Quote of the Day: On scaling with gear

Scaling awesomely with gear as compensation for doing bad damage when undergeared is not good game design.

-Ghostcrawler

This quote, in a nutshell, describes the issues with gear scaling.

The idea that you start off weaker in return for being stronger later on sounds like a payoff that most people understand. A lot of players make these assumptions too — if a character is easier/ faster to level they feel that there should be some kind of built-in cost. It just doesn’t work in an MMO with multiple classes who are all required to end up at around the same level.

Or rather, because everything in MMOs is weighted towards endgame, there is no amount of weakness early on that could really make up for being overpowered at the end. One is just more important than the other. Plus it makes the early game miserable.

In this quote, he’s talking about Fury warriors. (I wish mine did that sort of damage. I think I lost my Fury mojo from doing too much tanking … or something.) But this also represents the challenges of Cataclysm. Blizzard is going to try to make all classes scale evenly and equally with gear. That isn’t currently the case, and it’s accepted as an issue. So good luck to them on that. Unfortunately it isn’t the kind of flashy player-pleasing fix that grabs headlines and draws in the crowds, but it’s probably the biggest long term endgame fix that they’ve ever made to the game.

But do you agree with the quote? Surely in a gear based game, being able to scale awesomely with gear is one of the great motivating factors to progress your character?

Step away from the leather

The latest batch of 3.1 updates includes a few doozies:

Improved Berserker Stance now increases strength by 3/6/9/12/15% instead of increasing attack power by 2/4/6/8/10%

OK, so finally the boot has dropped and Fury is to scale with Strength rather than Attack Power, in much the same way that Retribution Paladins and Death Knights do.

I’m guessing this was done to bring all the plate dps classes in line and using a similar stat spread. It should make it easier in future to design dps plate that is desirable for all of them. Since Strength converts to Attack Power for warriors at a rate of 1:2, given enough Strength bonuses on gear, it should work out even. In fact, given enough Strength bonuses on gear, the dps plate wearers may even come out ahead.

But right now, it’s a nerf to Fury because:

  • The previous version of the talent scaled a lot better with buffs and enchants (there are lots of enchants and buffs that improve attack power, but very few that improve strength)
  • Many Fury warriors picked up a some leather or mail when the stats were better. Naturally they optimised for the stats which scaled best for them. And some of Fury’s best attacks (like Bloodthirst) scale off attack power.

I think this is the harshest type of nerf in a  gear based game. One that means you need to regear, or that some of the gear you spent that hard-earned DKP on over the last few months is now no longer worth it.

It is so very easy in an MMO to make a gameplay choice which made perfectly good sense at the time, and later is totally invalidated. It’s always annoying. It’s always likely that for some people, it will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back and they will go off to do something less frustrating.

And who would really blame them?

It’s not that this is really that huge a deal in the great scheme of things, although it does come at the tail end of a few other Fury nerfs.  If Blizzard want Arms warriors to be doing more dps than Fury, then people will just switch. But switching specs has a cost too — a cost in time and hassle to learn to play a different spec, a cost in status from being expert to being a noob, and maybe a cost in fun too if you just liked dual wielding. Not everyone wants to go through that every time one spec gets a nerf, in fact probably most people don’t.

Nerfs are always a sign that the design team made a mistake. There’s no real way to guarantee you’ll never be on the receiving end of one. All you can really do is hoard as much spare gear as possible, and hope that if the stat weighting changes you’ll be able to adjust.

And why is there so little Strength gear?

I’m sure all the plate dps classes have been saying this for ages. But very few of the trinkets, necklaces, cloaks, or rings that are designed for melee have Strength bonuses.

There could be three reasons for this:

  1. It’s a deliberate way to control the scaling of the plate dps classes. If they had access to high Strength gear, they would scale through the roof. The design goal is for rogues to be top melee, and that includes having better gear choices.
  2. It’s the easiest way to make one item vaguely useful to all melee, including rogues. Although in practice it means that the item has perfect rogue stats and is sub par for anyone else.
  3. Laziness. Not wanting to make extra items just for the plate wearers. After all, they already have full suits of plate to roll on.

None of this really explains the lack of Strength enchants or flasks though. Making those available would have been as simple as a couple of extra recipes.

It’s not so fun in a gear based game to realise that so much of the gear isn’t really optimised for you. But until Blizzard see the light, there’s always the Cloak of Bloodied Water to fall back on…