Life in Group 5 – A Resto Shaman Blog
A resto shaman perspective on raiding


March 2, 2012

End-Game Gearing, Part II – Devising a New Solution

Coat Hangers

Gearing, as one component of a PVE environment, has come a long way since WoW’s inception, tracing a path through different sizes of raid content, varying levels of difficulty, and a host of distinct distribution systems, from pure RNG to effort points. As a system, gearing is inherently tied to the progression of the WoW PVE endgame, with stat inflation progressively and continually narrowing the margin between those dps and hps thresholds set by the encounter and those that are achievable by your raid team.

Amazingly, when I started writing this post over a month ago, it wasn’t something that was instigated by any sort of shocking realization about gear and its relationship to progression or an overwhelming urge to go on a pompous tirade, but rather I was trying to design a graphic for a post I was writing on how to take your baby Resto Shaman from newly-85 to DS-ready raider in the shortest time possible. That graphic looked a little something like this:

The Quick 85-to-DS Gearing Super Awesome Diagram

And during the process of making the graphic, (in which I remade those arrows at least 8 times and I still hate them), I realized just how much was being excluded in the path that I had illustrated to Dragon Soul. Great encounters, great environments, great challenges, were sitting barren and desolate as players chose to farm 3 instances and one raid in Dragonblight instead. So I started thinking … what happened? How did we go from a landscape where guilds straddled multiple instances and tiers into today’s current state, which has raiders packed like clowns into one tiny little car? Today we’re here to talk about some of those solutions that I jotted down in my little spiral notebook, about some of the illustrations that I scribbled on paper during meetings, and about how I think progression and gearing paths in the PVE endgame can be changed for the better. Today, we’re about solutions.

Recap: The Problem Set

In Part I of this post I talked heavily about the evolution of the PVE gearing system, from Burning Crusade through Patch 4.3 in Cataclysm. I identified several hurdles that any end-game gearing system needs to address, topics which have been discussed previously in a variety of posts both from Blizzard and the WoW community, namely:

  1. Providing viable progression paths for all players, including not only difficulty tuning but also length of time investment (this goes hand-in-hand with the idea that super-long instances exclude more casual players, a sentiment discussed in this blue response to a thread about Ulduar)
  2. Encouraging players to sustain their end-game efforts (so that WoW’s endgame doesn’t end up like SW:ToR)
  3. Providing viable content for all levels of enthusiasts, from the high-end progression devotees to those who might have only a few hours a week to spare (Rohan touched on this in his post about why listening to hardcore raiders isn’t always the wisest option … bonus points to the first comment on the post from Kalon talking about BC nerfs coming in the form of gear!)

One of the key changes to the PVE gearing model that I talked about at length, and which seemed to be a fairly divisive topic (including in the discussions on the WoW forums—yes, I read those with a keen eye), was the increasing incorporation of “catch up” methods of gearing, which largely enable players to collect gear that will boost them into raiding new content. The trade-off, however, is that in comparison to raiding experiences like the end of Burning Crusade, when players were in multiple tiers of instances (with no difficulty gradation), players in Cataclysm may finish the expansion without ever having set foot in a raid other than Dragon Soul.

Ideas, I Has Some

So let’s get into the heart of this post—what changes I think would help the raiding game. As I said in Part I, I firmly believe that pushing people through the progression model, snowplowing players from one tier to the next such that they’re never encouraged to return to “old” instances, actually undermines the sustainability and appeal of end game PVE content. Not only does it shorten the lifespan of instances, which should be important from a development standpoint because of the incredible amount of time that goes into designing the bloody things, but I think it could be argued that it contributes to higher turnover because of the more compartmentalized experience.

Thus, the first thing that I’d advocate is a return to a more integrated tier process, one that encourages concurrent farming through both boss difficulty and ilvl. In addition to providing more frequent changes in environment, which I’d argue actually helps players enjoy a tier a little bit more because they’re not spending 8 straight months in the same bright red molten themepark, concurrent farming lets guilds choose the content that’s right for them. In conjunction with smaller instances (think 3-4 bosses, instead of 7+), it allows for greater variation of difficulty between the encounters as well as simply more to choose from.

