Note: This post is a Guest Post. I haven’t been writing much, so my friend Jarrad who has been a long term reader thought to liven this place up with a suggestion for a fix to the gear model system.
Background: I am a BC baby but started not long after BC dropped so I know a bit about the gear grind in Vanilla and BC. I’ve raided at a Heroic level for content that was current and on average would consider myself “mid-tier” as a raider and PVPer.
WoW as a game has undergone several evolutions in just about all of its spaces. From raid mechanics, PVP mechanics, to gear acquisition. As the game has grown, so too has its core pillars.
Some things though, have not changed. Among these is the idea that the acquisition of armour and weapons constitutes a progression and evolution of your characters as heroes within the World of Azeroth. This is intrinsic to the nature of the MMO genre, and WoW has seen many changes in the way gear has been delivered.
The explosion of popularity around Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King, together with ideas of “welfare” gear and subsequent introduction of casual game play has seen large changes to gear. Where once the hallowed epic item was only obtainable to a select few, let alone a set item, now just about anyone can have these kinds of items by investing a fraction of the time that their counterpart games did in the early years of the game.
And here comes a tl;dr warning. It’s a short history of gear in WoW. Nothing super fascinating, but it is interesting to see from an evolutionary perspective.
In classic WoW, it took raiding to obtain epic level items. The general character wore green (also known as uncommon) for the most part. Those who could organise forays into larger dungeons like Scholomance or Stratholme would be lucky enough to score rare (blue) items, and if the stars aligned an epic item. The 40man raids of the day awarded a mix of rare and epic items. On top of these, you also had the rare item dungeon set drops which could be upgraded to epic level through a series of quests. There was no PVP gear in Vanilla.
In the Burning Crusade, the model held similar until the introduction of Heroic dungeons, which were tuned for slightly geared players, and dropped guaranteed blue armour from bosses, and a chance at an epic item from the final boss of the dungeon. Burning Crusade also saw the introduction of competitive PVP formally via the Arena system, and thus the introduction of PVP armour. Subsequent to the introduction of PVP armour came the notion of “welfare epics”, or rather that one could progress their character to epic pieces of armour by simply playing in PVP battlegrounds to earn enough currency (Honor) to obtain epic quality items. It is somewhat regrettable that the “welfare” began, but the result was that the game became more accessible to more casual players who could see a change in their armour value and subsequently could identify progression more easily. Armour was acquired through a combination of Honor Points and Badges of Honor from the various battlegrounds. Also introduced in Burning Crusade was “Arena points” – a system for acquiring higher level PVP armour equivalent to raid armour that did not require Badges nor Honor.
The negatives associated with gearing in Burning Crusade, at least from a PVE raid perspective, was the need to farm older raids for newer players to a guild to obtain gear to progress those characters to a level required for raid progression, which quite frankly made recruiting a pain in the arse.
With Wrath of the Lich King (or Wrath of the Casual King as it was sometimes known), gearing changed again. Heroic dungeons now guaranteed an epic drop from the final boss and the old currency of Badge of Justice were phased out for Badges of Heroism and Valor. As tiers progressed, new Badges were introduced and eventually bypassed. To simplify gearing for current content, the opportunity to purchase raid level gear with those Badges was made available. This functioned to stop the long farm grinds needed for guilds to recruit new players. PVP gear, despite changes to the Honour system, maintained its current system for gear acquisition including Arena points, with minor changes to the PVP badge system that saw individual battleground Badges replaced with a ubiquitous PVP Badge currency.
It was the Wrath of the Lich King expansion that saw the height of the gear inflation problem that was creeping in, and also solidified the idea of the casual gamer for the game. Casual players in Wrath could obtain armour and progression more easily than ever before.
Realising their mistakes though, Blizzard did an about-face for Cataclysm and made gear hard to obtain again. Heroic dungeons no longer guaranteed an epic drop from the final boss, and content wise were actually difficult much like BC. Currencies were converged and the Badge system replaced with a points system called Justice and Valor. The Arena Points system was scrapped and renamed Conquest, and the Honor Points system remained but with the removal of the Honor Badges. It should be noted that prior to Cataclysm, casual gamers could easily be in up to date armour (i.e. ilvl 260ish) without much effort. To suggest that it was “raining epics” would be silly, but the acquisition of armour for PVE and PVP was still quite trivial. Cataclysm did radically change this with no single progression armour piece being obtainable in a week from the points systems (unlike Wrath and to a lesser extent BC). Justice armour (blue) filled the role it did in Classic – entry before raids. However, much like Wrath, Cataclysm saw the current raids need dropped each new tier and this was achieved by dropping the old tier’s armour to the Justice currency and new tier armour on the Valor currency. PVP armour followed a similar model.
