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Editorial: Gear ... GONE!

Get Rid of Gear How to revolutionize MMOs in one easy step
I'm making a direct plea to Ghostcrawler and the other designers: take a hard look at the other games out there, and look at how everything is just the same. You start with no gear, you get some starter gear, you get better gear, and you kill a boss. Rinse and repeat. The story plays itself a thousand times in a thousand different worlds.

WoW tells the gear story better than any other game on the market. No game has the balance that WoW has, and no game as the ability to gear up in the overall fun way WoW lets you. However in my opinion, that story is getting old. The gear grind needs to be ground to a halt, and a new era focused on skill and teamwork needs to be ushered in.

WoW is ripe for this kind of dramatic change. Blizzard isn't afraid of taking risks, and taking such a step like this would be a risk. After all, the game would be placed not in the hands of time players spend grinding gear, but instead in the skill that they have. Gone would be the unskilled player with great gear getting into raids over the skilled player with bad gear, elevated would be the overall discourse on encounters, and gone would be the endless problems associated with finding the perfect balance of loot.

While I'm under no impression that Blizzard will actually take these suggestions and use them, I do have hope that they can adequately contribute to the discussion of WoW's future.

What is the current gear model?
As I questioned yesterday, the current model is one of confusion between gear being functional (used for increasing stats), formal (making you look more aesthetically pleasing), and psychological (you must have the better gear, because your brain says so). While lately the trend is to have truly functional and aesthetic gear, the psychological factor still creeps in there. Many players still need that best piece of gear to feel complete.

And in the current model, we never feel complete. There's always something better, something more advanced. The grass is always greener on the more heroic side. So we do strange things.

Such as...

Why does gear need to go?
I think it's easy to see why the current gearing model doesn't work out right. First, the grind can be insane -- it takes a lot of superhuman effort, requires abnormal play styles (killing the same boss, over and over again for months, just so you can go and kill the same boss on a more difficult mode), and leads to a situation that encourages anti-social behavior in loot fights.

But the problem goes deeper than those socioeconomic issues above. Fundamentally gear is something that randomly gets assigned to people on random happenstance. If you're not around for the right evening of raiding and that sword drops you've wanted for months, then too bad -- it's not yours and instead is going to the new guy.

Ouch.

You deserve it more than the new guy, you've worked at it longer, kept in the guild through the thick and thin, and are a model player. But there you are, with your old purple collecting dust and not topping the DPS charts. What can you do?

Grind more gear.

Ouch.

It's this fundamental paradigm of gear rewarding not skill, not character (as in your personality and morality), but random grinding and time commitment. And when you look at gear in that light, rewarding for the wrong behavior (and not rewarding for the right behavior), suddenly, it becomes clear that something must change.

So what's the solution?
The best way you can get rid of the gear problem is to eliminate the need for it to be part of the base game. Make gear a purely aesthetic pursuit. Gear doesn't need to be used for anything other than making your character look heroic, infact, it can become your actions that make you heroic.

If you remove the functional aspect of gear, you're left with your hero's greatness being determined not by the time he's spent grinding bosses, but by the skill he has. Killing Onyxia doesn't need to be a factor of fire resist gear, but instead should be a factor of having the skill to separate and deal with whelps (to use an old example). Will of the Emperor would work a lot better, feel a lot smoother, if the only factor under our (players) control was killing the right adds with the right DPS; not based on the fact if we got that one weapon drop from the last boss.

Of course with the removal of gear as we know it, moving it to a totally aesthetic function, would mean that many other systems in the game have to be changed. Gone would be the need for glyphs, sockets, crafted gear, etc... or would it?

It's pretty easy to see how current professions and key systems could translate into a aesthetic-based gearing system, and a skill-based gameplay system:
  • Crafting Professions -- Make different aesthetic gear sets that are desirable to the players
  • Glyphs -- They modify the skills we have in unique, non-numerical ways (ie: Shadowbolt is now a rainbow of unicorns)
  • Gems -- They modify the skills we have in numerical ways (ie: Shadowbolt does 1% more damage)
  • Alchemy -- Grant temporary bonuses to skills
So where then does the loot factor in to this? After all, what is the reward for killing a boss if there isn't upgrades to be dropped? The loot of the bosses can be broken down into a few different, yet equally desirable things:
  • Skill Upgrades -- Remember those books from Classic WoW? Bring 'em back! When you kill a boss let there be a chance you'll get a skill upgrade, so you do a little bit more damage when you use your skills correctly.
  • Aesthetic Gear -- Drop set pieces and other things players will want to use to look more heroic in.
  • Trinkets and Toys -- Have fun with WoW! Drop random stuff that adds flare to the game, making it less about the gear, and more about the enjoyment.
Some may look at this and ask if the skill books just become the new gear -- and while in certain regards this is correct, at a basic level it isn't. With a skill-based gameplay system, the WoW designers would be able to create much different encounters that rely on using a subset of skills at the right time, instead of taking into account (and sometimes I believe relying on) a flat increase across the board that current gear would provide. Thus, in order to take advantage of these skill upgrades, you'd still have to actually use the skill at the right time.

Skills are not the new gear, they're the new currency of being awesome. Knowing when to let go a Fireball of Mega Damage (Level IX) is more impressive, and does more DPS, than letting it rip at the entirely wrong point in the fight. That's the kind of gameplay I want, where people are forced to pay attention, forced to be involved in the fight and not just fall asleep at their keyboards.

That's the kind of WoW I need. And as I've hopefully demonstrated in this post and others, the answer lies in changing the basic way the game approaches rewards for a job done. Again, I don't expect Ghostcrawler and his team to come in and kill gear as we know it. But you know what? It wouldn't at all surprise me to see a paradigm shift in the necessity of gear in WoW 6.0. Let's talk about that. Let's get together as a community and give some ideas on how to fix WoW's gear grind, be it by getting rid of gear as we know it, or something else just as grand.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion

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