WoW Factor: Are Heroic dungeons the original sin of World of Warcraft’s current issues?


The launch of The Burning Crusade‘s pre-patch in WoW Classic has me thinking about the features that expansion brought to World of Warcraft. I know, really it ought to wait until the expansion has properly released, but especially considering what a mess this particular pre-patch launch has already been, it’s kind of hard not to find yourself dwelling on it at least a little bit. That got me thinking about dungeon difficulties, and in turn that got me thinking about outlining the stuff that I’d really like to see done with this content…

But that, in turn, got me back to thinking about Heroic difficulty. There are a lot of things I very openly like about that particular feature in the game, not the least of which being the deterministic gear system that it first introduced alongside a variety of general improvements and a general philosophy of making the most possible use of the game’s lower-level content. But is this particular system something of an original sin for the game’s present issues with content and balance?

Let’s start with a short recap. The purpose of Heroic difficulty, from a design standpoint, was to turn the max-level dungeon offerings into “functionally everything.” Instead of just having one or two dungeons that were placed at the level cap, every dungeon in the expansion could scale up to level 70 with appropriate gear rewards. The dungeons also included badges to be exchanged for gear, providing another path to rewards for players who either had poor luck or otherwise simply weren’t doing higher-level raiding and the like.

From a content standpoint, this definitely worked out pretty well, ensuring that instead of just one or two dungeons the level cap actually sported some dozen-ish dungeons for players to explore in earnest. That’s a good thing. It also, as mentioned, introduced deterministic rewards in a big way to help encourage people to run the content, which was another real boon for the overall pattern.

So all of this sounds good. How could this be any sort of bad thing? Well, in part because of what it led to. We’re currently sitting at a state where every dungeon has three difficulty modes, every raid has four, and in each case the majority of the modes barely have any relevance whatsoever. Someone went a little too hard on the idea of scaling everything forever, and it doesn’t do the game any favors.

It's on my list of 'things you did wrong,' yeah.

But at the same time, it might not require that much experience for this to have deleterious effects on the game as a whole, starting with the very obvious effect that this has upon dungeons as an experience: instead of being bespoke experiences, they’re now designed to scale.

Fundamentally, when you run through a dungeon on Heroic, you’re going to be experiencing the exact same dungeon you saw on normal as well. That means that all of the bosses, enemy packs, and geometry needs to be the same across all modes. In turn, that also means that you can’t have major new mechanics be introduced between modes. You have to design everything to basically be the same no matter what.

In TBC, this was less pronounced because it was kind of novel for dungeon bosses to have much in the way of mechanics at all. But you do get the sense where several of these dungeons have to be designed to be level 70 experiences but can’t actually introduce any new tricks you have to reach the level cap to deal with. Your new abilities thus become something of a placeholder, there to fill out your bars but not given any vital place in expected dungeon mechanics for you to deal with.

It’s sort of a short slide from there to basically wind up without new abilities of any real import at all, to expect your kit to be functionally finished long before you’re done with leveling. And that’s kind of still the case; while the reduced level cap definitely means fewer empty levels, you still have less space wherein it feels like you get vital abilities that define your entire playstyle.

You also wind up in a scenario wherein difficulty is determined almost entirely by health pools and incoming damage, which in turn leads to making gear rewards more and more powerful by way of compensation. It’s an easy step and slide from there into having the kind of absurd level inflation that requires stuff like gear scaling in the open world, which in turn breaks down the game’s sense of consistency even further.

And let’s not forget that this is a big step along the path to making everything into a modular and instanced experience, wherein everything is just carefully partitioned and you need to add other elements on top of it in order to make for a compelling experience. There are a lot of articles to be written about how the current game’s love of modularity is part of its problem, and that all started right here, approaching every dungeon as if it could be scaled forward and backwards with no loss of quality.

Torgy torgy

At this point, heroic dungeons are pretty well irrelevant. They no longer give currency to be used for getting more gear and they mostly sit as the highest queueable difficulty for dungeons to be explored in, in a system which is rather unpleasant for anyone who isn’t a terribly big fan of the game’s Mythic system (for example, me). It’s easy to look at that system as being the architect of a lot of the problems the game has, and it should be noted that I really like heroic dungeons as an option.

The point here isn’t to say that this was bad and it shouldn’t have existed in TBC. For that matter, a lot of the scaling that came later actually feels like it was a good thing. The idea of having raids that could scale to different group sizes? A good thing! Having a separate difficult of raids you could just queue for and another for progression-minded players? A good thing! (A good thing immediately messed up by making those difficulties more complex, but in the abstract it’s still a good thing.)

Rather, the point is that even if you like a system, it’s important to look at what effect it has on the game as a whole and whether or not some of the failings could be attributed to good ideas taken too far. Scaling is a good thing, but not when it comes at the expense of direct fun. Multiple content levels is a good thing, but not when those content levels come at the expense of relevance for all but the most strenuous ones.

And while an idea might have been a good one when it was introduced, it might have led to some pretty bad dilution of ideas over time and ultimately done some damage to how the game manages content and player power. It’s the trick of looking beyond just what you find personally satisfying and asking about the larger picture.

I really do like heroic dungeons. I’m glad TBC introduced them. But in some ways, I can’t help but wonder if they led to some of the same current trends that hurt the game they helped improve.

War never changes, but World of Warcraft does, with a decade of history and a huge footprint in the MMORPG industry. Join Eliot Lefebvre each week for a new installment of WoW Factor as he examines the enormous MMO, how it interacts with the larger world of online gaming, and what’s new in the worlds of Azeroth and Draenor.

