My original intent for this week's Hybrid Theory was to take a close look at the Badge Gear for Hybrids in patch 2.4, but that turned into a monstrous project that left my head spinning. I remained vigilant, until I saw the specific class columns were working on this themselves, starting with Shifting Perspectives. Upon hearing that, I jumped for joy and it was as if the Heavens opened up and thousands of beautiful angels embraced me against their supple forms.
So instead of filling your browser with loot links and badge prices, I'm going to talk about the future of itemization, from patch 2.4 and onward.
"We do plan to have more specs share some loot. I know it's great when the Retribution-Paladin piece drops, but that's a piece that isn't good for 26 other classes/specs, so hopefully we can make it so the item will apply to more classes/specs so even the randomness of loot won't be so much of a big deal."
-Bornakk on Wrath of the Lich King
This cannot come soon enough. The complications of the class changes this might require aside, when such a time comes, I will be a happy man. Patch 2.4 brings a very wide variety of new loot, in the form of badge gear, dropped loot and crafted gear. It seems as if an active effort was made to touch on every single talent spec combination in the game. Some may have a lower representation than others and some attempts missed their mark, but the effort was there and we can already see some of those changes in their early stages.
Don't get me wrong when I say they 'missed the mark', 2.4 has something for everyone. Even if things aren't itemized as perfectly as we'd like, there is something there for you from badges, especially those of you who don't raid. The Elemental Shaman gear lacks the Spell Crit that fuels their longevity, but that isn't something that will break this gear for those exploring sub-T6 content. It's still quite good.
Obviously, what Blizzard will do is what Blizzard will do, but I think there's some pretty strong speculation that we can do as far as what could be coming in Wrath. They're far smarter than I, but some seemingly simple things could be done. For one, Enhancement Shaman currently receive quite a bit of Crit from Agility, but no Attack Power. While there's some crossover with Hunter gear and Shaman gear, in most cases they will not be wearing the same things. Should Shaman be given a bonus to AP from Agility, I think that would turn around pretty quickly, even if it were at the cost if a -small- amount of Crit. Notice I said small! Shaman -do- still need crit, so let's not get too crazy.
The desire for Strength will still be there for Enhancement Shaman, but it would allow for more overlap. Hunter armor would be a little more desired and not outright repugnant. Would this increase the demand on those pieces of loot? Definitely. Those drops would be seen more frequently though, rather than buried under a cascade of mostly useless items that only one person in your raid could possibly want to equip. Even with a higher demand, it's less likely you'll have a bad luck streak and Hunters may even get their equipment faster despite the increased demand.
Moonkin already have a system like this in place in the form of their 400% Armor bonus from gear. Is it ideal to wear Leather in every slot? Definitely. Is it always feasible? Not particularly. It's possible we'll see the Boomkin getting a buff in Wrath, but pointed more directly in the direction of Cloth. Again, that's not ideal, and I'm sure the (*sigh*)Moonkin Tanks out there aren't pleased to hear it. It makes a good deal of sense, though. Cloth caster gear has all of the essential stats a Moonkin needs, and even in Cloth their armor value surpasses Leather and potentially rivals Mail thanks to Moonkin form's bonus.
One pretty large issue conflicts with the "cloth is just as good" part of being a Moonkin: Wearing Cloth too often feels like a 'downgrade' or settling for less. To give a slightly more extreme example, Paladins healed in pretty cloth dresses back in the day, but that doesn't mean they wanted to do it. It got the job done, but it was cloth. They should be in plate. In all honesty, I'm not quite sure how to overcome this stigma as far as class mechanics go. With the ability to wear Leather, equipping Cloth will almost never feel like a 'pure' upgrade. It will be difficult from a class design standpoint to prevent the mass amount of loot that may not be able to be used by more than one person in a raid, if anyone.
Luckily, Blizzard is trying something new in patch 2.4. If you haven't seen it yet, there's an NPC on Quel'Danas that allows you to exchange a boss drop and a Sunmote for a new, different piece of gear. This seems experimental, but something we could see a lot more of in Wrath. It's a pretty simple solution to a hella annoying problem. While the stigma of "QQ cloth QQ" can't be removed very easily through class mechanics, this does seem to be something that could handle it quite well. To continue the Moonkin example, this could allow you to roll/bid/spend your DKP on a Cloth Caster DPS robe, step outside of the raid zone and exchange it for a Leather robe with identical(or similar) stats. That isn't necessarily the case right now, but it would be possible with an expanded system like this one.
This could mean VERY good things, both for hybrids and the WoW community as a whole. It is very similar to the Tiered armor tokens, but still holds some of the excitement of drops. It's still more fun to see something called "Cursed Vision of Sargeras" drop than "Kooky Crown of the Conquistador" but it essentially serves the same purpose. Okay, maybe the Kooky Crown of the Conquistador would be more fun the first time, but you know what I mean. A boss's loot table can be pruned down to 4 or 5 random items from the 12+ some of them have now. While only 4 or 5 different drops would be possible, that boss's actual loot could be expanded to 20+ items. This would allow a greater amount of hybrid and 'off-spec' loot than there was before. There can be full sets of Elemental Shaman, Moonkin or Retribution Paladin specific armor in 10 and 25 man raid zones in a way that won't be an utter waste of time for raids that don't run those specs.
To most raiders, this is a matter of convenience, and it IS convenient. The days of DEing randomly dropped Spell Damage Mail five weeks in a row when you don't run an Ele Shaman are gone. That is most definitely a blessing. For the hybrids, and for the lesser played, less itemized specs, this is a glimpse into a potential future where you'll have no issue finding gear for you. The Burning Crusade did a lot of good toward making all of the hybrid specs viable, and it seems that if 2.4 is a sign of things to come, Wrath will follow that up with the cure for our few remaining itemization woes and the rest of the game's growing hatred of 'random' loot.
This cannot come soon enough.