Epic Legendary is the new blue!
You know what bothers me? Epic items! Well, not epic items per se, but how they (and most of the rest of the item hierarchy as well) suddenly became easily available.
There once was a time where the item quality name was a fitting description of the actual rarity and quality ingame.
This will be a slightly shorter entry…maybe. I’ll talk a little bit about the different item qualities and how they’ve changed over time. Some didn’t change, others experienced significant tweaks to their availability and role in the game.
Grey items, the game says they’re of poor quality, are junk or vendor trash, fair enough. They don’t have any practicyl value except for self imposed challenges or collectors of novelty items. (Actually, there is the matter of a lot of them being extremely rare and no longer obtainable, but I’ll stick to the grey equipment that still drops in the game for now)
This is what the original game manual had to say about them (maybe the current as well, but I don’t have a “current” copy of the game): “These items are of poor quality and have no special properties. They are often called vendor trash by players.” That sounds about right.
Next there are “common” items. Actually there aren’t that many of them in game to justify the name “common”, but since you can buy them from vendors early on, I guess that’s where the name comes from. Actually, we’ve already have our first candidate here: Common items have become a lot more uncommon over the years. For a long time they were given out to low level adventurers as quest rewards and yes, even boss drops in instances. The first boss in the Deadmines used to have one as loot for example. Until the item got buffed to blue quality and eventually was removed from the game altogether with the fancy-schmancy redesign.
Again, here’s the original description from the 2005 game manual: “These items are of common quality. Usually, only high-level white items have special properties. Most vendor bought items fall into this category.”
Actually, I don’t remember there being -any- white items in the game with special properties until TBC (which only has like 2 or 3 IIRC).
With green, or “uncommon” items being given out like free candy at every quest corner, there’s not really any room for white items anymore. To call green items “uncommon” was probably never really accurate, because they were always the easiest of all item classes to obtain, just by questing (except for the first couple of levels) you were decked in all greens. For the most part, they didn’t really change much over the years. Green items are slightly easier available at lower levels, but there are also more blue quest rewards since Cataclysm, so it all evens out in the end.
Mists of Pandaria introduced some interesting new vendors. Instead of selling useless white items nobody would ever need to buy, there now are vendors selling full sets of green items for all classes with proper stats at different levels. So if you missed a quest reward or whatever your reason might be: Here you can quickly buy a full set of armor with stats on it. I honestly think that’s a bit overkill, but who am I to complain. This pretty much brings green items to the level of common vendor items.
What was their original description? Here it is: “Rarer than white items and more powerful, these items are considered uncommon. [enchanting stuff] Green items are mostly found as loot or created by trade skill craftspeople.” Oddly enough, even the game manual doesn’t mention quest rewards. I won’t go into the trade skills yet, that’s a whole topic for some other day.
During leveling, doing some instances every now and then and for the early endgame, green items used to be what most people were wearing.
But now we traverse into the realm of the infamous blue or “rare” items and here changes become more apparent. Blue items were usually only available through elite/group/dungeon quests or as boss loot in instances. However, one thing that has changed is the availability of boss loot. See my series about dungeon instances for a more detailed analysis. Let’s just say that blue items took much longer to acquire than they do now. Instances are more accessible, shorter and easier, so blue gear is much more common than it used to be. In addition to that, quests now hand out blue items much more frequent and usually for solo content. So blue items have taken the role of green items in the leveling portion of the game. Doing a couple of instances on the way and finishing the quests, you’re mostly geared in all blue items when you hit the level cap.
As usual, we’ll look at the manuals description from 2005: “Blue items are of rare quality, and almost always have special properties. [bla, enchanting] Only a handful of items a craftsperson can make are blue items, and even then, such items require many obscure ingredients to craft and can only be made by craftspeople with a high skill level.”
There actually were/are a few blue items with no special properties whatsoever. I remember a gun that just did more damage than green items with the same level requirement. Cute.
Again, I’ll leave the crafting part out for now. I’ll just mention that the description is not even close to being accurate these days.
Which brings us to the purple, or “epic” items, which are usually the focus of the controversy concerning item availability.
Let’s read the manual first: “These items are epic in scope and power.”
Bam! That’s it. No mention of where to get them, how to get them, if they’re craftable…nothing! Back in WoW Classic, players wouldn’t see a single epic item for months or even longer. Before guilds started raiding in the Molten Core, the only sources of epic items were very rare and obscure drops in the world or in dungeons. World drop epics usually had a .1% dropchance and dungeon epics weren’t much easier to acquire, especially if you consider the competition of other players rolling for the item. There was a necklace in Scarlet Monastery with I believe 2% dropchance, the two swords from Zul’Farrak that combined to one epic sword or the Runeblade of Baron Rivendare, which had a .1% dropchance at lvl60…I got it before the drop chance was increased to 1%…and even before I had the mount. Those are just a few examples.
There were also a handful of epic recipes in the game, but these were hard to obtain (rare drops in dungeons or raids) and required a huge amount of expensive materials.
