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WoW Wednesday: The Heart of Azeroth’s Problem

The World of Wacraft has seen a lot of controversial change over the years. From the mishandling of the Arena power-game in The Burning Crusade to the train wreck that was Warlords of Draenor, Azeroth controversy has not gone unnoticed. Battle for Azeroth, however, has been the expansion that has scraped the bottom of the bucket in more regards than one. Despite strong appreciation and enjoyment of the questing systems and experience both Kul Tiras and Zandalar offered at launch, these days positive reception of the game has slowed to an outright crawl if not turned outwardly hostile. Part of this poor perspective relies on the expansion’s pointedly flawed system, the Heart of Azeroth.

The first signs were on the wall as of Legion with the retiring of our powerful artifact weapons. Despite heavy criticism towards the endless concordance of the Legionfall grind and a lack of player choice in its linear system, players enjoyed their artifacts and all the perks that came with it. Some, like the Shadow Priest, had utterly unique personalities hidden in their weapons. Others, such as the Subtlety Rogue, had smaller but no less important affects. Without question, however, Artifact Weapons were difficult if not impossible to appropriately balance; tweaking one golden trait might fix how much bleeding damage Warriors are doing in Rated-PvP but it might also make them that much less utilized in Mythic Raiding Content due to total damage output.

Thus, the Heart of Azeroth was born: a necklace that leveled with a similar Artifact Power system. However, instead of the linear player progression most complained about, this system would instead unlock traits on your equipment. These traits were randomly generated on some pieces but set in stone on others.

This was where the train started to rumble off of the tracks.

RNG, or Random-Number-Generation, gameplay has always been an issue with MMOs of any type. Games need a reason to hook you into daily, if not monthly play. Developers want you to keep coming back and spending your money. Its why, to this day, Invincible and the Time-Lost Proto Drake are two of the most prestigious and difficult mounts to achieve for burgeoning collectors. Player gear has often been subjected to RNG as well, from “Will my tier piece drop” to the newer Warforged and Titanforging systems.

Now players would have to deal with that on individual pieces of very limited gear. This Azerite Gear falls lower in drop priorities than other pieces of loot. It cannot War or Titanforge, and it often has a lower item level than your current difficulty tier (Rated-PvP and Mythic+ gear is often 5-10 iLvls lower). Its unlockable abilities can range from a moderate buff for healers to a vital aspect of your class that changes how you play.

Take a Priest for example. For Discipline Enduring Luminescence is a vital trait as it increases our only Area of Effect Heal’s output, as well as Atonement which is our primary healing buff. For Shadow Priests our most important trait, arguably, is Chorus of Insanity. On high-end Azerite pieces this trait turns our Voidform buff, which stacks every second in Voidform, into a very large critical strike buff which affects the entire damage set. These numbers also increase with higher iLvl Azerite Gear, making it vital to progress in quality if you want your character’s power to increase. Both traits above, without their inclusion, can severely break your performance in every aspect of gameplay. Sub-optimal traits, even ones suited for your favorite content, will harshly affect your performance. Some traits can be stacked, others cannot and there is no manner in which to tell until you use it in practice.

Now on first glace this seems like a far better solution to issues that occurred in Legion’s artifact system. From here traits can be fine-tuned exceptionally without disrupting every possible part of the artifact system for one class (aside from role related traits). Despite this several of the system’s more interesting, and frankly more powerful traits, can and have been nerfed into the ground before. Both Arcane and Fire mages have felt their most powerful and game-changing traits destroyed in Equipoise and Blaster Master respectively. Consequently, classes have been designed weaker to compensate for Azerite Traits, meaning that when something is hit with a nerf you cannot escape feeling it.

A typical Azerite Armour piece.

For those who only want one set of gear or have the unfortunate luck to have one piece be best for multiple specs, you’ll be reforging your traits often. Performed at the Ethreal Traders in Zuldazar and Boralus, reforging costs a small amount of gold to reset your Azerite Traits. Similar to old talent resetting systems, this cost increases the more you perform it and does not reset in totality week by week. Thus if you find yourself fulfilling multiple raid roles in a week without multiple Azerite pieces you can quickly rack up gold costs in the tens of thousands.

Despite the RNG and targeted nerfing there are aspects of the Heart of Azeroth that players do like. It puts the power of choice back into player’s hands and allows them to hunt particular pieces of gear for the traits they want. There is still the artifact power grind for players seeking for something to always do. Players can set goals for what they want in the Azerite System and there is a semblance of controlled balance across classes. Understandably there are many people who do not like the system. Despite complaints over two patches about how weak classes fee

As such Blizzard are endeavoring to fix it. In Patch 8.2, Rise of Azshara, Blizzard will be introducing the Heart Forge; a system of collectible essences for your Heart of Azeroth that can be reequipped at any time. Certain gameplay actions can collect essences, with greater power coming in higher quality traits (up to Legendary). These can be exchanged any time you are in a rested area and include a variety of role-based abilities.

There are, of course, a host of problems with that last sentiment. The same traits that a Rogue can take may also be the most optimal for a Balance Druid. What a Protection Warrior might need can also be the most favorable trait for a Blood Death Knight. As such when one trait is nerfed for a role it affects a multitude of classes which can put a weaker performing class in a further unfavorable position. And for these new traits nerfs ARE coming. Some, like that below, are so ludicrous that several classes can regularly stay in a high-power position for minutes while having virtually no down-time. The numbers for these new traits are so obscene that the official class discords refuse to talk about them because they believe they will not make it to live in its current form.

One of the Heart’s newer controversial essences.

The PTR for 8.2 is out, however, and so far the only number changes we have seen belong to the price of reputation mounts. The Heart of Azeroth is the heart of Battle for Azeroth’s several incumbent problems. Right now, from where I’m sitting, it seems those problems are only going to get worse.

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About Phil DeMerchant

A young pundit of the Industry, Phil first fell in love with gaming through World of Warcraft and the 3D platformers of the Playstation Era. Honing his expertise over years of reporting, he now focuses on investigative work on appraising and evaluating industry practices.