The Non-Upgrade

30 05 2009

Blizzard’s new design philosophies, from raids to PvP to itemization, are very frustrating. Here’s a recent blue post from the notorious Ghostcrawler:

When bosses reward too well then groups finish the content too quickly and then ask why we haven’t released anything new yet.

If an item drops that improves some of your stats but lowers others, that is far more interesting from a game-design point of view than if you *always* knew you were going to get an upgrade. One thing I always stress is that games should be about interesting decisions. Deciding if you can afford the loss of hit to get more stren[g]th*, or trying to decide if the parry rating is worth losing a little stamina are interesting decisions. There are not always clear cut answers. It lets players demonstrate mastery of the game when they can make the right choice for their character. A best in slot item is not worth it if you have to sacrifice too much of another stat to use it. An item with tons of defense can be the best thing for you if you are wearing blues to hit the cap, or the worst thing for you if you are already comfortably above the cap.


First up, I don’t think gear is the deciding factor in clearing content quickly. Yes, it helps to have all the newest gear, but in reality I think the learning curve of various fights will have more to do with when a boss gets downed. Blizzard has also consistently been pushing back enrage timers, almost to the point of making them irrelevant on normal mode. Let’s take the XT-002 encounter as an example.

I'm back!

I'm back!

When my guild first encountered this mysteriously childish robot, we hit the enrage timer multiple times. The next week when we went back, and the encounter had been nerfed and the enrage timer lengthened, it became significantly easier. There were no significant gear upgrades in the intervening period – we simply came back the next raid day and beat him. People in the raid learned what to do and we came up with a strategy that functioned well enough to allow us to win.

And now to talk of the non-upgrade and the side-grade

The first week my guild was in Ulduar, we were sharding loot. We still shard a lot, and when you consider that much of the raid still has pieces from Naxx (myself included), it is disheartening to see loot drop the first month in a new instance and have to disenchant it. Is this going to continue in 3.2 and onwards? I certainly hope not. GC states that this forces us to make choices, which is more interesting than simply taking whatever drops. The way loot works, however, means that we rarely get to make these choices. Say that Rune Edge drops for my guild (I’m still wearing the Betrayer of Humanity). When I look at the stats, and see lots of armor penetration and agility, I become sad. I cannot take this weapon and trade it in for one that has strength and crit.

My choice ends up being between “take this mediocre upgrade that’s badly itemized for almost every class that wants it” and “get nothing.” You can hold out for certain items, but they could be months from dropping (grrrrr, Sigil of the Vengeful Heart!), which means that the obvious choice is to take the mediocre upgrade that has actually dropped.  If weapon drops were replaced with tokens, allowing you to choose between, say, Rune Edge and Worldcarver then I’d have to make an informed decision based on what stats I have and what stats I want most. That would be interesting.


GC says a best-in-slot item “is not worth it if you have to sacrifice too much of another stat to use it.” Best-in-slot is not one item, but a set of items which make up a best-in-slot gear set that will likely accomplish the main goals of gearing as a DPS DK:

  • The hit cap
  • Close to or at the expertise soft cap
  • Maximizing strength while avoiding armor penetration and other weak stats as much as possible

So if you acquire one part of the best-in-slot set, you won’t necessarily want to wear it until you have the other pieces. The interesting decisions are great in theorycrafting, and it’s important to know what items you really want should they drop, but the choices are often made by RNG. If Worldcarver never drops for you, but you see Rune Edge every week, guess which one you’re going to take?

These choices are also made less interesting by the prevalence of stats that are completely unattractive. While hit, crit and strength are all excellent to have, for a Frost DK like myself, especially one using a rotation with less than 30% of damage affected by armor penetration, any item with this unpleasant stat will likely be avoided unless my current piece is similarly terrible. For example, I upgraded from Ring of Invincibility to Strength of the Automaton because the former was itemized for classes that like agility and the latter for plate classes (well, mainly Warriors and Blood DKs, since they’re the only ones who really like armor pen). It isn’t interesting to choose between two badly itemized drops or one badly itemized drop and one well itemized drop. I want to choose between similarly well itemized pieces of gear that have different stats on them, like Death’s Bite and Inevitable Defeat.




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