Yesterday, still recovering from a bout with the flu, I felt good enough to be upright but not good enough to be moving around much — the perfect set of circumstances for spending a lot of hours playing WoW! So I spent the whole day leveling my Windwalker monk.
Actually, I am not a fan of the WW spec, but I have always been fascinated with the Mistweaver mechanics and play styles. When I originally leveled my monk, I leveled her from 1 to 90 in MW spec, and it was fun. It has not been fun trying to do damage in a healing spec since then, it has just been slow and painful. (I don’t have a Disc priest, so perhaps that is an exception.) I suspect it is the same with trying to level in a tank spec. The entire leveling process these days is about 95% doing damage. As I am primarily a damage dealer with most of my alts, I usually don’t care, but it becomes very obvious when I decide to level one of my healers. That is just my perception, though, as an amateur healer, maybe some of you pros out there have a different leveling experience.
When I dinged 120 with her last night, she was at ilevel 272. I spent a few minutes crafting some gear for her on my various other alts, and picked up a couple one-handed weapons in the auction house (I don’t have a leveled Blacksmith yet), and in very short order she was at something like 305. Tonight I will crank out some world quests and warfronts and hope to be close to 350 by the time I log off.
My plan is to get high enough to run LFR on her, then switch to MW as her main spec. Of course, Blizz being the general gear buttheads they are, that will require an entirely different set of gear, but my point in today’s post is not that gear is hard to get, but that it is in many ways too easy, and it is part of a disappointing trend in the game.
Let me explain.
First, I have no time or sympathy for the fragile little flowers who constantly whine about “welfare gear”, or who see their man/womanhood being threatened if a “scrub” gets a titanforged item once in a blue moon in LFR. So when I say gear may be too easy to get in BFA, it is not from that point of view. Rather, it is this: Ever since WoD, Blizz has gone down simultaneous but diverging roads with gear, and I think they find themselves unable to reconcile them in a way that makes sense to most of their players. The result, no surprise, is that gear in BFA is a disaster. Unable to truly find a middle road, Blizz has opted for easy gear up to a certain level, then switched to a gear-is-very-rare mode after a certain point. It’s as if a parent gives up and allows a toddler vast amounts of screen time just out of desperation to shut them up, then as soon as they start school takes it all away, allowing almost none. It’s a shock. And it makes for an unhappy and confused kid.
Road One is the importance of gear to performance in BFA. Not many expansions ago, gear could definitely help a player, but it was a standing joke that only poor players blamed their gear for inadequate play. But ever since Legion, the role of gear in end play has become far more important in determining player performance. Yes, bad players will still often blame their lack of gear, but in fact the dizzying interplay of secondary stats, azerite traits, and trinket procs can and do often make a significant difference. One need only look at the temporary faction hopping one guild did in pursuit of World First status — all just to get their team members one additional piece of level 400 gear. In Legion and in BFA, gear matters. More than it did, I would argue, in previous expansions. How many times have you heard good players describe certain specs as being “gear dependent” at high levels? (Bring the class, not the player. Bring the gear, not the player…)
A second lane (stretching the metaphor) on this road is the overriding importance of “uber-gear” — the artifact weapon in Legion, the neckpiece and three azerite pieces in BFA. The mechanics for such gear force most classes to carry a different set for each spec they play. And because the dizzying array of possible traits interact with a player’s other gear in complex ways, there is frequently a need to carry not only several sets of “special” gear, but also of non-special pieces. This situation reinforces the importance of chasing gear.
Road Two is gear-by-lottery. Yes, I am talking about RNG. As gear began to assume greater importance for the end game, Blizz began to careen down the path of RNG for everything. They began by eliminating any sense of earned reward for game accomplishments — no more valor points. Spending hours or weeks on an end boss in a raid was no guarantee of getting even one lousy piece of gear. It was all luck. And the lottery layers kept piling on — winning the gear lottery initiated another drawing for secondary and even tertiary stats, gem slots, trinkets with obscure specialized procs. You might actually win a piece of gear, but it would turn out to be useless to you. To make matters even worse, Blizz eliminated Group Loot, to ensure that when you got a piece of useless gear that had a higher ilevel than what you had, you could not even give it to a player who could actually use it.
(And then, just for good measure, Blizz screwed over all armor crafters by making their high end gear BoP. Want some decent crafted gear? BWAAAAAHAHAHA, make it for yourself! And of course it, too, is based on a roll of the dice, since you can spend all those mats making a piece for yourself that has zero of the secondary stats you actually need.)
In Legion and BFA, Blizz has designed the end game to be highly gear-dependent at the same time as they have made nearly all gear part of a Las Vegas-type gambling system. It’s like your grocery and rent money depends on winning at Blackjack — sure, there are a few individuals who can make a success of such a system, but most of us cannot.
When player frustration with the mess became evident even to clueless devs, they implemented “fixes”. A secret algorithm to make random not so random — “bad luck insurance”. Bonus seals that give you two tickets for the gear lottery. A special pick-your-gear system for PvP players. A chance at a mega-lottery in the form of titan forging. A cumbersome way to reroll your azerite traits (they even called it “reforging” to make it more palatable to players who liked that Mists system).
As a way to kill two birds with one stone, Blizz offered what amounts to a gear giveaway if only players would participate in the largely-failed Warfronts, in the big time failure of World PvP, in soon-boring invasion scenarios, even in continuing to chase rep via emissary and world quests. Do these things and we will give you gear! And gear is important in the end game!!
When even these giveaways were not enough, Blizz implemented the thing players had been agitating for ever since Mists: the chance to earn currency to actually buy desired gear. Except, of course, Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas hates the idea, so it was designed to be basically in name only. Sure, you can buy 400 or 415 level gear with Titan Residuum. Of course, you can only earn it 15-30 units at a time and buying the gear you want takes over 7k, but you wanted it you got it.
Never missing a chance to dangle some unpopular end game activity in front of unwilling players, Blizz went even further and gave the bulk of Residuum-earning potential to players completing high level M+ dungeons every week. That would be about 1% of the player population is my guess. For the rest of us, who see that M+ dungeons have left the realm of casual fun and become just another esports money-making hype for Blizz, we are left with scrapping a few paltry pieces of world quest or other gear for a couple measly Residuum. Last night I calculated how long it would take me, at my current rate of accumulation, to be able to buy a specific piece of gear on my main. Slightly over 4 years. Even getting enough to buy yet another effing lottery ticket will take a total of over a year, or about another 10 months.
Yeah, thanks Blizz, for being such asshats about giving players what is totally a sham option.
The end result, though, of Blizz royally screwing up the game’s gear system is that, while the gear chase on one’s main is painful and frustrating, it is frightfully easy to gear an alt up to 380 or so. This is fun to do, and honestly lately it is the most fun I have had in this game.
But my point is, why is it so fun? It is fun for all the reasons Blizz stubbornly refuses to recognize: players like being able to see a reward for their efforts, they like being able to feel more powerful as they progress in the game, they like to see their ilevel go up because they went out and did some activity, they like being able to get a few purchased pieces of crafted gear to help them. Oh, and they like it when higher ilevel stuff is an actual upgrade, as it almost always is for a new 120. People like being in control of their rewards. Do the work — even if the work is farming mats for gold — and get the gear.
That is not a hard concept, but it still eludes Blizz.