Sunday, December 13, 2015

World of Warcraft: A Healthier Alternative to Random Equipment Attributes

Update: Blizzard has doubled down on their plan and added Titanforged gear, which allows equipment up to a certain maximum item level to be obtained from anywhere (with extreme luck). My second suggestion to allow Valor to upgrade gear by 5 item levels each time to account for bad luck would work quite well here. This would make the system immensely more tolerable in terms of its randomness and provide a strong incentive to farm Valor. Since there's currently no apparent plans for Valor, this is an opportunity to allow the currency to be relevant in all tiers of Legion.

Random equipment attributes have existed in World of Warcraft ever since its creation to a degree, likely as a result of the success of the Diablo series and its randomized loot with specific affixes and suffixes. Specifically, World of Warcraft had suffixes for many pieces of randomly dropped equipment ("Of the Eagle", for example). As time went on, these suffixes showed up on equipment dropped in raids, albeit rarely. When Mists of Pandaria came around, Blizzard added Thunderforged gear, equipment that was usually of the same name with a slightly higher item level, to reward raiders, specifically incentivizing them to do 25-man over 10-man. In the following tier, Warforged gear was introduced, sticking around up until present day. Warlords of Draenor also introduced additional random equipment attributes, also likely lifted from the Diablo series, in the form of random tertiary attributes, which needed and got a buff, and sockets, which I criticized heavily a while ago.

Since Legion appears to promise more of the same and beta testing hasn't opened yet, I thought I'd give my two cents on how to handle random equipment attributes in hopes of eliciting a change. Given how I titled this article, it's rather apparent that I'm not a fan of the business as usual approach. This doesn't mean I dislike the idea of having equipment randomly roll some beneficial attributes, but I think there might be a better way to go about it without issues such as marring the joy of acquiring baseline equipment or damaging a profession's livelihood. With that said, here's a couple simple suggestions:
Return the old style of fixed, colored gem sockets and socket bonuses. When equipment with a socket drops, give it a chance to roll a prismatic socket in place of one or more colored gem sockets. 
By reintroducing equipment with fixed sockets that have a chance to roll prismatic sockets, players might occasionally be able to loot a slightly more optimal piece of gear since instead of potentially sacrificing a socket bonus or socketing suboptimally for the bonus, they instead get the best of both worlds.

It is worth mentioning that socketed gear in general is budgeted in such a way that the equipment is stronger when socketed but weaker when unsocketed or socketed with low-end gems compared to equivalent item level gear. This resulted in potentially unintended consequences where socketed gear could be used to stack primary attributes such as Agility (or sometimes secondary attributes), a practice used to make optimal Timewalking sets today that is reflective of optimizing for Mists of Pandaria Challenge Modes and some raiding in general.

To prevent this from happening, gems could only provide secondary stats much like they do now, though they would have to be assigned specific colors and varied up a little more (gems with two secondaries, for instance). In addition, gear budgeting would deduct secondary stats based on the number of sockets it has, making socketing gems more of a method of customizing secondary stats to be optimal in a manner similar to reforging or this extreme suggestion I made.

Ultimately I think this is a lot better than equipment randomly gaining a free secondary stat bonus like it does now, which in itself is a sizeable power increase.
Remove Warforged gear entirely and have gear drop in an upgraded form (1/2 or 2/2 under the current upgrade system). Make upgrading gear with Valor more expensive and add other goods to purchase with Valor.
While this idea might put a dent into this plan in particular, which in itself is interesting since the concept presented at that point in time of the video might be helpful to address horizontal equipment progression issues that I'll probably discuss in another article, swapping out Warforged gear for gear you don't have to spend Valor on to upgrade could feel rewarding. In particular, this change makes the experience of hunting for stronger equipment frustrating due to the objective difference between Warforged and non-Warforged gear.

I also specified that the price to upgrade gear is increased to further indicate how rewarding the random benefit is (as of 6.2.3 it's rather cheap, at 250 Valor per upgrade level). In the best case, players spend Valor upgrading other equipment, allowing them to build a powerful set of gear sooner while still allowing other players to eventually reach a similar (item) level. Once players acquire excess Valor, they can then spend it on the other goods I suggest introducing. These other goods that are purchasable with Valor should specifically not be so rewarding that players generally choose to buy them over upgrading equipment. Examples of goods could be bags of reagents, Heirloom upgrade items (which should cost quite a bit of Valor), toys, pets, mounts, and so on (ideally the latter three types of goods could be acquired from other sources more easily).


As I mentioned before, random equipment attributes aren't a bad thing. They add some additional elements of intrigue to the gear hunt when done well without making it feel like a chore. The problem is the current system fails at this in rather significant ways by creating an objective rift between whether one's gear acquired the random benefits or not. Hopefully this is addressed, since even though the random equipment attributes system isn't likely to single-handedly ruin the World of Warcraft experience, a poorly designed one can contribute to the experience-ruining frustration.

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