The ascendancy of gear in Legion

Last night was our regular normal raid night, and it was a good session all the way around — we cleared normal Nighthold, did 3 early bosses in heroic so as to give us a head start Thursday for our heroic progression, and still quit 45 minutes early. Quite a few people got tier gear (not me, of course) and there was even one legendary drop, and in general we just had a pretty good time. But about halfway through, I had one of those sudden realizations, the kind you get when you know a certain situation exists but its full impact has not yet dawned on you:

Legion gear is a complete and total mess.

I have ranted a few times about various aspects of Legion gear, but last night it all came together like one giant poop snowball rolling down the hill at you faster and faster. What made it dawn on me is when I realized that I really can no longer tell if a piece of gear is an upgrade for me or not. This is not for lack of trying. Here are the steps I go through to try to determine whether or not a piece really is an upgrade:

  • Before raid, I run a series of sims (I use Beotorch, but there are other sites that will do this for you, or you can download something like SimulationCraft and run them yourself).
    • I take into account that I use a standard “AoE” talent build most of the time, but I also have a single-target talent build that I use for some bosses with no, or very few, adds. This means at least two sims need to be run, because the results are very different with different talent builds.
    • Then I need to pick a fight scenario. Because it is too complicated to pick more than one for each talent build, I usually pick a single boss stand-in-place one (Patchwerk, Ultraxion) for my single target build, and a single boss with quite a few adds and light movement for my AoE build.
  • Once the sims are done, I load them into Pawn (again, this is what I use, there are other similar addons out there). This in theory gives me a quick tooltip reading on any given piece of gear, whether it is an upgrade or not, and an estimate of how much of an upgrade it is.
  • When raid time comes around, the first thing I look for in a piece of gear that I have won or am being offered in trade from someone else who can’t use it, is the Pawn number in the tooltip.
  • In some cases, I will disregard Pawn and go with my gut — as for example if my current piece is level 870 and the new piece is 885, I will call it an upgrade even if Pawn does not. This, of course, assumes that the primary and secondary stats look decent, although for example in the case of necks there are no primary stats so you have to look at other things like bonus effects, gem slots, etc.

For several months, I used a BM Pawn build by Azortharion and linked in IcyVeins. It was a decent way to start, but the thing is, it is based on an assumed ilevel and an assumed baseline set of gear. If you don’t have this set, you will get skewed results — my experience was the higher ilevel I attained, the more skewed were my results.

The way that secondary stats interact in Legion, it is not always the case that the piece of gear with your preferred secondary stat is the best, since there are complex interactions among them, and the main factor really is the ratio of secondary stats, not just loading up on your “primary” secondary stat. (I am giving myself a headache here…) The bottom line is, your best upgrade gear varies according to the particular set of gear you have equipped, and it frequently has absolutely nothing to do with ilevel.  It doesn’t vary a lot If you get one new piece, but if that piece is enchantable and/or has a gem slot, it can change your stat ratio enough that you might want to rebalance things. And often we are talking about a few thousand additional damage points, not just a few hundred.

But here’s the thing: Even if Pawn or your gut tells you a piece of gear is an upgrade, it is still a crap shoot. All sims are based on a set of specific assumptions, and if those assumptions were flawed, then the outcome/recommendation will also be flawed. As to going on gut — on more than one occasion I have equipped what to my gut looks like a decent upgrade, only to unequip it and go back to my other piece when I realize it is not actually helping me.

Remember back in the WoD pre-patch (6.0.2), when they completely reworked secondary stats and got rid of reforging? Here is what the official patch notes (expanded) said about that:

The original intent behind Reforging was to offer a way for players to customize their gear, but in practice it offered little in the way of true choice. Players attempting to optimize every piece of gear were well advised to look up how they were supposed to reforge an item in an online guide or tool that had already determined the optimal choice. It added yet another step to the list of things that must be done to a new item before it was ready to be equipped, reducing the joy of getting an upgrade into a chore.

If an upgrade drops, we want you to be able to equip it with a minimum of fuss. It is for those reasons that we’re removing Reforging from the game.
The Reforging system and associated NPCs have been removed from the game.

HAHAHAHAHA! Oh, Blizz, you crack me up. At the time I did not appreciate what a great joke you were playing on us, but now that I see it, I have to say it was well done! You definitely got me on that one! Yeah, reforging was too complicated, so instead you gave us this Byzantine maze of obfuscated simulation math, probabilities, and contorted stats. Good one!

