This week’s announcement that World of Warcraft will be bringing Valor back as a currency piqued my immediate interest, especially when we’re not that far out from talking about the virtues (and relatively few vices) of deterministic gear systems. Of course, it then became immediately obvious from actually reading the announcement that far from actually addressing the problem, the return of Valor was actually completely missing the point of the gearing problems and would instead just offer a minor upgrade path for people who have already gotten lucky and…
In all honesty, I do think that having an upgrade path is categorically a good thing. It’s just that once again, this system has been deployed in such a way that it not only fails to solve the existing problem that gearing has in this expansion but instead wholly elides the longstanding issues people have with the gearing system. It not just misses the point but pretends that the point doesn’t exist, and it’s a sadly expected element of design that is basically just bringing back Titanforging in a way that prevents most players from benefiting from it.
One of the the things I’ve written about before is how Titanforging was, in fact, a mess of bad system ideas, but it was also one that did have some genuine upsides for players. It turned everything into a constant slot machine of praying for the right drop without any fixed state, but it did have the actual benefit of helping a certain segment of players get upgrades and new stuff. Its removal makes sense, but instead of replacing it with a better system, Blizzard replaced it with nothing.
Only now… it’s been replaced with Titanforging, but only for people clearing Mythic keystones. And more importantly, people who have already been lucky enough to get the gear they wanted.
I can’t stress enough how bad a system that is right there. Let’s say, just for example, that the problem you’re consistently having involves getting a trinket. The addition of Valor helps that, doesn’t it?
Oh… wait, no it doesn’t. If you’re consistently not getting a trinket drop, you’re still equally unlikely to get one now. All that changes is that you can upgrade that trinket whenever it finally does drop. This isn’t any form of bad luck protection; it’s just a case of getting more out of whatever already dropped instead of praying for better from another equally random source.
The fact that it’s limited to people who are already doing high Mythic keystones only limits it more. If you’re struggling to get drops you need, odds are good that your problem is getting specific slots of gear, which this addresses… not at all. You’re likely to still have the same problems, only now you’re getting points to upgrade your gear in theory. But if your luck is bad, you’re still out of luck.
You know what would actually be an interesting solution? If Valor allowed you to upgrade everything, even quest rewards, so you could actually turn whatever you had happened to get into viable endgame gear or at least good enough that it wasn’t actively holding you back. But of course, that would take away from the current random loot model, which is substantially broken.
“Ah,” say certain bright sparks, “but this is necessary to slow down gear advancement! This prevents the problem of people gearing up too quickly, getting bored, and leaving the game!”
And that is technically true. Instead, it leads to people getting bored because they’re getting no rewards or because their particular playstyles are effectively discouraged by these changes. I’ve already seen people reacting to this news as a moment of interest followed immediately by disappointment, here in our comments and elsewhere. When you announce a major shakeup to your game’s gearing paradigm and the reactions are negative, you have probably screwed up somewhere along the line.
It probably goes without saying that these changes also contain absolutely no allowance for the fact that gearing is also affecting raids and is in fact a major sticking point of every current facet of the game’s design, with all of that seemingly reserved for “we’ll figure this out later.”
That’s just weird, especially when they’re returning a currency to the game that actually addressed these problems.
I think this is what’s really baffling a lot of people here. Saying “Valor is coming back” brings to mind an era of the game’s design when Valor was a currency you used to, well, buy gear. You could get it from a variety of sources and use it on various items. That sort of deterministic system actually addresses the problems people are having with gearing.
It wouldn’t even be hard to put the system in game right now. Make sure that Valor-bought items can’t be upgraded and there’ll still be reason to chase the better rewards from M+ and raids. Give a variety of sources for earning Valor and suddenly so much of the game’s content stops being optional in theory and starts being actually optional. “Oh, I could run Heroics for Valor, slowly… or I could just do some Mythic runs. Or some LFR runs. Or Torghast. Hey, I have options! Options are neat.”
Oh, it also makes it look once again like the game’s designers don’t have a coherent or thought-out plan for this stuff because that plan apparently involved first launching with this system not being fully realized just yet and then later introducing a currency for upgrades once the sheer volume of complaints about gearing became overwhelming.
The core problem here is the same one the game has been running into for quite some time now. What the game’s designers seem to want is a situation in which everyone is consistently playing from patch to patch, with no breaks in playtime in any substantial amount, as players continually chase the next gear upgrade and no one ever burns out or gets bored. What seems to go either unrealized or unacknowledged is the fact that this is darn hard to achieve, maybe downright impossible.
Placing lulls in gearing isn’t a design mistake; it’s a chance for players to do other things. In a robust game – especially one where gearing feels deterministic rather than random – it’s a chance to level alts, craft, and otherwise engage in the game beyond chasing the top end. But that would imply that the top end isn’t the only place worth being, and if you just keep pushing people, everyone will be pushing Mythic keystones, and why do all of these people keep leaving? Why are people complaining?
More succinctly, the problem is that all of these systems make it more likely for people to just drop off and leave, something that gets easier to do each time it seems as if there’s no real point in chasing another tier of item upgrades that are entirely luck-based.
It’s all so depressingly predictable, and it all comes back to the same central problem and the same decisions being made despite contrary evidence. It’d be nice to be happy about the return of valor, but it’s clear from even this early vantage point that it’s being engineered not to fix the problems with gearing in Shadowlands, just to spackle over one very specific crack.