Change, Necessary or Not – How The Loot Changes and Their (Sort Of) Reversion Affect Shadowlands

Today, the news went up – rejoice!

With the next weekly reset, raids will be seeing more loot in Shadowlands. Specifically, Castle Nathria is going to a 1 item per 5 players policy, with a 20% chance for each player in the raid, meaning that an 18-player raid is guaranteed 3 items with a 60% chance of a fourth item dropping. This is in comparison to now, where a raid of that size would most commonly have two items drop, with the target identified by Blizzard being 3 items for a 20 player raid. This is lower than the launch week, where 5 items dropped at 20 players, but higher than the 3 drops mark. Additionally, on bosses that drop weapon tokens, these items will have an increased droprate to make weapons more common.

Discussion of loot has been done a lot since the expansion launched, and with one week until Blizzconline, this feels like a move to get ahead of Q&A questions but also a general change for the better. This targeting is something I am actually quite fond of – my hypothesis on Shadowlands loot is that gearing up to Normal raid item level is actually (relatively) fast, which means most players reach a higher relative power than they would have had in Battle for Azeroth without raiding, although upon reaching Normal difficulty, the pacing of gear slows down and the parallel loot approach becomes more valuable – doing PvP, raids, and Mythic Plus combined to maximize loot income and Great Vault choices. By making raids drop more loot and making weapons more common, players should be able to reach relatively higher item levels solely through raiding, mirroring the experience of past expansions at a slower pace. Likewise, weapons have been a major chokepoint (I still have 194 weapons on my Demon Hunter as I have not seen a single Abominable Anima drop in my runs!) and as they can carry some of the largest effective power increases for a player, this should also help alleviate difficulty concerns – with nerfs on one side and increased player power on the other, Castle Nathria should begin to feel easier with each passing week, as the tail end of the first Shadowlands season winds on.

What I want to focus on today is the purpose of and cause for the original change.

MassivelyOP borrowed my post on what I saw as a messaging problem and, as any blunt object can be a weapon, adapted it and used it to whack at the WoW team for the reduction in drop rates. (For the record, as I have gotten messages about the “borrowing” – doesn’t bother me as long as I’m linked back to, and I liked the post while also disagreeing with it pretty thoroughly, but we’ll dig on that point here momentarily!) I wanted to use this as a jumping off point, because I think that while there are some interesting arguments made, it also ties neatly into what I find workable with the current loot paradigm and why I find it a very-minor improvement over BfA (which may be the first time I’ve directly stated that preference!).

To start with, we need to cast our mind back to Legion (theoretically, we could go back to Throne of Thunder and Thunderforging for the root of the current problem, but I drone on about history a lot so let me save myself from typing that up and you from reading it). Legion (and BfA as the extension of that model) was built on a core hypothesis of what the game should offer players for rewards. Loot always works, so the WoW team drastically expanded loot drops. Every dungeon was 1-2 items per player, guaranteed. Every zone had 1-2 world quests with a loot reward, tied to current item level and with only a loose ceiling on what power level that loot could be. Raids would drop 1 item per player every 3-5 bosses, with some players getting luckier than others but generally everyone got something on that pacing, meaning a full raid clear would often yield 2 or even 3 pieces of gear per player. PvP was…well, in both, gearing for PvP was both a mess and something I didn’t do much of, so I’m not going to open that box of worms, but I know PvP gearing was particularly bad in BfA due to the schedule of rewards and inability to deviate.

To make all of this more valuable, the decision was made with Warforging and the new-to-7.0 Titanforging to make all drops have a chance to upgrade. Both system signify the same thing – a random upgrade roll – with Titanforging just meaning that the item had won a lot of those random rolls. The most common upgrade was item level in 5-level increments, but sockets and tertiary stats were also forgeable upgrades (and the only currently surviving such upgrades). It was possible, theoretically, for any activity that rewarded loot to reward better loot, sometimes substantially so. While it was rare, there are examples of LFR players getting Mythic raid level items from random drops, or a world quest upgrading even further to reach those same heights. The only plateau on forging was a maximum item level for the current season, which was usually Mythic raid level +10. Of course, luck was also an issue – you really needed to be lucky to get that large of an upgrade!

