WoW Factor: Understanding World of Warcraft’s upcoming Heart of Azeroth system

The release of World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth is going to bring with it a lot of core system changes. This is neither surprising nor unwelcome. We’ve also been warned for ages that we won’t be carrying Artifacts forward, and at this year’s BlizzCon we got our first glimpse at the system that will ultimately replace that system in terms of gameplay, the Heart of Azeroth.

I usually find what works pretty well as a quick litmus test for systems like this is to see how fast we all “get” the system in the newsroom. If some of us are confused as to how the system is supposed to work, it’s not being explained all that well. And I can’t tell you that the Heart of Azeroth has been particularly well-explained so far; it’s a straightforward and positive change to the game, but we’ve had better-explained systems. So let’s take a look at how things are meant to work, based on what we know now.

Legendary problems

Getting stronger, perhaps.The first step to understanding the system, I think, lies in understanding WoW’s issues with Legendaries and set bonuses, two things that have been with us for a while now, either the whole expansion (the former) or since the game launched (the latter). And they’re connected simply because both systems beget the same problems.

Legendaries have been a problem since Legion launched, but not because of numbers. The items were always powerful, but it wasn’t raw numbers that made them an issue; it was the fact that every single one of them came with powers. And those powers frequently – if not almost always – were a huge deal. You could often get Legendary items that had particular abilities on them that changed the whole way you played your spec.

This problem has always existed in terms of set bonuses, too; we all know that some theorycrafting has always existed about when it’s time to break a particularly valuable set bonus, simply because the bonus offers some mechanical benefit beyond numbers. You get something beyond a chunk of intellect and stamina when all of your casts start applying a stacking damage buff to your character, for example.

And this is why people weren’t terribly happy with the Legendaries in Legion. Bad luck could prevent you from getting the item that makes the necessary mechanical changes to your spec, and now you can’t clear a challenge.

Enter the Heart of Azeroth. Instead of thinking of this particular system as “the new form of Artifact,” you’d be better off thinking of it as “build your own Legendaries.” It’s the equivalent of artifacts in terms of gameplay but not in design intent.

These guys aren't really the source of this stuff. They just look cool.

How it works

Right at the start of the expansion, you get the eponymous Heart of Azeroth as a neck slot item. The Heart itself is a nice neck item, of course, but its real power comes as it levels up. And that power, in turn, comes into play when you’re putting on Azerite-empowered armor. We can assume that a higher-level Heart of Azeroth will have the usual stat boosts, for example, but that alone is not the source of its power.

It seems pertinent to note at this point that “Azerite-empowered armor” appears to be synonymous with “armor from this expansion.” As it stands, we’ve been told that head, shoulders, and chest pieces will be working as part of this system; the preview mock-ups also have legs shown as Azerite armor, which either means that it’s still in discussions or that they’re earlier mockups.

So let’s say you get your first questing green in Battle for Azeroth; a chest piece, why not. That chest piece has four “rings” of powers available on it, based on the level of your Heart. Each individual ring is unlocked as the Heart of Azeroth levels up; let’s say this first item has rings unlocking at levels 5, 10, 15, and 20. Your Heart is level 5, so you get access to the first ring. You select a power for your item and move on.

These powers will each exist in ring format and be mutually exclusive, but each ring is meant to hold mechanical choices of a similar nature. So a ring for an Enhancement Shaman might contain one choice that gives a stacking damage buff to Stormstrike and another choice to give a stacking damage buff to Lava Lash. Both change how you play the spec slightly, but you don’t have to choose between “improve run speed” and “halve your ability cooldowns.”

A bit more questing, and you get a blue chestpiece with rings unlocking at the same level. If your chestpiece were a Legendary item, you’d be reluctant to swap it out because you’d lose that non-numerical bonus. With the Heart of Azeroth, though, you can swap to the new chestpiece with abandon and unlock another first-ring power on your new item. The items themselves aren’t leveling; it’s just the Heart of Azeroth, which doesn’t change.

Keep that blue chest long enough, and you’re no doubt going to level your Heart enough to unlock another ring of powers. But if you replace if before then, you’ll still have access to the same overall number of abilities. It functionally turns every single item that goes in an Azerite slot into a Legendary item, complete with the powers.

Yep, these guys totally were the sources of the mechanics. Credit or blame them.

How this addresses outstanding problems

The Heart of Azeroth system actually fixes up a lot of problems with existing systems, starting with the clumsy bits of the Artifact system. Artifacts have had to rely on Artifact Knowledge creating an ever-rising number of points per level as the next-level traits themselves scale up exponentially. Not so here; if the developers want to make it easier to pick up higher Heart levels, you can scale down the requirements for the next level rather than scaling up the experience rewarded. This also means that you don’t need separate consumable “Azerite” items because you only have one Heart of Azeroth item you’re leveling up across all specs, instead of the specific Artifacts.

It also subtly means that you don’t have to click through several dozen “improve this ability by 3%” traits to get one of the things that actually alters your playstyle. Each power is the equivalent of a Legendary ability or one of the powerful bordered traits on your Artifact; it should have a significant impact on your gameplay.

The system also fixes up the issues of the Legendary system, too. Before, you could be screwed out of the Legendary you needed because it just never dropped; the removal of that system and the addition of the Heart of Azeroth lets you pick your power among items you will always have. Especially since we’ve been told that items available in multiple tiers will have the same rings of power; you might not be raiding Mythic, but your shoulders from Raid Finder have the same mechanical choices of rings.

And last but not least, it calms the ever-present issue of trying to get excited about a new piece of armor. At least in a few slots, new armor means new powers, not just “and here’s two more of your primary stat.” That helps matters.

A lot is going to depend on implementation, of course, but from a preliminary standpoint it seems like a cool system. It’s being seen as a replacement to Artifacts, but mechanically, it’s more like a replacement to Legendaries and a way to address the imbalance of having certain “needed” item abilities that overpower stat balance. The whole thing that we’ve been shown so far is a bit on the abstract side, but hopefully we’ll all get a clearer picture in the next several months as we ramp up toward the expansion.

War never changes, but World of Warcraft does, with a decade of history and a huge footprint in the MMORPG industry. Join Eliot Lefebvre each week for a new installment of WoW Factor as he examines the enormous MMO, how it interacts with the larger world of online gaming, and what’s new in the worlds of Azeroth and Draenor.
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32 Comments on "WoW Factor: Understanding World of Warcraft’s upcoming Heart of Azeroth system"

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Jokerchyld

I still don’t understand how it works :(

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Dave

All I want to know is if Blizzard will ever introduce features in WoW that they will continue to build off in the next expansion. I love new features, but hate when old ones are abandoned for the new features.

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Rottenrotny

Doesn’t seem complicated.

Your neck is your new artifact. Level it and it unlocks stuff on the pieces of gear affected.

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Oleg Chebeneev

“You could often get Legendary items that had particular abilities on them that changed the whole way you played your spec. This problem has always existed in terms of set bonuses”.

Since when having ways to customize how you play is a problem or bad thing?

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Dasthug

Because it’s not actually customization, it’s static power increase. You either have the set bonus or you don’t. You either have the best in slot legendary items or you don’t. You aren’t making intelligent decisions about how you want to customize your character, you are just trying to get the right items to give you the most power.

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Space Captain Zor

“It’s been a long road
Getting from there to here
It’s been a long time
But my time is finally near
And I can feel the change in the wind right now
Nothing’s in my way
And they’re not gonna hold me down no more
No, they’re not gonna hold me down
‘Cause I’ve got faith of the heart
I’m going where my heart will take me
I’ve got faith to believe
I can do anything
I’ve got strength of the soul
And no one’s gonna bend or break me
I can reach any star
I’ve got faith
I’ve got faith, faith of the heart”

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Adam Babloyan

Thanks to Discovery, I’ve gotten my wife interested enough in Star Trek to start watching Enterprise. Just watched 2 episodes less than an hour ago…and I run into this post lol.

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bladeddingo

oh god, I’m re-watching all of Star Trek: Enterprise with my G/F on netflix who hasn’t seen it before and I can hear the damn music. shit… i can’t get it out of my head. WHY DID YOU DO THIS TO ME!

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Doubleplusgood

I find your abundance of faith disturbing

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Doubleplusgood

So everyone is going to be in power armor like iron man with our own arc reactor?

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Darkthunder

If the “Azerith” item was a Chestpiece item like Stark’s Arc Reactor, your analogy would be appropriate.

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Doubleplusgood

In this case it’s hanging around our neck. I’ll still be thinking my character is iron man.

Polyanna
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Polyanna

The concept is simpler than the somewhat strange UI for it makes it seem.

Conceptually you can think of it as a talent tree with three branches that unlocks when you start leveling up from 110, and which you level up through as the expansion goes on by doing pretty much any sort of endgame content.

Each branch has several levels or tiers that you unlock access to over time. At each level or tier you can choose one of several options, which all are closely related (i.e., all buffing one of damage or healing or survivability, but in contrasting ways that cater to different builds or playstyles).

The UI wrinkle is that each “branch” of the talent tree is tied to a specific armor slot. At Blizzcon they showed three slots being head, shoulders, and chest. Any head piece will have the same selection of tiers and talents, but higher item level pieces will have progressively stronger versions of the same powers.

