One of the problems that Mark Kern cited as an issue with MMO’s (courtesy of Warcraft) recently was that each subsequent expansion relegates existing raid gear to the trash heap. Warcraft has alleviated the problem somewhat with transmogrification so that old gear retains value based on its appearance, but the problem still exists that the lowest level gear from a new expansion is better than the epic raid gear that preceded it. With Blizzard expected to announce the follow up to Mists of Pandaria before the end of the year, players are again looking down the barrel of another upgrade cycle. But is it necessary?
At max level, acquiring stronger gear is the only way to make our characters more powerful. The ballooning ilvl of gear throughout each expansion has resulted in Blizzard either working to ameliorate the issue via Megadamage or the Great Item Squish. Megadamage is a way for Blizzard to change the units used for displaying health and damage on screen. Instead of a hit doing 3,000,000 damage, it would do 3 MEGADAMAGE. While this is advantageous, this does not solve the problem of how large the damage numbers have become, and can lead to computational issues.
The Great Item Squish, on the other hand, would require Blizzard to rework the ilvls and associated stat increases on older items such that our current damage level would be more reasonable. As opposed to there being ilvl jumps between content from old expansions, the ilvl increase from levels 1 to 90 would be gradual. It would be a lot of work, and while we would still scale in power as we level, the end result would be a downgrade in our current stats. Players would feel as though they’ve been nerfed, even though all stats would be affected. Neither concept is ideal, thus Blizzard has been slow to enact a solution.
The fundamental problem stems from the notion of Player Power Progression. As players advance through the game, they expect to become more powerful. At max level, the only way to do so is to replace their current gear. With each expansion, there’s a significant jump in ilvl, because the base gear from the new expansion needs to out-level the raiding gear from the prior endgame content. For Cataclysm, Heroic Deathwing dropped ilvl 416 gear, which lined up with the early green items that Mists made available. Now that Cataclysm is entirely part of the leveling experience, players go from getting ilvl 333 gear as quest rewards at level 84, to the Jade Forest with its ilvl 416 items at 85; completely bypassing any of the loot from the Firelands or Dragon Soul raids. The stat increases required during those expansions when that content was relevant are now completely negated, and also have the lingering effect of forcing the starting ilvl’s for Mists to be so high.
What Blizzard is missing is that players don’t need to change out their gear so often now. With transmogrification players can alter their appearance as they please. While each expansion offers up new looks for each class, players don’t always desire those new looks. High-end raiders will rush into max level content too quick to even care what the new leveling gear looks like, while slower players will still take the time to transmogrify their gear as they level. In Blizzard’s attempt to cater to multiple playstyles, they have transformed gear acquisition into an option.
If the level 91 gear available from questing in at the start of the next expansion is set to roughly the same ilvl as the gear acquired from heroic dungeons in Mists (ilvl 450), then players who ding 90 in the Townlong Steppes and then jump to whatever the next zone may be will still feel a power jump. However, players who have defeated Garrosh should only care about upgrading their gear when they hit the next raid level. Gear acquired over the five (or ten) levels of the next patch should bring levelling players up to par with this expansion’s raiders, so that everyone will be able to jump into the new raids at an equal power level. While it may not be exciting for raiders to overgear the new questing content, they’re the kind of player who will have blown through it anyway. The challenge of questing would be left to the players who primarily engage in that activity.
Blizzard is correct that Player Power Progression is an integral part of the RPG experience. What they are missing is that the player’s power level increases natively with their character level during the questing part at the start of an expansion. It is only because levels are abandoned for content during an expansion that gear becomes responsible for providing players with self-improvement. Blizzard has expressed concerns with creating a situation that level 90 characters could be comparable to level 95 characters in dungeons or raids or PvP. As long as there are level-based gates, that should not be an issue. Moreover, Blizzard can ensure that a level 95 character is vastly more powerful than a level 90 character by boosting the stat increases due to levelling such that there is a dramatic difference. That may not help the issue with the size of damage calculations, but it will allow for a smoother ilvl experience in the future.
Now that Blizzard has separated the visual function of armor from the statistical function, they have granted themselves leeway in terms of developing new gear. While a change like megadamage or the item squish is inevitable, Blizzard has the option of slowing the process going forward. As we approach level 100 for our characters, many of WoW’s systems are straining under its age. Reviewing which systems can be tweaked to better serve the game at this point is important to protect the enjoyment of playing. The rate at which we replace gear is one of those systems, and it will be interesting to see what Blizzard does with that in its next expansion.
A teaser for the Warcraft movie was revealed at Comic-con. SPOILER: It features a human battling an orc. http://www.polygon.com/2013/7/20/4541344/world-of-warcraft-movie-trailer-debuts-at-comic-con
A Warcraft children’s book was announced at Comic-con. SPOILER: It features a human sharing with an orc. http://www.polygon.com/2013/7/18/4536236/world-of-warcraft-gets-its-first-official-childrens-book