Blizzard Losing the Battle (for Azeroth)?
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Battle for Azeroth, the 7th World of Warcraft expansion launched on the 14th of August, has come under fire from the community, which considers one of the core progression systems to be poorly designed and detrimental to the player experience. The Heart of Azeroth, an artefact that allows users to collect Azerite, the leaking blood of the planet Azeroth itself, serves as one of the main means of empowering one’s character. The power collected via the Heart of Azeroth is used to unlock unique traits on certain pieces of equipment, aka the Azerite Armour. However, two months into the new expansion, major issues with the progression feature of BfA have started to surface, threatening to kill the hype following one of World of Warcraft’s most successful expansion launches.
In an MMORPG, where gearing one’s toon is considered the main progression system, as coming by more and more powerful equipment opens up additional max-level content, any design choices threatening the integrity and sanctity of said dependency are bound to have dire consequences. Blizzard, building on the Artifact Weapons feature from WoW’s previous expansion, Legion, attempted to implement a similar mechanic in BfA - however, they appear to have taken a wrong turn.
The Heart of Azeroth system sees players collect power via a new resource - Azerite, giving them a chance to unlock new traits on Azerite Armour pieces in three slots: head, shoulders, and chest. One of the very first issues arising from these design principles is that the Artifact Weapon progression system from Legion, praised by many as one of the best things ever to happen to World of Warcraft, instead of getting streamlined, simply becomes a more convoluted iteration of itself in BfA. In theory, however, it was designed to tackle the ‘not-alt-friendly’ problem of Legion, where each Artifact Weapon was spec-locked. If you wished to play a different spec, be it on your main or an alt, you’d have to level up that specialisation’s Artifact Weapon from scratch. In Battle for Azeroth, however, the Heart of Azeroth retains its power level even when players choose to switch specs. Another step-up in BfA is giving players more options to choose from. Back in Legion, a max-level character would end up unlocking all the traits available to them through their Artifact Weapon. Azerite Armour fixes that (on paper, mind you) by opening up more possibilities and progression paths. Another improvement (in theory) introduced in BfA are more ways to acquire Artifact Power, with Warfronts and Island Expeditions, the latter of which seems to have been designed for the very purpose of being the main source of Artifact Power.
The reality, however, is far from perfect. The traits unlocked on Azerite Armour gear feel bland, with mainly flat damage boosts and passive buffs being available for the time being. Perhaps more captivating rewards in the form of game-changing active abilities will get unlocked down the road; for the time being, though, the system does not feel as rewarding as it should. On top of that most of the traits are too similar for players to tell the difference at first glance, forcing them to run simulations just to determine which choice to go for. Also, the traits are connected to the item level of the piece of equipment in question. The traits a player has unlocked on a 345 IL headpiece might not all be available on the same piece of gear at 385 IL, forcing the player just to farm Artifact Power to gain access to the very same rewards they’d already unlocked on an inferior piece of armour.
Once a trait has been chosen, it’s locked in. Meaning, the only way to re-pick the traits on any item is to get it reforged for a hefty sum of gold. Blizzard have stated that is intentional, as they do not want players to stick to their choices. And, although the idea behind enforcing this system is quite sound, as constantly reforging traits to deal with certain raid or dungeon bosses would quickly become a nuisance, the problem is that there seems to be no alternative. Although swapping out pieces of gear to tackle specific adversaries have always been commonplace, Azerite Armour is way more difficult to come by, meaning players are often forced to run max-level content with unsuitable traits.
Coming to the last point, as previously mentioned, there are no reliable ways to farm Azerite Armour. The Mythic+ dungeon system, introduced in Legion, used to serve as the quickest and most convenient method of gearing up. In BfA, however, Azerite Armour has the same drop chance in Mythic+ as any other piece of equipment, making the system as inefficient as they get.
Blizzard appear to have come up with a fix, though. In a recent forum post, Community Manager Lore outlined the upcoming changes to the Azerite Armour system to be implemented in patch 8.1: The Tides of Vengeance.
Azerite Armour will no longer drop from Mythic+ Weekly Caches - instead, players will be rewarded with a new currency, redeemable at a vendor for a random head, shoulders, or chest pieces. There’s also going to be the option for players to purchase specific pieces of Azerite Armour at higher prices. Additionally, unwanted pieces of Azerite Armour can be scrapped for some of that upcoming (yet unnamed) currency.
With BlizzCon taking place in under two weeks, more World of Warcraft news are bound to follow in the near future. What are your thoughts on Blizzard’s proposed fixes for the Heart of Azeroth progression system?