The racial bonuses
We learned at the BlizzCon 2010 Q&A panels that racials are not likely to change beyond the slight tweaks that we've already seen. This directly impacts troll and dwarven hunters when it comes to ranged weapon choices. Dwarves enjoy a 1 percent increased crit chance with guns, while trolls get that 1 percent crit with bows. The racials make these the races of choice for hunters. As a result, dwarves really want to use guns, and trolls really want to use bows.
In fact, for dwarven hunters this racial is the only DPS gain racial they have. If they can't use a gun, their race contributes nothing at all to their damage. Compare this to the worgen, whose damage racial is a flat 1 percent crit chance to everything -- ranged, melee, healing, whatever.
The current solution
This competition over ranged weapon type isn't new (though I remember back in the day when the racial was a five-point increase in weapon skill). Dwarves have always preferred guns and trolls have always preferred bows, and if they didn't get their preferred weapon type, they were effectively losing their racial bonus.
To compensate, we tend to get a mixture of bows and guns at entry-level content, but typically the best ranged weapon available is a crossbow. This way, instead of one race getting screwed, they both are. This certainly removes favoritism, but it also removes our racial bonuses -- which frankly really stinks.
One of the developer comments at the Q&A was this (paraphrased):
We do want basic balance, though. We don't want to create the sense where, if you're not a particular race, you're doing it wrong.
Now, I don't think it's necessary for game balance that every single available race be equally optimized for any given class. Elves and dwarves and worgen don't all need to be equal. But honestly here, flavor is the only reason you would not make your Alliance hunter a worgen? If loot design assures that you'll never get your big hunter racial advantage if you have the best weapon in the game, why wouldn't you flock to the race that lets you get both the best weapon and your racial bonus?
The reforging solution
There are several solutions to this problem. One would be to make equivalent gun and bows for every level of content. I get how this is not appealing -- that's a lot more loot to include. Another would be to change the racial abilities, and after BlizzCon '09, I thought this would happen, but it now appears that it will not.
Then we have reforging. While it's not the purpose for which reforging was brought into the game, I think it fits this solution perfectly. Instead of reforging the stats on your bow or gun or crossbow, what if instead you could just transform it into a different ranged weapon type? The stats would remain identical and you would not be able to reforge the stats then.
Alternatively, I suppose you could make this an engineering schematic, the ability to transform weapons. Or you could just make a ranged weapon NPC who exchanges them for you and perhaps charges you some badges. But I think it works better when you can just visit the reforging NPC.
Ranged weapon models
An obvious downside of reforging ranged weapon types is that it would require three different models for every ranged weapon introduced into the game. But I don't think that's necessarily the case.
I think that reforged weapons could easily all share a single model. So if the awesome bow Hartseeker drops but you're a dwarf (or just appreciate fine engineering), you could reforge it into Reforged Hartseeker Gun -- but now you're stuck with the plain model that all reforged guns share.
This could actually reduce the number of models required, since we wouldn't need a mix of guns and bows and crossbows, so we wouldn't need as many hunter ranged weapon drops. Furthermore, it makes the non-reforged weapon still desirable. Of course you want to own the super cool-looking weapon ... just not at the expense of your racial bonus.
Thus, using the original weapon would have two advantages: You get the cooler-looking weapon model and you can reforge the stats as normal in reforging. This doesn't perfectly balance all the racials, of course, but it does bring them a heck of a lot closer and assures dwarf and troll hunters that they will actually get to make use of their racials.
So -- best idea yet? Or another miss?
: to answer a common question "why not do it for melee?" Melee is far more complicated. If you could reforge melee type you could actually turn a weapon you cannot use into a weapon you can use, which messes with mechanical balance. Also some classes are balanced around weapon design -- like rogues and dagger speed, as an example. With ranged type reforging you do not screw up class balance.
So it's certainly a change that would only benefit the hunter class -- but so too is Trap Launcher or buffs to Explosive Shot only helping the hunter class. And the hunter class is what I'm here for.]
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