Why I Hate Item Progression
I’ve been hinting at this post for a while now as I keep raising the point how item progression in MMOs bugs me. I’m not going to sit here and sing the virtues of sandbox games because, frankly, I don’t see anything wrong with a good ol’ fashioned themepark MMO (or whatever it is the kids are calling them these days). In fact, I spend most of my time playing those sorts of games because they’re a heck of a lot of fun. As much as I love the potential of a game like EVE Online, WoW and co are a real blast to play.
But I’m traditionalist and also a black-and-white-ist when it comes to my RPGs. If it’s not a skill based system then I want levels for my progression, none of this gated itemisation that seems to plague WoW. The concept of hitting the level cap and then investing as much time again into upgrading your gear through several stages of “item level” is frustrating to me as a lover of RPGs. Aside from being incredibly repetitive (oh whoop, I get to run the same dungeons again and again and again until I get the drop I need), it also strikes me as a very cheap way of providing a huge amount of content. The cynic in me would call it a timesink for the sake of timesinks as the idea of adding a layer or two of item progression above the level cap before raiding is utterly pointless really.
To be melodramatic for a moment, I also think item progression is rather exploitative and manipulates our native instinct to collect and complete. Sure, you’ll probably argue that this is concept is prevalent in every aspect of MMOs but there’s something about gearing up as a form of progression that particularly sticks out to me as being vulgar and unforgiving. It’s raw and obvious in it’s point and on more than one occasion I’ve stopped myself mid-play session to wonder why the heck I’m bothering trying to acquire all of these “better” items. I’m not on any sort of journey any more, I’m not going through new exciting or interesting areas, I’m just stagnating and stubbornly refusing to stop playing.
Item progression is so heavily interwoven into the end game of WoW now that everything has being boiled down into a single number, the dreaded item level. It’s rather strange to think that everything I now do with my level 85 Warrior revolves around that silly little figure but it does and it’s amazing how much of an impact it has. It gates what activities I can do and determines how people will treat me in their group. Throughout most of the lifespan of my character I’ve been blissfully unaware of the gearscore culture that has invaded WoW but unfortunately it cannot be avoid at max level. No matter how good you are or how fun you might be to play with, item progression is king at level 85.
The most ironic thing of all though is that the system is utterly flawed or at least in the way players interpret it (I have no doubt Blizzard have created a huge amount of leeway in the difficulty of their content but unfortunately the human desire to min/max often wins the day). For instance, as a tanking Warrior, I face an interesting conundrum. I have to accomplish heroic dungeons in order to progress my gear yet, given the rules of netiquette, I’m only allowed to roll on “tank” items. Seemed fair enough until I pondered what will happen to all of the tanks who have been collecting nothing but tanking gear and then want to raid because raids usually only need one tank. Time to switch to DPS for raiding? Oops, don’t have any gear for that. Doh.
Maybe I’m just becoming disheartened by the whole system and the never ending grind but I do think it’s a shame to see MMOs such as WoW become so heavily focused on item progression. I mean, why do our characters need to have an unlimited lifespan? Why do we actually need to play them for months and months and months? What would be wrong with hitting the level cap, jumping straight into a few raids (or single group dungeons) and just completing the darn storyline that’s been teased to us from day one?
Perhaps I’m a sourpuss but I need some closure.