I realize that the timer is necessary to keep the dungeons interesting, nobody likes a 4 hour slog through a dungeon.
Story time. I think about Diablo 3, the original version, and the greater rifts that it eventually spawned, and Mythic+ reminds me of the original Diablo 3.
One of the design points in Diablo 3 originally was that you needed to consistently upgrade your gear and you needed to do it in a number of stats, your DPS stats, and your armor, vitality, and all resist. Now the way that drops worked, it was really easy to get a few of those stats high, but exponentially harder to get all of them consistently high.
The thing about this is that players wanted to progress further than the gear allowed them to progress in the expected design. The system was engineered to let you spend a long time playing Inferno difficulty, to keep you busy looking for upgrades for months at least. So you would hit a wall, which was the boss before the new act, and the act itself. The act boss was designed to be really hard without quite good gear, and the monsters in the next act were designed to be even harder. I believe the intention was that you grind, say, act 2, get good enough gear to kill the Act 2 boss, then enter Act 3. Act 3 would kick your behind, but you could slowly trudge through it a bit and get the next tier of items, but you would drop back to act 2 and farm it, rekill bosses, and go from having OK gear to having optimal but not perfect gear, and then head to act 3.
There were two major problems with this. The first was the auction house. The AH allowed you to get items that you didn’t get yourself. The main culprit here was weapons. Weapons from the next act were a huge DPS increase, even if they were common and poorly optimized. The secondary issue was terrible gear for the act. So you were trying to balance like 5 stats, if each stat had a range of just 10 points, getting 10 in all of them is a 1 in 100,000 chance. You were maybe actually looking for a 7-8 in all of them, but it was still unlikely. However, getting a 10 in 2 stats was highly likely. Similarly, the likelihood of drops also scaled on how many stats actually existed on a piece. Items with 2 stats were blue items, and common and cheap. You could buy a blue item from the next act with the best 2 DPS stats or a weak yellow with the best 2 DPS stats cheap because they were very common, and it would give you more DPS than anything you could find in your own act.
The issue here is that there was another way to win the game. The less intended way. Certain classes especially, could focus on DPS stats entirely. This was because they had escape abilities and could DPS mobs down fast enough that they could avoid being hit. Most damage was avoidable, but sometimes it wasn’t. This meant that the FASTEST playstyle was to max out your personal DPS and ignore defense, because each additional stat increases the rarity of the necessary items exponentially. This lead to certain behaviors. The first being a full reliance on the AH. Gear from your current act wasn’t strong enough generally to kill things without you being hit. But you could easily buy crap gear from the next act. This led to a feeling that the AH was designed as mandatory which was especially hated because of the RMT element on the AH. The next was the playstyle. It was generally blow things up until you got hit by a bit of lag, a stray bee stinger, a ground effect, and then instantly die. It was insanely frustrating. It also meant that when you hit Act 4 and you couldn’t get cheap overpowered items because 4/5 both had the same “item level”, you felt like you hit another brick wall and didn’t know how to progress.
When the game was released I was with my wife who was doing medical treatment so I played a lot, and I played the slow style. I played entirely self found, witch doctor, solo. I spreadsheeted it all out as I like to do, and meticulously collected marginal upgrade over marginal upgrade, re farming the same content over and over, like they talked about players enjoying to do in D2. With the right gear, it was possible to tank any incidental hits. You didn’t want to stand in bad, but you weren’t falling over. Players claimed that certain content was untankable and it was not fun, but it WAS tankable, you just had to find gear that was 100 times more rare than what those players were wearing, and maybe sacrifice some DPS to do it. Players claimed that sacrificing DPS was sacrilege because that was the only thing that allowed you progress as tanking anything was impossible. My spreadsheets told me that wasn’t true, it was just slower.
And I got done. I killed Inferno Diablo before the nerfs came to him, and I did it almost entirely self-found, and solo. This was fun for me. But not the path that most players were comfortable taking. When they developed Grifts they used some things they learned from this, such as the time limit, to keep players from taking ages to kill anything or focusing on suicide runs. But the same thing happens with grifts as happened with the original. The best way to progress generally is to be well balanced, but as you come up against that constraint, it just becomes a matter of damage, damage becomes conventionally untankable, and you need to focus on avoiding that and maximizing damage.
Mythic+ suffers from the same fate. It’s designed so that there’s a mechanical wall. In original Diablo 3 that wall was from needing to get marginal gear upgrades before you get to the next tier. In Greater Rifts and Mythic+ that wall remains. You can completely optimize your gear but there will always be a keystone level where that’s not good enough. Once you reach that point, the intended playstyle is insufficient. You need to find unintended ways to progress. Unintended playstyles are necessarily not balanced.
