Being a long time MMORPG player like most of you, I’ve witnessed the evolution of equipment acquisition as the years have gone by. Starting off as a bit more archaic and inspired by table top rpgs, it’s since been streamlined to the point where equipment is not as much the reward for discovery and instead has become a conveyor belt continuously feeding player character growth. The further a player ventures into an MMORPG, the more detached from the world equipment acquisition becomes.
In addition, the uniqueness of the equipment has been blurred significantly such that many players simply see most of the equipment as a “stat stick”, meaning that it serves no functional purpose aside from increasing a character’s stats. In many mmorpgs, there’s functionally no difference between gauntlets and a ring or a helmet and a belt. They only differ in the amount of stats they provide.
I suppose this is a long winded way to say that equipment should be exciting to acquire and be functionally meaningful. The streamlined systems of modern mmorpgs pretty much kill this into blandness, leaving players to look elsewhere for their excitement, which is a shame.
With this in mind, here’s some ideas I have about equipment. They may not fit with Embers Adrtift’s design and some may be far too late into the game's development to even consider, but I present the ideas nonetheless.
Continuous replacement is terrible
Equipment becomes less meaningful if you end up having to replace it often. It also nurtures a a rat race mentality where you’re more focused on getting that next upgrade instead of enjoying the game’s content. Furthermore, it definitely feels like a let down when that cool weapon you earned from the dungeon boss gets replaced by some standard baseline weapon a few levels later. Instead, let’s return to the roots of unique and rare equipment being something awesome that sticks with you throughout your entire character’s lifespan (or until a better rare item comes along).
A piece of equipment’s efficacy in performing their intended purpose is affected by its item level. Simply put, the higher a piece of equipment’s item level, the better it’ll perform. The higher item level of a breastplate will increase the amount/% of physical damage reduction while the higher item level of a sword will increase the damage that it does.
Instead of equipment simply being stat sticks, pieces of equipment should have specific purposes. For example, a steel breastplate should really only provide defense against physical attack. It shouldn’t increase one’s strength, dexterity, or intelligence (as stat examples). Some equipment, like rings, would provide more magical benefits as a ring really does not provide much in the form of physical benefit.
Stats, by and large, should only increase through leveling and temporary buffs. Very rarely should equipment increase stats and only a single stat at that. Let equipment only do what the equipment was designed to do. Anything more should be exceedingly rare and not the norm.
Of course, there is the “magical equipment” argument that would say a piece of gear could be magically enhanced to make that ring increase one’s armor or strength or whatever. All I can say is that line of thinking is what leads to gear becoming stat sticks and boring. It should be used sparingly so that a magical item is exciting to acquire instead of the fact that it is a magical piece of equipment being completely overlooked.
Equipment should be bundled into different categories based on their intended purpose. Each category can then have slightly different rules regarding efficacy and item level. Some basic categories would be:
Armor type Trade Off
- Armor - gear that you wear that’s intended to reduce incoming damage
- Helmet, Shoulders, Chest, Hands, Legs, and Feet
- Utility - gear that provides some type of special ability or benefit.
- Amulets, Rings, earrings, cloaks, belts
- Weapons - gear that enables and/or enhances your damage dealing/healing
- Swords, staves, daggers, etc.
- Baubles - gear that you don’t generally wear that provides powerful, unique abilities with lengthy cooldowns
- Magic imbued gems, rabbit’s foot, gryphon feather, etc.
In tandem with intended purpose, different armor types should also provide different benefits. It’s initially easy to see that a steel breastplate would provide more physical damage defense than a cloth tunic. Looking solely at that benefit, there would be no reason to wear a cloth tunic over a steel breastplate. But, what if there was a tradeoff? What if the cloth tunic provided a better chance to dodge, a higher movement speed, or more defense against magic? The basic idea is that every armor type should have advantages and disadvantages.
As said above, continual gear replacement based on character level is poor design. Upgrading gear should be a big deal. As item level increases, the opportunity to upgrade decreases. With that in mind there should be an item level range that should be considered a “common standard”, meaning that this item level is something every player can expect to achieve without having to rely on the luck of rare drops. Up until this common standard, replacing gear could be a bit more rapid, but once they’ve reached the common standard, upgrades slow down significantly as they are only acquired through rare drops.
