Dev Watercooler: Gearing up for Legion PvP

Dev Watercooler
May 23rd by Brian Holinka

In Legion, we’re making some pretty big changes to our PvP systems to make combat against your fellow players more accessible, balanced, and rewarding. Some of the biggest changes we’re making are related to gear—both how it affects your character in PvP, and how it’s awarded. We want to take a bit of time to share with you more of our thoughts on how we arrived at this new PvP gear design and why we think it will create a more enjoyable experience for everyone.

First, we need to share a little high-level philosophy about why we have gear in World of Warcraft. WoW is a game about your character, their adventures in the world of Azeroth, and their growth in power. One of the foundations of the game is being rewarded for your efforts with gear that makes you stronger. WoW offers a wide variety of activities, including quests, dungeons, raiding, and PvP—and while players may find that certain parts of the game appeal most to them, everyone wants to be rewarded fairly for their effort and skill. PvP is no different: players should be rewarded, and their characters should become more powerful, for participating in PvP—and in Legion, we want to reward them in a way that matters not just in PvP, but across all of the game.

We’ve traditionally had different goals for PvP and PvE gear, and how much power it gives you relative to your enemies. For example, in PvE content, it feels good to gain gear and eventually overpower a once-dangerous monster. As players take on more difficult raiding content, it is important that the monsters grow in power and that the gear they drop does too. Over the years, we’ve added a lot of different raid difficulties to accommodate the variety of player types we have. This has resulted in several tiers of gear that make taking on more challenging content feel more rewarding.

In PvP, we want that same feeling of progression, but we have to manage how much stronger you can be compared to your enemies—other players. While a raid boss doesn’t mind when a team of players massively outgears them, it’s a frustrating experience for other players. So, our challenge has been to find a way to allow your character to become stronger through PvP without making your opponents feel like they can’t compete. On top of that, we don’t want to undermine the value of earning gear through other types of gameplay, such as raiding.

We’ve tried a number of solutions in the past. We introduced Resilience in Wrath of the Lich King, and then in Mists, we added PvP Power to the mix as well. In Warlords, PvP gear was given a second PvP item level, and we scaled down gear from non-PvP sources. All of these solutions have worked to some degree, but also made PvP gear needlessly complicated and hindered crossover play. PvP players feel like their gear isn’t useful in PvE circumstances, and vice versa—and when the gear you’ve earned only makes you more powerful in certain situations, these rewards simply feel less rewarding. Going forward, we feel it would be better if the gear awarded in PvE and PvP was just the same. No special item levels. No PvP-specific stats. Playing any part of the game will allow you to get rewards that are meaningful everywhere.

So, assuming we want to reward the same gear in PvE and PvP, how can we handle the conflicting goals we mentioned before? We’re going to have to change what gear means in PvP.

For starters, we have to shrink the power gap that gear creates in PvP. At first, we considered ignoring gear altogether, but it felt counter-intuitive that gear offered no growth in power at all. We also explored an option that involved scaling PvP gear to within a certain item level range, but this was complicated and made the distribution of secondary stats more important than item level. We think it’s important that if a player sees a piece of gear that is an item level upgrade, they will want to equip it.

We ultimately arrived at a solution where we set player stats automatically in PvP and increase those stats based on your average item level. Players would understand that their stats didn’t come from gear, but that the quality of their gear does matter. Currently, we’ve tuned the system such that for every point above item level 800, your stats are increased by 0.1%. This means that someone with item level 900 gear is only 10% stronger than someone with item level 800 gear. For comparison, that’s roughly the same increase that a mere 10 item level increase gives in Warlords of Draenor. This allows us to make getting gear feel good in general, while shrinking the power gap to an acceptable range.

Now that we’ve limited the power gap gear can create in PvP, we can offer great gear rewards on par with the rest of the game—but now we need to address how it’s rewarded. One of the big changes in Legion is that gear will no longer be delivered through PvP currencies and vendors. Of course, we know a lot of players like the predictable nature of buying gear from vendors. They can select exactly the item they want and never receive an item they don’t want. It sounds like a perfect situation, but it is also an emotionally flat, predictable experience. There is no anticipation about what your reward will be. No exhilaration when you get something you want. No disappointment when you get something you don’t. We want to bring that emotional experience to PvP rewards—while still doing our best to minimize the amount of disappointment you experience.

In Legion, when players win a Battleground, Skirmish, Arena, or Rated Battleground, they have a chance to receive a piece of gear directly. Furthermore, your first few victories per week in each rated bracket will reward a guaranteed piece of gear, which has its item level increased based on your rating in the bracket. For both systems, gear works like it does in the rest of Legion. Any time you are awarded gear, it has a chance to have its item level increased further.

We understand that randomness in gearing has been problematic for PvP in the past, but we think that the aforementioned changes to PvP gear resolve the vast majority of the issues we’ve encountered before. In Legion, your primary goal in PvP will be increasing your average item level. Getting (or not getting) that perfectly itemized trinket won’t be something you’ll have to worry about. We also have systems in place to reduce the likelihood you’ll see the same item twice, which will help round out your set of gear. The biggest benefit of reducing the predictability in gearing in PvP is we can offer gear on par with the rest of World of Warcraft’s end-game activities. Not only will it make receiving gear from PvP more exciting and rewarding, but it also makes PvP more attractive to all WoW players.

There’s also been some concern from both PvEers and PvPers that “raiders will just do Arena to get easy gear” and “gladiators will just do Mythic raids to get easy gear.” We feel it’s important to remember how challenging both types of gameplay can be. Downing Mythic bosses and earning Gladiator rating are two of the most difficult accomplishments in our game. We think players who have demonstrated skill at those levels deserve to be rewarded with better gear.

We spent a lot of time thinking about how to improve the PvP gear situation for everyone who loves World of Warcraft. We appreciate hearing your thoughts about these changes, so be sure to post your thoughts in the comments below.