In theory, this was intended to make all content valuable, and with seals, you could fish for your preferred items and hope for the slot machine to strike. The problem, as we now know, is that it made getting loot wholly unexciting, as the loot wasn’t worth excitement unless you hit the jackpot. If you were doing content, your item level was going up, and while it would hit taper points as you reached your play plateau (a heroic raider started to see fewer upgrades once their average was at the current heroic raid level, for example), you could, over time, still push item level higher. It meant that players were constantly running content, to sometimes excessive levels, and often not to have fun, but instead to gear. Gearing became a chore, a growing list of things to do and cross off your list. In Legion and BfA, mid-patches added systems that created more slot machines you could plop time into. In fact, at the end of Legion, if you wanted to be maximizing gear, you needed to be running Mythic Plus, raids, doing Argus content for Veiled Argunite to buy random item tokens by slot and hope they would roll the right item at the right item level, and all of that combined is…far too much for most people. BfA had this to a far lesser extent with Benthic gear and the pursuit of Benthic items with sockets, which could outclass raid gear from Eternal Palace once fully upgraded.

Shadowlands so far doesn’t really have a slot machine other than the loot itself and the socket/tertiary stat proc. The latter are still challenges to some players, but with purchasable sockets for select slots with Ve’nari in the Maw and enchants offering some amount of selectable tertiary stats, I would argue that those points are less relevant than they once were. Not irrelevant, but also a bit astray of today’s post. The argument I’m making (I’d argue Blizzard is making this argument as well, but they haven’t clearly messaged that to the playerbase as a whole) is that by shutting the spigot to a small trickle, every drop through it matters more, and even then…maybe not. It exposes something of a hypocrisy I so often see in the Classic zealots – Classic was a raid giving a fixed number of loot drops with a referenceable table, which is good, but now that Shadowlands is doing the same thing (at the raid and non-Mythic Plus level, at least), it is bad and not as good, somehow? If you want a weapon, you know which bosses to farm in Castle Nathria, if you want a leather helm, same deal. Nothing about that is new. It’s old as fuck, the very same cloth from which so many of the Classic archetype like to claim is the purest and best MMO material.

Even Mythic Plus is approachable in the same sort of way. You can identify which dungeon drops a piece you want, and run as many keystones for that dungeon as you can get your grubby hands on. Yes, it means facing the whole dungeon’s loot table in a single roll, decreasing the odds of getting that one individual piece by a fair amount, but it is farmable.

This is why I actually prefer the Shadowlands loot model. On my main, I can farm the pieces I want fairly reliably and there’s little bullshit in the way of me actually getting them and being able to use them. If Lady Darkvein on Heroic drops an Abominable Anima Spherule next week, I will gladly take it and get the weapon I want. If Sludgefist drops the Heroic version of his Hateful Chain trinket, great, I can use that. I know that right now, outside of the game, because there’s no slot machine in the way of that or a need for those items to roll a socket or +10 item level to be of value to me. If they drop, I can use them, done, end of story. That is, for me, the model of WoW gearing I want – I can build a BiS list again, farm for it, and check things off of it without asterisks or branching paths. Likewise, since I know which items I want, when I open my Great Vault on Tuesday, I can make the choice it offers me easily.

It strikes a balance between the Classic model – being stingy AF with gear drops, having fixed drop tables per boss with only the socket/tertiary call out for Shadowlands, and being built on a slowed-down gearing pace where players will, over time, slowly build up to a BiS list – maybe not the entire thing, but a good chunk of it is obtainable. Shadowlands does this while still being less stingy with loot than Classic was on drops, and offering a sort of bad luck protection in the form of the Great Vault.

