With the release of a ton of information about World of Warcraft Patch 8.2 recently and it being on the PTR now we can finally look at how the new Azerite system will work. For anyone who has missed the previous memo after 8.2, we won’t be using our heart levels to unlock traits on our Azerite gear. Instead, there will be traits on our neck which will augment our existing abilities. I will, however, say for the purposes of today’s column I am not going to get into any of the story elements of unlocking the new traits. If you want to know what happens storywise, it’s been posted in plenty of places, and you could also play through it all on the PTR if would like to. I’m more interested in how the system works so far and how it may help or hurt the issues we are currently facing.
Currently, in the PTR you immediately get a quest to talk to Magni, and this starts the questchain to unlock the new forge for your Heart of Azeroth. However, in a recent blog post Blizzard did say this questchain will only be available after establishing a new hub in Nazjatar. Which means the current plan is players will do some things in Nazjatar, go back to Silithus, do that questchain, and then go back Nazjatar to finish everything there. However, ideally, a player could focus on Nazjatar if they want to and still get essence unlocks which will be usable once the Magni questline is completed. Keeping with the idea of letting players play the way they want this would be the smart way of building the system. I can’t tell for sure with how things are set on the PTR, but it does appear the system will work in this manner.
I have also seen some people express happiness and excitement over the fact once you enter the heart chamber your Heart level is automatically increased to level 55. This is pretty much guaranteed to be just a PTR mechanic to make sure everyone can test out both the major slot and one of the minor slots without having to grind out levels on the PTR. Also, I’m reasonably sure I saw somewhere you needed to be level 50 to unlock the first slot on the Heart so having everyone bumped magically to level 55 wouldn’t make much sense in a live scenario. Unfortunately, I can’t find the post I’m thinking of so I might be wrong on the level 50 requirement.
At the end of the opening questline, the first essence slot opens, and it is the one major slot we get. Every essence has a Major and a Minor Power. The major slot allows both powers to be granted while the two minor slots give only the minor ability from their essence. The first minor slot opens at Heart level 55, and the final one unlocks at heart level 65. There could be some interesting strategy to having what essence in which spot for different combinations. For example, as a Guardian Druid, I can quickly see how having the Vision of Perfection in the major slot and Memory of Lucid Dreams in minor could be useful. Having access to the reduced cooldown on a major CD and getting extra Rage back randomly could be extremely powerful. I’m just hopeful the grind of getting to Heart level 65 isn’t as terrible as the grind to get to level 50 has felt for me.
One excellent change versus how the forge worked in Legion is the essences will be swappable the same way talents are. This includes the ability to use a Tome of the Quiet Mind to swap your essences. It’s a considerable quality of life improvement and settles one of my biggest worries since some of the major and minor effects will be useful in different situations. I’m always a bit sad I only need to change my talents occasionally, and it’s generally a swap between two of them. Hopefully, the addition of the essences will add a bit more variability.
Some of these essences are general and won’t change their effect regardless of what class and spec you are, but some do have some variation. For example, the Memory of Lucid Dreams improves Rage generation for a guardian druid whereas for a Vengeance Demon Hunter it increases Pain generation. The two are related but targeted for the class and spec. These are the ones we’ll have to keep the closest eye on throughout the PTR cycle because being so targeted for class and spec can potentially be OP in some respects. Additionally what’s an awesome buff for one class might be boring and not needed for another. Walking the line between things being too strong or too weak for one class versus another might prove to be a bit of a challenge.
Although players can participate in a wide variety of content to earn essences, it is a bit disappointing they are only obtainable from doing specific content. Even down to needing to do specific things for specific ranks. This will force players into playing certain types of content they may not generally like to obtain an essence they need, which I’m never much of a fan of. It’s usually better to let players play the type of content they enjoy the most to accomplish their goals. No one is helped by having players who don’t want to be in Mythic+ stuck running those dungeons especially if they are annoyed about having to be there in the first place. The upside, of course, is for Rank 1, 2, and 3 the acquisition of these essences is guaranteed. For most people, it will only mean having to do these things once because Rank 4 (which is subject to RNG) is just cosmetic.
Overall, I like the essence system, and it feels like Blizzard is at least thinking about what makes sense for it to work well and be an enjoyable experience. From the time I’ve had to mess with it on the PTR, it overall feels good. However, what remains to be seen is how much of an impact these will have and if the OPness of some of these will hold up. Also, without some boosts to AP acquisition, the grind from Level 50 to 65 might feel a bit unbearable. Since this is one of the changes I’m most looking forward to in 8.2, I will be keeping a close eye on updates to this system.