I understand Blizzard shouldn’t rush the release of a patch as complex and game changing as 3.0. There are still many elements of the expansion’s design that have yet to be fully considered and refined. But the release 3.0 is impending, this much we know given Eyonix’s statement from over a week ago.

With the release of Wrath of the Lich King approaching, we wanted to provide you with some important information. In preparation for the expansion, we will be issuing a new content patch in the coming weeks. Much like the patch made available shortly before The Burning Crusade’s release, this content patch is designed to bridge current game content with that of the expansion and will contain some exciting changes and additions.

Doom and Gloom?

There are people in the WoW community who believe 3.0′s release spells doom and gloom for the remainder of The Burning Crusade, especially raiding. And certainly the precedent set by 2.0.1 would suggest people are likely to give up on TBC raiding to bide their time, just as they did for vanilla WoW when 2.0.1 was released. However, people are overlooking one obvious condition that existed at the time of the TBC content patch’s release: it was the holiday season, and TBC was scheduled to come out merely two weeks after the season’s end.

Every guild I’ve been in has never been able to raid during the latter half of December. Last year, my guild didn’t raid at all from December 16th to January 1st. The release of 2.0.1 in December of 2006 merely aggravated the annual problem. By the time most people had returned from vacation, there was only two weeks remaining before TBC was scheduled to hit the shelves. Tack on the facts that a flat honor PvP gear system was an entirely new concept, providing means for people to easily obtain items better than even some of their PvE gear, and that guilds needed to downsize with changing end-game raid sizes, it’s no surprise many guilds decided to simply halt raiding altogether.

I think people fail to realize 3.0 has the potential to be released under very different conditions than 2.0.1. The concept of honor and arena-based gear is no longer fresh. Most of the people looking to obtain gear from PvP have already achieved their goals. 3.0 could potentially be released before the holiday season, as well. If 3.0 goes live in early October, and Wrath is slated for release in early December, I guarantee some people will return to test the new talents in both raid and PvP environments for a little while. People won’t have to worry about Christmas or finals, so why shouldn’t they return? And why shouldn’t they return if 3.0 may provide the tools to better succeed in raiding content they haven’t successfully cleared?

An early release of 3.0 would be highly beneficial to the game. Certainly, it could possibly create a few major short-term problems, but it would be a small price to pay for thoroughly testing the changes and creating an expansion that has more polish and stability than TBC. Why? Because I don’t think the Wrath beta or the PTR will provide Blizzard with the fully-developed perspective needed to accurately assess the possible consequences of the changes they’re making. Especially when it comes to the viability of certain specs and classes in raids.

3.0 Should Be a Prolonged Bridge to Wrath

Well there will be raid beta testing in the Beta, but don’t forget the upcoming PTR will allow even more testing prior to changes being made live. I do 25 and 10 man raids myself and believe me I know full well what the changes will mean for a Holy Priest. But until players are able to test them in a raid environment, then it really is only theorycraft; which is of course still valuable and often very accurate.

So said Wryxian on WoW’s European forums.

Anyone who’s played through WoW’s three betas and muddled around on the PTR’s knows the fallacy in this statement. Using the beta and PTR phases as the only forms of testing doesn’t always produce a patch that is entirely polished and stable. Certainly, it worked well for Sunwell. But consider the time and conditions of Sunwell’s testing phase. Illidan was first killed in June of 2007. Being relatively easy, Black Temple had been put comfortably on farm status for several months by hundreds of guilds.

When 2.4 hit the PTR in February, my own guild had been clearing BT for four months, bringing down the weekly time we spent on it to merely one night. And we did this as a guild that didn’t even place in the top 100 for Illidan kills in the U.S. So there were literally over a hundred guilds in the U.S. alone hungry for new content to conquer, and many of them took advantage of 2.4 on the PTR to satiate their appetites by testing the Sunwell. Guilds like Vis Maior exemplified this desire masterfully.

