When Blizzard announced that the new Tier 9 sets with Patch 3.2 would be faction-specific, I'm sure I wasn't the only one who thought how awesome that would be. It would mark the first time tier sets would be themed to a faction. It was something many players had been asking for. But as the saying goes, "be careful what you wish for..." In this case, players such as myself are actually going to see the return of faction-specific armor except that there's one niggling detail we'd forgotten about the first faction-specific gear sets (Level 60 PvP) -- they were armor class-based.
That's right. As wonderful as many players thought those faction-specific armor sets were, they were actually somewhat homogenous in that classes that shared the same armor type (i.e., cloth, leather, plate) had the same models. Apparently this is Blizzard's philosophy with armor set design: either the class sets are faction-neutral but look distinct from each other or they are faction-specific but look the same across armor class. The only time Blizzard broke from tradition was with the much-maligned Sunwell Plateau gear which was both faction-neutral and shared a look across armor class. It felt lazy.
While it's currently unconfirmed, MMO Champion has uncovered what just might be the new Tier 9 sets. The bad news is that it looks like Blizzard is sticking with their by-armor-class design philosophy and making all plate sets (what MMO Champion has discovered so far) similar to one another. The only difference is in the subtle coloration and the design on the center of the chest which, unfortunately, can be easily covered by a tabard. You do wear a tabard, right? Yeah, that's what I thought. The uncovered sets are mostly colored blue, which could indicate that these are the Alliance versions.
So if what MMO Champion has uncovered turns out to be the new Tier 9 gear, expect Priests, Warlocks, and Mages to have the same armor in different colors, just as Shamans and Hunters, Druids and Rogues, and Death Knights, Paladins, and Warriors will all be walking around looking oddly similar to each other. This isn't really a huge change from the status quo considering many non-set items from Naxxramas and Ulduar have the same models across armor class.
The good news is that non-tier drops from the new Crusader's Coliseum will fit rather nicely with any plate class, effectively avoiding the clown effect. The current problem with non-set items in Ulduar, for example, is that it's easy enough to pick up pieces that don't match the tier set. Enhancement Shamans could possibly get shoulders that resemble Hunter shoulders, for example. While Blizzard inserted non-tier gear that shared the same models as Tier 8 items in an effort to make mixing and matching gear easier, visual clashes would still happen when certain classes would pick up non-tier pieces that were modeled after another class' tier gear.
In theory, this should no longer be a problem if bosses drop different items for Horde and the Alliance. Otherwise, we might see Horde players sporting non-tier pieces intended to match Alliance sets and vice versa. That would be a disaster that undermines the whole faction-specific theme. It's still a mystery how Blizzard intends to implement faction-specific gear or non-tier items considering this just might be their most complicated itemization scheme yet. Considering it will be now be much easier to maintain a cohesive look, the shared models across armor types might not be such a bad thing, after all. Looking forward to seeing the rest of the sets, particularly the Horde versions...
Patch 3.2 will bring about a new 5, 10, and 25 man instance to WoW, and usher in a new 40-man battleground called the Isle of Conquest. WoW.com will have you covered every step of the way, from extensive PTR coverage through the official live release. Check out WoW.com's Guide to Patch 3.2 for all the latest!