Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Legion's Gameplay Loop: Titanforging

Click here to go back to the intro article on Legion's Gameplay Loop to view other topics.

Titanforging is a system that has been long in the making and initially started a couple of expansions ago. The first iteration was when Blizzard added Thunderforged gear, which was a random upgrade to Throne of Thunder drops that occurred more frequently in 25-man raids as an incentive to run them. This sort of design pattern continued with Warforged gear, which spanned from the end of Mists of Pandaria to the end of Warlords of Draenor. Blizzard has since expanded on the system in Legion by introducing the Titanforging system, which allows equipment from the humblest of sources to potentially become incredibly powerful through a high amount of random item level upgrades.

While this system enables players to participate in much of the game's content and feel like they're being rewarded, it and its previous iterations are controversial and have seen much discussion. This article will delve into why the system is controversial and attempt to address it in such a way that the better aspects remain, leaving a robust system that allows for greater parallel progression through a variety of the game's content.

Issues to Consider with Titanforging

While there are technically multiple issues caused by Titanforging, they all appear to be a consequence of a single issue: its randomness. Specifically, the randomness with two aspects of the system are problematic: the chance of acquiring upgraded gear and the degree of the upgrade itself.

The chance of acquiring upgraded gear at all is problematic because each eligible piece of gear that a player gets should have about the same chance to upgrade, meaning equipment that isn't desirable to begin with may end up receiving the upgrade. Theoretically, a player could farm a high amount of gear and eventually receive the upgrade they need, but there's other randomness in the looting system since sources like raid bosses can drop multiple pieces of gear that could be used by the player yet even that is not guaranteed. Thus, even with this workaround, this system engineers frustration due to a potentially constant stream of bad luck at any point in the two passes of randomness.

This gets slightly worse when the degree that the equipment upgrades isn't enough to make a piece a suitable reward. I wouldn't consider this a hard third pass of randomness however since there are workarounds like farming sources that drop higher base item levels of gear like raids and high level Mythic+ dungeons. Instead, my concern lies with a different consequence of having the degree of an upgrade potentially be very extreme. A player can get very lucky and acquire powerful equipment early that may undermine the purpose of high-end progress, which may have contributed to issues like the Emerald Nightmare raid being "too easy."
An example of extreme Titanforging luck on my Druid when the item level cap was 895. The item level increases were 50 and 30 respectively.
To summarize, when referring to a previous article I wrote on randomness, it's safe to say that Titanforging has some control over it in a sense. It's possible to consistently acquire a high amount of gear, meaning there's a good chance that equipment will Warforge or Titanforge as a result. However, I would only classify this as "pseudo-randomness" since farming a lot of gear can't necessarily account for specific pieces upgrading except in narrow situations and more importantly, the degree of the upgrade itself. Furthermore, there's other randomness in the looting system to consider that players may be more willing to take for granted alone, but serve to add to the frustration when compounded with Titanforging randomness. All the aforementioned points indicate the randomness of Titanforging can be improved in some sort of way, which has led me to suggesting a two-part solution.

The Alternate Upgrade System

This part of the suggestion builds upon a previous iteration but with far more specificity towards retaining the strengths of the Titanforging system while providing a more consistent, slower method of allowing unlucky players to keep up. Valor, which has been abandoned once again for some reason after returning as a currency to upgrade equipment in the later stages of Warlords of Draenor, will once again see use in the same role with some tweaks. For instance, Valor would be acquired from more of the endgame content to match the potential sources of Titanforged gear, such as world quests, Heroic Dungeons, and Mythic+ chests. The upgrade system is also altered and allows players to upgrade an individual piece of gear by 5 item levels once per week, though they can upgrade as many pieces of gear as their Valor farming allows for. Furthermore, the Valor needed to upgrade a piece of gear is based on its item level relative to the maximum item level.

