Looking back on Battle for Azeroth – Azerite, Essences & Gear

Battle for Azeroth is slowly winding down to completion. The final raid has been released and World First races won, and with the confirmation of no patch 8.3.5 there is no more new content to come to World of Warcraft for now. And then earlier this week an encrypted Shadowlands Alpha appeared on the battle.net client, which means this is pretty much it for WoW’s seventh expansion. It also means it’s a good time to have a look back on the journey through Battle for Azeroth to have a chat about what worked, and what didn’t quite hit the mark.

Disclaimer – I’m not a theorycrafter. I don’t do well with numbers, I don’t know what is best and what’s a waste of time when it comes to gear. I rely on other people to tell me these things. My opinions below are purely based on how each system felt throughout the expansion. These are just my feel-crafty opinions 🙂
And also, sorry this is so long – there’s a lot to get through!

In the beginning… there was azerite

Ok to quickly summarise – Battle for Azeroth started shortly after our beautiful titan-planet was brutally stabbed by Sargeras (for reasons I personally am still not 100% clear on yet!) In order to help heal Azeroth and stop her from outright dying, we purged our Artifact weapons that were chock full of the power we had been collecting all throughout Legion, and stopped Azeroth’s death. Well done team!

But whilst we managed to stop Azeroth dying, we haven’t really stopped her from bleeding. And what is very quickly apparent is that the blood of Azeroth is actually crazy powerful. Suuuuuper powerful. Powerful enough that both Horde and Alliance realise how dangerous it would be if the opposing faction had this power in their hands. So of course, the world goes to war over resources, and so begins the Battle for Azeroth. GG.

Magni kinda spends the whole expansion looking the other way while Horde and Alliance punch each other in the face. His only concern is Azeroth herself and keeping her alive. So after the Battle for Lordaeron (that starts BfA), Magni summons us to speak with Azeroth, who in turn gives us a necklace for our troubles. This necklace allows us to absorb the azerite that is now flowing freely around the planet. It makes us powerful, with that power increasing over time as more azerite is fed in to it. And as it gets more powerful, we are able to unlock more “things” related to gear.

These unlocks changed a little bit as the expansion progressed, but at a fundamental level, as the level of our neck increased:

  • access to azerite traits on gear were unlocked
  • access to essences could be unlocked
  • our overall passive character power increased (through stamina buffs etc.)

Did the Heart of Azeroth work?

For me, yes* it did. Some of the things Blizz learned during Legion and while we were trying to level our weapons was that sometimes it was just suuuuuch a long grind, and trying to catch up if you fell behind was really, really rough. This time around, whilst the grind was there, it was offset by generous (and regular) Artifact Knowledge that was automatically applied for all characters each week. This way if you couldn’t play for a length of time, you could come back to the game and be able to get your neck up quite quickly indeed.

The other thing that I thought they did well was how easy it was to get azerite. You could get it from world quests, levelling, dungeons, islands, pvp, raids, treasure chests – it’s been everywhere! And even better – there was no cap on how much you could earn for your neck each week. If you wanted to grind it out 24/7 you could. That flexibility was really nice to have.

I know of a lot of people who still felt that levelling their neck was a grind. And it absolutely could have been if you were hell bent on getting to certain caps really quickly. But anything would be a grind if you’re playing at that level. So in a lot of ways I dismiss those arguments. Levelling your neck was one way of gaining power for your character – it’s no different to running the same dungeon over and over again to get the best pieces of gear. At least with azerite you could get it from multiple different sources. So for me, the whole gathering azerite for your neck thing worked. (I’m super curious about how we will “give up” all that power at the end of BfA…)

Azerite Gear

Ok, Azerite gear. Throughout BfA (just about) all head, shoulder and chest pieces were azerite gear. Each piece of gear had a number of rings on it, with multiple “talent-style ability” choices available on each ring. The idea was that as your neck gained more levels/power, the more abilities you could unlock.

One of my azerite pieces of gear with healing traits selected

At the beginning of the expansion, each ring was gated behind your neck level. This meant that it was possible to get a piece of gear that wouldn’t be worthwhile equipping until you had unlocked your neck to a certain level. To put it bluntly, this system sucked. It felt so awful, having that rush of joy of getting a high piece of gear from a raid boss, only to realise you could only unlock one of the abilities on it because your neck wasn’t high enough.

I should make it pretty clear here – my neck was always at a really good level. I was always a bit ahead of the general curve of most players in our guild (and definitely in game in general). So I wasn’t just being slow or lazy with my neck. It just wasn’t balanced well. The math behind where our necks would be at, at the time that the gear was dropping and what they’d be able to unlock just didn’t add up right.

Thankfully this system was changed a bit in a future patch, with the neck level requirement to unlock traits removed from all but the center ring of the piece of gear. This was a much welcomed change that has stuck for the remainder of the expansion.

