On a recent guild-sponsored alt run, four not-ready-for-heroics players and my level 85 shammy queued up for a random Cataclysm dungeon. We wound up with The Stonecore. We immediately decided that we didn't want to run The Stonecore, but we also didn't want to just wait the 15 minutes to requeue. So, we cleared our way to the first boss and defeated it, successfully eating up the 15 minutes.
Not wanting to actually finish an instance that didn't offer us any level-appropriate gear, we re-entered the random dungeon finder. The result: The Stonecore. Again. We gave up, ran the instance for the lousy 70 justice point payoff, and died a little inside.
A huge part of my distaste for The Stonecore is related to how often it comes up in the random dungeon finder on both heroic and normal versions. It's a wipe-filled nightmare on heroic, especially with a group that doesn't know what it's doing. (And let's be honest, text-based communication on the fly can only get you so far.) I have no complaint about getting regular Stonecore at levels 82 and 83. The problem is that I get it all the damn time when I'm level 85, and Blizzard gives me almost no incentive to finish it.
As of patch 4.0.6, players will be able to queue for Blackrock Caverns and Throne of the Tides at levels 84 and 85. That's great news, especially in light of what Ghostcrawler (lead systems designer) said about heroic design. Aspiring tanks and healers should absolutely try BRC and ToT on normal before running it on heroic. The current design in which you can't queue for it once you pass level 83 makes no sense, especially when you consider that some players won't even find the two instances until they're well past level 83.
But there was one interesting note regarding the change -- you still won't be thrown into either Blackrock Caverns or Throne of the Tides randomly at level 85. The reasoning is obvious: For players trying to gear up for heroics, being put in either BRC or ToT feels like a waste of time due to the painfully low item levels of the gear available there. Blackrock Caverns bosses drop item level 308 gear. To get into a random heroic, you need to have an average item level of 329. You can see the disconnect.
But if that's a concern for Blizzard, why am I still being put into Stonecore at level 85? That instance drops item level 316 gear, which is just as worthless to my level 85 characters. And while we're on that subject, Vortex Pinnacle drops naught but 316 gear too. Why would I want my alts saddled with either of these dungeons at level 85?
The answer, I suspect, is this: "It's not fun to be so severely limited by your random choices." If you limit your choices at level 85 to only gear that will get you into heroics, you're only choosing from a pool of three instances. If Blizzard wants to give you variety, though, what's the rationale for keeping Blackrock Caverns and Throne of Tides out of the random mix? Why put the player smack in the middle of some outdated content and yet keep them out of the rest of it?
Finding a solution to satisfy everyone is difficult. If players are looking for a specific piece of gear, they line up for a specific instance. Best I can tell, those who are running random instances at level 85 are looking for two things: the 70 justice point bonus and fun. You hope for an instance that will award you with gear, of course, but if gear is all you care about, you wouldn't have gambled with a random.
Perhaps running random instances as a level 85 should offer characters justice points with every boss kill? Not the 70 points you get out of heroic runs, but surely it'd be okay to award 25 points each or so. What's the harm in giving players extra incentive? The use of justice points is extremely limited -- primarily heirlooms and level 346 blues. You're not breaking the game economy here. You're giving players a reason to run your content, even if the gear is trash. And if you were the Blizzard designer who came up with and put all that effort into Blackrock Caverns, wouldn't you want more players enjoying your hard work?
Blizzard has painted itself into something of a corner with the design of Cataclysm heroics. Because they're so difficult, players are expected to farm non-heroic instances for better gear. At the same time, however, Blizzard is emphasizing a "heroics are not necessarily for everybody" policy, encouraging more casual and faceroll-hungry players to stick to normals. Players with two different goals are being thrown together, and Blizzard hasn't made its best effort to keep everyone happy. If Blizzard is serious about heroics not being for everybody, maybe it should start including Blackrock Caverns and Thrones of Tides. And if the only reason why it is not putting us in BRC and ToT is the gear, then for the love of Yogg Saron, please stop putting me into The Stonecore. I beg of you.
World of Warcraft: Cataclysm has destroyed Azeroth as we know it; nothing is the same! In WoW Insider's Guide to Cataclysm, you can find out everything you need to know about WoW's third expansion, from leveling up a new goblin or worgen to breaking news and strategies on endgame play.