Levelling gear vs finding new gear #Warcraft #Lotro #NeverwinterGame

A post over at Endgame Viable has me thinking this morning about gearing in MMORPGs. The post is a summary of UltrViolet’s experiences in Battle for Azeroth, but there’s a particular phrase that inspired this post:

[Azerite gear] just seems like such a meaningless Mcguffin in the game. I’d rather have increasingly powerful gear drops, personally. I’m not a huge fan of “leveling my gear.”

This quote made me ask myself an impossible question to answer: namely how popular in World of Warcraft is the gear levelling mechanic they introduced in Legion (and refined slightly for BfA)? Only Blizzard could possibly know this answer and most MMO devs are very close-lipped on anything that telling about a game or game feature’s popularity. It may not even be that easy to quantify as both expansions have gear levelling as a core mechanic that is required for story progression so the vast majority of players will level their gear at least somewhat just by playing. There was no “I refuse to use an artifact weapon” in the Legion expansion if you actually wanted to play the content.

Gear levelling is a staple of the genre these days, it’s nothing new either:  Legendary Items came to Lord of the Rings Online in 2008 with the Mines of Moria expansion. Some MMORPGs launch with such a system, Neverwinter, Tera or the many other Korean MMORPGs (that I’ve not played) all seem to have item levelling in some form or another. So gear progression through a grind could be said to be an expected feature.

Legendary Items, a long-time feature of LOTRO

Gear levelling is such a thing in Neverwinter (the Cryptic MMO) that it dominates a lot of gameplay, especially if you have a character at end game. I’ve had my progression completely blocked when trying to return because there is a veritable mountain of item level difference between the old questing rewards my characters wear and the necessary item level for newer content (N.B. we haven’t tried the latest campaign, which I’ve heard is better for this).

There’s something to be said for having loot drops as the pre-eminent means of progressing character gear level, however. The big problem with gear levelling is that it locks you temporarily (usually for an expansion), or semi-permanently (Blade & Soul?) to specific items, their look and play style. What if you don’t want your character to have that specific weapon for that long? What if you aren’t keen on endlessly rising numbers and would rather have the thrill of a random drop being actually useful? I suppose if you as a player dislike RNG in general (and the genre is certainly soaked in RNG), then gear levelling would be a preferred and dependable method for gear progression. I’m ambivalent at this stage – I do prefer the simplicity of just equipping what drops if its better. That moment of calculation and anticipation of something new to use/wear. The complexities of gear levelling do not add that much to the gameplay in my mind.

I will say that the Azurite gear is probably a better system, for me personally, over the Artifact weapons of Legion. I didn’t particularly like having the same weapon all expansion on every class. Replacing your weapon, or having a choice of weapons is so tied to the feel of combat and your own mental image of your character – having the game dictate that felt wrong. With Azurite gear it’s only an invisible neckpiece that’s fixed, we can swap and change the chest, shoulders and head slots multiple times as different Azurite gear drops. That’s more flexible and customisable.

The biggest problem for me with gear levelling is the negative impact it has on alt-play. I love playing a variety of characters in any MMO. It gives me the chance to try different playstyles and to level various crafting professions. Any gear levelling mechanism imposes grindy and repetitive gameplay on all of those characters (Legion was very bad for this), and it diminishes the value of progressing said crafting skills.

What do you prefer: gear levelling or gear drops?

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7 Responses to Levelling gear vs finding new gear #Warcraft #Lotro #NeverwinterGame

  1. Bhagpuss says:

    I don’t like upgrading gear but it seems to be the norm in almost all MMOs these days. I much prefer swapping out individual pieces for better pieces. However, i am a huge fan of randomness in MMOs and I love RNG. I would rather never get I want but always be excited that I might than always have what I need but know I’m going to have to work endlessly to upgrade it. The former is a gamble while the latter is a job and I think gambling is more fun than working.

    In games that require constant gear upgrades I tend to just let it fall apart and try to get by on whatever I luck into. In games that use a hybrid system, like EQ2, I usually forget about the upgrading part altogether until I run into problems. I only remembered last night that one of the features of last November’s EQ2 expansion was a crossbow that levels up. Mine’s stil in my bag!

  2. I’m pretty much the opposite of Bhagpuss. I tend to prefer upgrading gear to replacing it, though it does depend on the implementation. A lot of gear upgrade systems leave much to be desired. But conceptually I would much rather keep the same set of gear and make it a part of my character’s identity than go through an endless treadmill of new items.

    As with so many things, my favourite system was probably from the original TSW: custom gear. Constant progression with very little RNG or need to replace gear. After hitting QL10, my main replaced his sword only three times in five years.

  3. SDWeasel says:

    I think both have their place, but I myself tend to prefer gear drops. As you pointed out, upgrading can become a resource sink that limits your options unless you want to repeat the sink to try something else. In a way, it’s not that different from levelling an alt.

    It is, however, much easier to set up monetization around gear leveling. Monetization of gear drops tends to get flagged as pay to win because people feel like they can’t get the thing without spending money. With levelling you already have the thing, it just needs to be improved.

  4. Shintar says:

    I was not very keen on artifact gear when it was introduced to Neverwinter (I don’t think the game had it at launch, as far as I recall it was added during module 4). Since then I’ve grown a lot more used to it, but I think its biggest problem is that isn’t really an alternative to gear drops, because the devs do like introducing better gear with the next expansion/module anyway – it just means that every time you do replace your gear, instead of just feeling good about having gotten a new piece of gear, you feel a pang of regret about all those hours you poured into levelling the old item. I did hear some WoW players express similar sentiments when it came to abandoning their Legion weapons.

    • Meznir says:

      I’m one of those who hated seeing the artifact weapons go. All that time put into them thrown away for a green item. I’d happily keep mine and keep levelling it – or just have it scale in ilevel or something.

      I can see why they got rid of them though – it would be a massive barrier for new players / returning players who skipped Legion – but then they could have just given them one already at a certain level.

      Oh well, back to hoping Boss X will drop the weapon that it keeps from me… !

  5. Pingback: Gear as character progression #Warcraft #EverquestII #TESOnline | GamingSF

  6. Gevlon says:

    I have a conspiracy theory: gear leveling was introduced to test the waters for the post-RNG world. Lockboxes are being banned left and right and “it’s just a game item” doesn’t save the publishers. Purely cosmetic lootboxes were banned in Belgium recently: https://www.pcgamer.com/blizzard-removes-paid-loot-boxes-from-overwatch-and-heroes-of-the-storm-in-belgium/

    Gear drop is effectively a lockbox. You open the dead monster and might find sword of uberness or vendortrash. This is gambling. Sooner or later it’ll be banned too and MMOs must use other ways to reward players.

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