This entire expansion we have been seeing posts on blogs, forums and anywhere you might find written word about warcraft online speaking about raiding. From the beginning mandatory dailies complaints, to the valor grinding complaints and reputation grinding complaints to LFR and whether to keep it or remove it complaints to is raiding becoming to complex discussions.
No matter where you look someone is saying what is wrong with raiding or what is right with raiding. One of my favorite discussions are the complexity ones, ones I have mentioned myself when referencing the looking for raid system and my belief that they are too hard for the average player.
Another one of the complexity arguments that always is sure to get me reading is the vanilla vs modern raiding threads. Both sides argue their points well, the posts that are not just flinging insults at each other at least, and I can actually agree with both sides. So my opinion would be best considered on the fence even if I were pressed to make a decision and would say moderns raiding in a thousand times harder than vanilla raiding.
See, I agree with what some people say about vanilla. The difficulty with vanilla was in spending time playing. Things were more a gear check. Having enough gear to beat the boss, or more importantly the appropriate resistance gear to not get beaten by the boss. That and of course finding 40 people, but that part of it is another story all together.
I did not raid during that time but I have read more than enough from the people that have and what the difficulties of that type of raiding was. It was not with the boss tactics, it was with the time needed to gather all you needed to raid. It was about assembling enough people to get it done. It was about hours and hours of grinding for materials, for crafted items, for PvP items, for potions, for flasks, for everything, you needed to grind your butt off.
It was about what was the best gear which sometimes meant you wore a mix and match of gear between the current raid, the previous raid and maybe even a dungeon piece or two all because the item levels (which did not really exist then) meant nothing, but what stats the items had on it meant everything. There was no reforging, so sometimes having a piece with better stats for you from the previous raids was actually the better item. That was all because there was no huge gear inflation back then, so all gear was relevant gear.
Not sure, but I think I would like to see if that would work in today's world, would people do MV if the gear in it was better than the gear in SoO? It was more complex back then over all. It wasn't just a case of raid the current tier for the best gear, but raid everything you could because the best gear came from everything. All raids mattered, all raids had something for someone. It was more complex to build a good set of gear back then.
The game is just not that complex any longer. It is not that time consuming any longer. You can get your food and flask and potions just by logging on a few hours before the raid, if that. If you give out buffs they last longer and no longer need reagents. Resistance gear is no longer needed, heck, it is no longer even in the game for current content. I don't need to carry around 5000 arrows any more. Many of the things that made vanilla raiding so difficult have all been removed from the game.
You could call everything about raiding in vanilla a gear check. If your guild lost their tank and needed to get another and they would have to gear them up. Running old content, gathering to craft them the resistance gear, basically putting their gear through the gear check.
As time has went on more and more conveniences have been added to the game. Just the world of differences in paladins buffs from five minute ones, to 10 minutes ones, to 30 minutes ones, to ones that lasted an hour. From needing to bless one at a time with reagents with various different ones that the paladin would need to know which worked best for which class. Having it simplified to two buffs, all cast on the entire group and not individual and needing no reagents was a huge plus when it comes to the convenience factor.
Even if I did not raid back in vanilla I have seen a lot of changes and I know from a hunters standpoint it is a lot less to worry about not having to carry stacks of food for my pet, and arrows, and checking for my pet to be buffed as well as myself. All changes we call general convenience. None of it was ever really "difficult" but it was, or could be, time consuming and require attention. Showing up to a raid with an unhappy pet and half the arrow you need would not be a good thing. Wasn't hard to do, but compared to now where we have to do nothing of the sort, anything is harder than how it is now, even that.
All those little things could be considered part of the gear check. Having a pet ready to fight and happy and not upset with you, which required feeding, was as important as having a better bow would be. Having arrows means you could actually use that bow. Having the paladin and the priest and the mage all have their reagents so they could buff you was like another layer of gear, so someone else doing their job by making sure they were ready to raid made you more ready to raid also. It was all something that increased your performance. So when looking at all those little things, all those time consuming things, all those things that required materials, gathering, preparing, grinding, being read ahead of time and preparing, etc, they were all part of the gear check.
