Monday, October 24, 2016

The Future of Artifacts

When reviewing how rewarding Artifacts were through its various facets of progression, I briefly mentioned that there could be some potential issues that the Artifact system may face in the future. At the time, I specifically mentioned that I considered the Artifact Power part of the system comparable to Paragon, which is a point supported by Blizzard when they briefly mentioned how impactful Artifact Power is as a reward. Because of this, discarding Artifacts in the future would effectively be more of a waste than having players shed their gear if handled poorly, especially when the Wardrobe feature is considered.

The above point isn't the only issue to consider though since there are also obstacles associated with retaining Artifacts in future expansions. There are also short-term issues that may crop up in future patches, such as Artifact-related rewards being less impactful over time. This article will review all these types of issues and offer potential solutions.

Short-term Issues

The list of short-term issues is not a long one and I could only think of a couple. However, the issues I did think of may cause issues with Artifact Power rewards in the way I specified above to the point they may need to be addressed within a couple major patches this expansion.

This technically already exists since the time between each Artifact Knowledge upgrade is decreased base on how behind the curve one's character is compared to the highest possible Artifact Knowledge. However, the research time still takes days when in the future, a player with level 0 Artifact Knowledge will end up having to catch up to those who already have 25.

However, it's likely Blizzard may have already thought far enough ahead to recognize that Artifact Knowledge research should probably take hours or be close to instantaneous at a certain point. At that point there's another issue to consider: Order Resources. At the moment, each research note costs 500 Order Resources, which is relatively expensive for players just reaching the level cap, even when considering the addition of items that help with the problem like this. The Order Resources Cache, incidentally, would help both alts and new or returning players assuming Blood of Sargeras is about as easy to acquire as it is currently.

Ultimately the solution to this entire problem is relatively easy: Adjust the cost and research time down as much as it's needed to ensure players can smoothly increase their Artifact Knowledge to 25 to allow them to catch up in Artifact Power. If past trends regarding catch-up mechanics are considered, Blizzard's probably got this issue covered already, but it doesn't hurt to be thorough.

The Artifact Power Cap

Unlike Paragon, which truly progresses endlessly, there is a limit to the amount of Artifact Power a player can gather and effectively use. This is because weapons have a maximum amount of Artifact Power needed to unlock all the traits at roughly 65 million. This may sound like a lot but at level 25 Artifact Knowledge, players gain 250 times the amount of Artifact Power they normally do, meaning they need roughly 261,000 Artifact Power if all of it is acquired at that Artifact Knowledge level. This means a player would only need to kill several thousand Heroic dungeon bosses to max out their Artifact Power. Considering higher tier content equates to greater Artifact Power rewards, players are liable to reach the cap within a couple major patches, even if they're working on multiple Artifacts.

While this issue may seem distant, it's a very real one because if it's left unaddressed and players manage to farm huge amounts of Artifact Power at Artifact Knowledge 25, they will eventually be left with a significantly diminished reason to play since there's no longer a reason to farm Artifact Power. To be fair, Blizzard may fear the detrimental effects of players constantly playing the game to farm Artifact Power (even if I personally don't have an urge to do so), which can be harmful to one's health at the very least. This is somewhat contradicted by the fact that traits beyond the 34th grant objective increases to character power, however.

My suggestion to add Paragon to WoW considered the above points to a degree and proposed that effects that the player unlocks don't directly give a major advantage in competitive environments. By doing so, players aren't as inclined to farm relentlessly to obtain significant advantage over others, but get some nice benefits by partaking in nearly all the content that WoW has to offer. While this ultimately resulted in me focusing on minor and cosmetic effects, Blizzard found another way to keep powerful benefits existent but out of competitive environments by having buffs only work in certain zones.

Therefore, my suggestion is to add a few additional "luxury" traits that all players can obtain with each major patch that provide either large benefits in the Broken Isles (or at least outside of all competitive environments) or generally minor or utility-oriented ones like what I proposed in my article. With the appropriate Artifact Power costs and ranks, Artifact Power farming will still be a productive activity but not one that feels mandatory to remain competitive due to the sheer power of the benefits gained.

The Problems With Removing Artifacts

If past trends have indicated anything, systems are subject to overhaul or removal between expansions. Artifacts may end up being a footnote associated with the Legion expansion as a result and there's arguably plenty of justification behind doing so. Removing Artifacts would be an exceptionally messy affair for at least the following reasons though, but there are some solutions to help address them.

Handling Traits

Artifact traits are a large part of class progression during Legion leveling and the endgame. Players can earn some gameplay-defining effects or at the least earn a significant amount of power for each trait learned. It's likely these traits were tuned in such a way that there's some semblance of balance between every spec, which most likely equates to some classes starting strong and other classes reaching full potential after acquiring many traits. Regardless of how the balance is done, if the traits are removed entirely, Blizzard would then need to go through the arduous task of both balancing the specs and replacing some of the key benefits traits provide mechanically.

Assuming Blizzard can handle the balancing aspect, which to be fair is going to happen between expansions anyways, the issue here boils down to replacing character progression in Legion with something that provides a fair amount of increased mechanical depth that matches what classes gain as they level through previous content. One way to do this is to keep the Artifact and have it progress at an accelerated rate so that players can max out the main traits, removing the 20 bonus traits in the process. These traits would not be bound to the weapon, meaning that players can discard their Artifact when they find a suitable replacement but have all the benefits other players who progressed their Artifacts do.

Compensating for Artifact Power

While the above solution helps to compensate for Artifact Power already, there's a good chance Artifact Power that players have earned will be wasted during the transition. More importantly, if there were any indication of this happening in advance (due to beta testing, for example), player retention would likely decrease due to reduced interest in doing content that involves gaining Artifact Power. Assuming the above solution is used, which would eliminate the need to replace Artifact Power rewards from Legion content, the easiest solution for compensating for the time spent farming Artifact Power would be some form of consolation, such as an achievement and/or cosmetic. To help with player retention at that stage, earning a high amount of Artifact Power could yield greater rewards. This suggestion would be comparable to awarding achievements for doing other removed legacy content.


Speaking of cosmetics, appearances would also need to be tweaked a bit to better fit the removal of Artifacts. While alternate appearances in themselves could go to the Wardrobe and be usable with any weapon of its type, recolors would be a little more tricky. This may be an opportunity to introduce the ability to recolor any equipment appearance though, so if that could be done it would be great. Overall this particular aspect of Artifact removal isn't too problematic.

The Challenges of Retaining Artifacts

Removing Artifacts may seem tough since it appears so ingrained at the moment, hence why I suggested systems that embrace the system while technically abandoning it in terms of usage in future expansions. What if Blizzard were to embrace this system like some others that have survived the test of time despite official statements? The following highlights some of the challenges Blizzard would have to face were they to undertake such an endeavor.

Determining Artifact Lifespan

Keeping the actual artifact itself, whether it's the Ashbringer or the Kingslayers, could at the very least pose a problem of aesthetics since players may become jaded over using and improving the same weapon for the rest of the game's lifespan. At the same time, coming up with new artifacts for each spec to use every expansion is also a time-consuming task. I'm personally more partial to the latter idea despite it being more difficult to do and I'll explain further why in the other sections, but I am a little conflicted on how to combat this problem since it might be an over-exaggerated issue to begin with.

Future Traits

Since coming up with new mechanics every expansion is something Blizzard already does, Artifact traits simply provide a template for Blizzard to allocate them as needed every expansion. This to me implies that Blizzard would create entirely new sets of traits that players can acquire with Artifact Power for each expansion, which would fit well with the addition of new weapons since they could each have a set of traits. The issue then is ensuring there isn't too much active ability bloat since most Artifacts at the moment grant at least one active ability. Balancing and coming up with interesting traits may also become increasingly more difficult (issues that could be associated with old talents), so each expansion may need to introduce fewer traits to make those aspects of development more manageable.

Tweaking Artifact Power

Due to how Artifact Knowledge increases Artifact Power gains, such gains will continue to inflate out of control if left unchecked. This is because the rate at which players acquire traits starts fast then plateaus based on a player's Artifact Knowledge level, which at higher levels ensures that players earn traits at a decent rate. This could be balanced by adjusting Artifact Power costs, but there's another way to resolve the issue as well.

My solution is to categorize Artifact Knowledge and Artifact Power based on the expansion much like with Currency. Specifically, Artifact Power gained in the most recent expansion can be spent on all Artifact traits, but Artifact Power obtained from previous expansion content can only be spent on traits associated with its expansion or any expansion prior to it. This would retain the value of obtaining Artifact Power in previous expansions while emphasizing that gaining Artifact Power in the newest content, much like obtaining gear, is the way for players to stay relevant in terms of power. However, it's worth mentioning that ideally players would normally obtain all the main traits from each previous expansion while leveling in this system.

Because players should be able to earn all the main traits of previous expansion's Artifacts while leveling, this suggestion would works well in tandem with the suggestion to add luxury traits in the first section. Doing so maintains the incentive to run older content and addresses the issue of Artifact Power "capping out" in current expansions.

Final Statements

When considering the future of Artifacts, the issues I've highlighted may be overblown and in some cases, Blizzard already has plans in place that are sufficient solutions. Maybe it's because I find Artifact Power in particular so comparable to Paragon that I just want to make it work as long as possible. Maybe it's because I've seen how well the gameplay and rewards work together to provide players with the freedom to play to their heart's content. Regardless of what Blizzard ends up doing with Artifacts by the next expansion, the system has definitely made a strong impression and unlike other features such as the Garrison, I think this impression is largely a positive one.

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