Formerly Hardcore #7: Itemization and Flight

Ragar likes the idea of best-in-slot items not showing up on the first boss of the raid

Hello and welcome to the 7th edition of Formerly Hardcore, ZAMs column on Blizzard Entertainment’s World of Warcraft. For this column, we’re going to take a look at a couple of articles that came out last week. The first is a new Dev Watercooler on the main site, focusing on itemization in 6.2. The second is an interview Polygon ran on Friday with lead designer Ion “Watcher” Hazzikostas about Tanaan Jungle, future Warlords of Draenor content and some major news about flying in 6.2 and beyond.

Personal Loot, Secondary Stats and Scaling Boss Loot

We’ll start with the less controversial topic, itemization (never thought I’d be able to say that for an MMO). The Dev Watercooler article focused on three specific areas for loot changes coming with patch 6.2. First off is some updates to the Personal Loot system. For anyone out there unfamiliar with Personal Loot, whether you’re not a current subscriber or your guild prefers Master Looter, the current system’s pretty simple. When a boss dies, rather than simply having his set number of items drawn randomly from the loot table and placed on the boss to divvy up, the game does an internal roll for each player eligible for loot. Most of the time you’ll get gold, but when you get lucky, the game will flag you for a loot drop. A second roll is then done against the boss’ loot table, filtered for items for your currently selected loot specialization, and whatever comes up is then placed in your bags without ever touching the boss’ corpse.

The system sounds simple enough, so what’s the problem? There’s a few issues with the current Personal Loot system, but two stand out above the rest. One is that it’s not very consistent or even competitive with Group Loot or the other loot systems. Currently because it’s doing that first eligibility roll for each player individually, it’s possible to get a lot of low rolls and as such get less items than you would have with Group Loot or something else. The second major issue is visibility. If you win an item through Personal Loot, you’ll see a pop-up message on your screen like you’d get whenever you won a loot roll with Group Loot or got a quest reward upgrade. Your friends won’t see that, though – all they’ll see is a quick line of text scroll by in their chat tab, likely to vanish rapidly between guild chat and General channel spam. If you have a bad set of rolls and aren’t winning any loot in the raid, it can start to feel like you’re wasting your time. You’re not getting any loot and you haven’t seen anyone else get anything, so why are you doing this?

Blizzard’s solution for this is fairly simple. To fix the visibility problem, the first step is their new loot UI – basically all of the Personal drops will show up on everyone’s screen with a character name so you know that some of your friends got shiny loot from that kill. The second step is to make sure that with Personal Loot, bosses will always drop a number of items based on group size similar to Group Loot. They’ll also be making sure set items reliably drop with this system, which shouldn’t have been a problem in the first place, but at least it’s getting fixed now. They also say they’ll be increasing the overall rate of reward for Personal Loot and giving players more items to offset the fact that they can’t be distributed among other group members. This part is a little odd to read – they already said that they were making sure the number of items dropped would be equivalent to Group Loot’s numbers, so what exactly does this mean if the drop quantities are going to be the same? The only other hint here is “We know that finding that one awesome specific trinket to round out your gear set can be difficult with Personal Loot, and this should help increase your odds.” Does this mean that Personal Loot has higher odds for important items like weapons and trinkets than Group Loot? Is Personal Loot smart enough to see what you’re missing and boosts your odds for those drops?

They also talked about changes to the item drops themselves, starting with the new raid Hellfire Citadel. Blizzard talked about how their changes to secondary stats have caused their items to lose some sense of identity. Due to their changes to make stats competitive with one another, they’ve made each drop useful to more people but there’s not really that sense of “this is MY item” from anything other than set tokens and even those you were sharing with the other classes on that token. To bring some of that back, Hellfire Citadel will see loot drops with a much wider range of high and low secondary stats on them. Rather than seeing drops where the two secondary stats are within 10-20 points of each other, you’ll be seeing items like Felfire Munitions Launcher and Calamity’s Edge where there’s significantly more of one than the other. Now rather than simply taking whatever’s got the highest item level and then trying to eke out a couple extra points of your best stat wherever possible, there will be loot options where some are significantly better for your spec than others.