Did azerite gear work?

I’m going to say it kinda worked.

The good – it was nice having pieces of gear with interesting abilities on them. Of course there was always going to be best-in-slot piece of gear with perfect traits, and it was great to be able to work towards those. But it was also great to be able to get a piece of gear that had maybe 1 or 2 of the good traits on them that I could use just fine in the meantime while I waited for RNGsus to bless me with my bis. That was alright and I learned to be ok with that after some time.

The bad – initially locking the traits behind neck level was revolting, and I’m extremely grateful to Blizz for revoking that to what we have today. But what I still don’t like about azerite gear to this day is that it costs us to change traits on our azerite gear. I absolutely hate this. I’m someone who is a main healer in raids, but plays as dps to level and do world quests and dungeons and pvp- I hate anything that punishes me for playing my hybrid class to its full potential. To be charged to change my gear to suit what I’m trying to do at the time makes me really cross. Between keeping multiple pieces of azerite gear while I waited for my bis to land and having to keep a whole other set for dps and heals (with multiple pieces in each) I just kept running out of bag space. And it just felt bad. Part of this, I feel, could have been alleviated by allowing us to change our azerite traits using the same tomes we use to change talents and essences. The cost and the fact that you could only make these changes in your faction’s BfA capital made it super clunky and unnecessarily annoying.

The other thing I wasn’t a fan of was the profession-related mats associated with azerite gear. This was mostly an issue for enchanters who had to sacrifice getting enchanting mats from azerite gear by salvaging it instead for crafting mats. It was a bit silly. Even now, you can’t vendor azerite gear – it must be salvaged to get titan residuum (which was a whole other drama).

Essences

In patch 8.2 our Heart of Azeroth necks changed a bit. Instead of being a progressive level-up system, it got its own little talent tree. As your neck levelled up, you would unlock the ability to add in essences – extra abilities with a major and minor component to them – along with some stamina buffs thrown in for good measure.

My current Heart of Azeroth neck with essences

The big circle in the middle is our major essence – any essence put in here would unlock both the major and the minor component of the essence. This was unlocked at neck level 35. Then at levels 55, 65 and 75, additional essences could be put in, with only their minor component in use.

Example essence with major and minor components. (The minor component was always a passive ability, whilst most major essences, in general, gave an active on-use ability, as shown in this example).

Essences could be aquired in a number of ways – some you would get just for unlocking the system (i.e. the Crucible of Flame). Others required completing world quests, meeting certain reputation requirements, completing certain achievements etc. Essentially there were essences available to be unlocked through all of the various ways people played the game (except through pet battles – no essences there 😉 )

In addition to the essences’ major and minor components, the essences themselves had multiple ranks – 1 through 4. Ranks 1, 2 and 3 each increased the power of the essence as it levelled up. Rank 4 of any essence was purely a cosmetic appearance (but they really do look cool!!)

Did essences work?

Yes and no.

Firstly, the yes. I actually really like essences as a system. I like that we are able to swap them in and out as needed using tomes, I like that the abilities themselves are interesting, and I like that there are cosmetic bonuses to them.

BUT

There is a whole lot wrong with them.

Firstly, I’d argue why they need to be a whole system on their own when essentially they are just more talents for us to choose. Do they really need to be gated behind the azerite system? I understand the reasoning behind it – it gives players something to work towards and keeps us in game. But is unlocking an essence ability a good enough payoff? Maybe it is for some people… I’m not 100% sure myself (though I will say that of all the gearing in BfA systems, this is my preferred)

Another concern is the benefit of the essence vs. where it comes from. Essentially, one of the best essences for some dps classes raiding in Ny’alotha at the moment is Blood of the Enemy, which is obtained through pvp-related activities (collecting a whole bunch of Honor). It seems a bit backwards sending pve players in to pvp environments for essences. For me, I don’t pvp much at all. I play with war-mode on, but in the amount of time I have available to play each day (which is actually quite a lot) I don’t have the time (or inclination) to go do pvp. So for me, the acquisition of some essences was a bit off base.

The main concern that almost everyone has, though, (including myself) is that essences aren’t account wide. When you look at the amount of work involved to unlock some of these essences, you will understand just how difficult and frustrating it is to try and do that on more than on character. Let me put it to you this way – I have struggled with alts this expansion already as it is, but I do have a Horde warlock at an “ok” level. But she only has 2 essences, because I do not have the time to unlock any others for her. Her neck is at 68, which all things considered, isn’t too bad (like I said – Artifact Knowledge has been really good this expansion!) but not having essences to put in her neck just feels awful.

And this comes back around, then, to why we have a system that behaves like talents that is gated behind other content.

