Random loot from mobs is a reward mechanic that is bordering on archaic, having been supplanted by dependable quest rewards and barter vendors that give us the gear we so desire. Of course, now we've come around the weird circle to the point that dropped lockboxes hold interesting loot, but we've got to pay for the privilege of seeing what's inside.
But let's not go there today! Instead, I'm going to share with you the 10 general types of loot that still get me excited while playing. They will shock, amaze, and radically reshape your life, as long as you've had a recent brain wipe and are awaiting brand-new neural instructions.
I never thought I'd write the phrase "I miss World of Warcraft," but here it goes. I miss World of Warcraft, and not because of the game as a whole (I'm beyond burned out for reasons that would take two small novels and a hyperactive Twitter account to cover) but because Blizzard knew that there were enough of us fluff nuts in the world that it included a crapton of vanity pets for us to find. And they weren't just from vendors; they could be found dropping from certain mobs or dungeon bosses.
I miss that because so many of the MMOs I play these days either don't really have a vanity pet system (Lord of the Rings Online) or have so few pets that the whole feature feels like a half-hearted pass at appeasing us (Star Trek Online, Star Wars: The Old Republic). Finding a small, adorable companion when you least expect it never fails to lift my spirits for the rest of the day.
Note that nowhere on this list will you find "minor, incremental gear upgrades," even though most of the quest rewards and dropped loot will be just this. Major gear upgrades are exciting simply because they are so very rare, and if I find some out in the game world versus during a dungeon run, I feel like I've won a lottery and need to run into the nearest bar and buy everyone a drink (then run out because drinks are expensive and I don't know those people anyway).
This type of loot depends on whether or not money in a particular MMO is useful. If so, then I'm always thrilled to find an item that I don't personally need, but I know that either a vendor or a player will pay me large sums of cash in unmarked bills to obtain. If only it were so easy to become rich in real life! After spending two weeks of killing forest creatures and bringing their various organs to my local pawnshop, I'm going to have to say that this is better left to MMOs and a jury of my peers.
Stats are OK? I guess? But if you really want to inject me full of enthusiasm over a piece of virtual gear, it's got to be an armor model that looks gnarly and radical -- and something I can use in a game's cosmetic outfit system. Fashion comes before practicality for me, and if I can one-shot raid bosses but look like I dived headfirst into a Salvation Army reject bin, then what's the point?
If MMOs are games, then loot are the toys within it. Some toys just look good on your shelf, some you're going to get tons of use out of them over the years, and some are fun and silly one-shot items that serve to please you momentarily.
So I'm not against one-shot toys like fireworks, transmogrifying potions, and snowballs -- I am their biggest fan. Yes, the fun of firing off an explosion into the lower atmosphere may be fleeting, but its brief lifespan also encourages me to enjoy it to its fullness. Plus, other players always enjoy it when you light fireworks right over the heads of ERPers.
Just go with me on this one. Many MMOs have health, mana, and Red Bull potions coming out of the wazoo, but some don't, and in those titles, a discovered potion is a treasure meant to be cradled to one's bosom and talked to in a low, approving voice.
At the very top of the cosmetic item foodchain are these three items, and they can never be surpassed in coolness and desirability. With them, you are always prepared for action in case Pirates of the Matrix begins filming in a zone near you.
One of the reasons I feel that all MMOs should have player housing is that it makes the game's loot richer -- and not just an endless parade of vendor trash. If I am given the choice between selling off that novelty clown portrait that dropped from an ogre or hanging it up in my den, I'm more empowered than I would be otherwise. I do hate to let a good clown go to waste when it could be deeply disturbing visitors.
Plus, finding decorations and furnishings out in the world is so absolutely surreal that it's a form of entertainment unto itself. Why was that water banshee toting around a leather recliner? And now that I have it, I'm going to lash it to my back and walk on home with it as if it's garbage collection day and I'm that weird guy who prowls through neighborhoods in his pickup truck looking for the last endtable to satisfy his feng shui.
As a complement to #5 there are any items -- whether they be gear, clickies, poitions, or what have you -- that grant your character a temporary ability. I don't know why this suit of armor lets me throw out six fireballs before going empty forever, but I'm not going to question it. I'm going to find those six cats that hissed at me in the alley the other day.
Temporary abilities are, yet again, just plain fun. They're not overpowered because of their transient status, and they give you joy in seeing your character do something her or she normally couldn't. Dungeons & Dragons was always great about having loads of these one-shot abilities on hand just in case, but that game design's been phased out over the years to the point that devs now make any problem we face solvable by blunt force trauma.
You want to make me really happy, random number generator? Then spit out a rare shade of dye the next time I kill a critter, and you'll see me doing a jig, strut, and foxtrot all in the privacy of my room. For some games (say, Guild Wars), the right dye is worth more gold than a roomful of weapons just because people like looking awesome and turning heads.
And if the game decides to reward my loyal butchery with a whole slew of colored ink, then I'll be so happy I could dye.
Justin "Syp" Olivetti enjoys counting up to ten, a feat that he considers the apex of his career. If you'd like to learn how to count as well, check out The Perfect Ten. You can contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.