This new system of loot with varying secondary stats does have one thing it’s competing with though and that’s the other change that’s coming with Hellfire Citadel, the Item Level Ramp. Blizzard has heard numerous complaints from players and guilds about how other than a few items here and there, new loot from bosses later in the tier doesn’t have the same demand that the new loot did when they first entered the instance. This is because with the current system, it wasn’t uncommon that some of your best in slot items came from the easier bosses in the first half of the instance. By the time you finally downed those tough bosses toward the end, unless you got lucky and got the super-important trinkets that always get put on the end bosses for some reason, you could easily get a progression kill and end up disenchanting half or more of the drops because the raid simply doesn’t need those items. To solve this problem, Hellfire Citadel will have a loot ramp-up: the first four bosses will drop item level 690 gear on Normal, the next four will drop 695, the four after that will drop 700, and the final boss, Archimonde, will drop item level 705 gear.

While I do think the secondary stat change and the item scaling across the raid instance are good changes overall, I do think Blizzard is still looking at some complaints from these two systems clashing. If we’re talking about a flat set of items with the same power level, but they’ve spent their power budgets on different amounts of Haste/Mastery/etc, then that’s a great system for players to build their character to maximize their DPS, healing or mitigation. Without digging through loot tables for specific examples, we’ll do something more generic. Let’s say we have two plate classes with identical DPS, one who loves Critical Strike above all else and the other who wants all Haste. First set of four bosses drops some 690 gloves with mostly Crit on them and a bit of Mastery – player #1 is ecstatic while player #2 only gets a minor boost over his Blackrock Foundry loot.

Now let’s say that one of the 700 bosses drops another set of gloves that’s primarily Haste with a bit of Mastery. For player #1 this could be a very minor upgrade due to the item level increase, but it could also be a downgrade depending on his stat weights. Player #2 however would be getting a major boost since it’s his main stat. Unless the two classes had identical stat weights going into this, Player #2 is going to come out ahead here since the item with a higher power budget has his main stat on it. Now if there were multiple 700 glove options for each tier of bosses, this would be a moot point since each could have what they wanted, but from looking at the loot tables on Wowhead, this doesn’t appear to be the case. In the grand scheme of things everyone’s probably going to be within 3-5% of each other anyway since different specs will have their better stats show up on gear at different points in the instance, but it’s still a potential source of unbalance that’s going to cause a ton of angry forum posts.

No Need to Put That Flying Mount on Your Hotbar This Expansion

Speaking of angry forum posts, let’s move on to the Polygon interview and the announcement that flying will not be added to Draenor. Prior to launch when Blizzard told players that there would be no flying when WoD launched, it was said that we could see flying mounts come to Draenor in patch 6.1. That patch came and went with no sign of flying mounts, but there was still the thought that they’d be coming eventually. In the Polygon interview however, Hazzikostas said that not only was flying not being added to Draenor, it may not get used much in the future unless the team has a specific zone or expansion idea that requires it. They’ll continue to make improvements to flight paths where they can to help players move through the world more quickly, but that’s the only time you’ll be soaring over Draenor.

When asked for their reasoning, it came down to the same reasons they’ve given for holding back flight from the early levels of Wrath of the Lich King or Mists of Pandaria – it may be more convenient and time-efficient for you to fly from point to point, but it makes exploring a moot point and causes the world to feel smaller and less dangerous. Quests to free someone from the back of an enemy-infested camp lose their impact when you can just skip over the enemies on the way, drop at the feet of the named NPC with the key, open the cage and fly out. In addition flying prevents them from adding environmental puzzles like those from the Timeless Isle and all of the hidden treasures in Draenor. Even if you have an addon to tell you where those are, there’s still some element of player interaction in getting to some of those in out of the way locations, whether it’s fighting monsters or jumping from ledge to ledge as you try to navigate your way to the treasure.

I know there’s quite a few players out there that are angry that they won’t be soaring over Draenor and I can certainly understand why – not only is there no real lore reason why you shouldn’t be able to fly here when you’ve done it everywhere else, it makes some of the more interesting mounts they’ve released sit in your Collection instead of being used. Sure you could ride your Cloud Serpent on the ground, but that just looks silly. For me personally though, I’m fine with them leaving it out. I like the jumping puzzles they’ve brought into Timeless Isle and WoD – those were one of the elements of Guild Wars 2 I was hoping WoW would steal borrow at some point. I like that sense of exploration and puzzle solving in my games (only reason I played The Secret World for as long as I did). The only reason I have to miss flying is for gathering ore and herbs for my crafting professions and that’s honestly not enough reason for me to want it back. Heck if they decided to keep something like Garrisons going through future expansions where I could always get some base amount of crafting materials when I logged in on each of my alts, that would be all I really needed for those anyway.

