Patch 8.3 brought the biggest upheaval to high-end itemization in World of Warcraft’s history with the Corruption system. Today, we’re going to break down the system and talk about where it succeeded and where it failed. We’ll also take a look at the future of the game and how systems like Corruption fit into it. We need to start, however, with a look at the past and the evolution of WoW’s loot system in the expansions leading up to now.
The History of Randomness in Loot
In the beginning, randomness in loot was created entirely by its scarcity. Any given item would require many runs of a given dungeon or raid before it became likely to drop, and many fewer items dropped per player, such that the moment of actually receiving an upgrade to your endgame character was a rare and significant moment. This, of course, was not without controversy, and over time Blizzard slowly increased the amount of loot that dropped.
Starting with The Burning Crusade, further non-random sources of gearing were added through systems that eventually became Valor. These systems varied from expansion to expansion, and were eventually removed after Warlords of Draenor, but they could generally be used to buy raid quality items and/or upgrade the item level of your existing ones, and you could only get a certain amount of them every week.
Starting with Throne of Thunder in Mists of Pandaria, a different philosophy in gearing began to simultaneously develop – random item upgrades. This began with Thunderforging, which became Warforging in Siege of Orgrimmar, a name that then stuck with the system. Whenever an item dropped, there was a chance that it would drop with increased item level, though notably items could only Warforge by a few item levels initially.
In Legion, the brakes were taken off of the system, and items had the potential to Titanforge in addition to Warforging, and could gain item levels all the way up to the cap, though this was very rare. In BFA, this system was largely kept intact, though Weapons were restricted to only be able to Warforge and not Titanforge, as they were a particularly impactful slot where item levels resulted in huge increases in power.
In patch 8.3, Titanforging and Warforging were replaced by Corruption. From a perspective of randomness in loot, it was the logical conclusion of the trajectory that had been set with the phasing out of systems like Valor and the amping up of systems like Titanforging. Now, whenever an item dropped, it had a chance to drop corrupted, which meant that it came with one of 52 different effects. These ranged from damage procs to stat amplifiers to defensive boosts, and many of these 52 Corruptions were different ranks of the same effect.
Every Corrupted item also came with an amount of the Corruption stat based on which effect it granted, and this stat did only negative things for your character – causing random slows, damaging eyeball spawns, things from beyond to appear and chase you down, and even all three at once if you equipped enough of it. However, as the patch progressed, players gained increasing amounts of Corruption Resistance, allowing more and more Corrupted gear to be safely equipped.
The amount of randomness in gear had dramatically spiked – it was now conceivable to play the game every day for months and still never see a given corruption effect. This had been true for titanforging as well, but Titanforged item levels were generally less visible and impactful than Corruption effects. Bind on Equip items with powerful Corruptions sold for tens of millions of gold, and guilds racing for World First spent tens of thousands of dollars on WoW Tokens to scoop them up.
After a few months, Blizzard relented and added Corruption effects to a vendor, effectively allowing anyone who grinded enough to use whatever set of Corruption effects they wanted. This has led to some incredibly powerful characters with full sets of nine copies of the same Corruption effect, something that was not conceivable before the vendor and certainly a situation that Corruption wasn’t designed or balanced around. It being the end of the expansion, the downsides of players reaching this power level are minimized, though it will still feel jarring when all of this power is taken away.
What did Corruption do Well?
The best parts of the Corruption system were the interesting decisions it brought for itemization. You had to decide which Corruption effects were worth using, which was very obvious in some cases and for some specs, but for other specs there were situational adjustments to be made, and for very high level content it was always worth considering whether to fit some Avoidant into the budget, or whether to drop some offense for some defense in the form of moving to a Versatile setup.
In addition to deciding which Corruptions to wear, which was sometimes but not always possible to solve with simulations, the system also brought the downsides of the Corruption stat, which meant that you also had to make a decision about how much Corruption to wear. This decision was completely impossible to simulate, and the combination of these two factors led to a hugely complex itemization challenge that never really existed in the game until this point. This is an incredible feat and is the primary thing that Corruption did well.