Raids weren’t accessible to all players, so most people never had epic gear. Heck, I’ve been using a Shadowblade a long time at lvl60 because I got lucky and wasn’t unable to find anything better for a long time.
These days epic items are…different. Everybody has easy access to them and they were even buyable just for farming some easy reputation. The “looking for raid” feature has made acquiring a full set of epics even easier, but it all started with TBC, where 5 man bosses suddenly dropped epic items and accessible 10 man raids awarded epic loot as well. Granted, these took MUCH more effort than heroic dungeons and LFR does these days, but it was a gradual development.
When Cataclysm was released, Blizzard stated they wanted to make epic items feel epic again. So justice gear was blue again, heroic instances only had blue loot and epic items were only available in real raids. Well, except for the epic items available through reputation….and later the new 5 man instances…and the looking for raid feature. In Pandaria they’re not even trying anymore. Players wear blue for a while, but have quick and easy access to epic gear.
Epic items are by no means epic anymore. In fact, they are the most common form of equipment in the entire game. There are more epic items introduced with a new expansion than green and blue items combined. So now everybody can feel epic…only they’re not. I’m not whining and demanding epic items to be epic again, I just want more variety again. These days everybody practically wears the same gear. The LFR player who can barely click his abilities has the same item as the highly skilled heroic 25man raider. Sure, the heroic gear is more powerful, but that’s the only difference, slightly better stats. Origin, name, look (uuh color change!) and item quality are identical. I’m really amazed this strategy still works and the broad playerbase isn’t bored of getting epic gear handed to them without any effort. But I guess the name “epic” still has enough potential to lure them into the next LFR round.
Which brings me to the last item category: Legendaries!
The original game manual doesn’t even mention them by name. There’s only a note after the epic items that even more powerful items are rumored to be existing in the world. Damn, isn’t that an awesome description?
Legendary items were, for the most part, something only a select few of only the most hardcore players could obtain.
Let’s just take a look at Thunderfury, probably still the most awesome legendary item in the game.
To obtain it, your guild/group must be able to clear the Molten Core instance on a regular basis. You must also have been the lucky bearer of the burden to receive the TWO 5% boss drops required to forge the blade. Remember: That’s 5%…times two and you only get one shot at them per week!
But that wasn’t it…oh no, far from it. You also had to supply materials. In addition to being ridiculously expensive, the whole procedure was also ridiculously long and complex. You were required to accumulate arcane bars worth a combined 200 (two hundred!) days of Alchemist cooldowns and be able to work your way through the Blackwing Lair for the elementium ingots and to teach a player with the mining skill the “smelt elementium” skill by mind controlling a hostile NPC in the raid instance who could teach the recipe to the player. No, I’m not making this up….it was really that awesome.
Now, let’s take a look at some of the “legendary” items of the first expansion (TBC): The Twin Blades of Azzinoth. They were two 5% drops off the end boss Illidan. That’s it…an item with a low drop rate you could use immediately. That’s insanely lame.
Later expansions introduced quest lines again and generally required more effort than just looting the finished legendary item. But it actually got worse: For example Dragonwrath or the Fangs of the Father from Cataclysm were Legendary items you had to farm items for, but the whole process was a lot easier than before. Guilds could pretty much calculate how many players they could outfit with these legendary items and so they were much more common than other legendaries. Usually more common than the TBC legendaries, because now you knew that and when you got the item.
But Legendaries were still limited to people actually raiding sucessfully within a guild and the super easy LFR mode didn’t work for legendaries, or wasn’t even available in the case of Dragonwrath.
And then we arrive at the latest expansion: Mists of Pandaria which features the LFR feature right from the start and this time that means Legendaries for everyone. All players get introduced to the Legendary questline upon hitting Lvl90 and getting the actual item (there seem to be multiple rewards, each introduced with a new content patch) is just a matter of going mindlessly through the LFR and grinding some reputation and valor points. Now there is truly no content that isn’t accessible for every player in the game, regardless of their ability to play the game.
The only thing separating a brainless keyboard turner from an experienced hardmode raider is the level of challenge and amount of stats on the gear. Oh and probably the time invested. I must say, the incentive to put in hundreds of extra hours for almost no reward is really small. Sure, Blizzard wants players to see the content they’ve put development time into and not have a situation like they had with Naxxramas, where the number of players who had cleared the raid before TBC hit was basically in the realm of a statistical error. But even though I barely stepped foot into the Molten Core during the pre-TBC times, I still enjoyed Naxxramas just for existing. It was nice to have content in the game so out of reach and so challenging you could barely dream about ever stepping foot in there. I still liked to improve my character to the best of my abilities…but these days there is hardly anything I can strive for. Sure, I can play a harder version of the content I already know, but I think that’s a really lazy design choice by Blizzard. And now that even Legendaries are pretty much free loot for everybody, there’s nothing left. There will never be another Naxxramas, nothing will ever be out of reach for anybody and I think that’s quite sad.
Well, this has gotten a lot longer than intended and also went slightly off topic. Sorry.
So here’s the final picture for today, a truly legendary one: