My Thoughts on Artifact Weapons/Power

wp-1485212361684.jpgChances are, if you’re here you know what Artifact Power is. On the off chance that you don’t know, or are maybe coming back to WoW after a long absence, Artifact Power (or AP as I will use from this point on) is a points system. Early in Legion you’re taken to the Broken Isles and go through a scenario (quest) that climaxes with you getting a super awesome Artifact Weapon, then you’re introduced to your Class Hall – sort of like a neutral home base where all the different people playing one class gather.

Every class and every spec gets a unique Artifact Weapon to use in Legion (WoW’s latest expansion), and it’s all you’ll use from basically the start of the expansion. Spending points on said weapon makes it more powerful, unlocking “traits” that enhance abilities you already have. I hope that all makes sense.

Artifact weapons are an interesting addition to WoW. The idea of using one weapon through an expansion was met with primarily positive feedback and I for one like the idea. You already have your gear to watch out for, taking the weapon out of the equation was helpful. Some Artifact Weapons are seeped in lore and iconic (Doomhammer for Enhancement Shamans, Ashbringer for Retribution Paladins), and I’ve heard some fall flat in those regards (Warriors seem to be complaining about this), but across the board they seemed to be received well, and as I said, I like them.

So what’s good about them? For one thing, their models all look great – gone are the days when your mace or sword looks graphically dated, all of the Artifact Weapons are brand new designs that look fantastic, all with small touches, details and little flairs that make them interesting, unique to each class/spec, and worth taking a closer look at them (Blades of the Fallen Prince for Frost Death Knight’s and the Marksman Hunter’s Thas’dorah are two of my favorites)

Blades of the Fallen Prince
Thas’dorah, Legacy of the Windrunners…and you get a quiver! That shows on your back!

Speaking of appearances, each Artifact Weapon has 4 different appearances that you can unlock some via quests some via achievements, and each appearance has 4 different colors. Not to mention that every weapon has a hidden appearance (all unlocked in different ways per class), also with 4 different color choices. So technically in total that’s 20 different looks for each Artifact Weapon.

Thas’dorah, Legacy of the Windrunners secondary appearance…seriously how nice is that.

From the viewpoint of someone with an overly critical eye for aesthetics and a serious addiction to transmogging, this is a huge selling point. This also allows you to stand out in a crowd of folks all using the same weapon (although no matter what, it’s a little weird standing around 10 people wielding Ashbringer). This also caters towards completionists and people who love to explore the world (one color is unlocked by unearthing rare Artifacts via Archeology). They also give you something to work for once you hit level cap of 110. At 110 there’s no way you’ll have maxed out your weapon with points, but you will have no more levels to climb so you’re never faced with a “sooo I hit 110…now what?” feeling. You have something more to strive for – unlocking more traits in your weapon to get more powerful (for end game raiding, yeah yeah I got it). I forgot to mention that each trait unlocked gives you more stamina.

So here’s where Artifact Weapons get a little tricky and some, including myself, think is harsh – collecting AP and unlocking traits and the cost of this action. Upon initially receiving your Artifact Weapon, you unlock an initial trait for free, the next one costs 100 AP to unlock. There are a total of 34 traits, and the cost of unlocking one increases from the last. So the next trait after that first 100 AP costs 300 to unlock, the next 325, then 350, and follows in a similar pattern until you’re at trait 12. The 12th trait costs 875 AP to unlock. Then for the 13th it jumps to 1000 AP, then 6,840 for the 14th trait (source: Wowhead). That’s a pretty massive jump from 13 to 14. From there on it makes similar jumps as you keep going up. After unlocking that final 34th trait, you’ll have spent a culminative 5,216,130 AP. DAMN.

You gain AP in a number of different ways. Questing out in the Broken Isles, running dungeons, and world quests/world bosses are all ways to gain AP. You will be rewarded with items that function like consumables that award you AP upon consumption. On top or that, once you hit 110 you get access to Artifact Knowledge, which is “an attribute that you can level up which will increase your rate of AP acquisition from most sources” (again source: Wowhead) which makes this process less daunting, but still quite a hill to climb. I also should note it takes 2 days to “research” just one note and be able to use it.

And herein lies my biggest problem with AP. As I’ve stated numerous times, I’m an Altaholic – I’ve yet to seriously dedicate my time to a single class or spec, and I think it’s probably easy to figure out that gathering AP and unlocking traits in your weapon is a big part of Legion, but also directly impacts how effective you are, especially later in Suramar (where you will also be earning a ton of AP). When you’re constantly switching between specs, keeping more than one weapon all up to par with each other will be nearly impossible, simply because you will in no way be earning enough AP during the 100-110 journey to have them all be equally leveled AND effective. It’s fairly doable with just two, if you level just one for getting to 110, then start dumping AP into your other as you hit Suramar and unlock Artifact Knowledge. And how screwed are Druids, with the choice of 4 Artifact Weapons (they are the only class with more than 3 specs/Artifact Weapons)? Imagine leveling up all 4. I leveled one and thankfully went in 100% committed even pre-Legion to Balance/Restoration.

