Sunday, December 20, 2009

On Noobs and Heirlooms

There are several items that have been kicking around in my head since I last wrote about things other than WoW farming. (Sounds like a non-sequitur, doesn’t it?) I’ll try to cover them all over the course of the next few posts, so don’t be alarmed if I suddenly start spamming the blog.

Having had my share of run-ins with Alliance players, I’m starting to wonder about the need for heirloom weapons/equipment. For longtime players, it’s a tremendous boon: you don’t have to constantly upgrade your equipment, you start out with equipment that gives you a tremendous advantage over other players, and you can concentrate on quicker leveling. The first and third items are great if you’re a power leveler, but it’s that second item that has me bothered.

Sure, you can zip through those lower levels if you’ve got all blue equipment (which is what heirloom equipment is -at minimum- for any particular level, anyway), but it’s just about at the point of being unbalancing in PvP combat. I’m not talking about arenas or team combat, but rather PvP combat out in the real world. Having been ganked (or Tarren Milled for you Horde players out there) enough times by other players several levels lower than my own in a straight up fight, you start to wonder about how much of an advantage the heirloom equipment gives over the people who are new to the game. I can understand someone who gets in a guild and gets a bunch of blue and green equipment that the other players don’t need, but when a Warrior 7-8 levels lower than your Warrior beats the snot out of you and you follow the standard hit procedure, there’s something else at work here.

This sort of suspicion really didn’t crystallize until I went through a couple of dungeons with Murtaugh. At the time, he was using his 80th level Orcish Death Knight, Kriegtrommel. One Thursday night of fighting, things look normal. Then, the next Thursday night, ol’ Krieg was bashing heads left and right to the point where he –as the tank- was doing most of the damage. (DPS? What DPS?) I told him at one point like I was back to being in the 30’s just tagging along for the ride.

What was different?

Sure, there are a lot of factors at work: the dungeon involved, group dynamics, etc., but for my money it was the time he spent on the weekend in between getting the best tanking gear possible.

Then my mind made the logical jump: if an 80th level character benefits this much from improved gear, imagine what would happen to a low level character if they had access to an equivalent heavy load of gear in the form of heirloom equipment.

Maybe at high levels the nature of heirloom stuff is dwarfed by the epic level items, but at those critical 10-40 levels they become a potentially unbalancing effect in the game. When you size up somebody in PvP you have a reasonable expectation based on level whether you can beat them or not. I’ve done it, I’ve seen others do it, and even Alliance players in their mid-upper 60’s gave me a wide berth when I was farming Fel Iron at 71. (The aerial view that a flying mount gives is invaluable for that observation, particularly if you’re not a Hunter.) However, when you’ve got gear that disrupts that expectation, that 32nd level Paladin your 39th level Hunter might be waiting to feast on could actually be tricked out and ready to turn the tables.

Perhaps this FUD campaign is what Blizzard had in mind when they created heirloom gear. I often got the feeling that the concept was much simpler: wouldn't it be cool to bequeath some gear to your new characters? To the noob, however, you can get the feeling that you’re doing something wrong by working your way through the system without the benefit of a “get out of jail free” card. After all, what priest or mage wouldn’t want a Grand Staff of Jordan to help them through those first 40 levels or more?

The D&D player in me is coming to the fore here, as one of the great issues that affect DMs when they run a PnP RPG campaign is to make sure the game is balanced for the players. If the DM lets that +5 Holy Avenger slip into the hands of a 4th or 5th level Paladin, the campaign goes all out of whack. The lucky player has a much easier time fighting monsters, while the rest of the group is stuck back where they're supposed to be. The situation becomes lose-lose ("Hey, why can't I have one of those?" or "Wow, this is way too easy!"), and the DM has to correct this problem before resentments and boredom threaten to destroy the group. I get the feeling that we're seeing a similar situation occurring in WoW with the introduction of these heirloom items.

Now, if heirloom gear could be taken from a defeated character in combat, that would be something. I was originally going to suggest one of any gear, but something special -like heirloom gear- would be fought over in any viable fantasy world. Why simply leave it as a reward, when history (and SF/F literature) has boatloads of examples of people who misused an item of great power and had it stolen from them.


  1. I can understand your frustration. We're playing a game where gear really defines how powerful your character is. If you're running around with out heriloom gear at lower levels you aren't going to be as strong as people who have the gear. You can obtain heirloom gear by either getting badges from heroics or getting stone keeper shards from dungeon bosses - though they only drop when your faction controls wintergrasp. Which means the heirloom gear is really designed for level 80s who want to make alts but don't really want to struggle through low level content.

    Another thing to note is that some classes perform better than others in differenet level ranges. For instance, priests really don't come into their own (as shadow) until they hit level 40 and start really getting stronger.

    I've played games where you lose items when you die. Lineage 2 is a good example. Believe me, when you spend hours upon hours gaining grinding (there were no quests to speak of) to get the next level only to be killed by a random mob or player and lose a random piece of your gear AND a crap load of xp really sucked. It took all the fun out of the game. Warcraft is great because you can charge in and not worry about losing xp or gear. It happened to me on more than one occasion. Ding level 30, and got a new dagger, sold the old one, died, could not use new dagger and now have no weapon or money. That game really was terrible.

    Also, being camped is part of the pvp server experience. Nothing fosters hate like some asshat chasing you around for a while. At least you can bring in your paladin if things get too bad.

  2. Oh, I've already committed myself to doing occasional sentry duty at Tarren Mill just to catch the gankers. I've even got the sentry location mapped out, as I'd be able to see them come in from either the Alliance city or from Alterac before the alert goes out. Times like this I wish I had a Hunter around to zap them from distance before they knew what happened.

    Yeah, I can appreciate the desire to not lose items, which is why I proposed the heirloom only exception. It would suck big time to lose an heirloom item, but at the same time it would be nice to change something to balance out their effect in the game. The really precious gear is the epic level stuff you're trying for -I've no illusions there- and there's no way you could take that away from a character without a massive player revolt.

    And you don't even do raiding, which is even stricter in terms of crap like gear scores. (As you so eloquently described below.)

    Perhaps instead of losing heirloom items, having a reduced effectiveness in PvP combat is a solution. If that heirloom axe is no more powerful than a Gatorbite Axe for a character in the 40s, then the other player at least has a chance to find a piece of comparable gear out there. The great advantage of an heirloom piece -you don't need to constantly retool to get maximum benefits- remains intact.

    Which brings up another question: do certain elements of the game -heirloom gear, for example- remain the same in both PvP and PvE servers?

    Oh, and those "Winter Veil gnomes"? They make me want to vomit. Particularly after an 80th level Gnome warrior would swoop in and steal Adamantite right out from under me, all the while knowing I couldn't touch him.