Earlier I wrote a post about one of the fundamental changes that occured in Wrath of the Lich King. I spoke about how the Easy Mode/Hard Mode dichotomy in raiding was a good, if misunderstood, thing, because it promoted both choice, and accessability. Both of which are good for the game, even if the forum goers don't think so. However, today I'm going to talk about another change that Blizzard made, one which I feel was not a good idea.
Limited attempts was not something Blizzard really looked at prior to Wrath of the Lich King. One could argue that 45 minute Baron runs and Amani War Bear runs were precursors to the concept, but in both cases the entirety of the instance is available, and the only thing you lose out on is an upgraded loot table. The first instance of lost content occured in the 5 man heroic, the Culling of Stratholme, which was initially seen as a spiritual succesor to the 45 minute Baron run. The primary difference being that if you didn't beat the timer, the optional boss despawned, and could not be attempted that lock out. Due to the one day lock out, and relative ease of the requirements, pretty much everyone overlooked the ramifications of having content that would despawn of it's own accord.
The next patch brought Ulduar, and with it, Algalon the Observer. A boss which, while unforgiving, is not really all that difficult. Touted as "The Raid Destroyer", what made killing Algalon such a rarity, was that a raid only had one hour to work on him per lock out, before he despawned in a blaze of glory. And trust me, Algalon's spawn/despawn is one of the more impressive ones out there. Algalon came with a sexy title, a realm first spam, and the best loot in the game. He was also killed two weeks after he was unlocked. Which means he was killed less than two hours after he was unlocked. The true difficulty in downing Algalon, aside from getting past Firefighter, was getting one hour of continuous and quick pull time. No ninja afks, no poorly timed disconnects, or any other of the oddball things that delay the usual raid could be accepted, because any time spent waiting for your healer to reconnect was time that could never be regained. This became the cause of a lot of frustration with some otherwise well liked members of guilds.
But one boss which was explicitly cited as the "Omega WEAPON" of WoW was one thing. Blizzard took it a step further the next patch, by placing limited attempts upon the entirety of ToGC. 50 attempts to get through all of the hard mode version of the instance. If you used those up, you were condemned to the darkness of facerolling easy mode for the rest of the week. This created an almost fundamental shift in the mindset of many progression guilds. With each accidental DC or lag spike potentially burning up one of those precious attempts in vain, some guild took drastic steps. Many changed their raid times to off peak hours, benched players with questionable internet connections, and in the most extreme case, Ensidia actually transferred servers to a lower population server to avoid excessive server lag.
That was merely the Hard Mode bosses though. However, with Icecrown Citadel, Blizzard has extended this concept even into the Easy Mode version of the instance. The version that's supposed to be easily accessible to the common player is now demanded that players be able to adapt to the patterns of certain bosses within 5 attempts, or go home for the week.
The problem comes with the subversion of the gains made through the implementation of the Easy Mode/Hard Mode Dichotomy. While those changes engendered choice and accessibility, the restrictions of limited attempts remove them. A guild that might decide to put it's nose to the grindstone to down Proffessor Putricide might find itself sitting out quickly after losing attempts to poor connections, server instability, or even a bugged encounter. Their resolve to put in the effort to down the boss has been stripped away from them because Blizzard has decided to place limitations on just how much effort one is able to put into their raiding. When your raid once faced the choice to put in one more attempt, or throw in the towel, that choice will already be made for you, which is never good for the game.
Blizzard has slowly backslid towards the old BC model of raiding, in a rather perverse model. Instead of tuning the fights to the intended difficulty, they're simply going to wait for raiders to get enough extra attempts and buffs to down the fights in their "Self-Basting" raid instance, which, to me at least, smacks of lazy design strategy. Ulduar has proven to be, thus far, the zenith of raid design. Hopefully, Blizzard can get back to the ideals that made that instance so great.