Monday, August 4, 2008

The woes of itemization

With the beta news reaching an all time high and the raiding life in-game seemingly at an all time low I've been struggling a little not writing elongated rants about the WotLK beta.

Even though some of you might enjoy a good rant from time to time I decided instead to take a little look at wow itemization, how it is set up and why I think it's no good (that way I get to rant a little but also manage to avoid the beta ;) ).

As things are itemization is very specifically built for each class and specification. You can see this by comparing a lot of the standard rares and epics available. You can look at each item and literally see that item A is better for an elemental shaman, item B better for a tank etc. There's a little overlap here and there and depending on what you need you'll end up with an 'off-set' item. Overall however the choices for each class / spec are pretty much pre-designed. Greens are merely a step-up to rares and epics and rarely are a part of long-term itemization (although most people have that 1 green item they don't replace for a long time because of semi-ideal stat distribution).

It's not so much a decision what items to use but a clear path set out for you to follow of 'most suitable' items. Beyond the switch from azeroth to outland and the coming switch from outland to northrend there's very very few situations where you would willingly choose to downgrade a rare or an epic to a green because of itemization situations.
The itemization is factually so rigid that it is hard for players to make a 100% incorrect choice. If you tell a tank to look for Defense Rating and stick with plate odds are that he will make a lot of not-so-ideal choices but he/she will never make 100% incorrect choices because there are very few items that couple Defense rating with stats that are utterly useless for your class / spec (the expansion promises to compound this). Sure, you may end up with some strength on your paladin or spell damage on your warrior, but well over 75% of the stats on your randomly selected item will be useful to your task.

But these item paths are hard to design. The fact that you're stuck to having to design items specifically for tanks, dps and healers of different flavors means you create an artificial scarcity. This scarcity impacts how people play the game, and how people react to the game. Long discussions of PVE vs PVP items are the result, itemization paths have to be nailed down to the tee or one will overshadow the other meaning the weaker one will no longer be desirable and items are very very easy to compare.

All this is compounded by the fact that there are no items to fill itemization gaps unless they have been designed. Need lots of +spell hit and defense rating on an item? Good luck with that. Want to be able to get a specific resistance high enough without shooting your mitigation to hell? good luck with that.

Last but not least the current itemization doesn't leave any room for creativity. It's great to stack stamina and spell damage on your warlock, itemization works out great that way... but you can't build a defense rating set for a warlock because there's, plain and simply, not enough cloth items with that stat. You can't make a melee mage as crazy as that may seem either because of lack of itemization.

Maybe cloth isn't supposed to have defense rating or attack power, maybe it's not realistic or not an efficient way to itemize. But this decision shouldn't be made for us by the game but discovered by the players.

Think of the potential of a defense rating geared warlock, or a mage with an insane amount of agility...

To summarize; the current itemization:

1. Makes it harder to design itemization paths
2. Creates artificial scarcity
3. Increases the difficulty of closing itemization gaps
4. Supresses any gearing path that is considered 'sub-optimal' not by us but by blizzard

All in all there's no reason not to randomize stat distribution on itemization to a certain extend. If you can randomize the stats on green items you can randomize them on so called rare and epic items. By adding weight to stats based on the armor level (i.e. there's a greater chance for mitigation stats to occur on plate items) you can realistically not change the itemization you have for current gear but add a near infinite amount of 'new' itemization options.

Add to this a component based crafting system where each component for a craftable adds a certain amount of 'stat' value and you could use any number of different components to create the same item and you have the flexibility of leaving your itemization to the wolves euh players.

Epics and rares are superfluous, we live in a world where you can see the same epics over and over again on pretty much everybody and a good +healing green is far harder to come by then a pvp epic.
The colors have become meaningless beyond being an indication of the item level of the item, randomization that was previously so dominant in green items is simply no longer present in epics.

So now the designers are forced to create appropriate itemization paths for each class / spec combination and pretty much required to compound all these itemizations so that more class / spec combinations can pick from the same item pool. The players are forced to follow certain in-game paths to get the optimal items and the crafter still only have maybe one or two items to contribute that are useful.

Item levels should be an indication of the maximum amount of stats on an item and not result in a pre-defined distrubution of stats. The second you start pinning itemization down on specific items and forcing players into those itemization paths you are literally losing content by the bucketload.

Maybe a melee mage with heavy use of instant cast spells isn't crazy, maybe a defense rating warlock isn't crazy, maybe a protection paladin with lots of attack power isn't crazy... but we'll never know because current itemization doesn't allow for stats that aren't considered to belong together to be together. You can't gem to make up for base stats being incorrect on an item.

The worst part in my opinion is the fact that this kind of itemization affects how people act. Try mention the words 'melee hunter' on in-game chat. Anything not adhering to what is generally considered as the 'right' spec is ridiculed by both the players of wow and even hinted at as being wrong by blizzard CMs (I'll have to nail this one down with some form of quote).

I am not asking for a melee hunter or a defense rating warlock to be succesful in raids (although the question begs to be asked why any form of boss encounter isn't skill based but itemization based) but what I am asking for is to have the option of choosing my own path and the itemization to support those ideas right up to the range of so called end-game epics.

A game designer that starts engineering around the optimum is on the wrong path. You have to take it into account, but once you start designing for it you're literally living from expansion to expansion.


*vlad* said...

If players were free to choose whatever gear they wished, it would mean the end of 'Class'.

As the game currently stands, you create (for example) a Paladin before you begin play, and you remain a Paladin; you can't suddenly decide you want to cast shadow bolts, because the trainer won't teach you that skill.

If we were to do away with Class Trainers, each character would start off exactly the same, and their gear choice would determine their 'Class'.

While I think it would be quite fun
to be a Plate-wearing shadowbolt nuker, I imagine that trying to tune raid encounters for the huge range of hybrids available would be incredibly difficult.

WoW is constrained by the game that it is, and what you are suggesting is certainly possible, but maybe most WoW players are happy with the game as it is, despite all its shortcomings.

Changing it completely would probably kill it off.

Captain The First said...

Ah but I was addressing itemization problems. A warlock would be a warlock no matter the choice of items he could wear.

His talents and skills would remain the same but by allowing randomization of item statistics on items right into the range of epics.

You'd not get any additional skills, you'd still be stuck with the default wow skills and this would be fine.

But you can all of a sudden opt to pick up items with defense rating for your warlock of epic quality.

This is currently not even possible meaning that even if I wanted to be a warlock with 490 defense there is simply no way I can achieve this.

Whether this would be useful or not is a matter of argument but not something blizzard should be bothered to dictate to us.