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Potentials and pitfalls of Warlords of Draenor's proposed gearing system

Pally tank bracers
Not long ago Blizzard posted a long and detailed post about the gearing system that they are planning on implementing in Warlords of Draenor. Many aspects of it represent significant departures from what we're currently familiar with, particularly the ability of primary stats to morph with class and spec, the removal of spirit from all but non-armor pieces, and the addition of the randomized tertiary stat system (along with chances for sockets and a higher ilevel). As a result, there has been a lot of discussion, speculation, and debate about how the new system will work, and ways in which it may or may not be an improvement over the status quo.

I personally am excited for the new gearing system, and I'm eager to see how it will work out. I think there's a great deal of potential in it. While we can probably envision endless possibilities as to how the new system will affect gameplay, two major aspects of the change jump out at me in particular:
  • It's extremely friendly to hybrids
  • It's extremely unfriendly to min-max optimization
The latter refers to the fact that whether the gear has a socket, a tertiary stat, or a higher ilevel is determined by chance and there is no guarantee that a given piece of gear will have any of those things. I think there are both good and bad sides to be had here, so let's look at them in a bit more depth.

Your friendly neighborhood hybrids

Despite the fact that I main spec as a healer, my chosen professions (skinning and leatherworking) involve killing things. I nearly wept with joy when dual-spec was introduced. Now, with the auto-switching of a piece of gear's primary stat, I get a slightly less dramatic version of this joy knowing that my epic feral off-spec set will come much more quickly than it has in the past. Though it seems obvious that my primary resto gear won't be ideal for my feral spec (I'll likely want different secondary stats), I'll be able to at least use my initial raid gear for feral-specced questing and farming as soon as I start raiding.

I also won't have to agonize over whether to choose the feral-appropriate quest reward (to make questing/farming easier) or the resto-appropriate quest reward (to make running dungeons easier) when leveling at the beginning of the expansion. This was a particular problem for me at the beginning of MoP, where quest reward gear only displayed based on your spec. Switching between resto and feral every time I completed a quest in order to make sure I got the most useful piece of gear got old really fast. This doesn't seem like it will be an issue come WoD.

Alas, the situation isn't all roses and sunshine, and I think this shows especially for the pure DPS classes. At high levels of raiding, a pure DPS class might desire slightly different stats for different specs, but the difference is nowhere near as great as between my resto and feral druid specs. A mage still wants intellect as a primary stat no matter if they're arcane, frost, or fire. From the perspective of a raiding pure DPSer, the morphing of primary stats could very much feel like simply throwing more people into the pool that is their gear. I had lunch this past weekend with some fellow WoW players, one of whom mains a rogue. Inevitably we ended up discussing the upcoming expansion, and he expressed a less-than-enthusiastic opinion of having to roll against casters for daggers that in the past would have been his rogue's exclusive domain.
Gear calculations
I think it's a legitimate concern, at least for the beginning of the expansion in which it's feasible that a guild may prioritize gearing up their healers over their DPS. Furthermore, if my druid got that piece of leather gear over the rogue, it could potentially benefit the raid in two functions: as a healer, and as an extra DPS for the fights where we need fewer healers. All in all, I can understand why some pure DPS classes might be feeling a bit apprehensive over this change.

The min-maxer's lament

The other, and honestly more drastic effect of the new system, is that it very much discourages the type of min-maxing that has become such a part of the player base's approach to gearing in WoW. What I mean by this is that the perfect piece of loot--the "best in slot"--will be difficult, if not outright impossible, to obtain. Secondary stats on any given piece of gear are fixed, and the amount of the changeable primary stat is fixed, but there are further options as well: the gear can have a socket, it can have a tertiary stat, it can be higher ilevel than normal (Warforged), it can have none of those things, it can have a combination of those things, or even all three! The optimal piece of gear, the one that is the absolute best, will have all three. And the odds of you actually getting that piece of gear will be so slim as to be practically non-existent. You won't be able to farm for it. The RNG gods are laughing as I type.

What on earth is good about this? In my opinion, it's the fact that it forces us players to acknowledge the futility of demanding optimal. If you apply to a guild and the GM shows concern over your lack of Warforged gear that also has tertiary stats and a socket, it lets you know right away that this is a guild run by someone who lacks perspective. I am reminded of this article by Perculia and Hamlet from the beginning of Mists of Pandaria, addressing the then-panic over the difficulty of obtaining +300 stat food. The thing that was so frustrating about that storm in a teacup was the collective failure to realize that demanding +300 food at the very start of the expansion demonstrated a misunderstanding of priorities in terms of what made an upgrade valuable. Yes, +300 of a stat is more than +275, but the +25 difference was, and currently remains, such a tiny percentage of your overall rating in any given stat as to be utterly meaningless. Optimal is not always practical, and the WoD gear system as we currently understand it reinforces that with the iron hammer of the RNG. Thus, absolve yourself of the perceived obligation to always be optimal. Aim for what upgrades are most practical and useful, instead.

Unfortunately, if the RNG fails you, as it is wont to do, you may be one of the unlucky folks who never gets an enhanced item, or who gets one just before the next raid tier makes it irrelevant. If you raid at a very high level, this could be a problem. What if someone who has been extremely lucky in their gear drops applies for your spot? If you're both of comparable skill, and your guild is mercenary, you could potentially lose your place. I feel like that situation is specific enough so as to be completely irrelevant to the majority of players, but it also seems like the kind of thing that could cause acute misery for some.

At the heart of it all is the fact that the randomized probabilities for gear to posses extra stats or other goodies add to the uncertainty of obtaining loot. Let's be clear: there's always been a degree of uncertainty built into loot drops. Though boss loot tables are fixed, there's no guarantee that what you need will actually show up--just ask anyone who's been farming old raids for mounts or transmog gear. The extra dimension of uncertainty being added in WoD is bound to make people nervous. Games derive a good portion of their fun from randomness and uncertainty, but it's a question of balancing that in a way such that the player doesn't feel like their actions are useless or futile in face of the randomness.

I'm very interested to see how this new system plays out in WoW. How about you? What are your feelings on it?

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Warlords of Draenor

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