These currency and armour systems, whilst not perfect, did work quite well when it came to simpler character progression.
The introduction of the Looking For Raid system in patch 4.3 changed everything again however, by introducing yet another level of armour to the PVE arena. In essence, one could earn Justice to buy last tier’s armour, and could fill gaps with the current tier’s raid finder equivalent, which was of equal progression to the previous tier’s Heroic. Or, quite simply, it messed up the systems.
This as again overhauled in Mists of Pandaria. As it currently stands, Justice as a currency is worthless. The previous tier’s armour no longer changes from Valor to Justice, but instead has the amount of valour needed nerfed. The PVP system however, has not changed apart from the introduction (carried over from Cata) or the Elite tier of conquest armour. PVE gearing has reverted to a model similar to Burning Crusade with none of the positive changes from Wrath of the Lich King or Cataclysm. One could argue that this is due to the changing nature of Raids. with LFR providing filler gear instead of skipping tiers, the need to drop gear down to the easier to obtain currency is supposedly nullified. The primary idea behind this, however, is not for character progression through the story and armour, but rather providing a slathering of content. Blizzard is probably better than most other rollercoaster MMO’s when it comes to delivering new content, but personally having to repeat LFR with no guarantees or character progression on multiple alts, is boring. Potentially what makes it worse than say, grinding heroics, is the time investment for alts, and typically Blizzard has favoured the idea of alts quite heavily (heirlooms etc).
tl;dr end’s here.
So where am I going with all this history? Well it’s simple really. Since the introduction of PVP armour, the option to purchase which slot of armour I want has always been available. PVE gearing has always been, and still is, about the random drop. Cataclysm helped address this by dropping the previous tier’s armour set to Justice, making Justice still worthwhile for particular slots, leaving random drops open for the others but there was always slots missing like shoulders and weapons. But at the end of the day, myself and other players want our characters to feel “complete” as much as possible and this usually revolves around having a piece of gear for every slot. And the you start gearing your alts! But the fact that you can go an entire raid tier and never see a piece for a slot drop, quite simply, is why I choose to PVP. Recently Blizzard CMs have acknowledged that sometimes thing’s don’t drop and have taken on feedback that weapons and bonus rolls need assistance. But what Blizzard is failing to see, is that the model itself is broken for gearing PVE.
So if it’s broken, how to fix it?
It is plainly obvious based on progression races, interviews with guilds doing those races, and to the analytical observer, that the majority of the player base is an unskilled casual who plays in his spare time. And even if this spare time is multiple hours per night, 5 days a week, thats still nothing near the hours spent by hardcore players or even semi-hardcore. It is to this subset of the community that Blizzard has been trying to cater to whilst still delivering high end content to the hardcore. And for the most part, they are quietly succeeding. But despite all the great content, the gear model and character progression is still especially broken still for PVE. Hardcore guilds have acknowledged that gearing alts is not only time consuming, its a requirement. And even the hardcore have expressed that gearing alts is a right royal pain.
So, really, all this whinging is there any suggestions on how to fix it? Yes, I do have an idea that is partially formed and here it is.
The PVP “completion” model works well. The PVE model needs to be redesigned to be similar. Here are some suggestions on how to do this.
Justice and Valor armour should continue to have their variable stats and not be “perfect” for one class, i.e. continue to have haste/crit, mastery/expertise, haste/mastery on gear slots. But make a piece available for every slot. EVERY slot. If necessary, make some pieces crafted so that people can’t farm a set of Valor gear in a week but Justice should be farmable in a week.
Return to making Justice useful: i.e. dropping last tier’s armour down to Justice
Have tokens drop from LFR and Normals to allow players a chance to convert their existing Valor armour to better stats (not reforging but a chance to reroll completely secondary stats on armour.) At the Heroic level, maintain the existing gear model of RNG as this can assist . This provides a dynamic shift for Heroic raids, and allows existing gearing methods (gearing alts etc) to continue.
The PVP model works. It gives players a chance to evaluate and see where they want to spend their currency and it gives those players a sense of completion that is achievable – unlike the random nature of PVE. This would facilitate the desire and needs for character progression in a PVE environment without moving back to the archaic and often clunky model that Burning Crusade introduced. And with resilience coming off PVP gear, and PVP power not part of the item budget, the question of why gear for PVE with PVE gear when you can plan your PVP gear acquisition and still do OK in casual PVE?