That was vanilla raiding in a whole. Vanilla raiding, as I see it from all the people I have spoken with and posts I have read, was all about the gear check. Having the gear with the right stats, the right resistances were just as important has having all the other tools needed to make that gear better. The buffs, the food, the flasks, the potions that you could use over and over and over again and not just once like now. All that boosted your potential, all that could be considered part of your gear.
It was when the game started to remove some of the "grind" from the game that it started to change, to make the shift from gear check to skill check. If we could just jump ahead from where this started to where we are I sometimes wonder how both actions were called raids. They both could be classified as raids, but there is nothing really all that similar between a vanilla raider and a mists raider besides the fact they both play warcraft.
When the burning crusade came the era of convenience started to bloom even if ever so slightly. Some things were added to the game that made the whole catching up through gear slightly easier while at the same time many advances in the grind for items and additional raid necessities became lessened. It all remained there for the most part, just the trip to get it seemed shorter. Problematic things started to be removed or simplified.
From that point on and in each incarnation of the game with each expansion they added more convenience by changing, removing or improving things as well as requiring a lesser of a gear check for the raiding part of the game. During that entire time and through all those changes they tried to keep the balance between gear check and skill check but increasing the skill check a little at a time for each new convenience they added that lessened the load of the gear check. The burning crusade started to see more complex bosses and the slider started to drift from the right which was gear to the left which was skill.
While there have always been and will always be bosses we call gear checks in every expansion they are not real gear checks, not like any vanilla raid sort of gear check. Even the most simple of simple bosses in vanilla was a much larger gear check than anything we like to call a gear check now. Making sure your tanks had the fire resist cloaks required much more work than waiting for a drop off the second boss, or buying the valor point cloak. Making sure the tanks had massive amounts of potions to use for their defense or resistance. Or having a massive amount of potions for everyone else, them using healing one, even bandages on themselves and on others because the tank would need all the attention. All things that required a great deal of time to gather and get ready for. Yes they are both equally fitting into the "gear" category but one was wait for to drop or buy and the other was grind your butt off to get it and a million other little things to assist with getting it. The vanilla gear check by design for every boss was more than just gear, it was things that enhanced your gear. So once you got that resist cloak your gearing did not end, you need your potions to add more to it, each and every week to support that gear.
The vanilla grind one was the real gear check. If you wanted to be a raider, a real raider, you got that cloak and stocked up on potions, now that was a gear check. If you needed a new tank you went through all the old content and got them the wrists from last tier, the waist from the tier before, the crafted resist items and every other little piece that was the best fit for the content you wanted them to be doing with you. It was really a case of gearing up a new tank.
Now, when you want to gear up a new tank you just blow through last tiers content, pass them all the drops and hope for the best. No matter what they get, it will be good enough because of the gear inflation being what it is and with the addition of reforging almost any gear will do. Any new gear is getting the gear you need. Any cloak that drops is a good cloak, you do not need a resist one. The gear check is gone, because any gear is good gear as long as it of the appropriate item level and that gear is in the right hands of a skilled enough player. This leaves current raiding more skill related than gear related. Sure, gear helps, gear matters, but that is another post all together. The difference is that any waist, any wrists and any cloak will do just fine to catch up a new tank now whereas in vanilla the right waist, the right wrists, and the right cloak were the only way you caught up your new tank.
So what made wrath the expansion of the raider?
Depending on who you ask it would be many different things. Some people would cite 10 and 25 man lock outs as the boost that gave wrath the distinction as the raiding expansion. Them being on separate lockout might be something another would say. The "easier" 10s is something many people like to say was a boost to the raiding population. The fact that the gear explosion was just starting but not full fledged meant something from a previous tier might still be best for you and that left a taste of the right gear matters more than the newest gear sometimes even if rarely which is a throwback to the beginning days of raiding.
Convenience really started to take center stage in wrath, gearing up became a lot easier if you were playing catch up, getting up to snuff was not half of the task it used to be removing one of the largest "difficulties" of vanilla raiding. Smaller sizes to raids meant they were more accessible to smaller circles of friends and no one could ever deny that. Buffs began to get simplified even if stats had not quite done the same yet.
After wrath there was more simplification for the "harder" things vanilla needed to deal with as convenience went full force forward. Things like no more pet happiness, no more ammo, one shared lock out for raids, locked by boss and not by raid ID all came along with many others in cataclysm. In mists we saw more and more convenience added with group wide buffs that took no reagents, rogues not needing to carry poisons, and what could be one of the most telling additions of complete convenience that actually came at the tail end of the expansion before it, a newer, lesser version of raiding that was meant for a random group.
