I don’t think I got on the ‘real magic items’ kick because of this article on the Wizard’s website, though it might have subconsciously led me down that line of thought. The article (for those who don’t feel like following the link) talks a bit about the “Big Six” magic item types in D&D: magic weapons, magic armor/shields, rings of protection, cloaks of resistance, amulets of natural armor, and ability score boosting items (gloves of dexterity and similar things). These are the “Big 6” because they are the magic items that PCs tend to gravitate towards when they can freely buy/make/trade magic items. They are useful in clear and discrete ways and, in general, they are cost-competitive with alternative choices.
They are also boring and flavorless.
This thread on EN World is a response to the article and focuses on how to eliminate Big Six items. The thread as a whole doesn’t specifically address the “boring and flavorless” problem, but at least one post in it does so, simply and brilliantly.
The idea? Get rid of the flat bonuses independent of other things. There are no more “Gloves of Dexterity” or “Cloaks of Charisma” – instead, in addition to their other benefits, Boots of Speed might give you a +2 bonus to Dexterity and a Cape of the Mountebank might give you a +4 Charisma bonus. No, that isn’t a +1 longsword. It is a flaming longsword (which happens to give you a +1 enhancement bonus to attack and damage as well).
This makes magic items more powerful, but it also makes it so that you don’t need quite as many of them… and they’re more flavorful. I think it could work well.