They also suggested that as the expansion goes on they may introduce new powers, so it seems you also can swap out an entire branch by getting a new piece of armor, as new variants of the armor pieces for a slot are introduced later on.

The number of tiers accessible in all three branches scales with a single neck piece called the Heart of Azeroth, which you obtain at the start of the expansion and keep for the entire time. It’s the level of the amulet that controls what tiers are unlocked on all three armor slots. If you swap out a piece of armor, it’s instantly unlocked up to the same tier you already had, so no need to re-grind anything.

Also, Ion stated that the old RNG legendary system with pieces that drop from different sources is going away entirely. There won’t be Legion-style legendaries if BFA, and the Azerite Armor system + Heart of Azeroth rolls up everything they’ll be doing along the same lines as artifacts and legendaries from Legion into one system.

Overall it’s a great system and seems to combine the good bits from Legion’s endgame talent tree progression path into something that is simpler and better in every way.

davego
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davego

That’s my read on it as well, it is really just a talent tree, but tied to armor so come next expansion they just don’t have Azerite armor so it is an easily depreciated system.

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Hirku

I don’t have any experience with the old systems it’s replacing, but just on its own I like the sound of this. Choice and flexibility are always good. Thanks for the write up.

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Dug From The Earth

My only issue with legendaries is that they were RNG. My bear druid has only ever found 1 legendary. Its a bogus one at that. Because I cant find other legendaries, completing the mage tower trial for the cool bear form, isnt something ive been able to do. Chances are, i wont be able to do it before next expansion, which means ill never get that cool bear form. That has me kinda upset.

——

As for this new heart of azeroth system, here is the main problem I see happening :

You get an ilevel 1000 helmet. The first ring power you unlock, is something that does something you really enjoy, as well as boosting your ability to perform in raids and dungeons.

A week later, you get an ilevel 1100 helmet. The stats are clearly better on it, but the first ring power you can unlock doesnt have that power you enjoy from your current helmet.

So now you are actually contemplating keeping a much lower level item, because of the specific power it has, vs an obvious superior stat item. This isnt good imo.

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Reht

Unfortunately, you need to do more legendary-eligible content to increase your bad number protection, which increases your chance at getting a legendary over time and by completing eligible content: Dungeon bosses and Raid Bosses (any difficulty), world bosses, emissary caches, weekly chests, mythic+ chests, treasure chest in broken shores, battlegrounds, arenas, blingatron cache, etc. Haven’t seen an official list, but i have either heard these work from friends or seen them myself.

Nether disruptor caches used to go a long way towards increasing BNP (if you did all content + nether disruptor you could see a legendary about once every 7-10 days), but they nerfed that.

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Dug From The Earth

yeah, thats mostly the content I do (minus the nether disruptor). I just dont play every single day. I think that whatever bonus chance you get to a legendary dropping, goes away if you dont log in for a certain amount of time. At least, thats what it feels like for me.

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Reht

Don’t think it does, i got one the other day after not playing a character for a month or so. Maybe just really bad luck.

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Rick Mills

Nice explanation – I appreciate the thought that went into writing this article!

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mysecretid

Agreed. Good to have a quick summary which pulls together all the points. Thanks, Eliot!

styopa
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styopa

So…artifacts are this expansion’s garrisons? Something you were designed to spend all your time grinding and improving, only to have the devs completely abandon it to irrelevancy by the first green drop of the new expansion?

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Utakata

Every time I see the word “Azerite”…I can’t help think of that Goblin quest chain out in Azshara, where you had to pick up turds from rock giants for high grade explosive quest material with a similar name. /eww :(

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mysecretid

Blizzard and their poop quests — I will never understand it.

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Utakata

Now it sounds like its replacing Artifact Power for BfA. Watching players running around picking up giant poop to process for those epeen gear score meters. We couldn’t have a better /schadenfreude if it was only true. :)

Minimalistway
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Minimalistway

So i’m not alone noticing this! the “stuff” in Azshara zone called Azsharite, sounds the same for me :-)

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TheDonDude

I’m surprised they didn’t just go ahead and call it “Battle for Azerothite”.

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Utakata

Lol…for a moment there I though you said Azeroshite! o.O

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Bryan

Sounds good to this point. Seems like what they are likely to do is start with 3 pieces head, shoulders and chest but as expansion goes on they can add more such as pants, boots and gloves to increase choice and power if they so choose. Which of course gives you more reason to keep playing…

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Rodney Perry

The other slots could come from crafting.

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mysecretid

Indeed. Good point.

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