So, I'd like to have a quick chat about attunements and whether or not we'll see them in Cataclysm. But before I get to my point, I should identify what attunements are because I appreciate that many won't be clear on them.
An attunement, essentially, is the meeting of a prerequisite (or set of prerequisites) that will allow you to either enter or complete a raid instance. Historically, they have come in two forms;
1) The farming of specific gear in order to complete specific encounters (think the Onyxia Scale Cloak, or the crafted resistance gear during The Burning Crusade).
2) The completion of quests that allow entry into specific content.
Prior to Wrath of the Lich King, attunements were simply a part of the game that made sure you had completed a certain amount of content before moving on and challenging what is designed to be more difficult. This formed a natural progression that started at level cap instances and continued until the final tier of the expansion was unlocked. During the current expansion, we've seen no attunements whatsoever (not counting heroic unlocking) other than looting the Key to the Focusing Iris from Sapphiron in order to fight Malygos; a particularly well designed encounter that is routinely skipped.
I am here to argue marginally in favour of point number one, and strongly in favour of point number two.
In a strange twist, I'll deal with the cons first - there are two significant ones.
Resistance gear takes a long time to grind and can cost a lot of gold - just as the quest chains can be limiting to people who wish to play certain content. Secondly, attunements for every player are not alt-friendly.
I can appreciate that resistance gear can be rough going when everyone in a raid requires it. In saying that, all of the frost plans for Wrath of the Lich King were available prior to capping your profession and the materials were not expensive nor hard to find. Additionally, they were not necessarily an absolute must. Sapphiron and Hodir were the only two bosses I really recall wearing the sets for and, even then, many guilds went without them or with only select people wearing them. The Burning Crusade model of becoming Exalted with the Cenarion Expedition before hitting the Serpentshrine Cavern was too much, I'd say. The Wrath of the Lich King model of crafted sets with easy mats for certain members of the raid is much better and I like the idea of it.
Of course, an alternative solution could be through the use of the guild achievement system. For example, a guild could unlock a certain resistance that can be "equipped" for the duration of an encounter when required.
Therefore, I'd conclude that resistance gear is a perfectly legitimate and fun option when the items are readily available and don't require huge investments of time and/or gold.
The next point is the entire crux of the argument and it's the version of attunement that I wholeheartedly support. Players should have to complete a certain amount of tier content before moving on to the next one.
Think back to the quest line that accompanied The Burning Crusade.
You had to complete level 70 instances (on normal) in order to get the key for Karazhan - only one raid member required it. You then had to complete the Cudgel of Kar'desh (Nightbane/Gruul) and the Trials of the Naaru (heroic five man instances and Magtheridon) in order to get access to the Serpentshrine Cavern and Tempest Keep. The next in line was the looting of Kael'thas and Lady Vashj in order to obtain the Vials of Eternity which facilitated your trip to the past battle of Mount Hyjal. Last, but not least, you picked up the Time-Phased Phylactery from Rage Winterchill in order to access the Black Temple.
Wow, that seems a lot. But with the exception of Nightbane and the Black Temple, these quests took place in the instances that you were raiding, anyway. You didn't have to go particularly out of your way to clear them, nor were they punitive in a meta-financial sense. They were designed to stagger progression in the right direction, assist in gearing up before moving on and to highlight some of the lore while unfolding Azerothian events logically.
In short, they were good for the game.
Fast forward to where we are now with Wrath of the Lich King.
Raid groups are typically blighted by individuals whose knowledge of the game extends to blizzarding their way through a hundred heroic instances, and not much else. Players can turn up to the final raiding tier having completed nothing other than heroic five man instances (with no responsibility attached) and probably the worst raid instance Blizzard ever created in Trial of the Crusader. Many haven't completed any of the previous tiers, nor have come across the main mechanics of them or (worse) learned how to effectively play cooperatively with other people. In short, they are not prepared in either the gameplay or the social aspects of end-tier raiding and, essentially, make raiding a worse experience for everyone involved.
Let me highlight how it could have worked throughout Wrath of the Lich King.
a) In order to get into Naxxramas, you could only unlock the teleporter (think Vanilla) by use of a Scourge Artifact and this item was looted from Salramm the Fleshcrafter in the Culling of Stratholme instance. All raid members require one and it can be obtained with 25 minutes of effort from a quest obtained at the Naxxramas teleporter.
b) Defeating the Four Horsemen was a quest completion that had a reward entitled the Favour of Rhonin. This favour was required in order to have the Kirin Tor open the first forcefield into the Siege of Ulduar.
c) An Icecrown quest was created, entitled A Show of Honor - Tirion Fordring would only support the strongest of heroes as they entered the gates of Icecrown Citadel. In order to show your worth, you have already shown strength by defeating Kel'thuzad. However, you also have to demonstrate that you can show honour (this can be done by winning the Commendation of the Argent Tournament after defeating the Faction Champions) and conquer your fears (by obtaining Blood of the Faceless from General Vezax).
d) You have obtained the Badge of Argent Valour and the Ashen Verdict will now support your entrance into Icecrown Citadel.
Of course this is purely an example of what could have happened throughout the last expansion. Throw in a couple of encounters that require specific gear that was not too rough to get a hold of, and you have an established progression path that doesn't put a strain on anyone. Even if you want to haul an alt through the chain in order to get them attuned to the final tier, it's not difficult nor time consuming to do one five-man instance, a maximum of six bosses in Naxxramas, eight in Ulduar and three in the Coliseum. It can be done in a night.
So, what's the point?
I would argue that the point is two-fold:
1) The percentage of people attending PuG raids is very much on the rise and it's going to get bigger in Cataclysm. Having attunements such as these are worthwhile because it implies a certain level of ability on the part of each raider, as well as a certain level of gear. Also, it makes completion of the quest criteria an important factor in raid attendance which would encourage players to be more patient and less difficult with other raiders. If you need to complete a raid in order to see later content, you are more likely to tow the behavioural line when grouped with others. Of course, it would also increase the base level of player skill if they were unable to skip tiers because they would simply have to learn more encounter mechanics.
2) Players can get more involved in the lore of the game and this, I think, helps people to enjoy it more. The fact that most players now totally skip Ulduar due to the low level of gear in it is a great shame because, put simply, it's the best designed raid Blizzard ever came up with (another reason I still insist on raiders in my guild completing up to and including the Keepers of Ulduar). Additionally, Ulduar was genuinely challenging to the majority of players and this is proven by the relatively small percentage of people that managed to kill Yogg-Saron or Algalon the Observer.
Anyway, wall of text complete. I have pointed out why I think attunements are a good idea and how they could be easily implemented without being too limiting or punitive on casual players. I know some people will disagree with my views, but that's why I'm posting them; to start a discussion.
I'm essentially a casual player in a casual guild and I love the idea of attunements.
Let's see them make a return. :)