What’s Beyond 6.2?

Aside from dropping that “no flying” bomb on everyone and some details on Tanaan, we also heard that 6.2 might not be the final update for WoD. The reason I say “might” though is because the quote is Blizzard-level vague. When Polygon asked whether patch 6.2 would be the last big content update for WoD, all Hazzikostas said was “We’ve got plenty of more story to be told after this.” While they did direct the question specifically toward future updates for this expansion, it wouldn’t surprise me if he was being coy and simply saying there’s more to WoW after this patch. If he did mean there’s more to WoD after 6.2 though, what could that mean?

We know that 6.2 is bringing us our Legendary rings, which led everyone to assume this could be the final raid of the expansion. Datamining has shown that these rings would be scaling in power, whether through quests or items, from 735 to 795. Datamined info doesn’t necessarily mean accessible in this patch though, so the question is if there’s another raid after Hellfire Citadel or we’ll simply see the ring upgrade as we get more and more kills in that instance.

My instincts on this is that we won’t see any more large raids for this expansion after Hellfire Citadel, not if Blizzard is planning on doing faster expansions like they keep telling us they are. We could see something like a Ruby Sanctum (though hopefully a better boss fight...) with a plot tie-in to the next expansion. Who would be the boss though? The top of the list for “guys we haven’t killed yet” would be Gul’dan. Archimonde may be the final boss of Hellfire Citadel, but we’ve been chasing after Gul’dan this entire expansion with Khadgar, so that would be an opportunity to give him his own instance. I doubt he’d be put into a solo instance though – he’s far too important of an NPC to not put into a proper raid and from a lore perspective, there’s no way he wouldn’t dig into the back of some massive raid with hordes of flunkies between us and him. If there was a solo raid at the end of WoD, I do think it would be related to Gul’dan, but peripherally. Think about Ruby Sanctum – that raid was meant as a teaser for Deathwing’s return in Cataclysm, with Halion being a Twilight Dragon sent to steal the Red Dragonflight’s eggs for Deathwing to experiment upon.

A similar treatment could be done with a solo raid at the end of WoD to tie into the next expansion. We’re all assuming that it’ll be Burning Legion themed at this point, from Gul’dan’s involvement to Archimonde being the final boss of HC to simply “it’s been a long time since we really fought demons”. A solo raid in 6.3 or even the 7.0 pre-expansion patch with a demon boss to tie in the next expansion’s story to WoD would work great. Adding some lore hooks to let us know that it was Gul’dan’s doing the entire time and hinting at how many different plots he’s had running in the background while we fought the Iron Horde would not only let us tie up the Draenor storyline, but also get us pumped up for whatever 7.0 brings us.


Itemization changes, no flying in Draenor and potentially longer, the possibility of more content after 6.2 – quite a bit to talk about for one interview and a developer post. I’ll be curious to see what comes of their itemization changes in 6.2 and beyond. The Personal Loot changes are good across the board, so no problems there. As for the increased loot variety and improving gear levels as you get deeper into the raid, I think those are good ideas by themselves, but I’m not sure how well they’ll work together from what I’ve seen of the loot tables. For those two systems to work, I think they really need one or two more options for each piece per loot tier – that way no one feels cheated when they get to the loot off the last boss and it genuinely feels like you have options per loot tier instead of having to spreadsheet whether five item levels and non-perfect itemization is an upgrade or not.

As for being grounded on Draenor, I think phasing out flying for most circumstances is a good idea in the long run. It’s certainly cool to fly wherever you want, but I think adding puzzles and exploration to the game is better for everyone rather than making herb gathering and questing more efficient. It does add problems for some though – I’ll admit that I loved flying for questing back when I was on a PvP server, but that’s because I’m a carebear at heart and just didn’t feel like fighting every random hunter on the server.

That’s it for this edition of Formerly Hardcore. What do you think of the upcoming itemization and Personal Loot changes? Do you like the idea of more variety in stats on loot drops or would you rather see them bring Reforging back? How do you feel about being grounded in Draenor and potentially everything from here on out? Are more puzzles and hidden treasures enough to outweigh lost convenience? Let us know in the comments below.

Michael “Ragar” Branham


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