Item upgrades: the new progressive nerf?

I’ll admit that I haven’t had my ear as close to the ground as I should lately, as regards what others are talking about around the blogosphere and on forums and podcasts. I’ve been busy working and playing, and not as busy writing and reading… So perhaps this has been discussed already, and I’m just oblivious to it. If so, I apologize ahead of time.

However, I did read MMO-Champion’s summary of Ghostcrawler’s recent interview with the fine folks at All Things Azeroth, where he mentioned that current raids may not see a progressive nerf until after patch 5.2 drops. At the time, I simply read and filed that bit of information, but after processing it a little, it occurred to me that progressive nerfage is already beginning to happen, post-5.1.

Item upgrades with Valor Points

With the introduction of the Item Upgrade system in 5.1, players can theoretically continue to improve their gear for quite a while – even if they don’t continue to get new pieces of gear.

While there are certainly differences between MoP and previous expansions – with Valor gear from reputation, bonus loot rolls / LFR loot changes, and stuttered LFR releases – things were still progressing fairly normally pre-5.1, all things considered. Now, however, the shelf-life of your gear has been greatly lengthened by the ability to upgrade it – the people behind Ask Mr. Robot recently pointed out on their blog that it would take approximately 24 weeks to upgrade every slot once!

So what I’m thinking is that this is a subtle substitute for the regular and progressive nerfs that Blizzard has applied to raids over the past couple of years or so – or, if nothing else, it’s an experiment in doing so, in part anyway.

To illustrate…

Let’s look at an oversimplified example:

Let’s say that, in this completely made-up example, all of the normal raid encounters are very killable (or even easy), while all of the heroic encounters are really difficult, for an average-skilled and -geared raid team. The team decides to knock on the heroic door, but proceeds to get its collective skull crushed repeatedly and mercilessly by the first heroic bosses. Where there’s probably a skill gap, there are also elements of the fight that may be able to be overcome with better gear: damage and health.

In the past few years, Blizzard has solved that problem by a) progressively nerfing the boss encounters (Firelands, Dragon Soul) or b) progressively buffing the players (Icecrown Citadel). This serves to let fledgling raiders see the normal content, normal raiders see some heroic encounters, and heroic raiders perhaps get past a wall and maybe even achieve heroic end-boss kills, before the raid itself is no longer relevant content.

With the current system, Blizzard is slyly giving players opportunities to slowly but progressively buff themselves. It’s a more subtle process than the ICC buffs, and takes it down to the individual level with individual pieces of gear.

To get back to the example, perhaps the upgrade system is just what the average Example Team needs to make it through a particularly tough phase on their first heroic boss. They kill the boss, and then they can presumably kill that boss repeatedly, which leads to gear from that boss that increases the raid team’s collective power and can also be upgraded, allowing them to move forward through the instance over time.

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Whatever you call it – a boss nerf, a player buff – it’s basically the same thing. Player/team power vs. raid boss damage/health can be represented by a scale. The boss starts out with more power, while the players/teams usually start out over-matched. As players gain power (gear; not accounting for knowledge or experience), the scales start to move from “overwhelmingly in the boss’s favor” to “more evenly matched” at any particular skill level, increasing the likelihood that the team of players will prevail over the boss at some point.

This is not to sit on any side of the argument about whether raid nerfs are bad or good for the game. This kind of thing simply gets my mind working – I’m interested in certain aspects of how Blizzard designs this game. Reading Ghostcrawler’s comment sparked this idea in my head, so I thought I’d throw it out there to see what you think about it.

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Thanks for reading this post by Mushan at Mushan, Etc. Comments are welcome!

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6 Comments on “Item upgrades: the new progressive nerf?”

  1. Quelys says:

    I agree to a point that an increase in gear (ilvl or new gear) is the way that raids are ‘nerfed’ – I don’t agree the ilvl upgrades available via valor are actually an idea of progressive nerfs, because you could look at the top end gems and enchants in the same way.
    I think this is just a system to allow players to keep improving their gear, after all thats what the majority of mmos are about – improving your character. If you are hitting a particular wall on a heroic boss, it is (more than likely) a skill issue/strat issue rather than gear.

    I just can’t believe it will take that long to upgrade all pieces of gear… wtb BiS weps and trinkets!

    • Mushan says:

      “I think this is just a system to allow players to keep improving their gear, after all thats what the majority of mmos are about – improving your character.”

      I totally agree with you – that definitely seems to be the reason for it. It keeps people playing the game, and so on. I just wonder if there was a hint of an idea in someone’s mind when they were coming up with the concept… if you know what I mean. :)

      /devilish grin

  2. Prinnie Dood says:

    I will never have enough valor. Ever. /sob

  3. Quelys says:

    “Item upgrades will have an effect similar to the Dragon Soul nerfs, making raids easier over time.” – Ion Hazzikostas (Lead Encounter Designer).
    WELL PLAYED, MUSHAN!


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