Loot – Discussing The Value, Interest, and Number of Options in Both WoW and FFXIV

Loot is what makes the MMO world go round. Or, well, it can certainly be a powerful motivator.

Loot in my two main games is an interesting analysis, because while both games play to very similar motivators in loot-rewarding content, both games have fundamentally different approaches to how loot is used, what kind of options players have, and how options funnel in to players at different levels of content. In looking at this, I think it merits a little bit of discussion, because I think there’s a fascinating divide there.

Loot As “Interesting”

One of the things that the WoW team consistently says is that they want loot to be “interesting.” When my main game was WoW, I didn’t think much of this, but as I’ve expanded my MMO horizons and moved on from WoW, I’ve come to see exactly what they mean and can even see the value in the idea.

In WoW, loot often undergoes multiple experimental phases in a given expansion. Mists of Pandaria saw new trinket effects and experiments on a per-tier basis, especially with Siege of Orgrimmar trinkets, which turned out to be a dry run for the addition of Multistrike in Warlords of Draenor (rest in paradise king, we miss you). Shadowlands alone has seen multiple experiments, first with Shards of Domination in the second season of content and then the return of tier bonuses in a slightly new form in the most recent tier. On top of those, there are also the smaller per-item unique experiments, like the Inscrutable Quantum Device trinket. For those who don’t play WoW, the IQD is a trinket that offers a big main stat boost and then has a Use effect labeled just as “???” on the tooltip. That is because, when used, it can pull from a table of different effects – secondary stat buffs, an execute at low target health that hits like a truck, a self heal, a mana restoration effect, or an AoE taunting effect onto a phantom NPC. The effect is “random” in that you cannot explicitly pick a proc, but there are ways for you to influence the proc to increase its usefulness to you, things like targeting yourself before using to fish for secondary stats, making sure the stat that is most useful to you is one of your top two on your gear, not using it while under forms of crowd control or while targeted by an enemy as DPS, and the like.

The IQD seems like it should be iffy, but it ended up being one of the best trinkets you could get consistently throughout the expansion on a boatload of specs. The reasoning ends up being quite simple – you can influence the effect that pops to ensure it works properly for you and lines up with any bursty parts of your rotation, and provided you put a smidge of effort into maximizing use (a macro to target self and then use the trinket was pretty common), it offered big returns.

Couple this with the ways that tier bonuses, legendaries, and other effects like the Shards of season 2, and you can see how gear becomes interesting. It creates layers of choice, like wanting to reach a given number of tier pieces for the bonus, but needing to balance that with what slots your legendary items of choice can be crafted in, all while balancing your allocation of secondary stats in a favorable direction and topping it off with trinket and enchantment choices that offer the maximum power you need.

WoW’s gearing is built on the back on interesting choices like that, and it is more fun for it in my opinion. Trinkets add this strange spice to your combat gameplay, with damage increases, cheat death effects, and other powerful shifts in a fight that can be customized in those two gear slots. Trinkets are not paragons of balance, though – there are quite often winners and losers in these effects and making the trinket bonuses unique per item does mean that they are often difficult to balance, as is the difference between a use effect and a random chance effect, since players can min-max the use effect for bigger gains but it also means adding a button to your rotation and optimizing for it, while procs can be fun but are also often harder to notice.

Random chance effects on gear also contribute to a problem I’ve had in WoW, which is that an increasingly large portion of player damage output is built into passive, random effects. At the end of BfA, I looked at my logs for a few fights in Ny’alotha and found that on Havoc Demon Hunter, around 40% of my damage was from passive, random chance effects on gear. When pressing your buttons correctly is only going to account for slightly more than half of your damage, it can start to create a weird situation where well-informed gameplay is less important – if the passive effects do the damage regardless so long as I am hitting something, then knowing my class and spec is less important. Of course, you still need to master the fundamentals to be competitive, but the reward for doing so in such a scene is a less-substantial reward. For what it’s worth, I noticed less of this in Shadowlands and I think the design team has gotten to a better balance of these effects so that mastering your gameplay is more important again.

