No matter what class or spec you play, loot has been rather frustrating this expansion. Every raiding tier has only had one set of wrists per type that has dropped. Firelands had only two belt drops and only two cloak drops, total. No matter what slot you were looking at, chances are you didn't have a whole lot of choice for what you were going to put there, and that's exactly what Blizzard wanted.
Why? What did this type of itemization accomplish? Is it really a benefit?
Loot then and now
Way back when in days as old as Wrath of the Lich King, any given raiding tier dropped numerous items for the same slot. Normally, drops for an item slot were broken down into hit and non-hit versions, although that wasn't always the case; there were still some troublesome slots even back them, but items as a whole were much more plentiful. Getting your hands on something seemed much easier because there were options to be had, and options made gearing more of a challenge. Best in slot lists existed for a solid reason, and there were often multiple arguments and debates over which allotment was actually better.
With Cataclysm, Blizzard did away with all of that. There was no need to offer multiple item choices for any given slot. If you needed leather agility boots, there would be a single pair that would drop in the raid instance, and those would be your best in slot choice without question. There just weren't any other options. With the limited number of bosses, especially in the second two raiding tiers that we've seen in this expansion, that's a given. In fact, several slots didn't even have a drop at all!
Look at Firelands. Again, no true belt drops. There was one from trash that rogues could upgrade to a heroic version, but everyone else was stuck using a vendor item. Rings? Only a single drop of each given stat type. Cloaks, too -- there were only two drops of those, and if they didn't suit you, then it was off to the vendor with you! Indeed, the valor points vendor is no longer there in order to supplement your gear for items that you might not see drop; instead, it's a legitimate way to gear out your character. That has been a major change to Cataclysm itemization that Blizzard hasn't wanted to talk about.
Improved valor point system?
There was once a time when valor points (or badges, as they were once called) were created as a means for raiders to fill in troublesome item slots. You know how sometimes there could be that one slot you were having the worst time filling? You just couldn't get that one item you wanted to drop to drop, and even when it did, everyone and their mother wanted it and you just had the worst luck in the world. Remember that? Who am I kidding, of course you do! It still happens today.
Valor was Blizzard's answer to that. The entire valor system was originally created so that Blizzard could offer itemization in those slots players often had trouble filling. Usually these were the slots with the most competition such as trinkets, rings, necks, and other items that are often shared across multiple class and specs. This strategy worked extremely well at that, too. Valor items were rarely if ever best in slot, especially at the heroic level, but they were great for supplementing your gear kit.
Cataclysm changed that completely. Valor items aren't for filling in trouble slots any more; they're for filling in item pieces that the team simply didn't even add to the boss drop list to begin with. In Dragon Soul, there are no cloak drops. The only cloak that you're going to be wearing comes from a valor point vendor. In Firelands, the same would have been true about rings if not for the raid reputation that saved them. Oh, and after the debacle that was tier 11, relics and wands only come from valor vendors, as well.
Valor isn't about filling in missing slots any more; it's about filling in itemization that's missing completely. Twice now, we've had raids for which valor items were on the best in slot lists of multiple classes.
Trimming down itemization
Limiting each slot (aside from tier) to a single item has held but one effect. Best in slot lists are virtually a given. There's no real choice in what's best in slot when you only have a single option to begin with. The normal level of gearing can still be a little iffy, because there are sometimes a few valor overlaps and a crafted item or two that might pop up. But at the heroic level, you really only have a single choice, if sometimes even that. Yet, to be fair, this all makes sense.
Even disregarding the horridly short raiding tiers we've had in comparison to past expansions, why does Blizzard really need to create multiple items for the same slot? Why should there be two or even three different leather intellect bracers? Players will just go to a best in slot list, find the one that's on it, and only care about that one. No one will really want the other. Sure, a few people might use it, but only because they don't have any other choice. They'll really want to have the other one. So why even bother with that situation and the wasted effort in creating that second pair of bracers, when you can just create a single item and be done with it?
For a logical standpoint, it makes total sense -- yet at the same time, it feels as though it cheapens the gearing experience overall. I know that not everyone loves spending the hours that it takes comparing all the multiple gear set-ups to figure out what's best, but some of us do. That has all been replaced with reforging, which is now just a point-and-click addon. Honestly, who would spend hours recalculating the best way to reforge their gear when they can merely click a button and have an addon do it for them? Yeah, that's what I thought.
Better or worse, that's a bit subjective. One can certainly understand why Blizzard would choose to take the one-per-slot itemization scheme that it did, and it's a bit difficult to fault Blizzard for it. The change to valor gearing, though, is rather disheartening. If there aren't enough bosses in a raiding tier for every item slot to be represented, then clearly the raiding tiers aren't long enough. Hopefully, that's something Mists of Pandaria will change.
Ready Check shares all the strategies and inside information you need to take your raiding to the next level. Be sure to look up our strategy guides to Cataclysm's 5-man instances, and for more healer-centric advice, visit Raid Rx.