BlizzCon Reactions: Artifact System

So I was too busy at BlizzCon to really generate reactions while they were being announced, but I still wanted to get my thoughts written down on how the announced changes are going to play out. Expect me to hit a bunch of different subjects on this, though I don’t know if I’ll get to everything.

First off, the Artifact system: it’s amazing to get a clearer sense of how this system is going to work.

For anyone who didn’t watch the panel, here’s the rundown:

  • Every spec has a specific artifact, complete with a spec-specific questchain associated with acquiring that artifact. And you can preview that artifact on the official site.
  • The artifact has what basically amounts to a talent tree, complete with unlocked active abilities and multiple ranks of passive abilities that augment powers that you already have as that spec, or new passives that grant effectively new mechanics.
  • You advance through the tree by gaining artifact power, which you get by completing content like dungeons, raids, winning battlegrounds, etc.
  • You can also continue pumping artifact power into the weapon after you’ve maxed out the tree in order to increase it’s power.
  • Relics will grant additional ranks in specific passives to allow for further customization, but the artifact has a limited number of relic slots.
  • You’ll have the ability to customize the appearance of the weapon, unlocking variant models and color tints depending on the content you complete.

First impression: to a great extent, this brings back pre-Cataclysm talent trees, but mitigates many of the issues that were inherent to the original talent design.

  • Because the abilities are keyed to the artifact, you can’t dip into another spec’s abilities to complement what your spec can do; that was something the devs struggled with because some versatility within the class was expected, but a lot of builds just weren’t feasible if the player had that wide of a choice matrix to work with.
  • Because talent points were granted by level, it meant that there were a limited number of points, which enforced decision-making on the part of the player. However, the devs noticed that a) some the decisions weren’t really decisions, since spec-defining abilities were always taken, and b) the prevalence of people looking up optimized builds online further automated the choices players were being asked to make. Having artifact power being a virtually unlimited resource that you can generate means that eventually you can unlock the entire weapon, and the only optimization is going to be “what do I pick FIRST.”
  • It also encourages play by locking more player power behind going through content, which the old talent system couldn’t do once you hit max level. This puts a greater emphasis on endgame content, essentially supplying an alternative advancement system, gated by the volume of content you engage in.
  • Part of the rationale behind the abolition of the old talent system was that hitting a level and choosing to make a dot crit 1% more often didn’t feel like a cool reward for leveling up. It’s interesting to see passive talents that modify baseline abilities crop up in the artifact because it feels like it’s a similar trap, but the fact that you’re spending a resource on those ranks rather than getting the rank as a reward for leveling up feels like a subtle distinction. It’s a GOOD distinction from a psychological standpoint.

However, I feel like there are some unanswered questions and potential drawbacks to the system that I’ve got concerns about.

  1. There’s a looming fear that people are going to be expected to fill up the artifact before their character is complete (or, to an extent, before the character is raid-worthy). If the implementation of the system makes it so that it’s a very labor-intensive process, then you’ll see a lot of players burn out under the pressure. However, if the implementation makes the process overly simplistic, it just feels like a hassle, begging the question of why we needed to resurrect talent trees in our weapons rather than just bringing back talent trees.
  2. Because of the emphasis on the quest for the artifact, and the specific relevance of the artifact to the overarching narrative of LEGION, I feel like there’s a risk that when we get to the end of this expansion and start up the next, folks will be wondering “wait, so, am I going to be unlocking a new artifact in 8.0 that’s going to have a whole different spread of abilities?” It’s similar to people wondering if the Garrison was intended to be an expansion-locked system or if it was something we’d have with us later. I can appreciate that Blizzard wants to get the expansion out there first and see what the system does before saying exactly how that’s going to play out, but the bottom line is that Blizzard doubled down on Garrisons in WoD and it didn’t deliver on the promise well enough, so doubling down on artifacts might also potentially blow up in their faces.
  3. I’m not looking forward to coming across a version of the artifact that I love but that requires me to do content that I don’t enjoy. To an extent, this is the same problem as having unique armor sets for stuff like challenge modes and PVP advancement, but with how central the artifact is being made, it feels like it’ll take on even more importance for players because they really don’t get to look at another weapon for the entirety of the expansion.

Overall I’m very excited to get to play with this system and really see it in action, so here’s to hoping I have the opportunity to join the beta test.

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