Raising the Gear Cap in a Scaling World

Screenshot_20160603_171030Datamining following the release of the Dark Brotherhood patch has revealed a lot of additions to the files that can be expected to make their way to the live game in the near future, the most intriguing of which (to me) is various new crafting material icons which appear to indicate the imminent addition of a gear rated higher than the current cap of CP160.

It’s been almost a year since The Elder Scrolls Online last upped the gear level with the addition of the Imperial City last July, and we’ve seen some broad changes to the way content is delivered since then, most importantly through the continuing proliferation of level scaling technology, which culminated in the recent announcement that scaling will be coming to all of Tamriel. Will these changes introduce challenges to the next gear cap raise? This one thinks they will.

The Past


In older patches to The Elder Scrolls Online, gear level raises were handled in effectively standard themepark MMORPG fare. The gear level went up. New, more difficult content was added. Players went to the new content to get the new, more powerful gear. It was straight forward, it made sense, and it felt fair.

However, as ESO has evolved, significant changes to the way the game’s content is consumed have been made. Foremost in importance among these is a tremendous increase in the employment of scaling technology to level match players to content and content to players. New DLC zones like Orsinium, Hew’s Bane, and the Gold Coast are all scaled at the current CP cap of 160 with a bolster that raises lower level players to an appropriate power level for the zone. Dungeons now feature two options: to scale everyone up to the CP cap like the DLC zones OR to scale the dungeon itself to the party leader’s level. In all of these cases, rewards are scaled to be appropriate to the natural level of the players.

As we now know, these examples are only the beginning of a massive trend that’s coming to sweep through Tamriel, likely extending even unto trials.

The Future


Gear acquisition featuring heavy RNG makes for a particularly frustrating upgrade.

Looking at the game’s current paradigm and the way gear level increases have been handled in the past, we can do some informed speculation on how the impending gear level increase will be handled. While the proliferation of level scaling technology will make content obsolescence a thing of the past, it has the unfortunate side effect of putting endgame players into a regrettable position when the gear cap is raised.

Let’s say the CP cap for gear is raised to CP180 in the Q3 update. If existing content is scaled up accordingly, this would force players to run through and farm the exact same content they’ve been playing for months again, only to get (what will in many cases be) the exact same sets of gear, purely due to the CP cap raise.

Think about this in terms of monster sets. Obtaining the set pieces you want in the correct armor class and trait is a massive RNG crapshoot. You need the piece you want to actually drop, then it has to be in the armor type you want in addition to the specific trait you desire. That’s a lot of variables – far more than I’ve seen in any other MMORPG. Players have spent months working towards getting the correct pieces, and some of them still haven’t gotten the specific ones they want. A CP gear cap raise would throw all of this progression out of the window only to have players farming the exact same content for the exact same sets once again. Even if the raise were accompanied by the addition of a few new dungeons, much of the progression would still end up being done in the old content (particularly with monster sets and unique sets from trials).

Granted this isn’t entirely new to the game, as dungeon scaling and monster sets have been around through gear cap raises before. Frankly, it was pretty terrible then too. Now though, the proliferation of scaling tech is going to make it feel much, much worse.

Because so much more of the world is scaled and many of those zones feature daily and repeatable content, players won’t be venturing into new, more dangerous environments to gain power and glory, returning later to old content stronger and more experienced. They won’t feel like they’re getting stronger, they’ll feel like their power is being taken away and they’re being asked to redo their work to get it back. If there was ever a case where an MMO’s gear grind felt like an artificially enforced treadmill, this would be the one.

The Solution


Skyrim Vista

Go ahead. Scale ALL the things!

So what’s to be done about it? While the proliferation of scaling technology to keep old content relevant can be seen as the root of the problem, that doesn’t mean I’m opposed to it. In fact, it’s something I suggested back in 2013 when I predicted that the eventual addition of the Thieves Guild and Dark Brotherhood would be awkward without it, so it’s safe to say I’m fully on board.

In 2015 I wrote an article tackling problems with the Champion System’s original incarnation, suggesting not only the CP cap and catch up mechanics we have today, but also a switch to a fully horizontal system of endgame gear progression focusing on cosmetic acquisitions and the continual introduction of new equipment sets. While this solves the problem and has worked well in Guild Wars 2‘s take on an entirely scaled MMO, I think it’s safe to say it falls into the list of things that probably aren’t going to happen, so focusing on it would likely be an exercise in futility.

So long as we have both scaling and vertical gear progression, it’s unavoidable that gear cap raises will present the problem of lessening a player character’s relative power in existing content with their initial release. However, ZeniMax could take steps to mitigate that issue by making gear re-acquisition into a much a less painful process. My suggestion? Provide players with a path to upgrade the equipment level of gear they already have, preferably via crafting.