Currently, crafted gear would be this common standard. A full set of this gear would mean an adventurer has what they need to meet nearly all content challenges. In other terms, they would no longer be under geared.
So from a life cycle standpoint, gear that is at this common standard item level and above is intended to last indefinitely on the character and cannot be outleveled while gear below this common standard is intended to be replaced regularly.
Item Level tiers
With a sliding item level scale, we can create tiers based on acquisition source. I’d place them something like this in order of lowest to highest:
Item Level inflation
- Common drops from common mobs - the equipment dropped by common “trash” mobs. Better than not having anything equipped, but terrible quality. This equipment would be the most abundant in the game and would be the predominant way to gear up for very early levels.
- Equipment made by PC crafters - This should be what pretty much every new character wants to attain as soon as possible. Its item level is sufficient to tackle most content for the character’s level. It’s that quality made, no frills stuff that sticks with an adventure their entire life. Acquisition should be somewhat of a journey and definitely not something trivial to obtain.
- Rare Equipment obtained from rare monsters - This is the largest area where quality rating can vary. The equipment is rare to come by and should always be better than the respective crafting piece. Other rare equipment of the same slot might be a higher item level but due to its rarity the rate of replacement still remains relatively low.
- Equipment made by PC crafters with rare ingredients - Think of that rare ore only available at the bottom of a deep dungeon or that fang from the dragon you just slew. A crafter could use these to create exceptional gear. This equipment would generally be better than rare drops (but not always). This gear would also not be available to sell. Mechanisms in place would allow a player who acquired the material to be the only one allowed to receive the resulting gear.
- Epic equipment obtained from “big boss” encounters - Only a select few mobs would drop this level of loot and will not always drop. Only a handful of items would be available. Not to be confused with the way games like WoW does epic loot where each boss has an entire table of epic loot. Instead, these bosses would have exactly 1 epic loot piece that does not always drop. More commonly these bosses would be good sources for rare ingredients for the previous tier, but there’d always be that special chance of something truly epic.
- Legendary equipment - These items are truly unique in that only 1 of them exist per server. Highest level. Acquisition methods are not completely straightforward and almost always not just a small % chance to drop. There would be methods in place to allow the passing of the legendary to another worthy player and not allow the item to languish on an inactive character.
When new content in an mmorpg is released, it tends to be a little more difficult in terms of damage output and requirements. This leads to new gear being available to meet that gap. This type of inflation should be exceedingly rare if not avoided altogether as it leads to an arms race mentality. Adventurers become worried about acquiring more gear. Crafters now have a bunch of new recipes they have to learn and craft. All the older rare material crafting becomes less desirable. It changes the nature of the game. Instead, new content should just increase the number of gear available at the rare drop and higher tiers.
With the above outlined, I definitely lean toward a conservative approach to gear proliferation, particularly gear at a rare or higher item level tier. The less rare gear in the world, the more exciting it is for players to acquire it (assuming the acquisition methods are reasonable and not astronomically draconian). Players should never be able to buy their way to rare gear. This only applies to gear above the common standard. Everything below and including the common standard should never be bound. Players can sell that gear to their heart’s content. Let players sell the crafted gear they’ve made or purchased and even have used (at perhaps a slightly lower item level so as not to compete with newly crafted pieces).
Anything beyond the common standard is bound immediately upon acquisition. The only exception to this would be similar to wow’s 2 hour trade grace window where a typically bound piece of gear can be traded to anyone else who was present at its looting within a certain window of time.
Obsolete Rare Gear
I’d not implement any type of “recycle” systems that incentivize the repeated acquisition of rare items. An example of this would be deconstructing a rare item into crafting material or having the rare item sell at a merchant for a valuable price. Systems like this will always be exploited by people mainly interested in making money in the game, especially if the content is not instanced and is persistent. It ultimately cheapens the rare gear acquisition experience.
My apologies if this post wasn’t very cohesive. I just had a number of interlocking ideas that I couldn’t quite organize well enough. If I had to TL;DR this it’d go like this:
- Keep rare equipment truly rare and exciting to acquire regardless of the character’s level
- Allow a widely accessible pathway for players to get their gear “up to par”
- Do not allow rare gear to be sold or recycled
- Stick to a common standard item level
Thank you for your time.