How Heroic Plus Stifled Content for Casual Players: What Can We Expect With Cataclysm?

wrath classic the lich king frozen

Despite what many players want to believe, casual play is still the lifeblood of World of Warcraft. Casual players make up the bulk of players, and for an MMORPG to feel lively and active, you need to have Lëgõlâs the Night Elf Hunter running around rolling Need on your sword. With Cataclysm just around the corner, the future of casual play hangs in the balance. Gearing for endgame in Classic has never been more accessible, but enjoying all the content available becomes harder and harder with every patch.

Classic has been very divisive for casual players. For a lot of people, it is seen as a more casual option, very quickly becoming a game you can log in to once a week, do your raid, and log off again. You don’t need to farm World Quests or Mythic+ to stay competitive, and you don’t need to study guides with every new patch to figure out how to play.

The “No Changes” crowd did not get their way as far as Classic went, and Wrath was no exception. Throughout the expansion, we got many changes, including a handful of balance changes that had the potential to massively shift the endgame balance of the expansion. Notable spells like Hunter’s Trap Launcher were added early, long cooldowns reset for each encounter attempt, and Demonic Pact was tweaked and tuned multiple times across the expansion.

Even with all the class changes, the addition of Titan Rune Dungeons, or Heroic+, was likely the biggest and potentially most impactful. This fundamentally changed the way players progressed through Wrath Classic and meant that players jumping in late were almost expected to skip all content up to the current raid tier.

With Wrath Classic winding down, there are a lot of lessons that can be taken from these last few years. Casual players felt more and more alienated as time went on, and the ability to casually experience all of the content the expansion had to offer became a significantly more complicated task.

What is Heroic Plus?

“Heroic+” is the colloquial term for Titan Rune Dungeons or Defense Protocol Dungeons. This extra difficulty was first added with the Secrets of Ulduar Patch on January 16th, 2023. Instead of being chosen outside of the Dungeon as you would on Heroic and later Mythic difficulties, your party needs to interact with a Mysterious Device at the start of Heroic Dungeons.

Titan Rune Dungeons PTR Featured Image
The Mysterious Device

Activating the Mysterious Device will allow your party to choose your difficulty, either Alpha (Heroic+), Beta (Heroic++), or Gamma (Heroic+++). These difficulties will increase the damage and health of enemies within the Dungeon, as well as adding a modifier to the Dungeon based on a theme. For example, both Utgarde Keep and Utgarde Pinnacle gave enemies the Frost Rune empowerment, causing enemies to debuff players with Glaciate on hit.

Each difficulty was added alongside a raid tier. Alpha was added alongside Ulduar, Beta with Trial of the Grand Crusader, and Gamma with Icecrown Citadel. Each difficulty dropped 10-man loot from the previous tiers’ raids, so Alpha dropped 10-man Naxxramas gear, while Beta dropped 10-man Ulduar gear. With this, the 25-man gear in each respective raid was made to drop in both 10 and 25-man versions.

This served as a catch-up mechanic, allowing players to gear up their characters in preparation for the new raid, without having to navigate finding 9 to 24 other people and complete a potentially multiple-hour-long raid.

Random Dungeon Finder

The Random Dungeon Finder, or RDF, was added very late into Wrath Classic. This was per its original release, but it gave players enough time to grow accustomed to how their pre-vetted groups would handle a dungeon. RDF allowed players to queue into a random group for a dungeon, instead of applying to groups hoping to be accepted, or making your own group and vetting potential members.

With RDF arriving so late into the expansion, players were not happy to bring dead weight along for the ride — they never had to before, so why start now? Despite the dungeons themselves having item-level restrictions to queue for, low-geared players constantly ran the risk of being kicked from RDF groups for not having enough gear. As was expected, RDF also became the only way to do dungeons, as finding a group in the Looking For Group tool rapidly became obsolete.

wrath classic empty looking for group tool
The Looking For Group Tool is entirely barren by now.

What Did This Lead To?

Titan Rune Dungeons were initially meant to aid in the catch-up process, while players would still need to raid the previous tier to get 25-man loot that was potentially their BiS option even throughout the next raid tier.

With each Phase of Wrath Classic, finding pickup groups for older raids, especially ones that weren’t running GDKP, became harder to do. Groups for the current raid tier also became more restrictive. Some of the pre-raid gear was significantly more obtainable than it had been, so expectations and requirements spiked to be able to do any raid content.

wrath classic ulduar interior
Ulduar was once seen as some of the best content WoW had to offer, but if you start now you’re unlikely to see it at level 80.

While not the case in literally every group, a lot of the time a freshly leveled or boosted character would be met with hostility or simply kicked at the first possible opportunity. Kicking players wasn’t entirely unwarranted though, as a group made up of players that merely met the minimum requirements was often incapable of clearing a raid.

Ultimately, Heroic+ likely did accomplish what it set out to do. It funneled players into the slowly dwindling endgame population, allowing more guilds to fill their raids without requiring players to keep doing outdated raids. This was especially nice for guilds that had never missed a lockout for each Phase, considering Wrath Classic Phases tended to drag on a bit too long. On the other hand, this also meant that now those daily “Is it too late to start Wrath?” threads found online might be asking a valid question.

Alternatives

The result of outdated raid content not being accessible anymore was the culmination of several factors at once. Players could now easily enter into current raids without ever stepping foot into a raid before. Players that did the raid content would have an advantage, as the loot offered from 25-man raids was still stronger and had potentially unique pieces unavailable from Heroic+, but once you had that there was no incentive to return.

