WoW's upcoming patch 3.3 adds cross-server instance capabilities to the game, in an effort to improve dungeon accessibility and the PUG experience. Is the new LFG system as helpful as Blizzard promises?
Blizzard announced its plan to implement a brand-new "Looking For Group" (LFG) system for World of Warcraft last summer, at BlizzCon 2009, built on a similar mechanic used in PvP Battlegrounds. Developers told the crowd they had finally worked out a way to bring cross-server instances to WoW, allowing players from different servers the ability to run the same dungeons together. Although Blizzard originally stated it would be limited to 5-player dungeons in the beginning, it has since announced that a "Looking for Raid" system will accompany the new system.
The new LFG system is already being vetted on the public test realm, set to roll out to the public in the upcoming patch 3.3. Blizzard designed the system with incentives in mind, offering higher rewards to players that group with more randomly-chosen teammates. Many players already support the idea of the new system, especially casual players who don't get the opportunity to run through as many dungeons as regular, "connected" players. Others have their doubts, anticipating even more failed dungeon runs from the inherent pick-up group (PUG) design of the system.
As Blizzard recently announced on its official website, the new LFG system offers a slew of new features and upgrades, aside from the ability to play with people from different servers. You'll still be able to join as a group or as a solo player, and define your role as a tank, healer or DPS. Blizzard promises the system will "balance" groups better than ever, and you'll be able to choose any dungeon you like, instead of being limited to just three at once.
No more wasting time while deciding who gets to trek it to the dungeon to summon everyone else, either. Players will instantly be teleported directly inside the dungeon once a match is made, just like the Battlegrounds system. You'll also get the chance to earn better tokens via the new system, as Blizzard explains in the announcement:
Players or groups can choose specific dungeons or they can instead take their chances with a random Heroic or random normal dungeon. Picking randomly conveys some additional benefits. If you defeat the final boss in a dungeon, you receive 2 Emblems of Frost for Heroic dungeons and 2 Emblems of Triumph for normal dungeons. In addition, after players have received 2 Emblems of Frost for the first Heroic dungeon they do in a day, they will earn 2 Emblems of Triumph for each additional random Heroic dungeons in that day. These random rewards replace the current daily dungeon and daily Heroic dungeon quests. The current NPCs who offer those quests will offer weekly repeatable raid quests instead. You can also earn level-appropriate rewards for running random pre-Wrath of the Lich King dungeons while you are leveling up.
There's even a new, non-combat pet called "Perky Pug"—a little pug dog—that players can earn; the more dungeons you run with random players, the better your chances are of getting it. Incentives like these will no doubt pave the way for future rewards, giving Blizzard more ways to encourage players to group with people outside their usual "comfort zone."
But as you can see from the split opinions voiced in forum threads like this one—posted just after Blizzard announced the new system—not everyone expects it to be a shining success. Players tend to get jaded after they've been burned by unsuccessful PUGs, whether it's because someone dropped out right before the final boss, or a stranger "ninjas" the party's loot.
Up until now, the primary deterrent for unacceptable PUG behavior is the threat of being "blacklisted" on a server; players or guilds put the word out—in-game or in the realm forums—that so-and-so isn't trustworthy, or has a tendency to leave other players hanging. But blacklisting has never really been that effective, and many players think that PUGs will only get worse when the anonymity of cross-server instancing launches.
To help alleviate some of these concerns, the loot rolling system will be slightly modified, to detect each player's class, and won't allow someone to roll "Need" on an item that they can't (or shouldn't) use. "The class must be able to equip the item, pure melee will be unable to roll on spellpower items, and classes are limited to their dominant armor type (for example, plate for paladins)," Blizzard explains, in the announcement. There's even a new feature that automatically disenchants unusable loot for the party to roll on if there's an Enchanter in the group, saving time and adding more convenience to the traditional method.
From the casual player's perspective, there's not much about the upcoming LFG system to complain about. If you’re the type of player who can only log in during a certain time of day, or for a short amount of time, the new system offers you the ability to group from a much larger pool of potential teammates, selected from several realms, rather than just your own. It also allows "loners" to experience content they might otherwise never see if they don't belong to a guild, including lower-level dungeons that can often be missed during the leveling process.
Similar to the existing Battlegrounds mechanic, a 15-minute debuff is placed on players who quit any LFG-made dungeon runs before they're completed, which should help cut down on "cherry picking" through randomly-selected PUGs. On paper, it seems like Blizzard has covered most of the concerns voiced by the community. Players have been trying out the new LFG system for some time now on the PTR, and we haven't heard the torrent of negative feedback many fans were expecting.
Until patch 3.3 goes live within the next month or so, we won't know exactly what the full-scale impact of the new system is, or whether or not it proves to be the blessing that Blizzard claims it is. What's your take on the upcoming system? Can it only offer a better gameplay experience for people who already run with PUGs, or do you think it will further complicate the already-difficult notion of strategizing with strangers? If you've already tried out the new system on the PTR, let us know what you think of the new LFG system.