The situation now is much different, however. My guild only just defeated Kil’jaeden less than a month ago. We don’t have Sunwell comfortably on farm. And it takes us most of the week to clear it. Furthermore, the gear requirement for Sunwell is much tighter than it was during the days of Black Temple and Hyjal. So using previous instances to supplement gear for skilled recruits puts a further dent in some guilds’ schedules. Certainly, there are guilds out there who do clear Sunwell in merely a day or two, but these are mostly the top guilds in the world. So it is a far fewer number of guilds now in a situation similar to one that existed when 2.4 hit the PTR.

I also feel people will be far less inclined to test raiding on the PTR when there will be no new instances introduced in 3.0. I know I won’t even bother, even though I did test the Sunwell.

Also consider that many people don’t have their entire guilds on the beta right now. Even if they do, I doubt they have enough people leveled to 80. There’s a good amount of people from my guild on the beta, but I am the only person who has come close to 80 (and I stopped at 79 because I wanted to wait for Storm Peaks to reopen). Another member is quickly making his way there, but so did others before they stopped altogether. And while I realize premades were just made available on the beta, they are decked in PvP gear, which will give people only a limited view of the possibilities of some specs and classes in raids.

That’s not to say I don’t think there won’t be any raid testing done in Wrath’s beta. I think a few guilds will at least try to form a loose alliance to attempt some of the raiding content. I know if I had the time I’d possibly join a pick-up raid just to see what’s up. But I don’t see the extent of testing going any further than it did during TBC’s beta. I imagine most of the 10-man version of Naxxramas will be cleared, but I expect only the first boss or two of each wing in the 25-man version to receive any attention from beta testers.

It is for this reason I believe Blizzard needs to use the live version of 3.0 as a prolonged bridge to Wrath, providing opportunity to further recognize the problems that might be less obvious during the beta and PTR testing phases. I also hope Blizzard aims to release it some time in early or mid-October, well before people become inundated with finals and the impending rush of the holiday season. Had 2.0.1 been released well before the holidays, or had TBC’s release been pushed back slightly, some discrepancies in talent and game design would have perhaps been noticed before TBC’s release. Not all, of course, but enough such that TBC would have been more well-rounded at release.

That said, they shouldn’t rush its release if they aren’t confident in the changes they’ve implemented for the beta and the PTR.

3.0′s Possible Effects on Raiding in TBC

There’s no doubt the patching of 3.0 on live servers before Wrath’s release would have both positive and negative effects on the remainder of raiding in TBC.

How Can 3.0 Help Raiding in the Short Term?

As it currently stands, the end of Sunwell has been a rather daunting obstacle for most guilds’ ability to “win the game,” or rather to clear TBC’s raid content before it’s “over.” And many guilds that have already defeated the content are looking for a fresh approach that could change the way they farm it. Just take a look at the ratios of prior boss success to each new boss kill:

  • 1.4:1 for Kalecgos to Brutallus.
  • 1.5:1 for Brutallus to Felmyst.
  • 1.3:1 for Felmyst to Twins.
  • 2.4:1 for Twins to M’uru.
  • 2.8:1 for M’uru to Kil’jaeden.

Notice the ratios are roughly similar for the first three comparisons. Then, suddenly, the ratios spike for the final two. This suggests guilds have likely fallen apart or hit walls at both M’uru and Kil’jaeden. My own guild hit a wall temporarily on Kil’jaeden, even though we did swimmingly on M’uru. And the the exact opposite happened for the number two guild on my server, which hit a wall on M’uru and then took Kil’jaeden down with ease.

With this in mind, I think another bone needs to be thrown to people still raiding. My guild killed M’uru way back in early June, placing 40th in the U.S. And despite the fact that M’uru received a huge nerf after this, still only 221 U.S. guilds have killed him (as of writing this article). So 85 days have passed since our kill, meaning only two or so U.S. guilds kill him each day.