Realistically speaking, this should, at least to some extent, be prohibitively expensive. The goal isn’t to have everyone fully kitted out on day one so much as it is to reduce frustration from reacquiring harder to get pieces players have spent a ton of time collecting. A gear cap raise shouldn’t kick players back to rolling the dice to reacquire gear they already have, but it’s okay for it to be a journey. Do you need a path to upgrade for your crafted Hunding’s Rage set? Probably not – just craft a new one. Should you have one for the Medium Divines Molag Kena piece you spent months farming to get? I think there’s a case to be made there.

So what should it cost? That’s really up to ZeniMax. I imagine something like two full stacks of the new crafting material per item + the same amount of upgrade tempers you would need to upgrade the item to its current quality (e.g., for a crafter with all the appropriate passives, upgrading a purple CP140 medium armor piece to a purple CP 160 piece would require 400 Rubedo Leather and 4 Elegant Lining). In addition to the costly utilization of upgrade tempers, the requirement to use the new crafting material would put a damper on pre-patch hoarding, requiring players to actively farm post-update to upgrade their gear (or pay a hefty premium at a guild trader). Alternatively, a new upgrade material could be introduced specific to CP level upgrades, though this would be subject to a greater risk of market saturation over time.

All things considered, I believe this to be the best way of handling future gear cap raises without inflicting undue frustration on the players. Yes, everyone will have to do a little bit of work to get back up to par, but for the biggest pieces, the ones you worked the hardest for that will the hurt the most to lose, you’ll at least have a clear and predictable way of getting them back that’s not completely reliant on total blind luck.

 

Does the continuing proliferation of level scaling technology in The Elder Scrolls Online cause gear level increases to adversely affect players even more so than usual? Should there be a path to upgrade gear earned at the previous cap? Do you have another solution? Let us know in the comments!

13 responses to “Raising the Gear Cap in a Scaling World”

  1. Profile Photo
    Isarii

    Moderator

    Total Posts: 4235

    Khajiit Templar

    If anyone was thinking “wow, that was fast” – I wrote this last week and wisely decided to wait and see if anything announced at BE3 would impact it.

    This was a good decision.

  2. Member Avatar
    CasNation

    Master

    Total Posts: 975

    Dunmer Sorcerer

    Isarii said on June 13, 2016 :

    wow, that was fast

    This is exactly what I was thinking.

    I agree with the ability to upgrade gear from tier to tier. It would greatly expanded the variety of available sets as well. Imagine magicka dragon knights with access to max level silks of the sun? Or cp160 warlocks? Or being able to take a cp20 perfect trait helm drop you got when you first started and being able to carry it up as you go.

  3. Profile Photo
    Isarii

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    Khajiit Templar

    CasNation said on June 13, 2016 :

    I agree with the ability to upgrade gear from tier to tier. It would greatly expanded the variety of available sets as well. Imagine magicka dragon knights with access to max level silks of the sun? Or cp160 warlocks? Or being able to take a cp20 perfect trait helm drop you got when you first started and being able to carry it up as you go.

    Yeah, I think it would be worthwhile even if they didn’t raise the gear cap, to be honest. It also opens the door a bit to one on a kind unique items from quests like we’ve seen in previous TES games.

    It would be interesting if they implemented it in a way that the appearance of the item didn’t change when being upgraded. That way players could run around using lower tier skins without sacrificing their stats. In the absence of weapon dyes, I would absolutely go through this to get around using the hideous Rubedite weapons.

  4. Member Avatar
    CasNation

    Master

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    Dunmer Sorcerer

    Isarii said on June 13, 2016 :

    That way players could run around using lower tier skins without sacrificing their stats. In the absence of weapon dyes, I would absolutely go through this to get around using the hideous Rubedite weapons.

    I think that would be counterintuitive from their (ZOS’) design standpoint. They seem to think that all upper tier graphics are superior, and that players want to see that improvement. They would never implement a system that “penalized” players for getting what they wanted at a low level.

    Don’t get me wrong, I would LOVE to have access to the lower tier styles with higher tier stats but I don’t think I would want it to be tied to the system you suggested.

    I would prefer to have a real preview window of the item at the crafting stations and then be able to select what appearance tier you want to use upon creation. This doesn’t cover the weapon dying problem which should just be implemented separately I think. Even if we end up with players running around brandishing their “purple monster” mauls.

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    Isarii

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    Khajiit Templar

    CasNation said on June 13, 2016 :

    Isarii said on June 13, 2016 :

    That way players could run around using lower tier skins without sacrificing their stats. In the absence of weapon dyes, I would absolutely go through this to get around using the hideous Rubedite weapons.

    I think that would be counterintuitive from their (ZOS’) design standpoint. They seem to think that all upper tier graphics are superior, and that players want to see that improvement. They would never implement a system that “penalized” players for getting what they wanted at a low level.