FFXIV loot is, on the other hand, decidedly un-interesting – at least when looked at through that lens. There is no trinket category and no gear has a random chance effect to do anything more – it is predictable, steady power gain through stats, nothing more. What the FFXIV team does to make loot interesting is to lean more heavily into art and the visual side. Weapons from EX trials have themes that look like the boss in question. Raid gear is the same models from Normal into Savage, but the Savage versions are dyeable, so you can color-coordinate as you please, not to mention that the weapon models from Savage are unique and often the coolest looking choices outside of Relics or Ultimate weapons.

Styling and Profiling

One of the biggest allure of loot in modern MMOs is use with appearance systems, like Transmog or Glamour. Loot retains a high amount of value long after it is power-useful by simply looking good, unique, or so bad it’s funny. WoW tier sets are iconic looks (more often than not) that have a high amount of value as distinct, eyecatching appearances, while FFXIV has job sets with iconic looks but also themed raid and dungeon sets that have a certain visual appeal. It’s little surprise that a cornerstone activity in both games is farming unique appearances for your gear.

In WoW, one common incentive to upgrade the difficulty of your raiding efforts is for better gear looks. Most WoW sets have a specific visual look that is repeated the whole tier, with differing color tints for LFR through Heroic and then a unique tint with additional visual effects added for Mythic raid difficulty. For BfA and most of Shadowlands, there was a single armor look per armor type, which did lead to some blandness in new appearances, but with the return of tier sets, there are now unique looks per class. In the past, non-tier armor would also have unique models, but in Wrath of the Lich King, that was changed so that non-tier slots would still have the baseline tier gear appearance, which leads to some older sets missing slots based on what dropped in the raids of the era. Weapon models are also a distinct category unto themselves, and transmog restriction reductions have lifted the available options pretty high, since you can transmog almost any weapon into another one, provided it has a similar animation style (one-handed versus two-handed) and can be equipped by your class and spec. Appearance can often be the longest-tail reward in the game, as having had a weapon is valuable for longer than actually using it as equipment due to transmog.

FFXIV’s structure is somewhat different. As mentioned above, loot from Normal raids is often non-dyeable, with the Savage model being the same gear but dyeable. This is a small distinction but it creates value for the Savage loot, as you can customize it to fit in far more glamour options, where the Normal gear is always going to be the color it is.

Weapons are where FFXIV offers a bevy of distinct options – relatively fewer per job since weapons are locked to specific jobs, but they offer a wide array of different visuals. Each Extreme trial has a weapon themed for each job (with newer jobs generally not having such options on older fights), like ice weapons from Shiva or deep red jeweled weapons from Ruby Weapon. Often a few expansions later, versions of the weapons from the original trials will be offered as craftable items with new particle and glowing effects for players to make money off of (and to increase content completion, as the main material needed for those recipes drops from the EX trial the craft belongs to and desynthesizing items from the trial has a chance to also yield those materials).

FFXIV also has the near-full expansion Relic weapon questlines, which offer all players an upgradeable weapon that retains value throughout the expansion. These weapons have unique looks and their late-stage versions are also often one of the few weapons to offer particle effects in the game, alongside Ultimate raid weapons and the crafted trial weapons. Ultimate weapons are also an interesting design choice – they are the flashiest weapons by going almost overboard on glowing effects and animated particles, but as a curious choice, they are largely cosmetic in spite of being rewarded from the most difficult content in the game.

Both games offer a lot of appeal to their loot systems and to legacy content through appearance systems, and while the approaches differ in form, the function they serve is largely the same.

Casual Players And Loot

Let’s not beat around the bush – if you don’t play high-end content, both WoW and FFXIV offer a lower-power roster of loot options. The gear you get is lower item level, often lower quality in the art department (subjectively, of course), and it just exists as an easy-enough rewards design – you did a thing, whatever the thing was, here’s something for your trouble.

What I find interesting is that WoW has a relatively constrained pool of loot for players on this end of the gameplay divide. You’re often offered catch-up gear that is just up to the level of Normal raiding after a decent amount of work, but the gear is often poorly itemized and designed as a stepping stone – if you come back after a year out of the game, it gives you a boost. However, for a fair number of players, this is their endgame stuff – and it’s pretty basic. Through the systems of the current major patch 9.2 in WoW, you can get tier bonuses on gear from world content, which is a nice change, but your options in many other ways are limited – trinkets offer very little in the way of power or interesting effects, jewelry options are pretty constrained, and you’ll find a stat mix that tends to be underwhelming for a lot of specs in the game, with few real alternatives at the same level of content.