In fact, the whole Legion gear picture resembles a Hieronymus Bosch painting, with your piece of upgrade gear somewhere in the middle of all that clutter and confusion. In addition to the guess-if-it-is-an-upgrade factor, we have:

  • The mess with crafted and order hall gear that I talked about yesterday.
  • Artifact weapons making a single piece of gear central to most end game play — not only as far as chasing AP, but as being inextricably intertwined with spec power, spells, and play style.
  • The big mess with legendaries — everything from drop rate, to “good ones” versus “trash ones’,  to the fact that their lack often hinders effective spec changing within a class. (Another good joke from Blizz — yeah, you can freely change to any spec in your class, nor more restrictions! Except, of course, artifact weapon grinding, different gear sets because of stats, and “required” legendaries…)
  • Secondary stats. Honestly, no actual non-professional player can understand their complex interactions sufficiently to make any kind of reasonable judgment about a piece of gear’s utility to them.
  • RNG. Once again, the people on the good end of the probability curve make out like bandits, while the chronically unlucky are left to muddle along. This affects not only tier gear and weapon upgrades (relics), but also legendaries and possibly even more importantly secondary stats. I have said it before and I will continue to say it: Ion Hazzikostas, RNG is NOT fun! Speaking as someone always on the butt end of the curve, I can tell you not only is it not fun, it is soul-crushingly depressing.

Gear in Legion seems more important than I can remember, and I think it has reached a point where player skill, while still a factor, is much less a factor than in the past. This growing centrality of gear in Legion, combined with the pruning of raid buffs and utilities for all but a couple of classes, points to a sea change in Blizz’s philosophy, one that puts us far along the road to “Bring the class, not the player.”

I think when I look back on Legion, I will see gear as one of the biggest failures of the expansion, right up there alongside the betrayal of the hunter class. Methods for Legion gear enhancements and accumulation — like the current hunter play style — have become part of the game that I play in spite of, not because of.

About Fiannor
I have a day job but escape by playing WoW. I love playing a hunter, and my Lake Wobegonian goal is to become "above average" at it.

5 Responses to The ascendancy of gear in Legion

  1. Marathal says:

    I ran LFR on Tuesday, and got a tier Chest. It’s 860, and I currently have an 860 I also got 860 Tier shoulders, but I am not about to replace my 940 legendary ones to complete a 2pc. So I traded them away to someone in the group that was very happy to have them. I did have an 860 Tier back in the bank. So off I went to put my brand spanking new 2pc Tier set on, only to see my Haste drop 3% 😦

    The 2pc bonus, 1 point of insanity every time Vampiric Touch does damage??? But they said they were putting less emphasis on having to take Surrender to Madness??? So I asked in guild, was it worth it. They asked what my haste was after putting the set on. I was at 22%. Their reply?

    Oh. Oh wow. Ummm yeah. Really 22%? Seriously, how do you play with it that low?

    Apparently I should be up over 31%, which I know, but everything I get that is a huge upgrade for primary stats keeps removing Haste. So the 2pc is sitting in my bank for perhaps some day when I am lucky enough to gather the other 2. I would love to have reforging back. Honestly? If I could but up secondary stats to where I need to be? I might consider actually raiding. But dangling a carrot of “Maybe” better optimized stats is not enticing at all to me.

    • Fiannor says:

      LOL, yeah I feel your pain. For some specs, the secondary stats are not in the least bit clear. Resto druid, for example has something like 2-3 orders of secondary stats one should pursue, depending on the type of healing you are doing — one for Mythic+ runs, one for large raid healing, one for tank healing in a raid, maybe even some others I don’t know about.

      It’s as if, having for all practical purposes made each spec its own class, now there are sub-specs within each spec!

      • Marathal says:

        We heard you want more customization. So we gave you specs on your specs for your specs.

      • Haha, yeah as you probably know I main a resto druid. If you do different types of content regularly you will need different gear sets for each, something they were supposedly getting rid of. I try to straddle the line in between as I don’t really do much small content.

        Though, at least I don’t have to sim too much. My math-challenged brain cannot handle that. I miss when the game was about exploring rather than math.

      • Fiannor says:

        @TheDancingHare, you just touched on one of my pet peeves. One of the original main motivations for hybrid classes was that they would provide flexibility in roles. It was a great idea, don’t get me wrong I like hybrid classes. But the thing was, Blizz thought if the hybrids were top of the charts in all roles, then no one would ever have a non-hybrid class in their group. So hybrids were always pegged at a tad below what an equivalent “pure” class could do. DPS spec was a bit below pure damage dealers, healing spec below pure healing classes, etc. Also, it was a little more inconvenient to play hybrids because of the need to carry around various sets of gear.

        Over the last few expansions, though, we have seen the numbers of “pure” classes dwindle, to the point that now there are only pure damage dealers — mages, warlocks, rogues, hunters. We have also seen the pure damage classes lose their built-in damage edge, so that hybrid damage dealers are fully competitive in any given expansion.

        On top of that, Blizz has tinkered so much with gear and secondary stats and individual specs, that for all practical purposes, pure damage dealers now have all the inconvenient parts of hybrids — such as needing multiple sets of gear — and yet they do not have the role flexibility of hybrids, nor do they have any kind of advantage as a damage dealer over a hybrid damage dealer.

        This is yet another example of Blizz coming up with a perfectly good class design, only to betray many players when they abandoned some but not all of the plan and failed to compensate for the changes. I don’t begrudge, say, a balance druid, a chance at great DPS (okay, probably a bad example, lol), but I do feel a bit unfairly treated that hunters for example do not have a tank or even a healing spec. Granted, it’s a minor thing in the big picture of the game, but to me it still feels like another broken promise.

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