Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Gear progression part 1

While we're on the subject of how one goes about getting PVP gear, I thought we might discuss the current PVE gear progression right now as well. Throughout the Burning Crusade Blizzard created a new way of earning gear for your character, independent of individual instances which had been the only means of obtaining gear previously. Many people were forced to run specific instances upwards of 40 or 50 times hoping a boss would drop the one piece of specific loot you needed. Back in that day, where each class' class gear, was often spread out among several bosses in two or even three instances, there were no tokens to be found. Instead, the bosses had a chance of dropping the individual piece you needed. Since they would also drop the piece other classes needed it created a tremendous time sink as it often took months to obtain your full level 60, pre-raid, suit. Once you began raiding the same system was in place as well. Individual class set pieces were dropped from various bosses. Tier 1 dropped from bosses in Molten Core and Onyxia's lair, and Tier 2 dropped in Black Wing Lair and it again could take months of raiding to obtain your full set.

Recognizing the frustration many players experienced with this system Blizzard began experimenting with a token system in the original Naaxramus. There, the bosses would drop a token, instead of the individual class pieces that were keyed to multiple classes. The individual winning the token could take the token to a vendor and purchase the piece for their class. This system enabled more classes to more quickly earn their set pieces and enabled Blizzard to reduce the size of the loot tables on a lot of bosses. Blizzard carried this system forward into the Burning Crusade but also instituted a second system for earning gear independent of individual bosses or specific loot tokens.

Once you started running Heroics in the Burning Crusade you would earn Badges of Justice for boss kills. In addition to whatever loot the boss would drop, they would also drop a badge that you could accumulate and use to purchase gear off a specific vendor -- the badge vendor -- in Shattrath. The new badge system was wildly popular and players began clamoring for more and better gear obtainable through it. Old vestiges of frustration with bosses not dropping specific pieces of loot resurfaced and Blizzard responded during the Burning Crusade with two updates to the gear on the badge vendor.

The token and badge system was carried forward into WotLK but while the token system remained identical to the system instituted during the Burning Crusade Blizzard made some changes to the badge system. In Burning Crusade there was one type of badge, called Badges of Justice, that could purchase everything and anything from the badge vendor. When Blizzard updated and added to the gear already on the badge vendor anyone that already had enough badges could simply buy the new gear on the spot. And it lead to people that had never raided, or that had never gotten past Karazan, getting gear that was comparable to gear from much higher raid instances.

In order to correct that Blizzard created tiers of badges in WotLK. From Heroics and 10-man raids (Naax, EoE, OS) bosses would drop Emblems of Heroism which enabled you to purchase gear comparable to what would drop in the early 10-man raids. Emblems of Valor dropped off bosses in all the beginning 25-man raids (Naax, EoE, OS) enabling you to purchase gear comparable to what dropped in the early 25-man raids. And with the recent introduction of Ulduar, Emblems of Conquest drop from Ulduar-25 and Emblems of Valor from Ulduar-10. From the outset this tweaking of the badge system seems logical, however instead of adding to the limited amount of gear available from either the Heroism or Valor badge vendors Blizzard created the 3rd tier -- conquest -- which clouds the gear progression for this system somewhat and has lead to a similar feeling of of frustration experienced during original WoW.

While it's still likely some people might still need or want to purchase items off the heroism or valor vendors, most raiders have long since purchased everything they need from those or are now getting better gear from Ulduar-25 or the Conquest vendor. There is no longer any reason to run heroics or any of the earlier raids when you can run Ulduar-10 (for the gear, not for the emblems) or Ulduar-25 instead. Many people commented on this problem when Blizzard announced how they were going to handle emblems in Ulduar but they stuck with their plan. As they so famously do from time to time, they simply stated "they were fine" with how things were going to work out. It was all part of their larger plan, but it still leaves players with a dilemma now in that most often they are back to waiting for specific pieces to drop off specific bosses and running raids perhaps long since past their intention to do so.

I only speculate, but I would expect Blizzard to follow the same scheme with the introduction of Icecrown some months down the road by introducing a 4th and perhaps a 5th tier of emblems for the 10 and 25-man raids. More uncertain is what they will do with the upcoming raid that is to be introduced in patch 3.2. I would expect them to continue using Emblems of Valor and Conquest there as well for the 25 and 10-man raids respectively, but one never knows with Blizzard.