Blizzard has somewhat alleviated this with patch 7.1.5, including Artifact Research Notes that you can buy at level 110 in your Class Hall that allow you to immediately consume to gain an Artifact Knowledge point, and even purchase a “compendium” that you can send to an alt (battle.net bound so either faction!) to immediately gain 5, 10,or 15 Artifact Knowledge levels once they’ve hit 110. While all this I greatly appreciated, it still means that I’m hindered by my playstyle of enjoying switching specs on a whim.

I’ve linked the Artifact Weapons guide over at Wowhead a few times, but here’s a direct quote I feel reinforces my last point and my next:

There is a significant jump in AP required from Trait #13 to #14, such that the 14th Trait requires more Artifact Power (6,840) than the previous 13 Traits combined (6,500 Artifact Power). As such, if you plan to play a second spec for a considerable amount of time, it will cost less to unlock the first 13 Traits of that second weapon than getting the 14th Trait on your primary weapon – you may choose to work on a second Artifact before continuing on your primary weapon.

Sure, ok…I guess that I get time to understand my second spec would be justification for that, but I don’t think that’s good enough.

What I’ve noticed about Legion is that your freedom of choice is only there if you create it, not by design. Even then, if you choose to play like I do where I’m constantly switching specs, you’re not maximizing your classes/specs potential via Artifact Weapons. Each Artifact Weapon has set paths of traits to unlock, each which lead to different “Golden traits,” that are powerful enhancements to your abilities. It’s been said that this is the new Talent Trees, and only on an aesthetic and basic mechanics level do I agree.

An example of an Artifact Trait Tree, courtesy of Ashbringer
Another example – T’uure, Beacon of the Naaru, a Holy Priest’s weapon

It’s the same trap that the old Talent Trees fell into. They offer you the illusion of different paths/abilties to get the most out of YOUR playstyle (and for and time I felt they did that well), but in the end there’s a clear singular path that not only plays better, but also feels better in terms of gameplay mechanics and is always “preferred” in a group setting. I understand it’s nearly impossible to balance everything, but this doesn’t give me the freedom of choice I’d really like to have. So a good chunk of the choices I’ve made are “against the norm.”

302-balance
No reason this is here…just an excuse to display an old Talent Tree. Any old Boomkins remember getting Moonkin form at 40?

An example: I refuse to take “Fury of Air” as an Enhancement Shaman because I despise how it looks, yet almost every Enhancement Shaman guide you’ll read recommends it. As a Balance Druid I always take “Shooting Stars,” because I hate being stuck in “Blessing of the Ancients” sparkly form (one word – GLYPHS. Come on Blizzard…). But thats getting a little off topic. All I’m saying is that I feel the Artifact Weapons’ paths give you the illusion of choice, but don’t actually deliver on it. Not if you want to a effective anyway. Now there are tons of sims and things to back this up, but as I’ve said I’m not in any way a hardcore min-maxer progressive end game mythic++++++ raider. These are all merely personal opinions and feelings based on what I’ve seen and experienced.

An example of a “best path” chart

Then there’s the punishing cost of resetting an Artifact Weapons (the cost of a refund is the cost of how much it would cost to unlock your next trait). At low levels AP and trait points it’s not too bad, but as you get higher up that number can be huge and not worth it. I believe Panser over at TradeChat suggested it should cost gold for this process, and I agree – like the old system/cost of resetting talents in your Talent Tree(s). Then to add on top of that, you can’t refund AP from one weapon to give it another. I understand these decisions, but as a player who enjoys switching roles, these are debilitating things. Last, but not least, the amount of time it takes to accumulate the AP necessary to unlock all your traits…I certainly haven’t gotten there for obvious reasons, but some players who really love the game simply don’t have that kind of time. It feels…gimmicky. Like grasping at players and punishing those who can’t devote obscene amounts of time to the game, or player who are like me. It’s kind of insulting, but in truth they could do worse…so I deal.

With all this information, it may seem that I’m against Artifact Weapons and the AP/Knowledge system, but I’m not. I’m sort of split down the middle. I see their benefits and I see their flaws. Sure I wish the system were a little different, but this is WoW we’re talking about here. You can’t please everyone. Overall, I think the Artifact Weapons/Points system is interesting and actually pretty cool on some levels, I just wish it wasn’t as punishing as it is on people who play like I do – people that get the most enjoyment out of having the freedom of choice at any given time to create their own playstyle and experience without feeling like you’re gimping yourself. 

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