Boss Sequencing for 3 "starter" instances in Tier 1 and 1 instance in Tier 2

The second thing I’d advocate is a repositioning of “catch-up” instances within the progression path to somewhere beneath the ilvl of the normal modes in the previous tier. As Zarhym mentioned in a post regarding the integration of Zul’Aman and Zul’Gurub into the Cataclysm progression path, retaining 5-mans as part of PVE progression allows players to advance their character outside of a raid setting. But with the presumable extension of LFR into all tiers of raiding content, the need for 5-mans to provide such a jump in ilvl and experience simply isn’t there.

This ties into my third suggestion for end-game PVE progression, which is to make LFR approximately equal in ilvl to NM loot from the previous tier. When combined with catch-up instances, this supplementation of gear would provide players with a way to get their toes into the current instance (via LFR) but also enable them to make the transition into progression guilds appropriate for their level of play. One downside to this sort of positioning is that it would mean that a player would go from say, LFR in Tier 3 to the end of normal mode content in Tier 2, as a progression and gear path, which I agree, could be slightly odd.

Because a picture is much easier to understand, here’s the progression path of Cataclysm as it was put into place:

Gearing Levels for Cataclysm

And here’s what I’m proposing:

Proposed Gearing Paths for Players over 3 Tiers

Now, what you’ll note in the above is that there are four player progression archetypes illustrated: the fancy-pants world first player, the top 1000 player, the top 20,000 player, and the new subscriber who comes into PVE content late in the expansion. The “typical” progression path is illustrated (and generalized) for each, with the blue, green, and orange columns representing the release of the various tiers of content. The boxes in each tier represent the content to be conquered, with the box color designating in what tier the player killed that particular level of content (an orange box in a green column, thus, represents a kill of second tier content in the third tier).

Of particular note is that:

  1. Both NM and HM have two levels of gear (much in the same way that the two Deathwing encounters in DS drop slightly better loot than the other 6 bosses).
  2. “Catch up” instances and LFR remain, but at most bring you up to the starting NM ilvl of the previous tier. This is important because it eliminates LFR as a place to farm new gear.
  3. Content is designed to be raided concurrently, so ilvl and boss difficulties overlap.
  4. And lastly, the players who get the least out of this new model are not the players who come in late, or even the casual raiders—but rather the players who are the top 1% of the raiding scene.

Yes, I realize that last one is a bit of a departure, but let me tell you why I think it’s so important. At present, the most publicized part of the raiding game doesn’t have to do with the thousands of kills made by the diligent guilds out there, but rather with the progress of the top 10 or so guilds at the head of the progression race. These are the guys who raid on Christmas Day, the ones who are concerned only with the Race to World First. These are not players concerned with concurrent raiding because their goal is to finish content as fast as possible. So, including them in the audience for normal mode encounters is essentially including outliers in your data set—the result is going to be highly skewed and need significant adjustment later. (Ahem, Firelands HM nerfs).

So, excluding those folks from normal modes and getting them into that prized “un-nerfed content” allows normal modes to be tailored to the raiders more in the middle of the pack. Combine this stratification of content with multi-dimensional fights (think: Sarth 3D, 3-tree Freya) and you have the potential for a much greater diversity and depth of content that will appeal to a broader expanse of players. In other words: there’s more choice of stuff to do. I think this is why Ulduar is so prized in many player’s minds (or maybe just in mine)—because there was so much to do. Between tiered boss difficulties, achievements, meta achievements, immortal achievements and hard modes, content felt a little more broken up and a lot more varied.

In terms of the impact to the gearing path, the proposed model, by placing LFR beneath the ilvl of the NM content of the previous tier, significantly discourages guilds from using the system as a means of mitigating the RNG of drops. When combined with a lockout system that allows you to be eligible for loot from a boss only once the entire week, from LFR, NM or HM, there’s no reason for any guild or player to feel forced (or be allowed) to farm LFR for a gear advantage. In addition, the shift in positioning means that the larger majority of players are assured both lateral and progressive gearing options.

