What If – Old Gear Bonus Systems Were In Play While Leveling In Old Content?

The other day, I read something that interested me at Wowhead.

The gist is pretty easy to get to – a player got a Corrupted item in the current 9.02 patch in the Stormwind Stockades. Now, the item didn’t have any actual corruption effect or value on it, just a tooltip that popped up with the “you won a corrupted item!” message that dominated the last almost full year of Battle for Azeroth.

But this small, innocuous bug and the discussion around it also got me thinking.

Right now, leveling gear is a dull, almost meaningless crawl through single-level value upgrades, until it jumps at level 50 and then resembles a more-standard WoW power curve from that point. There isn’t really a supply of fun or interesting gear in the leveling process – just a procession of small upgrades that add 1 or 2 DPS or increase survivability by a small measure. It still matters, sort of, but it isn’t terribly exciting.

So what if we just had Corrupted gear when leveling? Leveling is, after all, locked to the Battle for Azeroth era – you’re either purposefully travelling back in time from it or participating in it, and when you finish your journey, time has moved forward, the story of BfA has concluded, and oh hey, time to go to Shadowlands. Why can’t we have it?

Now, I know what you might be thinking – Corrupted items were terrible, and until you could just pick an effect to add to a piece of gear, the system felt kind of bad – and you’re not wrong there. But my armchair game designer brain chips in a different voice – currently, gearing a character up to level 50 is a boring, dull thing, an almost complete non-event. I don’t think that gear should be vastly empowered for low-level characters either – the current curve exists to keep the game on a path to the Shadowlands and to then keep the values there in check, and that is a good goal and one worth holding on to. However, I think that we need to look at the current new player experience critically for a moment to see the opportunity.

If your complaint is that Corruption as a mechanic is too complex, think about this – right now, the intended new player experience is to do Exile’s Reach from 1-10ish, then launch right into the BfA story, including picking up a Heart of Azeroth and Azerite gear, leveling the Heart, and interacting with the borrowed power system of BfA, warts and all. Corruption isn’t much more complicated than that – in fact, in many ways, it is simpler and more easily explained via the existing in-game tooltips and options and more easily understood. Giving a newbie an additional layer on top of that could be bad, and I am sympathetic to that argument.

On the other hand, I do think that much of the debate against Corruption came at a high level of play – getting ideal corruptions prior to the vendor option was a pain in the ass, it offered wildly variable power boosts from almost nil to multiple percentage points of power if an item was corrupted, and the system was built on a cycle that required players to grind Horrific Visions (or later N’zoth kills in the Ny’alotha raid) to gain resistance to equip more corruption. If you put Corruption, as it existed for all of 8.3, into the leveling game completely unchanged…that would suck, and on that, I would agree.

However, if you were going to do such a thing as add Corruption back in to the game, you’d have a moment to reconsider the system. You could streamline it – reduce corruption values, offer innate corruption resistance from wearing a Heart of Azeroth (or just in general), and offer players the ability to simply disable the effect without finding an NPC or paying even a token cost to do so. You could limit the actual effects to either the bland stat boosty ones or the fun effect-giving ones, and you could even make them auto-toggle off in PvP, where the balance of these effects might matter more. You could then auto-disable them at level 50, just as the patch did for those of us wearing such gear.

Why do I think this is cool? It makes leveling exciting and different. Leveling in WoW is a system built to allow natural easing in to the game, but it still, even post-9.0, does so at a slow pace. Players gain abilities much faster, and while that balance is better, it still brings players up to the neutered rotations of today, after rounds of pruning and smaller rounds of restoration of abilities have taken place. It trains players to read gear tooltips more closely, to look at their character sheet and understand the things they see there, and it trains players for the ways in which reward pop-ups attempt to bring their attention to when something has happened they should be excited for. It has a lore tie-in with the BfA era that would give players a taste of the endgame BfA content they won’t likely end up doing because there’s just not enough time before they hit level 50 and get punted into Shadowlands content.

And, controversial opinion time, it doesn’t even have to be Corruption. I picked it because the game bug did, but also because I think it is a better system in terms of enjoyable little gains for players. It could just as easily be Titanforging, or even Legiondaries, but I think those systems are both less exciting and offer fewer easy escape routes. Titanforging is just bonus power, and it would likely just stay on the gear – not terribly useful past level 50, given the rapid leap from item level 50-60 gear to level 90-120 that happens right at that cusp, and also not nearly as fun (for a given value of fun). Legiondaries are an interesting idea, but then you have players confused as to why those powers shut off, and do you maintain the existing shutoff point or let newly acquired ones run up to level 50, and if so, why (and also, prepare for a ton of bitching!)?

Corruption as a bonus is cool and fun, and if you manage the implementation of the negative side effect in a more newbie-friendly way, it could actually be a good addition to leveling, in my opinion. Imagine trying to get a friend into the game, running them through a dungeon and they get a dagger that randomly summons void tendrils to attack their foes – that’s cool, and it creates a sort of stickiness that keeps players drawn in. If you make managing the negative side effects simpler and possible for players to do on their own without needless transport all over the world, then you remove much of the frustration of said system, and what’s left is actually kind of fun, again, in my opinion.

Ultimately, do I think that Blizzard will add such a thing to the level-up game? No. For all I’ve argued here about the fun I think it would add and how it has a certain value as tutorial for bolted-on systems, however small, it is also complicated and risks making the level-up game an even lower-conversion quagmire that people new to the game fail to escape. Forcing players into BfA already has a lot of the same value, even if I think Azerite as a system is both less naturally intuitive and less exciting.

But for a moment, a pair of boots with a wiggly eye icon captured people’s imaginations, and also made them say – hey, maybe Corruption wasn’t the worst thing ever.

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