    I think it’s only the crafted styles that really have any variation between levels, so I don’t think it would really make an impact in the way you’re suggesting.

    Honestly though, a full on appearance tab / wardrobe function is really what’s needed on this front.

  6. Member Avatar
    CasNation

    Master

    Total Posts: 975

    Dunmer Sorcerer

    Isarii said on June 13, 2016 :

    Honestly though, a full on appearance tab / wardrobe function is really what’s needed on this front.

    They sort of have it now, too. You can preview the motif styles in the crown store now. This is of course limited to what they are selling, so no new DLC motifs, but the system is in place. It would be so easy for them to implement it as part of the crafting systems…

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    Vixx

    Journeyman

    Total Posts: 94

    Dunmer Dragonknight

    Entropy Rising

    In a perfect world we should be capable of leveling up our items, changing the traits and maybe the style & armor type.

    If we were able to just increase the gear level alone, so many low level sets and jewelry would become viable again. Could you imagine changing traits? People could get rid of all their duplicate monster helmets and maelstorm weapons. Of course in this case droprates should be lowered again.

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    Isarii

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    Khajiit Templar

    Vixx said on June 13, 2016 :

    Of course in this case droprates should be lowered again.

    We know from datamining that more monster sets are being added and they recently added new possible traits to the loot pool. Both of those effectively make the drop rates much, much worse for optimal pieces of gear.

  9. Profile Photo
    Atropos

    Administrator

    Total Posts: 3433

    Imperial Sorcerer

    Entropy Rising

    I’m just grumpy, but I think ESO already has way too many gear sets, 98% of which are entirely irrelevant. I agree with @Vixx that it would be ideal for them to slow down the pace of adding new item sets (maybe even remove some of the truly useless ones) but instead make them more applicable to players at all level ranges.

    If there were a costly way to upgrade and re-trait items there would be three paths to getting an “ideal” piece of equipment (for sets that are not explicitly BoP) that would all entail the same cost to the (median) player:

    • A = The expected number of hours spent farming to yield the exact item (level, trait, etc..)
    • B = The expected number of hours spent to farm a lesser version of the item plus gold spent upgrading that item to the desired version
    • C = The equilibrium price to buy the desired item directly from another player

    You can have an interesting market for crafting materials and items if you manage to balance the drop rates where A = B = C.

     

    Founder, creator, and developer of Tamriel Foundry.

     

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    Rainfeather

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    Redguard Dragonknight

    Tamriel Foundry Community

    Well at least ZoS have shown their hand at last for the games direction with One Tamriel.

    Cant stand scaled systems personally. Hated gw2 for that very reason, progression felt redundant for my entire guild. Cant imagine how pointless career crafters and those who are tired of 1 shotting the majority of content are going to feel in ESO. Wont be any place for them to find challenges at all!

    Lefty was bang on with his predictions actually. Makes me wonder if full f2p isnt on the horizon with the slow phasing out of cyrodiil/pvp (other than arenas) to boot.

     

    ”I am a letter written in uncertainty.” – Vivec, 36 Lessons, Sermon 4

     Welcome to Elder Casuals Online: Easymode Unlimited.

     

  11. Profile Photo
    Isarii

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    Khajiit Templar

    Rainfeather said on June 14, 2016 :

    those who are tired of 1 shotting the majority of content are going to feel in ESO. Wont be any place for them to find challenges at all!

    Wouldn’t raising all content to max level have the exact opposite effect of what you’re describing here?

    Rainfeather said on June 14, 2016 :

    the slow phasing out of cyrodiil/pvp

    One Tamriel has literally zero effect on Cyrodiil and PvP though.

  12. Member Avatar
    Vaporis

    Scamp

    Total Posts: 8

    Bosmer Nightblade

    Currently, by the time I’m getting near the end of a zone, the content is easy. I’ve completely out-levelled it. One Tamriel will go a long way toward fixing this (although Champion Points will still provide a boost). This is a great thing!

    No sir. In time, the world will see that it is you who is the Milksopp.

  13. Member Avatar
    Zama666

    Apprentice

    Total Posts: 38

    Imperial Templar

    I would love to see higher tiers, but make them much harder to obtain.  Maybe new armor types would require a mix of ores, so you have to go back to the old content to do some gathering.  Maybe you have to go back to some old delves to find an isotope in the old world (only visible to those who have the levels, and chuck in a new boss to defend it).

    It sucks when you spend hours creating a character, but then it dumbed down so all the noobs can catch up quickly.  Join a Guild!

    btw

    When fighting a creature of a higher level – does your armor take more damage?  Or is it purely based on amount of damaged dispensed?

    Do mobs ever fight mixed level?

    Tanks,

    Zvivivi

    ”Exemplary Templarly”

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