With a simple interview comment, the world mourned the passing of raid tier sets.
It is always interesting in the afterglow of Blizzcon to note the big announcements and news drops that just happen to fall out after a weekend spent on message. After carefully crafted presentations about the future of Legion and the coming of Battle for Azeroth, the news kept coming in a less formal fashion.
Firstly, Antorus is out next week! Finally, and hooray! It marks one more curious milestone, however – as Antorus contains what will be (for now) the final class-based raid sets.
21 tiers over 13 years of gameplay – and no more going forward.
At first, it might be easy to be a bit polarized on this. Most people I saw either were happy to hear this news, or sad/angry. (Sangry?) It’s easy to see why – tier sets offer cool visual kits that feel really well tailored to your class, with multiple color variants and then a Mythic version with new bells and whistles. Look at Antorus – Hunters get a cool minimal set that suddenly becomes a weave of dead Naga on Mythic! However, they also bring with them tier bonuses that can be especially powerful and feel mandatory – especially now that Titanforging can also bring older gear up to a current tier power level.
When I think about it, however, I tend to feel a bit mixed up. I see both sides – and agree. Tier sets are cool bits of visual kit that give your character options that reflect some class identity, while also allowing for fun non-set pieces that share the look so you can have Warlock Priests and Paladin Death Knights and all of that. I enjoy tier bonuses that actively mix up my gameplay, giving me an incentive to do something differently in order to maximize potential.
However, tier sets can also be boring and uninspired. My original main, Priest, had about 3 or 4 different variations of Pope-looks. Then there were a few sets with winged shoulders. Lots of similar-enough hoods, robes, and Tier 1 and 2 gloves that looked alike, since they just hid mostly under the robe cuff anyways. Oh hey, you like angels? Have 3 different variants of halos. Monk armor swings wildly between plain, utilitarian armor with flat colors, and crazy shit with exploding fist shoulders. Demon Hunters in Antorus get their first (and only!) tier armor that isn’t trying to compete with a stripper for how much upper half it can show off. Let’s be real here – for each tier, there are usually about 3 home runs, 3 iffy sets, and the rest are usually retreads or just…wrong. Of course, art is subjective, and I know I’ve liked some sets that some people wouldn’t. My original raid leader as a Mage in vanilla wouldn’t wear robes because he wanted a vest and pants, which, in a world without transmog, meant running around in poor greens with a couple of epic options that fit in the whole game.
Also, tier set bonuses have long been contentious. Sometimes, they really work, but there are hits and misses there as well. In the old days in particular, when it was one single set of bonuses for all thee specs on a DPS class, or Priest sets with a bonus that tries to apply to both Holy and Discipline – the bonuses could often fall flat for one or more of the specs involved. These days, that tends to happen less, but it does still happen – many times because Blizzard tries to design roughly similar bonuses for tanks and healers, with the main change often being the ability affected – to their credit, this design has been done far better in Legion, but often still feels pretty close together. An overpowered early set bonus can often remain viable even when the armor it’s tied to isn’t – a problem that actually has become more prevalent in Legion with Titanforging.
However, I do think there is a baby being thrown out with the bathwater here. Tier sets are currently contentious because of the 6 piece sets having the 2 and 4 piece bonuses, meaning you can mix a 2 piece with a 4 piece bonus to really maximize throughput, but this then fights with Legendaries you might want to wear. In BfA, there aren’t Legendaries (in the same vein as Legion’s, at least) and now no tier sets either, so while we won’t have to make as many difficult, obtuse choices, we also don’t really have to make any, save for Heart of Azeroth abilities. That is my chief worry – we’ve gone from too much customization and choice, to almost none.
Artwise, I also worry that we may not get sets of armor that really speak to us – this one is highly subjective, of course, but in an expansion filled with faction pride, the first raid tier has a troll raid. If I am an Alliance player, quite proudly, then why am I going to want to don Troll-themed armor and weapons to fight a faction anchored in part by that very same race? Faction armor has been bandied about as possible as well, but how much of that will we really see?
To be fair, though – I do think tier sets as an overall blanket concept have grown long in the tooth. Back in the day, I remember being especially excited for the Vestments of Prophecy, because the cast time reduction bonus on Flash Heal made me an amazing clutch healer, even with the minor value seemingly tied to it. However, if the Heart of Azeroth bonuses give us a similar degree of power, with the added benefit of choice and ending the Titanforge farm sessions, then it will be a net good for the game.
And on the art side, the Art panel at Blizzcon showed off some absolutely stunning looking plate armor and weapons. How much of that level of fidelity we get per tier remains to be seen, but if that is the baseline level of quality, holy shit I am excited!
Overall, I think it is generally a positive to look at ways in which to spruce up gearing in WoW. It has largely remained the same since TBC brought tier tokens into the mix, and I think having more environmentally relevant artwork on our gear will be pretty cool.