Wrath had us see the rise and fall of one of my favorite features in the game - the hardmodes. Unlike heroics, which had been around since BC, hardmodes offered difficulty through diversity rather than just the increased damage and health of bosses. For some reason Blizzard chose to only implement hardmodes in Ulduar, which is sad because I enjoyed it a great bit more than I do the concept of heroic modes. I do agree that heroic modes probably is the better solution for instances, since you'd want to be able to run those with the occasional simpletons and buffoons that make up a big part of the random player community. For raiding, most of us are alot more picky however, and the depth of hardmodes wins out big time over heroic modes if you ask me. It is true that some heroic modes throw in some new fight mechanics, but these are usually few, and instead incredibly difficult. Hard modes allowed for not only one but often several new ways of handling a fight, of which each was rewarded differently and the hardest of course rewarded the most. Heroics don't have this. You can either do it the simple or the difficult way, offering no learning step inbetween. Let me give some examples;
Freya could either be done with or without her keepers. Since she had three, each with their own abilities, you could choose which to add to the fight. By adding only one at the time everyone had a chance to learn how to handle that particular ability in addition to the regular ones, before proceeding to the next. The same thing goes with Yogg-Saron, who also could be killed with or without keepers. Matters were reversed, since it actually made things easier to let the keepers join in, but there were nonetheless 5 difficulty levels of this fight. 4 keepers, 3, 2, 1 and none. Even more if you consider the possibility to add or remove keepers as you pleased. You could have keeper 2 and 4, or 2 and 3 or 1 and 4 or just 3 or 1, 2 and 4 and so on. Each change would change the way the fight would have to be handled. Maybe not by alot, but there was still a difference. In some cases, even activating the hard modes was part of the hard mode, like on XT-Deconstructor. If you didn't have the dps to nuke down the heart fast enough to start the hard mode (believe it or not, that was once the case), you clearly weren't ready to do the hard mode in any case. Same goes with Thorim, where the skill and gear of the people in the gauntlet decided whether you'd be able to start the hard mode or not. In some cases the hard mode worked alot like a heroic mode, like on Mimiron. And in some cases the hard mode was simply to nuke really hard, like on Hodir. In most cases the hard modes offered a diversity that heroic modes don't today.
In an instance this wouldn't work well, because like I mentioned we're supposed to be able to play those with random people. The diversity and need to make a choice on the run that comes with hard modes doesn't fit that evironment. When joining a heroic the choice is already made. You won't be grouped with people who want to do the instance in normal mode. But how would you handle the hard modes? Who decides in which fashion the instance is supposed to be done? The simplicity of heroic modes works well when we're just supposed to be able to throw us at it without much thought. But raiding is supposed to last longer. It is supposed to be the last bastion against boredom. It is clear that Blizzard has taken many steps to ensure that they don't have to take the same road to prevent us from being bored too soon as they did in Wrath, and also in BC. Constantly giving us new content, new gear, which only made us outgear the old content and made that boring even faster. Heroics were laughable towards the end. The difference of ICC gear and heroic gear nearly as big as the one between expansions. In Cataclysm, Blizzard have made sure that gear isn't something come by easily. Craftables take a long time to complete and the raids are generally very difficult, making epics hard to come by.
It also means we'll be fighting the bosses we're fighting now for a very long time. This doesn't have to be a bad thing, Karazhan was interesting throughout BC, because of the amount and design of all the encounters. But if ICC is any indiciation of how the raids will work in Cata, I think we'll be bored quite fast with the encounters that are available today. Out of the four fights I've done so far, only Conclave of Wind was really interesting. Being able to eventually do it in a heroic mode doesn't really sound that enticing. I could be wrong of course, but imagine if the fight instead could be fought in two, three or four new ways, instead of just one rather predictable?
What could be the reasons that Blizzard have chosen not to use this form of raiding, and instead decided that heroic would work better?
Balancing a fight so that it becomes alot more difficult could be tricky if all you got to work with is changing the game mechanics a little here and there. On the other hand we saw this in work on the Iron Council. Killing one boss before another lead to the other hitting harder. Depending on which one you killed you had to handle their different skills in various ways. Some skills where more difficult, so saving that boss for last was of course the most challenging. Overall I think that although it is more of a challenge to design hard modes rather than heroic modes, it would be a really bad excuse for not having hard modes. The amount of money we pour into Blizzard and their designer team, one would think they'd do just about anything to keep us happy and interested. Just making the boss hit harder and have more health, and maybe add one or two difficult extra fight mechanics, is edging on an insult of our intelligence. Do they really think that will suffice? Apparently so.
Hard modes will of course resemble eachother. Adding element of difficulty by having the players decide in which order to attack elements of a fight, or if they want extra aid/fight mechanics will of course make it resemble the fights we've already seen in Ulduar. But this isn't a valid excuse for not using hard modes either. Every heroic fight resembles the other way more than a hard mode the other. And it is inevitable that portions of a game will resemble eachother when it's been around for so long as WoW has. I don't ask of Blizzard to reinvent the wheel with each new raid encounter. I just want something a little more mind challenging than "boss hit hard" or "boss hit really hard".
Alot of achievements are designed to work like hard modes do. They don't necessarily add extra elements to the fight, but they often have you play the fight in a more challenging manner, which would resemble the way you fight Iron Council for example. Although achievements were around when Ulduar was implemented, it is possible Blizzard thought hard modes were too much like achievements and removed them for that reason. It is true I've made alot of achievements just because we tried hard modes. I see some sense in this argument, but on the other hand achievements don't give any extra reward beyond the achievement, so there is generally no inclination to ever fight the fight in that manner again. It would offer amusement for one fight only, and maybe an extra couple of fights if you want to give some new people the achievement. Better gear is a much better reward for fighting a fight in a more difficult manner, and for keeping peoples interest up.
Yeah, that could be a possibility. Maybe Blizzard simply scrapped hard modes because most people actually prefer heroic modes. Maybe all the things I like so much about hard modes, the able to vary a fight in many ways instead of just one and the need to learn many ways to handle a fight instead of just two, might be things other people disliked. I do find that hard to believe however, but I have no idea of course.
I wouldn't even ask of Blizzard to use hard modes for all the raid fights. Maybe if I got that this post would be about how much I like heroic modes over hard modes. People always want what they don't have and all that. But I would really like it if Blizzard at least implemented a couple of fights like these. What I personally loved so much about Karazhan and Ulduar was the feeling that Blizzard has really put alot of effort, time and love into those instances. That in turn made the instances alot more enjoyable. I never once got bored of Karazhan, and Yogg-Saron and Freya are still among my favorite boss fights overall. I don't want to be a party pooper but the fights I've had so far in Cataclysm aren't that entertaining. I've done them a couple of wipes and I already feel like I know them like the back of my hand. All there is to it is minute execution, but there isn't anything new to learn or discover about the fight. The Conclave of Wind still has me interested since I haven't seen every aspect of it. I healed one part, but I could also try healing on another platform, which will give me something new to experience. Am I asking too much? Is wanting more depth in our raid encounters, what's supposed to be the biggest experience of WoW, too much to ask for?