I’m sick of trash. More specifically, raid trash. Entering that room in Bastion of Twilight right after Halfus and thinking “hurray, we’ll reach the next boss in half an hour” is getting on my nerves. Trash isn’t fun. It’s usually of the “you don’t really have to pay attention” variety, which basically means you’re playing on auto-pilot for half a raid, lazily pressing roughly the right buttons, occasionally having someone die because everyone’s convinced the trash doesn’t really pose a real threat to the raid anyway. It feels like having to wade through large amounts of boring stuff in a raid to occasionally get the privilege to do the actually fun fights. It’s bad game design. Let me try to argue why, and propose some possible solutions.
This is hardly a new issue. WoW players have been moaning about trash since basically the DAWN OF TIME, also known as vanilla. In fact, the issue’s older than that still. But WoW’s specific brand of raid design really brought it to the forefront. Anyone who raided Molten Core back in vanilla will be able to tell you that, son, you’ve got nuthin’ to complain about. And they wouldn’t be entirely wrong. Things used to be much worse. MUCH worse. Millions of trash mobs in a single instance, with about three different kinds of mobs in total, with zero abilities each. Only to fight a boss which wasn’t much more than a glorified trash mob in terms of spells and fight strategy. In an environment blander than Bland Street in Blandville, in the country of Bland. But I digress.
We’ve come a long way since then. Is what I’d like to say, but we actually haven’t. Sure, things are better these days. Blackwing Descent has pleasingly small numbers of trash which can quite quickly be disposed of, and the little there is often has some interesting ability to keep you on your toes. I’d name trash epics as a positive evolution as well, but those aren’t exactly new. They’ve been around since Molten Core, they just occasionally went away for a while. The thing is that Blizzard seems to have a sort of schizophrenic stance on trash. I’m not really sure where they want to go with it. Blackwing Descent, as mentioned, is almost empty aside from the bosses. Trial of the Crusader WAS empty aside from the bosses. Some bosses have two trash mobs guarding them, others have entire ARMIES. Some mobs are interesting and require you to pay attention, most are basically harmless and lazily designed. That’s not variety, to me it shows Blizzard’s just a tiny bit confused. And I can’t really blame them.
They’ve made it terribly clear in the past what exactly their intentions are with trash mobs in raids. They’re a pacing mechanism, and little else. Blizzard’s not exactly ashamed about that. They just don’t want you to clear a raid in an hour, hopping from boss fight to boss fight instantly (but what about Trial of the Crusader? I’M SO CONFUSED). Which I guess is understandable. Is it though? Why CAN’T doing raids just be about the bosses? It’s not like you generally run out of stuff to do all that quickly, unless you’re in a very hardcore raid group. We spend most of our raids wiping on bosses we haven’t killed before, or wiping on bosses which aren’t “on farm” yet. That wouldn’t change without the trash pacing mechanism.
To me the whole idea of trash as a pacing mechanism seems to stem from an old school of design which we’re basically past now. “Stuff” in WoW used to take time. This was true for practically everything. Obviously, most things still DO take time. But not nearly as much as they once did. Blizzard has taken great efforts over the past few years to get rid of the grind from just about every aspect of the game. And by extension, to make sure it doesn’t take a player several hours to finally start having fun. Reputation through running dungeons. LFD. Daily quests (granted, those could be seen as a different kind of grind, but I think few people would argue they’re not superior to the good old “collect 1500 timbermaw feathers” model). The examples are many and varied. I’d argue a great deal of the fundamental design changes over the past few years have at least been partially caused by that motivation to – in most cases literally- “speed things up”.
Trash isn’t fun. Does anyone think trash is fun? If you do, please tell me in the comments, because I’d like to have a word with you (a friendly one, I swear). It’s never been fun. It’s always been a way to slow us down. Why does trash still need to slow us down while everything else in the game these days seems to be designed with the specific goal of NOT slowing us down, of doing everything to make us have fun as quickly as possible? I don’t understand. We wouldn’t blaze through the raid content, we promise. The difficulty of the bosses right now will make sure of that. The problem’s only augmented by that ‘other’ raid design element in WoW: the fact that farming is basically required to make any progress, an inherent part of endgame as we all want those shiny purples to optimise our characters. So when trash might be vaguely entertaining the first time through a raid, it’s practically vomit-inducing the tenth time through. Get rid of it Blizzard, please.
What do you mean you don’t want to? Can’t really blame them. The problem is: do WE really want to get rid of trash entirely? I honestly don’t think so. Was TotC as dull as it was because we were forced to hop from boss to boss, with no interruptions in between to help us get a breather? Maybe partially. I’m sure things’d be aided by more interesting boss design (were you the guy who loved Faction Champions? get out, we don’t want your kind over here), and the fact that raids usually aren’t made up of a single room probably helps too. Regardless, maybe there’s some use for in-between-boss interruptions. So, I’ll try and come up with a couple of other solutions.
Perhaps other games can form a source of inspiration in this regard. Let’s look at the recently released Dragon Age 2, for example. Oh wait. Moving on.
I think anything that adds “flavour” helps, really. Epics is one thing, at least they provide some form of reward for wading through all of those mobs. Same with reputation, seeing a bar very slowly increase to get a nice ring at the end of it is an extremely simple mechanic that WORKS to make things ever so slightly more engaging. It doesn’t impact the fundamental problem at heart here though, which is that actually killing trash isn’t fun. Fortunately Blizzard’s made some steps in the right direction. I think moving more towards the mini-boss school of design (as seen in Blackwing Descent or even Icecrown Citadel’s dogs) is definitely a good thing as well – at least to me it seems far more interesting to be fighting one or two big angry mobs with a couple of abilities that actually matter than a pack of five which don’t do much but generic “damage”. Maybe add some daily or weekly quests not involved with bosses, but with trash.
Or if you really want to get interesting, add some different kind of pacing mechanic. Something we’ve also seen in the past, but not nearly enough. The chess event wasn’t really a boss fight, I’d say, just a more interesting way of breaking up the dungeon (God, Karazhan did SO MUCH right – a story for another time, I suppose). A vehicle related section à la Ulduar might get boring after the fifteenth time as well, but at least it mixes things up a bit. Timed runs in a Zul’Aman sense also manage to make even the most mundane trash mob an intense EVENT. Looking at other games more than WoW itself, two elements I really tend to appreciate as well are some form of environmental obstacles or some basic puzzles. Although fitting those into WoW’s obviously quite unique (in comparison with singleplayer games) 10/25-person multiplayer environment, especially considering they need to be easily repeatable without getting boring (hardly the case with a lot of singleplayer puzzles), might be quite a stretch. Just ANYTHING that’s not more generic trash, please.
The problem with all of these is simple: they all require far more design work to implement than just putting five packs of generic trash mobs between us and the next boss. I can scarcely imagine how much design and programming went into the chess event, at least compared to “generic trash”, and the result – while entertaining – wasn’t exactly the greatest thing ever. Regardless, I think trash in its current, primarily Bastion of Twilight-format, has run its course. It’s time for a change. I could make a bin-related joke here, but that would be gratuitous so I will leave it at that. What do you guys think?