What follows are example amounts of Valor that players can acquire and the amount upgrades would cost. Firstly, the following numbers should provide a good idea of how much Valor players can acquire from specific content:
  • World Quests: Varying amounts in addition to base rewards (up to 50 Valor depending on difficulty, but typically more like 20 Valor)
  • Heroic Dungeons: 50 Valor per boss.
  • Mythic Dungeons: 75 Valor per boss.
  • Mythic+ Dungeons: Chests can contain 100 Valor on average at level 2, increasing by 25 Valor per chest per level to a cap of 300 Valor on average at level 10 or higher. Lengthier dungeons like Halls of Valor will award more Valor and shorter dungeons like Maw of Souls will award less.
    • (Mythic+ Valor award equation: (Dungeon timer / Average timer (34.77 as of this writing)) * (Valor award) = Valor per chest amount
  • LFR: 200 Valor for completing a wing.
  • Normal Raids: 200 Valor per boss.
  • Heroic Raids: 300 Valor per boss.
  • Mythic Raids: 400 Valor per boss or 500 Valor per boss if the raid is current content.
    Note that all Valor rewards can be acquired repeatedly regardless of lockout. This is to provide some incentive to repeat raids, though content like Mythic+ Dungeons will likely remain more attractive to do.

    The following is an example list of upgrade costs based on the current (true) maximum item level. Note that the costs are to upgrade to the item level in question:
    825-870 - 250 (or 55 or below of max item level)
    875 - 500 (or 50 below max item level)
    880 - 500
    885 - 750
    890 - 1000
    895 - 1250
    900 - 1500
    905 - 2000
    910 - 2500
    915 - 3000
    920 - 4000
    925 - 5000
    Regardless of the actual amounts, the general idea of this alternate system is that it provides another way for players to acquire stronger gear instead of luck. Based on the example amounts above, the amount of work and time in general required to get maximum item level gear should help to even out cases of extreme luck, though neither arguably equate to overcoming challenging endeavors that would provide more consistent sources of high item level gear like Mythic raids.

    Staggered Item Level Cap

    This part of the suggestion is a simple one that helps to dampen cases of extreme luck a little bit mostly for the sake of keeping high-end progression from being trivialized too much. When the item level cap is increased, such as due to the release of a raid, instead of increasing the new item level to its true maximum right away, it should be set to be equal to a lower item level like that of Mythic raid drops. Then, the following week or when appropriate, the item level cap would be raised to its true cap. In the case of Nighthold, the item level cap would be 910 during the first week, then 925 after that. This would prevent lucky Titanforging to the true item level cap within the first week while still making lucky upgrades rewarding, especially if the alternate upgrade path mentioned above is implemented. Incidentally, the Valor cost of upgrades would be based on the true item level cap, but gear would not be upgradeable beyond the lower cap at first either.

    Update: Alternatively or in addition to this, there can be a hard cap on how high an item can Titanforge to (like +50 of the original for example), with the upgrade system allowing items to reach the item level cap regardless of how high that hard cap is. Allowing gear to upgrade a significant amount but not necessarily to the potential maximum would be more acceptable with an alternate upgrade system since players can still upgrade gear with Valor but extremely lucky players won't randomly get the best gear possible due to a massive Titanforging upgrade, making higher end content more worthwhile to do.

    Final Statements

    As I mentioned near the beginning, Titanforging is a great system in the sense that it makes a lot of the game's content that awards gear more worthwhile to do. However, in its current state it'll manufacture both moments of rare joy and frequent misery due to the additional layers of randomness it adds to existing randomness in character progression. I think that by implementing an alternative that dampened frustration by providing an option to slowly get around the randomness the beneficial aspects of the psychological manipulation of Titanforging can remain. Maintaining more consistent competitive integrity in progression further serves to dampen frustration and might help to make endgame progression more of a skill check early on. Either way, I hope Blizzard does something to address Titanforging, since it's clearly not perfect in its current state. With that said, Titanforging is a better gear modification than random sockets, which I'll probably publish a refined suggestion to improve in the future (not within this article series).

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