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It’s not. The original path to raiding before Heroics was to hit level cap, run a few dungeons that you could only run at 60 or farm mats for crafted gear if there was someone who can make it and grind rep. Heroics only added an additional path for gearing to get people ready to raid. Which is perfectly fine.

I think Wrath and Cataclysm polished up that system pretty swell, since the gearing progression for both of them was very straight forward. You hit level cap > do heroics for gear drops/tokens and rep > hit up raids. I don’t know what happened in Mists but I do know when I came back after Mists it was a bit more weirdly complicated and really just shut me off from playing. Since the gear tread became hoping that the drop from the dungeon at my gear score soft cap get’s a random bonus on top of that bonus so it’ll be on par with what I need to go into raids.

At least with the system in TBC and even more so into Wrath and Cata I knew exactly what the item level the gear I was getting was going to be at.


If you want the simplest answer of WoW’s original sin: it is a 15 year old game.

It is like any other product in existence, it has an optimal lifespan. Movies and video games tend not to age well, but with a video game you can keep slapping on new features to keep things “fresh”. But much like an out-dated car model, past a certain point new features no longer help – they just don’t “fit” the way they should.

So yea, we can look back on all the features introduced in TBC and WotLK and wonder where it all went wrong… how features introduced in 2008 were so nice then but ended up destroying the game. But the simple fact is all those new features in 2008 and 2010 worked because they were being installed on a relatively young and yet unsullied base game. Fast forward ten years and it’s not any one feature that turned WoW to crap, it’s that the game has lived wayyyy longer than any other mass market game ever has.

Honestly, the fact that we are debating a game’s current relevance 15 years after it was first released is a testament to all the things WoW has done right, not wrong.

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Richard de Leon III

I dont mind the concept of heroic difficulty dungeons. If anything they helped extend the lifespan of some content at least in LK and MOP. What i did hate in TBC was the attunement process, so glad that didnt stick.


Called it, 14-15 years ago when TBC launched the first time.

I never liked the heroic dungeon system. To me it felt lazy.

Even a low lvl dungeon that you don’t do is content, the fact that you missed it is irelevant and gives you something new when you make a new toon.

But PvE scene loved it, so here we are.

TBC, WotLK. Then classic’s done for me.


You´re bitter because you´re bad.


TBC is the best content ever made and I Iove Heroics with every heartbeat.

But you’re the type of person who gives immidiateIy


the evolution of heroic dungeons, ie. difficulty scaling into diverse tiers offered a more broad range of vertical progression, in which every segment of the playerbase will suit their niche.

1. dungeon scaling isnt exclusively set via hp and dtps, as m+ introduces extra mechanics, aka affixes.
also on a side note every season some teams elaboratetely discharge the scaling via “clever use of mechanics” (see current Plague Fall +30)

2. the tuning of (at least WoWs) scaling installs a tangible transition on the difficulty tiers, aka progression, normal isnt mythic.

3. the most important aspect on scaling is talent/ability/button bloat.
the singular motivation for borrowed power, aka xpac exclusive talents is to offer character progression without sacrificing balancing and playability – how many buttons (talents, abilities) before the action bar gets too bloated to be playable? how many CCs, builders, spenders, de-/buffs etc. can be conveniently memorized, executed and balanced vs. each other (to avoid the meta-gap)?

“direct fun” is subjective, individual and therefore an anecdotal argument to derail any analysis into a matter of personal taste.
scaling isnt the origin of current issues, but an answer, as it compensates power creep and channels endgame progression into diverse tiers, suited for various subjective tastes, normal in uncommon gear vs. m+15 227 ilvl is an epic difference.

so then, whats the original sin of WoWs current issues?
its the same as every neoliberal design, as every perfomance and class society installs: social barriers. as in: exclusive content for exclusive players. earn ur RANDOMIZED-drop gear or hfgl.

WoW is designed by elitists to be played by elitists, casuls already have their collectibles… brave new WoW, hm?

ps. i 2-chested (every +15 for) KSM (on a singular tyrannical week) at 219 ilvl (comfy build ret), but never in m+history atmosphere was so toxic. the scaling wasnt the issue, but drop ratio and ilvl, aka progression pacing.

Jo Watt

I think it really started when they decided to create a whole new system every expansion that replaced the previous one and then with all the problems those have continue to add new systems on top of it throughout the expansion while constantly having to “fix” it… (Breaking it even more).

They spend the whole expansion on this and never add anything of value to the game that lets players enjoy anything outside of resource and gear grind.


Like other persons said below, the “original sin” of WoW was always focusing on gear grind through dungeons and PvP instances and not providing gameplay variety outside of that. The open world PvP was always an afterthought even on PvP servers, the socialization was also an afterthought because people on RP servers still have to use TotalRP addon since game does not provide space in character profiles to display all information people want to see when it comes to roleplaying or just general socialization. There are no player-performed music, no housing system, no good character customization, not enough cosmetic outfits which don’t look like a random armor pieces with random spikes or pointy things.


TotalRP is so nice. When I first discovered it, it was game changing. Still angry Bliz has never thought or tried include something like that. We all have last names now, its great!


Maybe this is paraphrasing this article to some degree but I’ve always thought the original sin in WoW was doubling down on the loot treadmill and abandoning meaningful permanent additions to the game.

Maybe the heroic dungeon was that first step in creating a loot ladder that shifted all the focus from rpg to basically a lobby based dungeon runner.

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Schlag Sweetleaf


we can be heroic.png

I always thought the original “sin” in WoW is obtaining progressing gear while avoiding group content. I think in some ways it still is… o.O

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Totes McGoats

That’s why WildStar was so successful at launch – it made it clear there was no path to better gear outside of group content.




After all these years so help me I love that meme