The more convenience that was added to the game the more they had to increase the skill check to the bosses. If there was so little effort to get to them now, they needed to be harder once you got there. That is what the balance is all about. The harder it was to get ready for a raid and get into a raid the easier they could make the raid, as a reward, but if you were getting the reward of being allowed to basically just walk into a raid because of the convenience of getting there, the raid itself needed to be harder.
When removing many of the factors that made vanilla raiding hard they needed to replace it with new difficulties in different ways. The sliding bar moved more from the right of gear check to the left of skill check with each expansion that came out. With each bit of gearing up that took a long time that was removed, the gear check on the outside dissipated and the skill check of the inside needed to be raised to compensate, to balance it out.
So, in my own personal opinion, the reason that wrath is often looked at as the high point for raiding is because it was at that perfect point between gear check and skill check. The ability to over gear content was still there but it has some convenience added to it making it less time consuming than before.
Convenience was also added to many parts of the game but not always some super simple as press one button and it was done like it is now, just ask any paladin applying buffs to everyone before a raid and ask them if buffing was simple and easy. It was easier than vanilla paladin buffing for sure by leaps and bounds, but not one button easy and everyone gets the same thing like it is now. The sliding bar between the gear check and the skill check was at its perfect point. That is why I believe wrath worked well, why wrath attracted new raiders, why wrath is remembered as the expansion of the raider.
The raids themselves required more skill than most of the things that came before it even if people like to call wrath raiding easy. They seem to forget that the reason it seemed easier was they were using 25 man gear to blow through 10 man content, which effectively meant they were over gearing it. Of course it seemed easier.
Two of the most complex and most unforgiving fights in the history of the game came from this expansion in the form of Yogg +0 and LK 25 heroic. One of which required a raid wide flat out buff to beat even by the best guilds in the world, something no other boss in the history of the game can claim. The most any other fight could claim was it needed targeted changes, not blanket ones. So there was both ease and difficulty within the game at the same time in the same raid. Once again showing that a balance had been found and it was a good one.
The more quality of life changes they add for the players, like not needing reagents, as small as that sounds, they are removing the little things that made vanilla raiding hard, tiny piece by tiny piece. Each quality of life change we get for our convenience we need to have a balance on the other side and that other side is increasing the base skill level required to actually do the raid.
In vanilla anyone that had the time, put in the effort, and was willing to work for it, could have been a raider. Time was the most important factor. The difficulty was in being raid ready. In mists, even if you are on 24/7 and get everything you can done every single week, if you are a lesser skilled player, you can not really get anything done, unless you don't mind being carried through the content. The difficulty is in being raid aware.
The person with exceptional game play skills but no time to grind all the gear needed or raid for hours on end multiple tiers to try to catch up was basically locked out of raiding in vanilla. The person with lesser skills but all the time in the world to get themselves everything they could get outside of the instance is basically locked out in mists, who cares if you can make the noodle cart if you can't get out of bad or preform at a hard line required minimum.
Wrath found that balance, where the exceptional player with not much time could play and raid. Where the lesser skilled player with lots of time could play and raid. Where neither of them would hold you back. The exceptional player would let his skill speak for him, because the fact he did not have a resist cloak would not hold you back. The lesser skilled player would let their time available get them gear outside of the raid to help compensate for their lack of skill otherwise in the raid. They could both raid, they could both contribute, they will both remember wrath as the expansion that they felt most comfortable raiding in because in wrath they were both what we would call, raiders.
Now that exceptional player with bad gear because they do not have time is called the lazy player and that lesser player with all great gear and under performing is just called the bad player. Thanks to wrath having the perfect balance from gear check to skill check that made wrath the expansion of the raider and back then we just called them both teammates.
So all these posts and points and discussions about raid difficulty mean nothing in the end. The over all raid difficulty is basically the exact same now as it was in vanilla, just the bar is sliding more toward the skill check than the gear check, but there balance has always been the same, one plus the other equals the difficulty of the raid. Wrath happened to find the sweet spot of just enough gear check and just enough skill check to be inclusive to the largest number of players, at least in my opinion, and that is why I believe raiding reached its high point during it.