The obvious solution would be to give players some kind of incentive to do older raids with newer players. This could come in the form of current Emblems, but eventually, players no longer need those either. If not done carefully, this could also just lead to guilds feeling that they need to do the old raids every week to remain competitive.

Another solution could be a cosmetic reward. Say, for example, an achievement for running Naxxramas 10 times with at least one player who has never cleared the raid. Variants of this have seen some success in other MMORPGs too. We have already had some new pets and mounts added in Classic, so the precedent is there. Completing all Defense Protocol Gamma dungeons already gives a brand new pet, Arfus.

cataclysm firelands ragnaros worgen rogue
The Firelands is often seen as Cataclysm’s best raid content.

The final stage of Cataclysm also brings its own potential solution: Raid Finder. While the implementation of Raid Finder even to this day does not act as a way to experience out-of-date raids, it could. Adding the ability to queue into a random group for 10-man Naxxramas during the later Phases of Wrath Classic wouldn’t have changed much when it comes to balance, but it would allow new players the opportunity to clear the raid without worrying about presenting logs or achievements.

This wouldn’t come without massive player pushback, but nothing does anymore. Branding it as “Raid Finder” or “Looking For Raid” is just asking for trouble with the modern-day reputation of those systems.

Cataclysm

The future may look a little bleak for casual players. The first Phase of Cataclysm includes 3 raids that will likely be entirely obsolete come the next tier of raiding, and Looking For Raid is very unlikely to arrive before Dragon Soul, if at all.

Heroics in Cataclysm were notorious for their difficulty which, while generally seen as a positive, makes them less accessible for casual players. This combined with the more toxic attitude Classic players seem to have towards any presumed mistakes or failures makes for a very uninviting combination. Without any significant changes, Cataclysm might be the most hostile Classic has ever been to new players. This combined with the already negative reputation Cataclysm has for long-time players could be detrimental to the long-term health of Classic.

About the Author

Passion

I love MMOs of all shades, especially the nitty gritty numbers parts of them. You might recognize me from the Shadow Priest discord, otherwise I play a little bit of everything, especially games with support roles available.

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Knox
Knox
23 days ago

I don’t think reading comprehension is a strong suit with people or they just didn’t bother to read anything except the title.

I’m not sure what the best option is regarding LFR but releasign it for previous raid tier only seems like a decent compromise for casuals.

DJ S.
DJ S.
17 days ago

I came into WotLK VERY late. I just got my first character to 80 about a month ago in preparation for Cata. Thus far I’ve gotten to 5650 GS through a combination of Wintergrasp, BGs, Gamma spam, and pugging super casual 25 man ICC.

I queued for random gammas as soon as I possibly could and never once got vote kicked. I remember one instance where I entered in with a tank and healer who were also at the minimum ilvl. After wiping to the first boss, the tank left because he didn’t think he would be able to tank the rest of the dungeon with his current gear.

I think a far worse problem is people waiting for 15 minutes in a DPS queue, getting The Ocular, Violet Hold, or Culling of Stratholme, and people instantly leaving. So you either sit for another 15 minutes to wait for your dungeon to fill, or take a 30 minute deserter debuff.

I may lack some perspective since I didn’t play since the launch of WotLK Classic, but I feel like Gamma dungeons solved more problems than they created. Titan Runes kept dungeons relevant through the life of the expansion rather than allowing them to become obsolete after the first patch. The alternative, which is trying to find groups to do older raids, would have been tedious and effectively locked people out of the content anyway. The addition of RDF and Gammas was a big reason I decided to go ahead and join WotLK when I did.

I do really like your idea about Raid Finder. I think that could have had the potential to really revitalize some of that older content and give people a chance to see it without having to do Gamma dungeons. I’m a little bummed that I missed Ulduar, for example. I would gladly go back and do LFR versions of those fights just to see them. However, I feel like these raids would fall into the same traps as Gammas. People are going to expect higher gear than is necessary because they want to go in, kill the bosses, get their rewards, and move on. The problem isn’t the game, it’s the way many people are approaching it.

Jaaa
Jaaa
23 days ago

Terrible article, HC+ has been the best feature of Wrath Classic. You clearly never played TBC Classic if you think it’s bad.

ShamanKing
ShamanKing
Reply to  Passion
22 days ago

pls stop defending your work, read your article yourself with a bit more professionalism and your futur articles will not be trashed like this. See it as a wake up call to improve your journalistic writing. Start by backing up your assumptions by facts. I red your article and i have to say its very very biased and some arguments are not conclusive and one sided and some are even looked over.

Clown
Clown
22 days ago

You clearly havent watched “why its rude to suck at world of warcraft” no one is twisting casual players arms to raid, if they want to raid they have to learn just like literally everyone else did. Also your website is one of the absolute worst ive ever seen on mobile kudos

Pagaro
Pagaro
23 days ago

lmao this is such a trash article

ShamanKing
ShamanKing
Reply to  Pagaro
22 days ago

very judgemental and onesided article indeed

lmao_dextero
lmao_dextero
23 days ago

Trying to fight gatekeeping content by gatekeeping content…let’s see how this plays out.

hipy
hipy
23 days ago

Heroic+ was the best thing they ever did for Wrath, a huge W for the classic team. Saying it stifled content, click bait title or not, is a stupid and objectively wrong take.

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