I have noticed a recent trend amongst posts by Ghostcrawler and others to note that gear must be badly itemised early in an expansion to allow a suitable gearing curve and progression of gear without simple “Tier 5 of Tier 4+2”. There are three major problems with Lich King in this regard.
1: Itemisation has changed (for example ilevel related armour has been lowered)
2: Each instance to date is similarly designed
3: There are no differences in tier requirements
Point one is largely irrelevant, the itemisation formulas are easy to change to meet the requirements of the instance. The issue of this however comes in for both tanking and PvP (as armour is useful in both) where tiers are now defined largely by those small stat differences rather than assisted by the inherent armour differences.
Point two is important, tier 4 was the first real tanking gear of TBC designed to enable the tanking of relatively hard hitting bosses in Tempest Keep and the Serpent Shrine Cavern. Its focus was on basic flexibility and a good base of abilities.Tier 5 was designed for the latter parts of these instances, mixing higher avoidance with the requirements for the trash of Mount Hyjal and Black Temple. Finally tier 6 was designed for sheer avoidance, enabling tanks to survive the hard hitting bosses of late tier 6 and Sunwell where two hits back to back could be lethal (and crushing blows guaranteed that a third back to back hit would ensure a Warrior tank’s death from the inevitable unlucky crush – which with 65% avoidance, 20% block it was almost guaranteed to be a crush).
Point three though is where I want to focus on, instance design drives itemisation and alas the instance design is “harder, faster, stronger” (aka Daft Punk mode). The issues is that this means proper itemisation results in tiers being the famed “+2 stamina”. This drives the idea that different tiers should require different statistics for full effectiveness, meaning that tier 10 is designed for those challenges while tier 9 is workable, but far from the most effective. This leads to my real thoughts.
Building Wrath of the Lich King to Scale
I will take caster DPS as the ideal example, taking the projected Lich King development:
Tier 7: Naxxramas 25, Eye of Eternity 25, Wyrmwrest (T7) 25, Vault of Archavon (T7) 25
Tier 8: Ulduar 25, Vault of Archavon (T8) 25
Tier 9: Argent Cathedral 25 (?), Vault of Archavon (T9) 25?
Tier 10: Icecrown Citadel (25), Vault of Archavon (T10) 25?
So there are roughly four tiers of content projected at the moment, meaning everything pre-tier 10 is either sub-optimised, has to represent an x+2 item, or must be irreplaceable in a similar way to the Dragon Spine Trophy. This is a bad plan in general because players know what well optimised gear looks like and understand it. Instead I suggest moving to a different system. If we presume that bosses can be different levels, then we can have:
Tier 7: Level 83 Bosses. (ilevel 213+13 hard)
Tier 8: Level 84 Bosses. (Ilevel 226+13 hard)
Tier 9: Level 85 Bosses. (ilevel 239+13 hard)
Tier 10: Level 86 Bosses. (ilevel 252+13 hard)
Tier 10 Hard: Level 87 Bosses. (ilevel 265)
Loot is now automatically scaled, and hardmodes are automatically harder than their normal counterparts by being effectively a tier ahead of the gear design of the current instance. This then allows different stats to have an effect.
Hit rating is the default tool to tweak, and will plateau towards a limit such that it is not much harder to hit a level 87 tier 10 boss than it is to hit a level 83 boss, this means that hit acts as the basic stat for gear to have, the early tiers can be choked full of this easily without allowing the simple replacement of hit later on as items acquire too much of it.
Bosses then have spell resistance (countered by spell penetration), rising from level 84 (so tier 8 bosses would start to become harder to actually hurt requiring the stacking of penetration as well as hit). This scales linearly with level requiring you to increase the stat at each stage in a similar way to the DPS requirement on a tier.
As a third stat (and adding as many as you like per planned expansion, but reasonably I would stick at 3 + fight specific requirements) I would see bosses gaining something akin to resilience requiring “Spell Knowledge” to defeat this mechanic. Again this can grow like the hit rating curve making it a very desirable stat into tier 10 and especially hard modes.
So What Changed?
Gear is now optimised with the following stats:
Tier 7: Intelligence, Hit Rating (Spell), Critical Strike Rating (Spell), Spell Power, Regen Stat (Spirit, MP5), Stamina.
Tier 8: Tier 7 + Spell Penetration.
Tier 9: Tier 8 + Spell Knowledge.
Tier 10: Tier 9 + 2 / different optimisation driven by spell knowledge.
The gear is now scaling better (more stats = more effective ilevels of worth per item due to the ilevel formula), and gear is optimised on a per tier basis. The trinkets at each tier offering +Hit, +Spell Penetration etc are optimised for the tier they are presented on, and can be used to fill gaps in later optimisation in a non-required way (Tier 7 gear + Tier 8 penetration trinket = ok Tier 9 gear). This then has the added benefit of not requiring such an increase in effective DPS across tier levels (13 million damage in 6 minutes for Patchwerk, 24 million for XT-002 in 6 minutes) as the bosses themselves are simply not efficiently taken down in incorrect gear.
This process can be easily complimented by good instance design, while TBC was not the best example of the process we can see for example Zul’aman forcing tank swapping and non-standard healing (heavy bleed bosses, burst spreadable across multiple tanks), active motion from the DPS, and effective use of bandages and other tools to meet the requirement of moving healers. Simply upping tank damage taken or raid damage reaches a fundamental limit (as seen on Muru where guilds took 5 healers due to the DPS requirement, not because 5 healers was a good choice), we need innovative ways to challenge the players which means movement, avoidable damage, strict resource usage and eventual deaths.
This system is applicable to all future tiers as the system is based on boss to player level difference. So when Tier 11 comes out it will be a replica situation to Tier 7, simply arranged gear with few stats, while Tier 14 will have more complex gear that makes more effective use of its ilevel without simply being presented as tier 11+6.