I have a lot of topics I have wanted to write about for quite some time and this is definitely one of them. To those who do not know the term; binary hard modes are what is referred to as switching from normal to hard mode encounters, in World of Warcraft raiding. The name derives from binary numbers, as computers understand them, 1s and 0s and the fact that to alternate between the difficulty levels you only need to basically flip a switch.
As a concept itself, we saw a lot of experimentation by Blizzard during the Wrath of the Lich King expansion, as hard modes only did their debut in the Ulduar raid dungeon, released 3.1 patch. Until then, in the Naxxramas “reloaded” the difficulty level was only based on raid sizes; 10- and 25-man, with the larger raid size sporting slightly more difficult encounters. Until then, hard modes did not really exist. In TBC everything was, essentially, hard mode. There really was not much distinction for the more casual player and the more hard core, progression raider and everything was the same.
I do not know a lot of people who dislike the separation of normal and hard mode, although a few have come across, who basically think everything should be hard mode, like it was in TBC but that’s, in my opinion, just silly. The very reason to create such a division was to let less skilled players stick to easier content and the really hard stuff is targeted at the more skilled players. It is a great idea actually, but the problem is, as usual, implementation. I have spoken with a lot of people about this and a majority of them agree that the current, binary system is bad.
Why is it bad?
Because it is not just boring but basically forces raiders to complete the dungeons twice. We saw that in Icecrown Citadel, where most raiders were so sick of the system and running the same encounters over, and over again, on whichever difficulty level. Cataclysm narrowed it down a bit by making 10- and 25-man raids equal in difficulty, so there are only two levels of challenge now. However, personally I think the original, Ulduar hard modes were the most interesting. Instead of just a flipping switch, you would issue an encounter by completing a specific mechanic within the fight. For example, on Freya you would not kill any of the three guardian treants before pulling her and thus allow Freya to gain new abilities from the guardians, or on XT-002, you would wait for the heart phase and then DPS the heart to zero hit points to start the hard mode.
To me, they were much more interesting and fun to do, rather just switch between normal and hard outside the instance. The only problem I can foresee about this method is that players might not be fully aware what is a hard mode and what is just an achievement because, lets face it, they mix together quite seamlessly. Then there is also, ofc, the fact that Blizzard would be pressured to come up with these unique mechanics, which while might not sounds difficult at first, but is always one more thing to add to an encounter and Blizzard is having problem coming up with new stuff as it is. I do not mean that as a derogatory remark, but simply an observation that a lot of the encounters recycle ideas. They might be slightly polished or minutely altered, but essentially still the same.
A good example is the “Marrowgar” encounter in Halls of Origination, or the Aegis Shield on the fire boss of Ascendant Council that demonstrates a lot of similarities to the Twin Valkyr encounter in the old ToC raid. However, I still think it would be more interesting to see the Ulduar type of hard modes and more to the point, more variety between hard more and normal mode loot. This is a pretty big issue actually because right now, once you figure out the BiS list for your spec, you can just farm it and then you simply aim for the heroic versions of those items. Once again, Ulduar showed a much more interesting method where as the hard mode loot were completely different to the items that dropped if you did the encounter on normal mode.
To be completely honestly, I think Blizzard has done a mistake in moving away from the Ulduar style dungeon. I love the fact that dungeons are smaller now but many things would be elevated to a higher level if Blizzard brought back the lessons learned in Ulduar. It is still widely held as the most balanced and well designed dungeon thus far in the game or at the very least since WotLK came out, and what is there not to like? It was stunningly beautiful, encounters were amazingly well designed, balanced through as you progressed deeper into the dungeon, and featured many things for the first time; such as a hard mode only boss, Algalon. I never got to kill him and even now, today, I wish to go back and simply experience it.
Now the logic of these type of hard modes is not solely to make them more interesting to play, but to avoid necessary repetition of normal and hard modes. Granted, most players will have to first complete and farm the normal modes for the necessary gear, in order to even have a chance at running hard modes. However, the world top guilds, and I am not just talking about the first ten but the first hundred, or even further than that, did not farm normal modes before moving to the hard modes. Even now in tier 1 of Cataclysm they simply did not have the time as they were racing for world and server firsts at killing those encounters. They have the skill and creativity to actually jump into normal modes with inferior gear, run them through and hop onto hard modes and just gear themselves by doing those, skipping normal modes altogether and bypassing the artificial block.
Think of how much more interesting could be if you could have gone to the Bastion of Twilight, progressed to Cho’gall and instead of killing of farming the first bosses needlessly for a couple of weeks, as you practiced the last boss, and tried your hand at Halfus HM. You could even benefit from killing a first hard mode boss, get gear from that, before moving onto the last boss. At least to me, that would be awesome.