However, until that point, the intended playstyle is OK. And in fact classes are pretty closely balanced when it comes to intended play. If you pull one group at a time, in the order that they appear in the dungeon, and use some appropriate CC, and interrupts, and kill them the best way you can, generally classes are pretty damn close when played well, even the non-meta classes. Generally damage is survivable, generally utility is useful but not mandatory. Even for specs like Feral druids this is fine and things are competitive.
When you start to use special strats, cherry pick the pats you pull, pull multiple encounters together, rely on special tricks like ring of peace for mass interrupts, then some classes can contribute in that arena better than others.
The level that the current gear wall exists is about +15, maybe a bit earlier. Up until that point, you can do normal pulls, you can do normal DPS, and it’s just gear scaling. If the mobs do 10% more damage and have 10% more health, then if you get gear that gives you 10% more dps and 10% more survivability, you can complete it.
Where we’re at though, gear is not improving, or if so, incredibly marginally. But people want to continue to push, so they are doing it like Diablo 3. The classes that could do the best in D3 were the ones that could maximize AoE DPS while avoiding damage. It’s the exact same here. When they changed D3 and added the grifts, one of the things they did is pretty much completely remove any single target focus from any class. WoW isn’t doing that, leaving certain classes with a niche for single target damage.
However, what kind of bothers me is that there’s a bunch of specs that are totally fine up until that wall. And in Mythic+, the typical playstyle is very standard (with the occasional well known skip) that doesn’t require a specific comp or set of cooldowns. But the leaderboard system of Mythic+ ensures that we see which classes are able to do the specific style of skip and have the specific utility to play in a way that we’re not playing, and then other players act in a prejudiced way towards them.
Like, I have a friend who was really hard up on his Enhancement Shaman for being completely undesired in Mythic+ but the guy was really good, had really good damage, and good gear. He rerolled into Rogue and started getting invited into +10s right away despite being less geared.
The other issue with M+ is the current gear wall. It’s right now really easy to hit 370+ item level. It’s really hard to progress from that point. This is similar to the D3 scenario. People in Diablo 3 complained that you needed act 3 gear to do act 2. Similarly, people demand 370+ gear to do Mythic +6.
There’s actually a big similarity in these two things. In D3 you had a very low chance of getting highly optimized gear in act 2 to let act 3 be done correctly. In M+ you have a very low chance of getting a titanforged item in Mythic +6 to allow higher level keys to be done. HOWEVER, the more important thing in WoW is that without any unintended play, through straight up clean play and fast pulling and proper interrupts, and correct cooldown usage, you can totally do +10s in 350 gear, and get a +20 item level upgrade without TF at all without risking being oneshot by mechanics while you’re doing it.
The main issue that I see is that there’s a giant skill gap that can’t be overcome by gear, and it’s a progression wall. You can’t outgear M+ to the point that the average pug player can successfully beat it without having better gear than the content provides.
I would have liked to see the ilvl of most gear raised by like +30, except for warfronts and world bosses etc. So like Mythics give 370, Mythic raid gives 415. Mythic +10 gives 400, titanforge cap being 425. This would mean that there’s more gear progression for a new character (right now, new character invalidates heroics and Mythic 0 almost immediately through world rewards) and it does give the ability to outgear the content. At full 370 gear, mythic 0 is trivial for the average PuG player. This is the right time for them to want to do Mythic+. Do some Mythic+4 and get 380 gear. A little while and you’re up to 395, and +10 is easy at 395. Everyone can do +10 now, and gear caps out. The game plays the same pretty much, however there’s a smooth progression from Mythic +2 through Mythic +10, as well, less skilled players get loot upgrades from their +10s. Right now less skilled players are running round ilvl 375 from random world quests and other stuff, but 375 isn’t enough to make +10 trivial for them, but not only is it too hard for them, it also doesn’t give them any reward.
Doing this wouldn’t really affect Mythic+ progression. It would just mean that the top players would be doing the exact same things, except they would be topping out around keystone level 27 instead of 22. But for the typical player in PuGs, they would see a lot more gear progression, and dungeons would be a lot less frustrating because they could choose a level that they were comfortable with and have it be a level where they actually see gear upgrades. It would also make people a lot more flexible with their group comp because it would be a lot less likely that they would lose a key before +10. And for most people, M+ is about a gear grind and doing dungeons for upgrades, and not making a timer in a +12 isn’t so important because you still get the loot.