Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Please, take away our gear

I'm still doing a lot of random dungeon runs in World of Warcraft, with guild mates if possible, with pickup groups if not. This weekend my mage got grouped with a dps warrior, fury spec. As I'm still working to optimize my gear and my damage output, I'm running addons like Gearscore and the Recount damage meter. Not to judge people and tell them how their gear or dps sucks, but for comparison and self-improvement. And this dps warrior had a very high Gearscore, 6k, the kind of gear you can only get from running high-end raids a lot. And his damage output was 6k too.

Now a regular level 80 mob, not elite, just a normal mob running around in a level 80 zone in World of Warcraft has 12,600 health. With 6k dps you'll kill that mob in 2 seconds. A freshly minted level 80 character who hasn't run any heroics yet, and who is in a typical mix of green and blue gear from questing and normal dungeons will need around 10 seconds to kill that same mob. It appears likely that the mob was designed around such a 10-second fight, not around a 2-second fight.

A factor of around 5 or 6 in damage output between somebody just arrived at the level cap and somebody at the highest end of endgame content appears to me to be somewhat problematic the day the next expansion comes out. Blizzard needs to think of the future, the day where somebody reaching level 80 will NOT stop and run heroics and raids, but will continue directly in one of the new level 81+ zones. Thus a level 81 regular mob will have slightly more health than a level 80 mob, but not 5 times more. The fight will still be designed to last about 10 seconds. And our 6k dps warrior will be completely overpowered for that and consequently bored by much of the content in Cataclysm.

The basic idea behind a MMORPG based on levels and gear is that you improve your character, which opens up new content for him, which was previously unavailable because it was too hard. You can't solo Hogger at level 1, or quest in Westfall, you do the level 1 quests first, kill the level 1 mobs, get the gear they drop, level up to level 2, and so on, until you are finally strong enough to deal with Hogger and Westfall. If it was possible to twink up a level 1 character to already be strong enough to solo Hogger and kill mobs in Westfall, bad things would happen: The player would find that level restrictions on quests would actually prevent him from getting quests in Westfall, even if he can kill the mobs. And the player would find that even if already strong, he'd still want to level up to get even stronger. Only that the available content would be even more trivial than it already is for a regular character, and none of the loot rewards would have any use. Remove challenge and loot from a MMORPG, and there isn't really much of interest left (which is exactly why people who become good at playing MMORPGs are then the first to burn out of them, while the casuals can keep having fun).

I am certain that the 6k Gearscore, 6k dps warrior had to put in a lot of time and effort into getting that far. He isn't alone, but he is somewhere in the top few percents of the player distribution. Which is why Blizzard will ignore him, and design Cataclysm around the median player. Or actually BELOW the median, because the content has to fit the fresh level 80 characters, while most of the real level 80 characters will have grown in power beyond that through gear from heroics, even if they don't raid. There will be quite a number of people wearing T9+ gear, and encountering content which was designed to be beaten with green / blue gear. That leads to the perverse situation that the more effort you put into your character now, the less fun you will have in the next expansion.

I don't see a way to have both the green / blue gear guy and the 6k dps guy do the same level 81 quest in Cataclysm and both have fun, and both get a nice reward. Chances are, based on the experience with previous expansions, that the green / blue gear guy will find the green / blue quest rewards at level 81 to be a huge upgrade to his level 80 gear, while the 6k dps guy won't find any upgrade to his gear before running level 85 heroics and raids.

So I am proposing a radical idea: Let the Cataclysm be accompanied by a magical explosion of disenchanting, which removes all the magic from our gear. Every player would find himself in his level 80 gear, same look like before, but now the stuff has a grey name and no stat bonuses at all. And the armor value of gear of the same basic type, lets say two plate chest pieces, is exactly the same, regardless of previous iLevel. Now previous 6k dps guy will probably still be more skilled and a better player than previously 1k dps guy. But the difference will be significantly smaller, and both can play through the same content and both have fun, and both get upgrades to their gear from quest rewards.

Note that the more likely stat inflation of the next expansion amounts basically to the same thing, leveling out the 6k dps guy and the 1k dps guy. Only that it'll take longer, probably until level 85 heroics, before the two find themselves in roughly the same gear. By that time the 6k dps guy already has missed most of the content of the expansion, because he just rushed mindlessly through and never got a reward. Taking his gear away from him at once might feel harsh, but in the end it is the better solution. You can still leave him an achievement reflecting his gear score at the end of Wrath of the Lich King.

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