I was thinking recently while messing around on low-level characters in World of Warcraft (a new pandaran Monk) and Lord of the Rings Online (a dwarven Rune-keeper) that MMORPGs are full of items that, presumably, no-one uses.
When was the last time you stopped at a vendor in a game and thought: “oh, that looks really good, I’ll buy that [insert item name]?”. Those countless vendors who have their hard crafted armour, arms or equipment, who stand vigilantly at their stall day after day, only to always see adventures walking past with their positively glowing magical arms and armour. There are exceptions of course, special vendors who barter tokens or trophies for very powerful gear – that’s a feature of more accessible end-game gearing in modern MMOs – but that’s not what I’m talking about here.
Seeing the same situation in both games spun of a couple of thoughts for me, firstly was it always so in the genre? Back in early WoW years, I seem to remember white quality gear being good upgrades for early level characters – heck even grey quality was useful if you had bad luck on finding new items.
A second thought is on the dizzying verticality of gear in most MMOs – the decision on whether to keep an item is almost always about more power, more stats etc. Either the game has a clear indicator for this, an item level rating or score, or the raw stats are used to judge whether to replace your current sword with that new one you just found. Ironically in WoW’s latest expansion this near-standard method has been complicated by secondary stats being, or seeming to be, more important than item level – it feels weird to be passing on items that are higher level because the random combo of haste, critical, versatility or whatever is not optimal for your class & spec. It appears Blizzard will be nerfing secondary stats soon to ensure that higher item level = item upgrade once more.
The only exception to this common standard that I know of is Dungeons & Dragons Online. The game has extra criteria beyond an item’s raw power (as measured by its ‘plus’ value or dps output) – this is especially true for weapons. You need certain types of weapons against certain opponents – e.g. blunt weapons to efficiently kill skeletons or skeletal monsters. Some weapons are especially effective against certain foes: a ice-damage weapon will do wonders against fire elementals or their kin. When I’ve played the game on various characters it has encourage quite a different attitude to gear and upgrades – even finding an obvious upgrade does not mean you automatically vendor what you were using before. In most MMOs it seems that gear upgrades are usually clear and absolute replacements.