Procrastination Amplification: Punditry on MMOs and games in general.

Itemization 3.3: A New Hope (?)

Lately I’ve had a couple of people whispering me in helpful hints World of Warcraft on how I had forgotten to put my healing gear on. You see, my shaman is wearing two pieces of elemental tier nine gear in her healing set and her cloak has hit on it. This is far from uncommon with informed restoration shamans these days because in some cases the DPS gear is just plain better than that designed for healing, especially with the low emphasis on mana in current raid content.
Now I am seriously considering to get the elemental totem instead of the restoration one from the new tier of badge gear. Its bonus is triggered by Flame Shock – not normally a spell a healer would use – but is simply better than the bonus triggered by the restoration totem. The judgement is still out on which of these is better in the long run, but many shamans are already complaining about crappy itemization and how they shouldn’t be forced to wear DPS gear when healing. I actually quite like it.

I’ve complained about the lack of choices in itemization before, especially with the recent (and upcoming) consolidation of loot. One of the reasons that my cloak has hit on it is that the two better cloaks are wanted by pretty much every caster in the raid. We all want the same stats, give or take, and gearing is pretty much just an item level decision. (The fact that the two better cloaks drop from the Anub’Arak tribute chests has nothing to do with me not getting them, I assure you! Also, this is pre-Icecrown gear, there are better ones in Icecrown Citadel.)

The totem discussion gives me hope that interesting itemization could actually be achieved. If you decide to get the elemental totem, you make a conscious decision to change your play style. Instead of just healing you now need to take care to keep Flame Shock up on the boss which requires you to target him and be in shock range (which is significantly shorter than healing range.) That’s an interesting itemization decision to make, and one that’s beyond spreadsheets. Mathematically the elemental totem is better than the restoration one, but the change in play style may come with limitations that make it worse in the end.

If you read the canon game design literature, you will know that gaming is all about making meaningful decisions. Decisions that are not meaningful or choices that aren’t really choices at all don’t make for very good gameplay and that’s what makes WoW’s itemization so bad overall. Let’s hope this little totem that could (and Trauma!) indicate a change in direction. Trauma almost looks as if someone at Blizzard is reading my blog – which I don’t think they are, but a man can dream right?
Go right ahead, imaginary readers at Blizzard. More items with unique effects pretty please!