Gear is an essential part of playing – whether you’re raiding or PvPing or simply doing the solo quest for awesome green fire. Gear is never the end reward necessarily, but it is a necessary part of killing a boss or opponent. No, this post is not about loot drama or anything – but more about the bigger picture as gearing stands right now.
Two things in particular have followed, one after another to bring this issue up: 1) the strange gear distribution in tier 14 and 2) the recent decision stating that there will be no more 5-mans for the rest of Mists.
Until now, I admit I was mostly unconcerned with the decision not to add any more 5-mans. I sympathised with those that solely play for 5-man content and enjoy it – but I didn’t feel like I had a vested interest in arguing against the decision. That is until I took a good look at my character to get ready for raiding once again. The issues became painfully obvious once I saw the gear I got and the things I was unable to get – namely my problem slot of an offhand.
In my mind, the strange gear distribution in tier 14 and the recent no-new-5-mans decision are connected – and the decision will now go a long away in exacerbating already existing issues.
Tier 14 and the Strange Case of Loot
To understand my conundrum with the offhand, it’s vital to know what went on in tier 14. One of the biggest critiques of Tier 14 was the bizzare way in which loot was distributed. There would be cases where there was an abundance of seemingly pointless duplicates pieces like the two shaman spirit non-tier chests (Vestments of Steaming Ichor and Mail of Screaming Secrets). There was also the choice of two spirit cloth boots for priests (Scent-Soaked Sandals and Boots of the Blowing Wind) from bosses that were back to back no less.
In both these examples, raiders had alternatives from reputation/tier pieces that could easily replace these slots. In the case of shaman chest, many preferred their tier chests and for the cloth boots, Operation Shieldwall/Dominance Offensive offered equivalent boots if for some reason neither boss dropped the boots for weeks on end. Having these alternatives made having two of the same kind of item in the same raid somewhat redundant.
And then ofcourse, there is the other end of the spectrum where there is only the one boss out of all the 16 who drops the one thing for that slot and if he doesn’t happen to drop it, you’re shit outta luck. It happens to be different things for different classes – for me in particular, it was the spirit off-hand.
The first thing strange about this slot is that your only option for it is Feng the Accursed from Mogu’shan Vaults – where items are already slightly lower in level than the other two raids. I killed Feng numerous times and only saw it drop once. At the time, I decided to be nice and pass it to the other healer thinking I’d see it again. Needless to say, I have yet to see it again. Under other circumstances, I could ditch offhands altogether and just go for a staff – but the introduction of Sha-touched weapons as the best items essentially married me to the mace-offhand category.
Here’s the part that makes it tough – there aren’t really any other alternatives. No reputation rewards I can cash in on, no other boss somewhere that can possibly drop something similar – or heck, even something without spirit. (Blade Lord in Heart of Fear drops a decidedly healer unfriendly off-hand sporting hit. Le sigh.) My only recourse is stacking up on the coins and running it over and over again until I hopefully get it.
It’s an awful recourse not only because of RNG but also because the coin could give you something else off Feng that you don’t necessarily need. How funny would it be if I ran Mogu’shan Vaults and got the spirit ring from Feng every time instead of the offhand? Point is, we could run it till the cows come home and it won’t necessarily make a difference.
No New 5-Mans
5-Mans have played different roles to different players, and woven into the role of filling lore gaps is also their ability to fill in gaping gear holes in preparation for the next tier. I want to say this again – it’s not just to make catching up easy for alts – it’s also to help current raiders fill in the problem slots that were not addressed in the previous tier. And we’ve seen 5-mans of the past do this successfully – even the awful Zul’again ones.
In cataclysm, the notorious troll dungeons were released shortly before Firelands came out. While I agree with many that they were awful and not too enjoyable in the LFG environment, I did notice the impact they had on gear issues very quickly. I would see many toons walking around with their troll shoulders sticking out like sore thumbs amidst their tier 11 sets and look alikes. Apart from looking strange, it told me something – folks who never managed to get their tier shoulders now got a lower item level alternative until they did. And if nothing else, it kept them from having to go into Firelands still sporting their blue shoulders from that one original dungeon run.
One of the interesting differences between then and now ofcourse, is the advent of LFR, and some forum goers ventured to say that LFR has now taken up the role of gear gap filling that 5-mans once had, and thus the decision of not making any new 5-mans this expansion. I truly wonder about this one. LFR has certainly taken on the gearing up role for mains and alts alike and for better or worse, is part of the linear gearing up path.
There are still a couple key differences worth noting. The big one ofcourse is that LFR is on a weekly reset for loot (with extra chances at loot being limited with the weekly quest). Gone are the days ala Burning Crusade and Wrath, where you could log in in the morning and do the one heroic that you need the one upgrade from. With the lack of any 5-mans for the rest of this expansion, this makes LFR and dailies the only stepping stones to filling in the problem slots. So the question now becomes, what if they don’t have it covered?
The Situation Now
My armory paints an accurate picture at the moment of how things are at the moment. My gear’s level ranges wildly from items at 522 with the lowest item being 480 (an upgraded crafted 476). It is sadly something I’ve had since I was a fresh 90 and come 7 months later, I’m still stuck with it.
Let’s take a look at my options as far as LFR and reputation alternatives go. Shado-Pan Assault has nothing to offer for offhands. Throne of Thunder sadly has only one spirit off-hand which drops off Iron Qon. Iron Qon is in the final wing of Throne who will not be accessible via LFR until April 16th. The one redeeming part about Throne is that there is a staff in there I could get my hands on and in doing so, perhaps rid myself of the pain of dealing with off-hands to begin with. But that won’t happen until it drops for me on normal.
In light of all of this, I’ve wondered about a few things. Why was the decision taken to ignore implementing a single 5-man to help address the previous tier’s gear distribution issues? Now, I don’t believe any developer at Blizzard has anything against offhands in particular – and it is very possible that with the wonky gear distribution in tier 14, things just fell through the cracks. But that’s just it isn’t it – a big purpose of 5-mans mid-expansion was to help deal with the slots that fell through the cracks.
And even if we do take that decision for the sake of argument, it then brings up other issues. No new 5-mans puts LFR in a much more important position as far as the linear gear progression goes. Did it really make sense to stagger its release in this manner? Here’s where the two seemingly unrelated issues now come together to make what was already difficult tier, even moreso.
Why am I looking into this in such detail? It’s not because I’m particularly passionate about my offhand slot – but if these issues show up now, there’s a good chance they’ll continue into future patches unless they’re addressed. I’m already in this situation now, and I’d rather not it be this way come 5.3.
That and frankly, come Saturday I’ll be showing up to raid with my new group in Throne. It’s hotly embarrassing to show up to an entirely new tier 7 months later, still sporting an item you’ve had since you were a fresh 90. It’s just not okay.