblocking the instance for most guilds. After a few months, this pull was broken into two pulls: and Blizzard announced this as a “bug.” This “bug” fix allowed dozens of guilds previously stopped to pour into MC as a whole. This was repeated in Blackwing Lair, where initially several bosses were VERY hard, including the second one who could only be attempted once a DAY for an hour.
In subsequent patches (and as the next dungeon drew closer to release), these bosses and limitations were relaxed (each time of course it was either a “bug fix” or an unannounced change, or in one case a “customer service issue”). These changes allowed the bulk of guilds capable of this level of content to break through.
Currently, the second to last boss of AQ40 is horribly “bugged,” and no one is quite sure what to make of the last boss. (His first form has been beaten. No one knows how many forms he has, or if there is more than two.) Many people believe he will remain near unkillable until he has been nerfed in upcoming patches, and as the next dungeon, Naxxramus, draws closer to release.
From a designer’s standpoint, I understand the need to “preserve” end game content as long as possible. This is particularly vital in an MMORPG where new dungeons (and thus truly new content) is only available every 2-3 months. Remember, in an MMORPG, a new dungeon can take months to complete but it can be fully cleared in weeks. After the big guilds accomplish this, inevitably, videos of how to beat them are on the internet, and the game is reduced to killing the same bosses over and over again in a monotonous grind in an attempt to get everyone in your 40 man raid group the weapons and armor they want (remember, each boss only drops 3-4 pieces of loot, your character has about 16 inventory slots, and you have 40 people coming on each raid—prepare for a lot of nights raiding to trick everyone out). Therefore, it is crucial to Blizzard, as a content provider, to make sure that the current “final boss” isn’t too easy, or risk having people get too bored too fast.
But at the same time, it’s quite asinine. The fact that the current boss isn’t beatable just because the designer doesn’t have the next dungeon ready is silly. You might as well just put up a hard hat sign and construction block at the bosses’s room and save everyone time and in-game money until you’re ready for everyone to advance.
Blizzard must be doing something right, because with 1.5 million subscribers in the US alone and 6 million more worldwide, World of Warcraft has become popular at a level which is absolutely crushing to the rest of the market. As you can see, the 60 th level endgame is quite diverse in terms of PvE and PvP options. Blizzard has done a good job addressing the middle sized and large group content, but still is somewhat lacking in the small group department. This should be addressed in the expansion, when a whole new continent is created and the level cap raised to 70.
One item of concern I have is that when the level cap is raised to 70, the new content risks being obsolescent in the way that pre-60 content is now. To explain: World of Warcraft has a number of excellent dungeons which are bypassed because the game doesn’t start until you hit 60 (or, you went back when you were 5 levels higher and the content was trivial to complete). When the level cap is raised to 70, people in hardcore guilds will be faced with a decision: enjoy the new content on the way to 70, or powerlevel to 70 to start enjoying the next “endgame.” My guess is that Blizzard will make the lower level dungeons mandatory to advance to the harder ones (in the form of key quests), but this will still trivialize much of the 60-70 content, as people will only run the dungeons in order to gain access to harder ones.
One of the biggest issues in the 1-60 game is that instances are the worst way to get experience (although the best way to get items, but you’ll outlevel the items, so who cares?). If Blizzard is smart, they will find a way to balance this better so that people are encouraged to go to instances for the 60-70 leveling grind, as well as for item rewards. However, given how much of their design focus is based on item advancement, I fear that the infrastructure (and frankly, designer intellect) isn’t there to create such a delicate balancing act. As a result, I predict that most players will fiercely level to 70 off easy monsters, then backtrack to dungeons for the phat l00tz (remember, a level 63 dungeon is a lot easier to beat as at level 70 than it is at 63). This would be a shame, because by now, Blizzard should know that their game begins at the end of the leveling process, not in the steps between.