Lead systems designer Greg Street admitted it was a mistake for the dungeons of Wrath of the Lich King to be be so easy and that he is happy with the difficulty in Cataclysm.
World of Warcraft has always been an MMO that balanced providing solo content while encouraging players to join groups for the dungeons and raids. Dungeons in vanilla WoW and Burning Crusade were challenging affairs in which strategy and communication between groups was necessary if you didn't want to spend most of the session running back to your corpse after a total party kill. In Wrath, the difficulty slider felt like it was turned way down and dungeons (and even early raids like Naxxramas) were ridiculously easy even on so-called heroic dungeons. In Wow, there are two flavors of dungeons: normal dungeons that are intended as an introduction to the content with easier enemies and heroic dungeons that offer much more of a challenge and better loot as a reward. Coupled with the ease of finding pickup groups through a Dungeon Finder that actually worked, and most players were able to get through a dungeon with no drama in less than twenty minutes.
That's certainly not the case in the Cataclysm expansion that came out a month ago, and lead systems designer Greg Street wrote a lengthy post on the perceived difficulty this week. He said it was a mistake to tune the dungeons so low in Wrath and offered some points on how to do better in Cata dungeons while sticking a few jabs at the notorious complainers on the WoW forums.
"The Lich King Heroic dungeons (and Naxxramas) were too easy to zerg, setting up an expansion-long expectation that [the best] gear would come easy and often," he wrote. "In retrospect, that was a mistake. We don't at all view the Cataclysm dungeon and raid balance as a mistake."
Street described what his philosophy was in setting the heroic dungeon difficulty where he did. "The bottom line is that we want Heroics and raids to be challenging, and that is particularly true now while the content is new and characters are still collecting gear. They're only going to get easier from here on out. We want players to approach an encounter, especially a Heroic encounter, as a puzzle to be solved. We want groups to communicate and strategize. And by extension, we want you to celebrate when you win instead of it being a foregone conclusion."
He then cautioned the players assuming a tank role in dungeons, that is, the player who's job it is to grab the attention of monsters and absorb damage. "Where I have personally seen [tanks] get into trouble is when they slip into overconfident 'I got this' mode and try to tank too many things at once," Street said. DPS players, or those characters who excel at putting out the most damage-per-second, shouldn't blunder blindly through a dungeon. "It should be your business to understand the mechanics of the fights. You're a member of a team, not a follower who can always rely on someone else to tell them what to do."
It also appears the healers, those who keep the party alive as they take damage, are the group of players that have been hit the hardest by this change in difficulty, and many of them have said that they were quitting the game because of it. Street says the rumors of the dearth of healers is greatly exaggerated. "We do understand that some healers are frustrated and giving up. That is sad and unfortunate. But the degree to which it's happening, at least at this point in time, is vastly overstated on the forums," he wrote. "Both sides need to spend a little less effort trying to drown out the other side claiming that everyone they know - and by extension, 'the majority of players' - agree with their point. You shouldn't need to invoke a silent majority if you can make an articulate and salient point."
Zang a doo!
I personally haven't been able to get my main character up to 85 in order to test out the heroic dungeons myself, but I do know that John Funk has walked into the office more than once and said, "Man, heroics are hard." But his stories about what happened in his group the night before are usually told with a smile on his face, so perhaps making dungeons challenging again has increased his enjoyment of the game.