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Ol' Grumpy and the dumbing down debate

Matthew Rossi

Hey, boys and girls, it's your old pal Ol' Grumpy. I haven't been around that often lately, partially because I haven't really found all that much to complain about lately. Luckily (or unluckily) there are always other people, who will do that kind of thing for you. Recently, I've seen the dread beast rear its ugly head again.

What am I talking about? Well, I'm talking about the old canard "Why did you dumb the game down" that pops up on the forums from time to time. It is almost always incredibly subjective and drags out 'examples' that are, at best, arguable. It usually shows more about the person making it than the game itself, and it always makes all the hair (and I have a lot of hair) stand up in irritation. I really dislike this argument. Every single time I've seen or heard it, it's been used not to actually protest a decline in game complexity but to argue 'the game was better/harder/more fun when we had to do X" in some kind of demented paean to nostalgia and obstructionism.

Frankly, I don't understand this mindset. "Back when I started the game, we had weapon skill, but then you dumbed it down" seems insane to me. How did weapon skill require any thought, exactly?

The days of whine arouses

It didn't: it required you pick up a weapon and go grind out weapon skill levels, usually either through hours of mobs or by going to the Blasted Lands and picking one of those immortal mobs to whale on for a while. I guess hunters could go to Netherstorm and jump on a barrel and shoot Dr. Boom for a while. Either way, there was no thinking required. Having to go out and tame a hunter pet didn't require any real skill. I know because none of my hunters have ever gotten past level 20, and yet I did it, and it was as easy as stand here, use taming item in bags, get smacked a few times by pet, go back to quest guy. What did this teach me that taming a new pet later on my own wouldn't, exactly?

Or take the argument that raiding was harder in vanilla because it took months for guilds to clear raid instances. Guys, that's not because the fights were more complex in most cases (I'll admit that Naxx 40 had some complex fights) but because gear progression was staggeringly limited. 40 man raids dropped two pieces of gear per boss in most cases, save for end bosses or one-shots like Onyxia. Even then, world bosses like Kazzak, the dragons of nightmare or Azuregos dropped five pieces divided between 40 people, and you had to fight your entire server to even get them. Farming up resistance gear in Stratholm and Maraudon wasn't a sign of complexity and smart design, it was a sign that you were going to have to wear cloth freaking booties if you wanted to tank Huhuran.

The intoxicating tang of the past

I'm sorry, but I was there, fighting all of those bosses when they were current. What was this revered fight complexity on Garr, exactly? Banish or offtank 8 adds, kill some if you could heal through it, kill Garr. What held guilds back on Lucifron or Golemagg? It wasn't how challenging those fights were to learn and execute, it was gear. It was running the instance week in, week out with 40 people in blues and greens. I was in my then-realm's first kill of Nefarian, and I was wearing a blue cape. The entire raid was. It was necessary to wear that cape, it took an Onyxia kill to make a couple of them (depending on how many scales our skinners got) and in order to skin her you needed a knife from Blackrock Spire or a sword from ZG. It took us something like thirty Onyxia kills to get enough scales to outfit the entire raid for Nefarian. That's not smarts, that's not skill, that's just time and when I see people complaining that we've dumbed down raiding today I frankly have to wonder what is wrong with their ability to process information.

Was Nefarian a fun fight? Sure. But despite cool mechanics like the class calls, in the end here's how we killed him - we parked his giant butt in one place and we all DPS'd him. Yes, that's right, Nefarian was a tank and spank encounter. You didn't have to move him, you didn't have to tank swap him or manage a buff or switch platforms or use his adds to cleave him down. The most management the fight took was getting the priests to stop healing during their class call, and they never did anyway. Draztal is, if anything, underselling it.

Fights now are inarguably more complex, have more depth and ask more of players in terms of awareness than they did in vanilla. That's a fact, and you're not just blinded by nostalgia if you argue otherwise, you're outright drunk on awesome memories. I loved my guild and I treasured our first C'thun kill, but it didn't come because we mastered its complex mechanics, it came because we soldiered our way through weeks of wearing cloth booties on Huhuran. All we did on Huhu, one of the most complex fights in AQ, was stack nature resist on six tanks. That's it, that's the sum total of our fight management, and it worked. How did we deal with the Twin Emperors, with their self-deal if they got near each other? Had a warlock tank on one side of the room and a warrior tank on the other.

I know, I know, you need a flowchart for that one.

The bottom line

Things like weapon skill, six hour AV matches, and farming the same bosses over and over again to divide 2 drops among 40 people did not in any way indicate depth, complexity, or how amazingly smart and saavy we were as players back then, and their departure for the game isn't a sign of its lacking complexity or depth. If anything, the game's depth has increased laterally, with options for self-customization, entire minigames, and fights with inherently more challenges built into them. You could kill the first few bosses in Mogushan Vaults in a raid in all ilevel 463 blues, but each of those fights has more moving parts than even the most complicated MC or BWL bosses, in terms of pure design. Even Razorgore, with the Earthbind highway or chain of running warriors shouting at everything, had one real gimmick to it, and once you mastered it the fight was down to execution, not complexity.

In short, the game hasn't been dumbed down because they took out the need to run back to your class trainer every few levels because you couldn't use your abilities until you did, or ranged weapon ammunition, or having to go whack a ton of mobs because you'd never gotten an axe before and now you had to use one on the Kael fight, only you had a weapon skill of 6. And frankly I find the arguments that those things were rare treasures to be mourned akin to telling me I should miss having to kill Smilodon with a stone axe like my ancestors did. I like progress, guys, and the game has progressed, plain and simple.

Mists of Pandaria is here! The level cap has been raised to 90, many players have returned to Azeroth, and pet battles are taking the world by storm. Keep an eye out for all of the latest news, and check out our comprehensive guide to Mists of Pandaria for everything you'll ever need to know.

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