(I should point out that I’ve had a conversation with someone who doesn’t have an issue with essences not being account-wide, but that’s because they only play the one character. And it’s a fair enough argument – not everyone plays alts. I’m going to do a separate post on the alt-ness of BfA so check back in the future for that as I’ll talk more about the essences side of things then!)

All the other gear

Ok, last of all we have gear. As usual in BfA we got gear from questing while we levelled up our toons, from world boe drops, from dungeons, raids, sometimes on the rare occasion even islands! Then later, through the benthic tokens and now the Black empire tokens. All pretty standard. AS I mentioned above, heads, shoulders and chests were azerite pieces (with the rings), and we didn’t need to worry about necks because of our Heart of Azeroth. And now we don’t need to worry about cloaks either.

All gear would scale in ilvl based on the difficulty of the task to acquire it – mythic raid gear would be better than LFR gear; gear from a heroic dungeon would be lower than gear from a mythic +10 dungeon. All gear also had the chance to roll with a socket, and/or potentially with tertiary stats such as Leech and Avoidance. All pretty normal so far.

Titanforging

From launch until 8.3 we had titanforging impacting our gear. People had a love/hate relationship with titanforging. Basically any non-azerite piece that dropped had a chance to titanforge – to drop with a higher ilvl than the base level for that difficulty. This was capped at certain levels throughout the expansion. In Season 3 for example (the last season titanforging was in place for) the ilvl cap was 455. This meant a piece of gear could drop from a normal dungeon, and instead of being ilvl 400, it could titanforge all the way up to ilvl 455 (rare, but possible).

Titanforging could be amazing. If you were lucky enough to get it. And that was the problem. The level of your gear didn’t reflect how hard you’d worked in game – in some cases it just reflected how lucky you were. There is enough RNG in the game as it is trying to get the piece of gear you want to drop, without having the RNG of titanforging on top of that. Because we ended up with scenarios where people had worked their butt off to kill a mythic boss for weeks on end, waiting for the piece of gear to drop, and it does, but when it doesn’t titanforge… it just felt unsatisfying. And getting loot shouldn’t feel like that. Getting gear to drop for you in a raid should feel amazing. You should feel like you have achieved something and got justly rewarded for it. You shouldn’t be feeling like you missed out because your gear didn’t titanforge.

One of my favourite analogies for titanforging was from reddit, I think. And it basically said:
Imagine you are in line at McDonalds. Your order a Big Mac, you pay your money, get your Big Mac – done! But then the person behind you orders. And they also order and pay for a Big Mac. But their order titan forges! And they get a Big Mac and chips and a 6 pack of nuggets. And while you got what you paid for and were happy with that, it just felt a little bit bad that your order didn’t titanforge too.

Did titanforging work?

No, not in the long run. I think the negatives far outweighed the positives. I understand that by having titanforging in the game, it gave people something to continue to aim for. Sure, we should be satisfied with the gear that we get, but when you see someone get a drop in LFR that has a higher ilvl than the gear you got in mythic raid, well it just kinda doesn’t feel great. It’s also not something you can work towards in a meaningful way. The only way you could get full maxed out gear was from pure RNG, and not anything you could do other than repeatedly running the raid over and over again.

It also caused problems for trading gear. With Master Loot being taken out of the game, raid teams have to wait until they get a piece of gear drop at the same (or lower) level for that slot to be able to trade it. It was super frustrating, then, when you would get a piece of gear that wasn’t good for your class at all… but you couldn’t trade it because it titanforged. A wasted piece.

Corrupted gear

Now in 8.3 and for the rest of this expansion, we have corruption. Ok the short version is this – instead of gear having a chance to titanforge, it now has a chance to be corrupted. A corrupted piece of gear will roll with a type of corruption on it, and a level of corruption that determines how good the bonus effect is, and how much corruption it will cost you. The bonus is easy to deal with – good things are good. The corruption cost on the other hand requires balancing. The more corruption you have on your gear, the more bad things that will happen to you (from being slowed, to having eyeballs shoot you, to having a copy of yourself chase you to punch you in the face etc.) To offset the corruption we are now levelling a cloak given to us by Wrathion. The higher the level of the cloak, the more corruption we are able to cleanse off, and the fewer negative affects we’ll have. Got it? good! (Ok but seriously go see wowhead’s guide here if you’re still lost).

This is fine…

Now to be fair we’ve only had this system for a few weeks, so to speak on the longevity of it is difficult. Though in a way we don’t really need to. The devs have already said that this system is only for the last patch of BfA and not beyond, so we don’t have it for long. Which is good because I’m sorry to say…

Does Corruption work?

…no. No it doesn’t.

I’m sad to say that, because I really wanted it to work. But oh my goodness it just doesn’t. The corruption system is RNG on top of RNG on top of RNG that requires yet another (separate) grind to control (through your cloak).

First we have the RNG of a piece of gear dropping from a boss at all.