Final Thoughts

It’s important to note that the success of the concurrent raiding model is contingent upon one key idea—that a player can “finish” content in any difficulty level of that tier, whether it’s LFR, NM, or HM. If we’re truly looking at PVE progression as a model that functions based on “fit”, then it’s critical that players and Blizzard acknowledge that not everyone will make it into hard modes. And I’m not saying that from an elitist perspective but rather a realist one. Like the forward, back and intermediary tees that punctuate every golf course, the raiding game is not a case where one size fits all. If nothing else, the deconstruction of the raiding game into hard modes and normal modes, and now LFR, and into 10’s and 25’s, and according to Blues, 5’s as well, means that progression is more about finding the best way to complete the course than to follow the route that everyone else must take. (An elitist asshat arguing for choose-your-own-adventure style raiding? … WHU? Hell must have frozen over …)

Ultimately, I think we need to start treating LFR, NM and HM as intertwined paths instead of one linear experience. We need to expect that we can catch up gear as late-comers but know that there’s a world outside of heroic farming that will prove much more rewarding. We need to feel satisfied that we can see the end boss of an expansion, but not feel entitled to the kill. And we need to feel like what we’re doing as raiders fits our raid level, skill and time commitment, and that the rewards are appropriate for it. Like any evolving MMO, WoW has the opportunity to capitalize on both its failures and successes and use them to further develop content and reward systems that appeal to a broad swath of players. We’ve seen glimpses of these lessons learned in the Mists of Pandaria preview, and I can only hope there are more to come as we get ready to climb those Penrose stairs once again.


  1. Very interesting. As I see it, the key idea of your scheme is the “interleaving” of gear ilevels between Heroic of Tier X, and Normal of Tier X+1. This gives Gentry and Aristocracy guilds incentive to go between Heroic and Normal of the two different tiers.

    My first thought is that I think you underestimate the jump in difficulty between Normal and Heroic. I am not certain that a Gentry guild would have success with a lower tier Heroic, even with the better gear from the Normal higher tier.

    Second, I think this scheme will encourage lower guilds to farm more, and spend less time on attempts. In my view, that will make them less successful. Like in your Top 1000 section, the guild will be farming T1-HM1 and T2-NM1 at the same time as they are working on T2-NM2. To me, that guild will be spending time they cannot afford on farming gear from one of those, rather than putting in attempts on T2-NM2.

    Third, minor point, but I dislike the way you’ve staggered the bosses in your Boss sequencing diagram. I hated T5, and it’s “do 2 bosses in SSC, then fly to TK and fight all the way to Loot Reaver and kill him, then back to SSC”. Such a waste of time.

    Other than those points, I think it’s a pretty good scheme. I wonder if it would be better to split out your NM2 and HM2 as a separate “mini-tier”. I.e. release the NM1 and HM1 instance, and then two months later, release the NM2 and HM2 layer. Actually, I wonder if you could simplify your diagram in that fashion. Just straight-out interleave the tiers, so you go T1-NM -> T2-NM -> T1-HM -> T2-HM.
    Rohan´s last post ..Pandaria Stat Changes

  2. Tidewind

    Another brilliant post. I completely agree with the whole last paragraph, especially about the entitlement some people feel towards a kill. I’m not a fantastic raider but I do try to get better every expansion / tier, with that being said I barely saw outside of entry Tier5 content in BC, and although I never saw BT in all it’s glory or fought through MH I didn’t once think that I deserved to start killing everything because I was paying a subscription. I think that being rewarded for effort in such a way was a HUGE part of this game and it feels as though it’s being taken away just so every person can get all the purpelz they want because they feel as though they deserve it. It’s like anything in the game, and even real-life. Effort = Reward, and the more of it you put in the more you get out. It doesn’t feel right being pushed into new raid after new raid just because.

  3. Gorbag

    How do vp/jp fit into your system, and how would you approach nerfs over time, if at all? Personally, I think the system of vp:current tier, jp:previous tier is fine, and gear gained via vp/jp provide enough of a boost to make nerfs uneccessary until the end of the final tier. If nerfs are going to happen, the current system in DS (nerf boss health/damage in small increments over time) is better than blanket large-scale nerfs or damage/health buffs ICC style. What do you think?

