We had an interesting discussion last night whilst killing trash on our way to Beth’tilac.
The topic under discussion was the incoming nerfs to the Firelands prior to the release of 4.3. If you haven’t already heard, you should probably crawl out from underneath your Azerothian rock and have a look; it’s plastered all over the interweb after all. Essentially however, there will be an across the board reduction in difficulty of both normal and heroic modes in the Firelands (FL).
“So what?” you say, “isn’t this standard practice now?”
“Only in part” would be my reply.
If we take Bastion of Twilight and Blackwing Descent as examples of Blizzard’s philosophy moving forward in Cataclysm, there were significant nerfs to normal modes but the scale of changes to Heroics was very much reduced in comparison. This had three outcomes: firstly it gave those who had not seen or finished the content an easier time getting through it. Second, it provided a challenge in the form of still hard (imo) Heroic modes for those who wished to push themselves.
Third, which is not so obvious, is that it meant there was a gap in the relative gear item levels between those raids that had cleared heroic mode fights and those that had not when starting the next tier (FL). Ok, so this meant that those guilds who had only cleared normals started FL with an average item level (for arguments sake) of about 359. Those who went in having cleared (or near enough to) Heroic modes had an item level of about 372. As you are aware, FL drops item level 378 in normal mode.
As the discussion went out, it was pointed out that we had spent the first month (at least) getting our average item level to that equalling what we would have had from the start if we had cleared Heroic modes in the previous tier. Still with me here?
I know it’s obvious, but as you get better gear when raiding, the fights are just so much easier. So going in with the advantage of having Heroic gear from the previous tier is simply enormous.
Where all this is going is that Blizzard’s philosophy of keeping Heroics at or near enough to the original difficulty levels (unpuggable, give or take a few inevitable nerfs) meant that there was always a huge gap in the gear levels and subsequent progression rates of guilds. Now I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad thing. However it meant that if you did clear Heroic modes it would be very difficult for any guild to catch up to you progression-wise without putting in a much larger time investment (up to the weekly limit of killing X number of bosses).
The shift we are seeing in the upcoming nerfs, moves away from what happened in the last tier. By lowering the difficulty of Heroic modes they are lowering the entrance barriers and expanding the potential for competition in the progression race and server firsts by allowing more raids to start the next tier (4.3) with more gear from Heroic FL and a higher average item level.
If Blizzard follow the pattern, the first or only raid in 4.3 (normal) should give drops with an item level of about 400. With more raids clearing more bosses in Heroic FL, more raids will be starting the next tier with average item levels around 391 instead of 378. This should make progression through normal modes in 4.3 faster overall, all other things being equal.
Does this level the playing field? No, of course it doesn’t. It does however, expand the number of starters in the race. My guild has only killed Heroic Shannox. We have had some attempts on Heroic Staghelm and Rhyolith with no success. Maybe after these changes go through we will have a much easier time of it. But bear in mind, so will everyone else.
We certainly don’t see ourselves as a hardcore progression guild but we do enjoy pushing ourselves to see how far we can go. It was nice to be able to say that we cleared normal FL before the major changes hit, but in my mind it will be just as nice to be able to clear some more Heroic modes prior to the release of 4.3.
Could we have progressed further without the nerfs.. undoubtedly, but with 4.3 just around the corner, these changes are welcome. If only in the hope that I get to see Ragnaros with legs!