Personally, I think there are a lot of tools 3.0 could bring that would prove beneficial to defeating the later boss encounters. I’d love to be able to pick up flourish, gift of the earthmother, genesis, and living seed. Flourish alone would be awesome for when the raid collapses in a clump during Kil’jaeden, just to cite one example of how 3.0 could benefit the raid.

In terms of pure DPS potential, there should be an overall boost. Even if some classes worry they won’t measure up to others, most should still be receiving talents and new abilities that increase their DPS. Even though Blizzard is attempting to make certain buffs redundant, meaning battle shout and blessing of might wouldn’t stack with each other, the fact that many buffs will become raid-wide, where previously they had been group-exclusive, should counter the problem. So too should new buffing talents.

Furthermore, some specs and classes that were previously “weak” in some situations will undergo a general increase in viability. So guilds will also have more tools to create optimal raid compositions with higher regularity.

How Can 3.0 Be a Detriment to Raiding in the Short Term?

There are some mechanic changes that are a little concerning for TBC raiding that 3.0 would bring. As one example, some of the tools used for tanking by specific classes will be revamped entirely. Warriors will now have a shield block that lasts only 10 seconds on a one-minute cooldown. As anyone who has done Illidan knows, this means shear will need to be changed. Since the ability needs to be countered by blocking, dodging or parrying it, and the cooldown on the warrior ability that ensures this as possible is currently higher than the cooldown on shear, warriors would be unable to tank Illidan reliably. This would leave the job to protection paladins if shear were to go unchanged.

That said, Blizzard has stated they are cognizant of the problems 3.0 could create for existing encounters. Bornakk said as much in a response to people’s concerns about shear:

Changes can be made to encounters if we feel they are necessary to allow the fight to work right. That said, the release of the patch isn’t tomorrow, it’s sometime in the coming weeks, so you still have time to work on the raids. Good luck on Illidan.

Personally, however, I worry Blizzard will miss at least a few needed changes, making some encounters temporarily impossible or extremely difficult until they are hotfixed.

But it’s the more subtle and sweeping changes that worry me most. The adjustments to threat and threat generation particularly come to mind in this regard. For one, blessing of salvation will no longer produce a flat 30% reduction in threat generated. Instead, most threat reduction will come from using reactive abilities targeted on individual people, reducing their current threat by a small percentage with each use (on top of existing reactive abilities). Of course, some of the disparity could be well-countered by providing tools to tanks that increase their basic threat generation. However, I know warriors will require strength to really see a substantial boost in their threat scaling, and currently their tanking gear has virtually none.

So while DPS generally receives a boost, I worry people will reach the threat ceiling easily in TBC, which would render the increase to DPS moot.

The heightened restriction on the use of drums and potions could also introduce new problems. As it stands, many classes rely on chain-chugging potions and using drums to improve their performance. But a raid-wide vampiric touch, new class specs providing mana regeneration, and general improvements to talents and abilities could counter these problems. Then again, the inability to downrank creates another mana problem. So Blizzard would certainly be taking a risk introducing these new concepts to existing content.

How Could 3.0 Be Beneficial in the Long Term?

Regardless of the detriments 3.0 could bring to TBC raiding, I think the benefits are too good to overlook. Despite the fact that there will be a difference of ten talent points, ten levels, and gear, releasing 3.0 at least a couple months before TBC’s “demise” will at least provide Blizzard some context to use for further development and polish of Wrath. And I believe this is important to better ensure a smooth release of Wrath.

That Said, Don’t Rush It

Even writing about the importance of testing Wrath concepts by using the live version of 3.0, I don’t want Blizzard to rush the patch. Obviously, I want the company to fully consider where it wants to take the game generally with Wrath before its concepts are dumped on our heads. So, although I’d love to see 3.0 on live servers by mid-October, I wouldn’t if it was unfinished and buggy, with concepts that have only been preliminarily evaluated.

We’ll see what happens, I guess.