  4. shammypie

    A thought occured to me the other day. Due to our mastery we tend to do more healing in progression fights where the raid isn’t quite as geared as they could be down the road. In my guild i tend to be on the bottom end of the totem pole for getting gear (epgp system i would have to skill gearing for about half a tier to get back to being on top) and will get more out of my crappy gear than what i get laler do primarily to my mastery and us barely hanging on. I know some guilds prioritize by which healers are strongest. Wouldn’t this mean that shamans will be your strongest healers to gear first (aka equally shared objects and gear shared with dps) ?

  5. FD

    Its an interesting variation on the BC gearing scheme that people propose going back to but in general is suffers from two major issues.

    1) Hard modes aren’t just bigger numbers. The vast majority of hardmodes that people consider good hardmodes are bosses that don’t just ramp the damage and the healing up but numbers that new mechanics to work with or work around. For this reason a guild going back into previous tier hardmodes with current gear is liable to have some pretty significant challenges. Yes some of those challenges you can power through but coordination checks like on omnitron council are still going to be very difficult for guilds that struggled with previous tier normals even in better gear.

    2) This would destroy many 25 man guilds. Right now 25 man guilds below some progression threshold (probably 6/8H in the current game state) are barely holding together. Recruitment is close to low and benches are close to non-existent. A system that makes it harder to take a player from badly below content standards to up to content standards would vastly slow the only really reliable way for these guilds to build their rosters. This same effect applied upstream as well would make using lower level guilds as a recruitment pool more common and create massive drains on many 25 man guilds.

  6. Another insightful wow article from you Vixsin , whilst discussing this with my WoW playing S.O , she again bemoaned the gap with a really cutting edge hunter writing , frosthiem aside as he doesn’t really raid “progression ” . Insight with this level of research, detail and evidence based abstraction is exactly the kind of detail we all crave..

    I wanted to touch on the linear storyline issues that are built into the endgame raiding models , don’t get me wrong I love me some raid content but to me it is also important that it works story wise , take for example attunement objectives and storyline … they made sense in a sory arch sense and as a gated content measure. IE your character had to achieve certain tasks you were quested with earned or , had an item necessary to survive in the new big bad instance.

    Another benefit of having instances make sense progress wise is you have a better sense of achievement when you finish an instance .. it makes sense to pick up the breadcrumbs from killing the final boss of a instance as to why your struggling your way into the next. If we bounced around from boss to boss doesn’t quite fit with the overarching story model , which is a key driver that keeps me playing wow .

    This then sparked the eternal question , Why ? why do we do it , why do we throw ourselves 3 nights a week through the same old farm bosses. Week after week, hoping to squeeze that little bit more performance into our progress boss kill , to farm gear to make the transition into the next teir more manageable ? what happens when there isn’t a next tier in the expansion . in fact how does a guild deal with keeping people in the game once the final big bad is thwarted , do you feel that the story is over that your done with the game . Gear is our current motivator to kill farm content what’s the point of farming for that extra 10 intellect.

    Is it possible that these lulls at the end of content is what is causing wow to slowly decline , its hard to leave in the middle of a story arch but if you’re done with the content , even if it’s just mid patch I can see people dribbling away to other things

  7. Chad

    Rohan’s point about the jump to heroic being possibly more difficult than you are making it sounds is a good one to keep in mind. As someone who has pretty much just done normals, it’s good to have a self contained progression path just for normal (although obviously I’m biased).

    I like the idea of having two levels of gear per raid release. If done right it would make for a good reason to keep doing the older raid for a while at first. I do think there needs to be an easy way to skip bosses though. Either separate raids, optional skippable bosses, or a way to alter the raid id. Raiding T2NM1 primarily but having to do T1NM1 to get the stuff you want on T1NM2 might be too much.

    Find a way to have all raid content be useful during an expansion and yet still have a way for catch-ups and you’ll find the holy grail of raid design.