Meanwhile, for each new mode of content you push in WoW, the loot pool opens up substantially and becomes more interesting. Raid trinkets have unique effects with thematic tie-ins to content, you get a wide array of options per slot that allow you to min-max secondary stats to your heart’s content, and you have relatively easy access to tier bonuses, RNG willing. When you add Mythic Plus, you get a whole boatload of other loot options, including dungeon trinkets that often scale insanely well with the ever-increasing item level of the seasonal content model (like the aforementioned IQD), constant access to rings and necklaces with preferred secondary stat loadouts, and upgradable gear, on top of being able to reach ever higher for better loot through pushing keys higher and completing high keys for Vault slots. At the top end of WoW, you have a dizzying array of options for loot, a pool that expands massively once you step up from world content into raiding or dungeons, and doing both just multiplies the options available by a lot.

FFXIV is an interesting inversion here because it actually offers the opposite system. At the lower end of content, your options are quite open and there’s a multi-step, clear progression path. Right now, you can get your job set at item level 560, move up to current dungeon gear at 575, get regular crafted or raid gear at 580, and then push up to one of three choices for most slots at item level 590 – Tomestone gear, augmented crafted gear, or Alliance Raid gear from Aglaia (although this third choice does not cover accessories). For most players who aren’t pushing Savage, realistically you’re rocking a 590 loadout comprised of some pieces from each of the 3 available pools of loot at that level, and then with Tomestone gear, you can augment it to item level 600, the only way to access that level of loot currently outside of Savage. Savage raiders, by comparison, have two choices for most gear slots – either a Savage raid drop or an augmented tomestone piece. Further, the choices per slot are typically constrained by a best-in-slot list, as progression raiders often do in any game, and so actually narrows down to a single item per slot that is viable and valuable. The game also sets you on a predictable course towards that gear once you can clear a given piece of content – so you know that once you can get a kill on P4S, you’re 8 weeks out from being able to just buy your chest piece or weapon (or would have been prior to the loot unlock!). In many ways, the high-end players actually have less gear worries to attend to, because their path is pretty well mapped from the start of a tier – get the crafted set to bring up that item level, watch for the BiS list, map out what bosses need kills over how many weeks to get enough books to buy pieces (while hoping to win some drops to expedite the process) and then cap your top-end tomestones every week while buying the parts of your BiS that are augmented tome gear. It is predictable to a near-fault and simple.

In many ways, the comparison highlights the differing ways the two games approach their content and reward structures – WoW offers a broad range of options that encourage more time spent in-game and farming, with upgrades coming in tons of forms over a longer pathway to power, while FFXIV offers a relatively short path per tier that funnels players into a narrower option-set with each step up in difficulty, as the game intends that you can use the simplicity of gearing at the high-end to gear other jobs and roles or to do other things in the game.

Do both games succeed at their loot models being compelling reasons to play? Well…mostly, but that’s a piece for another day.

7 thoughts on “Loot – Discussing The Value, Interest, and Number of Options in Both WoW and FFXIV

  1. Interesting way to describe loot at the lower end for casual players. I almost feel like we are getting the table scraps from the kitchen staff eating the leftovers from the high table. And maybe that’s a core reason for many to feel disenfranchised, that we are an afterthought. WoD was the last time I raided, and did heroic raiding, sure you had to work at getting gear, but it wasn’t a slog to get decent enough, that you felt needed in raid. Legion had me doing some raids but it was too much for me with mythic dungeons and beating a timer. BfA I was getting better from world content than some doing heroic raiding, I raided some, but just didn’t have the time to keep up. And the time commitment grew in Shadowlands to where I don’t even have the desire to log in. So somewhere along the last 6 years, I’ve lost the plot I guess.


    1. Table scraps is probably pretty accurate as a descriptor, yeah! I still remember the nerf waves that came for the good Korthia world trinkets back in 9.1, because a “catchup” item was worth taking in contexts outside of that zone.

