A case for boring gear

I read a forum and Blue post today that started me to thinking about gear in WoW. The post is about a healer cloak that I have never heard of — you can read the original if you want more details — but the point being made was that this cloak, which is neither tier gear nor a legendary, is basically a requirement for healers trying to maximize crit. It is so powerful that no other cloak comes close to replacing it, and it effectively blocks out that slot from any other gear, thus limiting the healer’s choice of tier gear as well as legendaries.

Blizz’s response was, I thought, pretty good. It may not have been a particularly satisfying response to the poster, but at least it was honest. Basically they said yeah, it’s a problem, and our half-solution will not be a good one for everyone who has the cloak, but it is all we can do at this point.

Thinking about this, it occurred to me that much of my angst with gear in Legion is less about the RNG factor in and of itself than it is about the dual notion that certain gear makes a significant difference in my damage-dealing abilities and my receipt of such gear is totally dependent on a roll of the dice. Thus my frustration with tier gear, the “good” legendaries, and so forth.

In my last post, I wrote about my frustration with Blizz’s recent habit of bandaging class and spec shortfalls with gear instead of addressing the base problem. This is one way gear makes a big difference in game play. That is, sometimes a spec really cannot function fully without the gear — the player cannot realize the full potential of the spec without the band-aid gear.

A second way gear matters to game play is that it may come with a special bonus — the player gets a big boost in tanking or healing or deepsing just by having certain gear. In Legion, the “good” legendaries fall into this category, along with some specialized trinkets and such, and to one extent or another tier gear. Blizz even tried to institutionalize this practice by some of the random enchants on neck pieces this expansion.

The third way gear matters is the mix of secondary stats on it. Although Blizz has tried recently to lessen the impact of secondary stats on game play, they have been unable to make much of a dent in their importance. At one point, I recall, our lead MM hunter on our raid team was bemoaning the fact that agility had assumed a secondary spot to mastery for him. Secondary stats, which, I assume from their name, should be — well, “secondary” considerations — have become so important that gear with much lower item level are often still superior to items 10-15 item levels higher. As I said, Blizz recognizes this problem, but they have been unable to untangle all the intricate dependencies enough to fix it.

Finally, there is the strut and preen factor. Some players just cannot get enough of humble-bragging about their gear. “Withered J’im always gives me that stupid Arcanocrystal, I’ve gotten it three times now!” “Man, I can’t believe my bad luck — my sixth legendary and only one of them is really good!” “I hate that I can’t equip all 6 pieces of my tier gear because I have that great legendary in the shoulder slot.” Et cetera. Let’s face it, in-your-face bragging is part of the game some people like best.

I know this will never happen, but imagine for a moment a game where most of the gear simply incrementally increased overall power as the levels rose. For a unique boost, there would still be maybe one legendary per expansion (like in Mists and WoD), and tier gear that you could actually earn rather than roll the dice for. Secondary stats, if they still existed, would match your loot spec automatically. If you got a piece of gear that was, say ilevel 900, you would know it was better than your current 890 one — no simulations, Mr. Robot, or complex calculations needed.

Much of Blizz’s current problem with class and spec balancing springs from their inability to foresee problems with huge gear bonuses (like the healer cloak I cited at the beginning of this post), and with their failure to properly integrate secondary stats into the already-complex equation of spells, talents, and artifact traits. A simpler approach like the one I suggest would allow them to actually make every spec fun to play again, as well as probably lessen the large gaps in performance among the specs.

Similarly, chronically unlucky players like myself rant and rail about the inequities of RNG gear, but much of that is due to the fact that most of the “desired” gear actually gives a significant advantage to players who have it. If it gave just an incremental power advantage, obtaining it would seem less urgent and much of the frustration of never getting a certain piece would disappear. Pursuing the special gear like a legendary or tier gear would be challenging and fun, because you would know if you stuck with it you would be rewarded.

Last, such a system of boring gear might restore the element of skill to its rightful place in the game. I freely admit I am not a highly skilled player — I am the equivalent of one of the chorus line in our raid team. But I was astounded to see what a difference it made in my damage when I did finally get my 4th piece of tier gear a few days ago. In some cases it boosted my damage by as much as 150k per second over the course of a long fight. Trust me, I did not suddenly become much more skilled in the last few days — this was solely a function of gear. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying skill no longer matters in the game, but I am saying I think we have veered too far in the direction of gear making more of a difference than it should.

About the only part of the game such a system would not help is the strut and preen group. They would have to find another way to rub their superior luck in the faces of the Great Unwashed. I have no solution to this, but I feel confident the strutters and preeners would find one.

Gear should matter, and it should reward skill and achievement. It just should not matter as much as it does now, and it should not depend on luck of the draw as much as it does now. I am hoping Blizz learns from some of the gear failures in Legion — such as the legendaries debacle — and returns to a more reasonable gear structure in the next expansion. We can always hope, right?

With that, the weekend commences.

Admin note: A family emergency involving two trips between Virginia and Minnesota this week accounts for my absence. All is well, but it has been a hectic week. Thanks to my readers for their patience.

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.

8 Responses to A case for boring gear

  1. Marathal says:

    First. Glad all is well with the family.