Another invisible benefit of the Corruption system was the automatic weekly nerf it provided to all content. Traditionally, content is nerfed over the life cycle of a patch with a series of hotfixes that reduce the difficulty of various boss fights. The weekly powerup provided by upgrading Ashjra’kamas, Shroud of Resolve provided an automatic mechanism by which content was made more accessible over time. This is a minor benefit that’s difficult to really quantify, but it was nice to have the difficulty reduction be somewhat predictable and smooth rather than being solely reliant on unpredictable boss nerfs (which did of course still occur this tier).
What did Corruption do Poorly?
Corruption was initially plagued by the huge randomness of acquisition. This meant that most players did not receive enough good corruption to actually have the options discussed above, and many were left feeling unsatisfied with a system that provided no clear path to improvement beyond hoping to hit an incredibly rare jackpot for an upgrade. After the vendor was added, the randomness was replaced by a grind instead, which was a system not without criticism either, but it did at least unlock the above positives of the system.
Another problem with Corruption is the huge percentage of your damage that it can do, often with random procs. It can often be unsatisfying to pull a boss like Shad’har and know that between 30 and 50 percent of your damage will come from Infinite Stars, and the difference between a good number and a bad one at the end of the fight will come down to where you land in that range.
In PvP settings, several Corruption effects were extremely powerful and eventually received nerfs, such as Gushing Wound and Versatile. Particularly pre-vendor, it could feel extremely unfair to have fewer of these corruptions than your opponent and have the match feel impossible to win.
The negative effects of Corruption were also a source of complaints – Grasping Tendrils in particular has caused a great deal of frustration, as has Thing From Beyond, with players often feeling like the slow was impossible to avoid without losing too much damage from the powerful Corruption effects. The magnitude of the slow ramped up very quickly to the point where it was often the most punishing and painful mechanic that many players will be happy to be rid of come Shadowlands.
Finally, Corruption effects changed in value several different times over the lifetime of the system. The following effects were either nerfed or buffed following the release of Patch 8.3:
Many players found that their corruption builds experienced an upheaval, and the items they bought, sold, or cleansed turned out to be mistakes. In some cases, massive gold investments evaporated when these balance changes came in, but for most players they were able to swap to a new corruption set fairly quickly – in Shadowlands, if similar tuning happens even half as often with Covenant related abilities, players will quickly run into a 2-week lockout preventing them from using their new best option.
I believe that the good parts of the Corruption system, the decisions it brought to itemization, were a unique and awesome addition to the game, and I hope that similar decisions will exist in the future. The system as a whole was extremely flawed, however, and needs to be judged by both the pre- and post- vendor versions. In my opinion, the pre-vendor version of the system contained an accessibility barrier that made the system as a whole worse than had it not existed, though the drawbacks of the post-vendor version are far smaller.
I personally find the percentage of damage that can be attributed to Corruption and the annoyance of the drawbacks to be very minor complaints, but many feel differently, and many will forever judge Corruption harshly by its pre-vendor incarnation, since that’s the version that was pitched to us and the version that Blizzard defended and launched despite widespread concerns which were eventually proved to be real with the addition of the vendor. If you’re seeing parallels to the current debate surrounding covenant choice, you’re not alone.
Where does Gear go from here?
In Shadowlands, gear is largely being reverted to a model most similar to Vanilla. Random loot upgrades are restricted to sockets (roughly a Warforge) and tertiary stats, and items will no longer Warforge or Titanforge in item level. Loot drops are being reduced to compensate for this and bring the excitement of gearing back to the part where you earn the item itself instead of earning the item with the correct random enhancements.
Patch 8.3 also introduced the concept of Randomness and/or Grind both being paths to the same result, in the form of Gouged Eye of N’Zoth allowing you to add sockets to gear, though sockets could still appear randomly too. This system will be returning in Shadowlands, and I think it can represent a harmonious middle ground that gives the benefits of exciting random loot drops while still providing all players a path to their desired items.
This move away from overt randomness in gearing is a welcome one for many players who didn’t enjoy the buildup in randomness over the past few years, and who want to return to a more predictable system that doesn’t leave their character feeling permanently imperfect. There are no known plans to return to anything like the Corruption system, but I hope that those unique benefits it brought are something we’ll see again, without all of the baggage!