  8. Hawk

    Another amazing post from my favorite Shammy. As someone who shares many of your concerns I was not surprised in the least as I was reading and thinking of alternatives that I came to similar conclusions.

    So much content is being ignored or left behind. I understand Blizzards needs and wants to have everyone experience end game content, but with the current implantation they have created another problem of many people not experiencing the beginning content.

    The raiding experience should not be about just one endgame raid. It should be all the expansion’s raids as a whole. I have fun raiding all the content, never just the endgame, or I’d sit on my hands and wait for the last patch.

    Thanks for all your insight. I hope people pass on your posts, as I feel so many current raiders can’t see the whole picture, individual problems, and previous successes.

  9. Grays42

    I really wish this post had more discussion and publicity. I’ve been thinking along these lines for much of Wrath and Cataclysm…that there are virtually no guilds still “one instance down”, and it’s because so much emphasis has been put onto bolstering the gear of intro-to-raid characters, especially toward the end of Cataclysm.

    While I raided very heavily toward the end of vanilla, it burned me out and I did almost no raiding for the first 8 months of BC outside of Kara. When I started raiding 25s in BC, BT had just come out, and I joined a guild for their first Magtheridon guild. I spent all of BC and Wrath in that guild, and it was glorious. We were consistently in the 3rd-to-8th guild slot…progressive, not quite on the bleeding edge, sometimes good, sometimes bad, friendly, carrying some bads, good core…it was awesome. The big Sunwell nerf hit at exactly the right moment, allowing us a perfect progression path from BT into Sunwell: the instance that had killed most of the top guilds on our server was tuned to precisely the difficulty that we needed as we started it. We got our KJ kill the night before Wrath hit. We broke up toward the end of Wrath due to backsliding after losing lots of bored players. With a new guild, Cataclysm has been miserable for us for precisely the reasons you’re describing. Brick walls, content that’s unreasonably difficult for mid-level players but no real gear stratification.

    Your comparison with the way BC gear worked versus content is spot-on. Great analysis. This post needs to get more traction than it has.

  10. Rathje

    I’m a newbie Resto Shaman who only got into WoW about half a year ago. Here’s my view of this game so far.

    First, it’s been really fun, but overwhelming. Too much content. The leveling system is simply too fast. For instance, I get about half of the content in Hellfire Penninsula done, and whoosh – you’re too high level, off to Zangarmarsh with you! And then you get maybe about a third of the content in Zangarmarsh done and whoosh – move it along folks, next zone, next zone! And then before you know it, you haven’t even really completed enough content to feel like you got much of a glimpse of the likes of Illidan or Kael’Thas at all, but it’s time to move on to Northrend (where I never even got a glimpse of the plot at all before I had to do Cataclysm content).

    Later, I accompanied my guild on some transmog runs at the old Burning Crusade raids, and soloed Molten Core one evening just because I felt like it. I remember feeling like it really sucked that there had obviously been a big stinking deal over these instances and content way back in the day when they were new and people were trying to clear Molten Core, or Black Temple, or Magister’s Terrace as parts of actual raids. Back when taking down Kael’Thas was something that required a highly skilled team and not just one level 85 character with time on his hands. And I’d walk by the reputation vendors in Shattrath or Dalaran and just feel…. cheated. Like everyone had a party and I wasn’t invited.

    Molten Core may be boring to jaded raiders today, but when I went in there, I thought the place looked awesome. It would have been doubly so if I was a place that could actually kill me (well, admittedly, I did have to call on a guildie to help me with the core hounds…) and my whole group of adventurers.

    A part of me wishes they’d make the reputation purchases at the Shattrath and Dalaran vendors more doable for people leveling content. I also kind of wish that Blizzard would make clearing those old raids MANDATORY for unlocking the next tier of experience on your character (in exchange, they’d have to give them an easier mode), or something like that… Also, I wish they’d slow down the leveling process so that it forces you to actually complete a lot of the zone content before moving on to the next. In exchange, maybe they could up the experience bonuses on heirlooms for people who want to skip it. i don’t know…

    I’m sure what I’m saying has a lot of problems. But I just felt like I missed out big time. You know?

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