      I’d love to see the game lean into world content players getting more good stuff, even if they just get better stat mixes and options. It feels like a habit they have is using Versatility on a lot of it (which is good for some specs to be sure) to make sure that a lot of players don’t wanna keep it. As long as item level remains king for most pieces (trinkets and weird effect items notwithstanding), it should be fine to make a good mix of world gear to let players pick their ideal stats so you can either power through that world content or have a good base to move up towards higher-end content with better rewards.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Way back when, a mix of valor from heroic dungeon vendor gear, and normal raid, even a few LFR pieces could get you in a heroic raid, now it feels like you need mythic plus just to do normal


      2. It’s funny. For years we’ve seen the argument that Dungeon Finder and LFR have ruined the game by offering a basic version of content, or allowing people to just queue up for content without having to organize. But now besides that, we have an additional top end that only a small percentage get to see, and a higher end dungeon version that people queue up for using the group finder. Maybe the issue isn’t one or the other ruining the game, but the addition of too many versions. Perhaps the best course would be to start stripping back all the various ways to do things, and bring the focus back to a set path of progression.


  2. One of the quirky things about gear –and optimized gear– is that what Blizz thought would be optimal in Classic (and to a lesser extent TBC Classic), frankly, isn’t. That’s how you got healers –especially Paladins– in Classic running around with a turquoise robe, and casters of all stripes using what I’ve described in comments on Kamalia’s transmog posts as “that damn UBRS turban” up through AQ40. But the thing is, that quirkiness meant that the average player who wasn’t on the bleeding edge of progression could end up with a BiS item such as the Briarwood Reed without requiring entry into Blackwing Lair or Naxxramas. What that also meant was that since Tier gear wasn’t that good –optimization wise– people would collect tier gear mainly for RP purposes. And to be fair, it was only at Naxx in Classic where the stats would suddenly leap quite a bit ahead in quality beyond the previous gear levels.

    TBC Classic has proven that Blizz progressed farther down the gear train toward “modern” gear itemizing in that the Tier gear is more useful, but also that there’s a pretty significant difference in gear quality between Tier 4 (Kara/Gruul/Mags), Tier 5 (SSC/TK), and Tier 6 (Hyjal/BT). Sunwell is still yet a leap far ahead of the rest, which means once people start getting that Sunwell gear the Sunwell Plateau raid instantly gets much easier.

    So… For gear acquisition, you still have to run the treadmill in TBC Classic (and likely Wrath onward), but Vanilla’s wonky stats meant that anybody could acquire a decent pre-raid set that could do just as well –if not better– than things out of Molten Core or Ony. And with Zul’Gurub, that gear was good enough that you really didn’t have to go into MC or Ony to chase one particular piece unless you wanted it… Just because, I suppose.

    What’s better? I’m not so sure, but I can say that coming late to the raiding game in Classic it was easier for me to get up to snuff –even if I was lagging behind on all of the BiS gear– in Classic that I ever can in TBC Classic. I’d have to bust my ass and raid 4-5 days per week just to get the gear to catch up to my old Monday night progression team, which just entered Sunwell formally this week.

    It’s a shame, really, because I’m at the point where I could raid on Monday nights if I wanted to, but the mountain I’d have to climb is much too high. I’d rather level an alt at this point instead of bringing up the rear in DPS in SSC/TK raids, much less Hyjal/BT.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I admire your enthusiasm here. Since the beginning of Shadowlands (let’s ignore my casual piddling in BfA) it has 99% been: see item, put into raidbots, then decide: equip/upgrade/ignore – loot has actually never been more boring for me. In earlier expansion I could at least sometimes keep the stat weights in mind or have Rawr tell me if it was an upgrade. That was also boring, but at least easy. Now it’s boring and still some busywork. Maybe trinkets for Fury Warriors are some of the worst example, but there’s a list with a graph and I’m following that list. Oh, there’s a sliver of brainpower involved: there are like 2-3 out of 40 trinkets that sim good but are batshit crazy to use (like the one with the 4 dancers from Nathria). And I hate that the Jailer weapons sims so damn good, its effect (need to spawn and kill a shade for buff) is also just the worst. No thanks, boring is fine. I hate gearing and I’m not excited for any upgrades, I’m just annoyed if I don’t get a new weapon for months, for example.So TLDR for gearing: FFXIV is boring but predictable and good, WoW is just boring. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This reminded me of MaxDPS web site. You looked at the slot and saw where it fell on the list, kept it, or got rid of it. I recall having to post lists of BiS gear drops for raiding. Game has really changed over the years.


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