    I was reading something yesterday. Someone lamenting that their DPS in Shadow was horrible, and why would a Raid Leader even consider bringing a Shadowpriest. There were usual you’re doing it wrong, we have the best DoTs, etc. but one point I noticed stood out. In order to play at anything resembling a decent level, your Haste needed to be over 10,000. I resisted the temptation to say why isn’t Over 9000 good enough. But apparently there is a point between 10-12k that works, you can maintain the magical Shadowform for longer, giving you higher DPS. And then I looked at my gear and stats. Just over 8000 Haste. And I looked at the 3 pieces of tier in my bag waiting for the possible 4th, and the loss of near 1000 Haste that goes with it. But oh, I get Versatility. Yay?? I think a big problem is the design around players putting in the time to farm up a certain level of gear. And probably take into account eventually some will over power things, but a small percentage. The end result being many are just tossing in the towel and not bothering. I know I have given up on doing anything more than random heroic dungeons for loot that is worthless, and LFR. Which I am focusing only on the wing that has two tier drops. I don’t care about the rest. And if next week brings another bag of gold? Even that is off the table. Gear is a problem. But trying to extend content by randomize has secondary stats on gear just exacerbates it.

    • Fiannor says:

      Yeah, I definitely agree — when a game is designed to force you to play more and more hours each week just to have a chance at getting decent (not even the best) gear, there is something wrong. Honestly, why should Blizz care how long people play? They get the same subscription money each month (not sure about Far East model, but I think I remember they, too, have now gone to a monthly or weekly subscription versus game minutes).

      The other thing you commented on is one of my pet peeves — not only are secondary stats way over-emphasized in Legion, but there is no guarantee that even spec-designated gear will have the most valuable secondary stats on them. The versa stat on tier gear is one of the most egregious examples. It devalues the tier gear for many specs. Again, I am at a loss as to why Blizz designed the gear this way. All I can come up with is they are too damn lazy to configure tier for each spec, even though they spent huge resources to ensure great spec differentiation in Legion. This is what makes me crazy — Blizz continually comes up with these schemes to completely disrupt current mechanics and shake up very integral parts of the game, then it’s like they lose interest and can’t be bothered to carry through on all the details of the changes. This is the game developer version of the “seagull boss”. (Flies overhead briefly, craps all over everything, then moves on.)

      • Marathal says:

        Something just came to mind. When they do the quarterly reporting now, it is no longer subscribers, but total hours played. The incentive is there to create content that requires more time played.

      • Fiannor says:

        Yup. In fact, apparently monthly hours played is a metric Activision Blizzard uses to judge relative success of their games, I presume, therefore, that it is also a metric by which their executives are judged, and which possibly has bearing on bonuses and the like. But for a game like WoW, I still fail to see its significance. I mean, it’s not like there are in-game ads or something that would benefit from more exposure to customers.

        Still, it is undeniably important to people like the WoW Game Director, since clearly Legion has been designed to force people to spend more and more hours to achieve the same level of success they might have achieved with fewer hours in previous expansions. I do not like this trend, but I am unfortunately certain that it will continue.

  2. Part of my teeth-gnashing fury is that I go for the bait. I find myself “going for the RNG” in professions, making piles of stuff hoping for the rank three OR I run endless Emissary Cache, dungeons etc. hoping for the Legendary RNG drop.
    It was described that the RNG stuff should be a “fun little thing” or surprise reward in the game but it really isn’t.

    • Fiannor says:

      Definitely a good point. I always get the feeling I have been conned — again — when I open up those emissary chests and get crap gear at a level I stopped needing months ago. But I keep falling for it. This kind of mechanic is only fun™ for the con artist, not for the marks.

      A random surprise for a few fun things is nice, but when that is the only way to get needed gear, it becomes the very thing Hazzikostas says is bad: a long, tedious grind. And if I am going to grind for stuff, I would like to be sure that if I slog on for, say a month or 20 iterations of something, then I will get the reward at the end. But RNG grind NEVER EVER guarantees you will get the thing you are after, even if you put in hundreds of hours for it.

      • This is the inherent flaw of basing everything off of RNG. It is telling that PvP was modified to provide gear that can be worked towards and eventually gotten after outcry that it was all RNG. They couldn’t develop their gear to fit their needs in PvP and that “problem” was recognized and addressed. If it is a problem in PvP, why is it not a problem for PvE?

        I’ve never heard Blizzard ever address what I see has the fundamental problem for RNG high level rewards (ie tier gear, legendaries etc). When there is no guarantee that a desired item, recipe, etc will ever drop, every instance where it COULD drop and doesn’t is a feel bad moment, vs the ONE time it drops for a feel good moment. It seems their calculation is that, the one time it does drop will be so awesome it makes up for all the times it didn’t drop. How does this reasoning stand up to scrutiny? Not well I’m afraid.

        In fact, its destroyed with a simple bedtime story. The boy who cried wolf. Every time RNG denies you that goal, its the boy crying wolf where there is no wolf. Eventually, you stop caring, hoping for what you want, and just want the teasing of a possible item to stop. Getting excited for something that could have dropped and didn’t dozens if not a hundred times is just not possible. Eventually the teasing just pisses people off instead of continuing to heighten the anticipation and destroys the “fun” you might have had. I’ve experienced this before, in fact, when I did eventually get my RNG drop, I felt relief and anger. There was not a wink of joy, happiness, or even a smile.

        Its a flawed system that clearly requires less investment and development than an actual reward system that’s been designed and thought through. It also protects them to some degree from criticism from players not getting what they want. The only problem is that, like you observed above, it wasn’t completely thought out and now they have to redesign legendaries because the completely RNG system really screwed some while others won the lottery multiple times. In my opinion, its a system that inevitably will produce far more losers than winners and that can’t be good for your player base. If my design makes more ppl feel bad than ppl that feel good, it is a bad system. Thats what this overreliance on RNG does, imho.

      • Fiannor says:

        Yeah, in total agreement with everything you said. I really am amazed at the PvP/PvE hypocrisy. I mean, of course PvP players were going to complain about a full RNG gear system — we’ve all been complaining about it. Yet Blizz gives in to the PvP side but continues to lecture us PvE-ers about whining and not recognizing the greatness of the RNG system. I don’t get it.

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