I'm not arguing that the system should be reduced to a single, obvious decision. What I'm saying that that you should never have more complexity than depth. The games of Chess and Go have relatively simple rules that lead to fiendish complexity, to the point where people have dedicated lifetimes to exploring their intricacies. (Compare this to tic-tac-toe, where spending fifteen minutes with the game will tell you everything there is to know about it.) Starcraft has complex rules, but those rules also lead to complex gameplay with great depth. But item selection in World of Warcraft is complexity without depth. Figuring out the rules is a serious undertaking, and you can spend hours reading the wiki and still not know everything. But at the end the decision is usually pretty simple: Does weapon A do more damage then weapon B? All that time spent crunching numbers, just to answer a straightforward question.
Veterans of the game tell me that gear doesn't matter all that much when you're leveling. I'm sure they're right, and it's a shame. That means the player is regularly being presented with complex, boring, non-decisions and an entire dimension of the game is going to waste.
The system is actually better now than it was a year ago. In Cataclysm, a great deal of the system was streamlined. But the underlying problem remains and I don't think it would be possible to fix it. (Fixing it would mean starting over, and there's no way players would stand for that. The time required to acquire the highest levels of gear in the game is phenomenal, and it would be horrifying to rob those players of their accomplishments with a reset.)
For me, a better system would be one where the decisions are easy to understand but difficult to make. Decisions that are interesting for players are things like:
- Ranged weapons with better distance but less damage.
- Melee weapons that deliver better damage per second but cause fewer (or less severe) critical.
- Armor that reduces incoming damage but slows your own attack speed.
- Items that will boost your magic potency but reduce your mana pool.
These are all good tradeoffs, and players could have a lot of fun agonizing over choosing the item that best suits their taste and playstyle. But as it is, the only decision players are given is to decide if they care enough to look this one up on the wiki and run the numbers.
Also the armor should look less ridiculous. That's not related to the rest of the article, but it needed to be said.
Shamus Young is the guy behind Twenty Sided, DM of the Rings, Stolen Pixels, Shamus Plays, and Drawn to Knowledge. Please don't suggest plugins to him to fix these problems. He knows, he just feels you shouldn't need plugins to make a game less obtuse.