Now, I think the debate that Eliot wanted to have (and subsequent posts have backed up this observation on my part) is that random dropped loot is a relic itself, and on that point, I largely agree. I think the loot system in Final Fantasy XIV, with layers of tokens, purchases, and upgrades, is itself better than what we get in WoW, without even delving into any other MMOs. It isn’t without its own chore-y-ness though – it becomes sort of tedious to run the current 8-player raid, roll carefully only on specific tokens, maybe not even get a piece and have to re-run the same boss again to have another shot at your desired token, or for Alliance raids to drop your best piece and to never even see a piece of loot for your role to drop, only walking away with an upgrade coin and being forced to run the whole Alliance raid again to use up your loot chance per boss. Sure, the loot system is broadly deterministic (you can clear bosses as often as you want until a drop of your choice appears) but it offers no real bad luck protection and depending on the type of content, it can sometimes result in committing additional hours to trying for your best drop. The core raiding content (8-player) is better than WoW on that point, however – I’ll readily admit that. Further, FFXIV offers tomestones, which let you just buy gear outright, albeit at a reduced pace. Costs are balanced such that you can get a piece per week, with few exceptions – weapons are always, always controlled pretty heavily and any non-high-end raid content weapon requires an ungodly amount of work – weeks worth of tomestones to buy an intermediary currency coupled with drops from the raid used to buy an additional intermediary currency which you then combine at a vendor to buy the weapon, a feat which the game does an absolutely awful job of explaining, in that it explains nothing!

On the broader argument, though – sure, I think Shadowlands (and WoW in general) would be better with more deterministic loot. PvP gearing in Shadowlands is incredible, because you can choose and target exactly what you want. PvE gearing should have something like that, and the return of Valor Points while not offering them to purchase anything is not great (even if it is how Valor was most recently used in the game, in 6.2). I’d love to see token systems, currency systems, or some other form of fix to looting come in to help players be able to choose their empowerments.

The current change is, I think, an olive branch I’m happy to accept, because it targets two specific player-raised problems with direct solutions that offer no bullshit or asterisks. If you do Castle Nathria next week, you’ll get more loot and more weapons, period, end of sentence – and that is a welcome change! Should the WoW team do more? I think so, and I suspect that 9.1 will see some other targeted changes with both a new raid tier and PvE season to hopefully address those player concerns further.

I do, however, think that the post and comments are indicative of a phenomenon I’ll probably write about soon, which I notice in the broader MMO blogging community (the “WoW always sucks and my favorite game is better, even when the argument is contradictory”) and if Blizzard did deliver a full deterministic loot solution where all content feeds into a single sort of loot system where all players can, with enough time, buy into loot and reach even the pinnacle of power, there would be some other flaw with it (drop rates of tokens, ability/inability for players to reach Mythic raid item levels, the announcement post had a typo in it and now WoW is on borrowed time, etc). If stated simply (loot drops less) well sure, it sounds pretty bad, and to many players, it is! However, it does make an honest attempt at making loot more meaningful, and for whatever it is worth, I do find that when I get a piece of loot in raid or Mythic Plus, I am generally excited and it is useful a higher percentage of the time relative to what I experienced in BfA or Legion. Was the prior system a “problem?” I mean, going off of player reaction to many of the (now) eliminated systems, I’d say it was. Complaints about forging and randomness in loot was rampant on every platform for much of the last 5 years, and now, perception is largely based on item level and breadth of activities.

And to the last point on whether changes are needed at all, or if WoW should ultimately find something that works and stays there…well, I pretty fully disagree on that, but that is a topic for another day as well.

For now, I think it is worth summarizing thusly: Shadowlands loot is contentious, Blizzard is making a public show of fixing it, some of the fixes are great and some are not, and it remains to be seen how the final versions of these changes will affect player perception, but I think it is a step forward on the right path.


One thought on “Change, Necessary or Not – How The Loot Changes and Their (Sort Of) Reversion Affect Shadowlands

  1. I dunno. I tend to think the King of Bling should drop the King of Bling’s Crowny Crown 100% of the time, if you can see him wearing it. If he didn’t happen to wear his crown that day because he’d had too much mead the night before and his head hurt and it felt too tight, then you’d see he didn’t have it on and you might not even want to bother killing him that day. Comer back when he’s feeling more kingly again.

    Slight problem with items that don’t display but maybe don’t have items that don’t display in your game.

    If you can just save up bottle caps and go to the store for the King of Bling’s Crowny Crown when you’ve collected enough, it’s not really high adventure any more, is it? It’s shopping, at best. If even that. Not that there’s anything wrong with shopping. Just don’t pretend going to the corner shop for twenty Rothmans is a heroic quest.

    Of course, it’s far too late to fix all this now. The time to do it was twenty years ago. It wouldn’t have been that difficult and it would have saved a ton of problems down the line but even games starting today are stuck with the poor choices of the past.


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