This is something I really want to make fantastic, because it almost feels like a great time-waster, but not quite. And I think solid time-wasters are important for those times when you want to be on World of Warcraft (where some of your friends are) and doing something vaguely productive with your character. Blizzard definitely seems to agree, as their next expansion (Activity Stations of Pandaria, in case you had forgotten) seems to be chock full of attempts at giving us things to do that don't take hardcore time investment.
Still, archaeology is almost good, so here's my attempt to make it good.
I think that instead of adding a handful of starter epics, as they did with the introduction of the profession, they should add an enormous number of transmogrification pieces, with varying drop rates. Many different pieces ranging across the spectrum of cloth, leather, mail and plate, and all the various weapon types (or at least the most-used types...considering there are rarely best-in-slot fist weapons, it may be forgivable not to put in a lot of fist weapon transmogrification pieces). Cloaks, too, of course.
Now here's a key: all of these pieces should be account-bound. Forcing you to grind up the profession on every character and then making the vast majority of the drops useless (a cloth piece when you're excavating on your rogue, a plate piece when you're excavating on your hunter) would be vexing. Allow players to excavate on the character of their choice and still feel pleased about drops that their other characters can use. None of this stuff should be stat-filled power gear, so game balance in being able to fire stuff all around your account shouldn't be a relevant issue.
Many of these pieces should be quite rare, others not so rare. Conceptually, I'd say that if a player was likely to find one of these items a week when doing archaeology a fair amount (but not an incredible amount), then there's a pretty good sense of reward in excavating whenever you have some free time. You can do it by yourself, so you don't need to wait on the whims of friends or guild members (as you would for transmog runs through many instances) and it feeds into one form of character progression: the wardrobe you have available to put your own special stamp on your character.
Now, you may ask, "But where are all of these transmogrification pieces going to come from? Artist time isn't infinite and they're working on a lot of things!" I'm glad I had you ask that. One source of these piece, of course, could be recolored versions of existing items. Maybe a green or silver or multi-colored version of those feathery druid tier shoulders that my friend Khizzara loves so much. Or a replica of the Starshard Edge (full disclosure: I've been desperate to get my hands on that dagger, so this example might be a little self-serving).
Another source, if recolors and replicas leave you a little cold, is clothing that currently only NPCs wear. For example the gown that Azshara wears in the Well of Eternity dungeon. Or the gauzy dress that Tyrande wears in the...Well of Eternity dungeon (they really knocked themselves out for wardrobing their dungeon dwellers in 4.3). There are quite a few objets d'art that are worn throughout the game by NPCs. Why not assume some of them ended up buried for us to find?
In addition, yes, create some new stuff. These solutions weren't meant to be effort-free, but rather things Blizzard could do (at some cost to themselves) to upgrade game systems (in my view) without it being excessive in terms of resources spent. Combine some amount of new art, with some recolors/replicas, with some NPC-only pieces and you can create a pretty large number of options without having to design an inordinate amount of new stuff.
Plus, of course, you can toss in the requisite number of mounts and pets, which I assume they plan to do anyway. This would just be to supplement those.
Okay, I don't truly think this is broken. I'm enjoying it. It's just not quite as magnificent, as conducive to self-expression, as I believe it could be.
Here's my list of fixes in a handy bullet-list format:
- This one's a two-parter and one part Blizzard has already said they're looking into. Allow players, when transmogrifying a weapon, to choose to carry over the enchantment glow on the source weapon in addition to the weapon art. In addition, allow the enchantment glow display on one's weapon to be toggled on and off, like the display of one's helm and cloak. The second, of course, is something Blizzard has already said they're interested in doing. The first, though, I think is a fairly obvious feature to implement. There are a number of enchantment glows in the game to select from and it offers players one more customization venue. And if they think their weapon looks best with no glow, well, that's what the toggle is for.
- Classify weapons by family and allow transmogrification within family. For example, here is a set of families: one-handed weapons (mace, dagger, fist weapon, sword, wand*), two-handed weapons (two-handed sword, two-handed mace, two-handed axe), pole-arms (pole-arm, staff), ranged (bow, crossbow, gun). You can't transmogrify a dagger to look like a staff or a two-handed axe to look like a fist weapon, but weapons of the same general class can be transmogrified into each other, so that if you have a two-handed mace, but really love the look of two-handed swords, you can still use that for your look. Blizzard already allows this with ranged weapons, so I think there's little to no conceptual leap to extend it.
- This one is not technically a mechanical issue of transmogrification, but I think it is quite related to the new world order of customizing one's appearance. Allow the display of one's shoulder piece to be toggled on or off, much like the current toggles for helm and cloak. I'd say that shoulder pieces are even more likely to be disruptive to one's desired look than cloaks. In the past, the argument against allowing this was the prestige-identifier theory--that players identified the power level of other players by the distinctive look that their shoulders, chestpiece and leggings created. However, with transmogrification, that's all out the window anyway...you can no longer have any idea of another player's gear level from the look of their gear if they choose to customize their look. So you might as well allow shoulders to be hidden, since a player intent on changing their image will likely be using the look of shoulders quite out of step with their actual ilevel.
- Allow white (common) items to be used as sources for transmogrification. It seems like a very arbitrary limitation and, perhaps surprisingly, there are quite a few very nice or very unique looking models hidden away in the statless items.
I really should have written this post four months ago or so, like I had planned, rather than being lazy, because the fix for the glyph system that I would have presented is virtually identical to what Blizzard appears to be planning for Mists of Pandaria (minor glyphs being an extensive collection of fun and cosmetic choices, major glyphs allowing customization of one's play style and the "power" glyphs--the ones that just flatly power up your spells--removed and just baked into the spells and talents).
I would sue Blizzard but I've learned from past experience that the legal system is not sympathetic to claims of "thought robbery" while one is sleeping.
Still, I guess that's one game system Fixed(tm). I'm going to take credit for it and wait for my other fixes to be put into action. It's only a matter of time.
To be continued...someday...