Then we have the RNG of whether or not that piece of gear will be corrupted.

Then we have the RNG of the type of corruption on the gear.

And then we have the RNG of the rank of corruption on the gear.

Oh.My.Lord it’s too much. It’s just too much. I tell you what, at this rate I think I’ll have a better chance of winning the lottery than I do of getting a piece of gear that I want with the right corruption on it. (Spoiler alert – I am yet to get a piece of corrupted gear with the trait I want on it.)

Again, that just feels bad. I want to feel good about a piece of loot dropping for me. Not the initial thrill followed be a wave of disappointment as I see the corruption type on it is wrong, or the level is not high/low enough.

And that’s the other frustration – what if I did get the corruption and level I wanted, but then couldn’t wear it anyway because the secondary component to all this, my cloak, isn’t high enough to handle that much corruption? Because getting my cloak levelled takes a different currency to obtain the other currency needed to then go in to visions to get yet another item to then get the item to level my cloak. But the currencies are capped (well, they were until next week– thanks Blizz, this is genuinely a big help!!) and the amount I can level my cloak each week is capped, but easy enough to also fall behind… and well it just feels a bit like a mess. Truth be told, it feels like an entire-expansion system, not an end-of-expansion system.

Let’s also not forget that the corruption bonuses aren’t even a little balanced. There are videos and pics out there of certain corruption abilities proccing extremely high numbers for no reason other than RNG. And in some ways all you can do is laugh. (Especially when it kills someone on Maut… 😉 ) And maybe this isn’t a problem. This system is only for the end of the expansion… maybe it’s not a problem to have abilities that do silly things like this. Maybe it’s ok to have a bit of silly fun. And I’m all for that… but it’s definitely a whole lot less fun when you don’t have the gear with that corruption on it.

*All things combined…

Here’s the main point I suppose I want to make with all this talk about BfA gear systems. None of the systems one their own are inherently bad. If each system was the only “extra thing” about gear in BfA, I think it would be ok. But when all of these systems are combined… well it really does turn in to chaos (and not the fun kind). The main issue with all of this is RNG. Some RNG is fine – waiting for that boss to drop your long-awaited loot is fair game and all part of an MMO. But waiting for the loot to drop with just the right bonuses end up making people feel bad when it doesn’t happen. And noone wants to feel bad.

I understand that Blizzard needs to have system in place that tick a whole bunch of boxes:

  • gear drops that contribute to player power progression
  • something that can be worked on over time so that people are encouraged to play the game on a regular basis
  • something that gives players a choice in the gear they wear

It’s not an easy task, and finding something that works for everyone is obviously impossible. I like the things the team have tried in BfA, but having them all together all at once is just way too much.

Suggestions

I’m not just here to complain! I do have some ideas and a wishlist of what would work for me personally. Obviously I don’t speak for everyone with this, it’s just my thoughts. I’d love to hear what others have in mind!

  1. So for me, first and foremost – leave the RNG to whether or not a piece of gear will drop from a boss. That’s it. Don’t let it randomly be a higher ilvl or have some special magical extra things it can maybe do if the stars are aligned and butterfly has farted in Antarctica. Just let the RNG be about the loot dropping at all.
  2. Continue to have something we can grind to increase in power over time – like the Heart of Azeroth. Keep the ability to get this resource from multiple places, and keep the Artifact knowledge idea. Let it increase our strength/power over time, but don’t make it too grindy or too difficult to catch up on if we fall behind.
  3. Give me the ability to choose extra powers/abilities/talents to add to my gear. This could be tied to the power-increase item above, perhaps? Whether this is something you can attach to a piece of gear, or works in a similar way to the essences, I’m not bothered. But let me be in control of it. Let me be able to do things in game that actively work towards achieving these bonuses, instead of having them tied to RNG.
  4. Make sure it’s flexible to match our changing playstyles. Whether it’s being someone who swaps between tank and dps on a regular basis, or someone who likes to push mythic + keys and raid – please stop punishing us for playing our characters in different ways.
  5. And please don’t forget about alts. I am all for our main characters having to put in a lot of time and effort to get to maximum power, and to have the best of everything. But don’t expect us to be able to do that for all of our characters. If I’ve unlocked something on my main, it would be so great if a version of that was also unlocked for our alts. Or something was in place to make it easier for the alts to get a similar item/power (e.g. the rep gain bonus in MoP for alts once our main hit exalted was a great idea!)

For me, it all comes down to just wanting to have a bit more control over my character and her progression. I’m ok with some RNG, but not so much that I feel completely helpless. If I’m going to fall behind in this game, let it be because I haven’t been able to play at a specific level to achieve certain rewards. Don’t let it be because some random numbers decided not to roll in my favour.

But what do you think? Did some of these systems work for you? What would your idea gear system look like?

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