In the latest alpha build for World of Warcraft's Battle for Azeroth expansion, Blizzard Entertainment finally added the Heart of Azeroth gear system for testing. The system underpins the gear mechanics for the entire expansion. Players will feed the Heart of Azeroth neckpiece the new Azerite resource; as the necklace absorbs more Azerite, you can unlock new traits in specific pieces of gear.
The first pass at Azerite gear in the alpha feels less than adequate for veteran WoW players. The Heart of Azeroth system is meant to partially replace the Legion expansion's Artifact weapon traits, but players are already stating that the traits available on the Azerite test gear aren't as interesting as what's being lost. Alpha players also noted that was no way to change your Azerite gear: once you make a choice in alpha, the gear is locked in that configuration.
With those need details in hand, USgamer sat down with Battle for Azeroth Lead Encounter Designer Morgan Day to get some clarification on Azerite gear and what kind of flexibility players can expect in the upcoming expansion.
Day was quick to note that what players are seeing in the latest alpha patch is only the beginning of what Blizzard is planning for Battle of Azeroth. It's one early chest piece, not the wide variety of gear that will eventually be available.
"Something to consider when looking at that system as a whole is that right now everyone has seen one piece of armor. That's literally just dipping your toes into the water," Day explained to USgamer. "There's gonna be a lot of different pieces of gear. Right now everyone is looking at this discrete piece of armor and thinking, 'How many choices do I have with this one piece?' We really feel once people get their hands on more pieces of armor they'll really start to feel differently about it."
One of the issues with Legion was the inability to work your way towards the gear you wanted. Outside of specific random-drop gear in raids, players had to hope the Legendary pieces they needs dropped from other endgame content. It wasn't until the addition of Wakening Essences in Legion patch 7.3.2 that players could work their way towards specific Legendary gear. The Azerite gear is meant to remove some of the randomness from gearing up.
"Another thing to consider that they aren't randomized in any way, and the Azerite chest you see—for instance the intro one—that's always the same chest because those differing powers are fixed," said Day. "And when they look at the choices on the individual piece, the way I would consider it would be, 'What about this chest piece, versus this chest piece, versus this third or fourth chest piece.'
Currently on alpha, respecs aren't allowed on Azerite gear, but Day says Blizzard will allow players to change their gear. What's up for discussion is the frequency of those changes.
"There will be the ability to pick a different trait. We don't want people to feel like it's a permanent choice, and if they pick this selection they'll need to get an entirely new piece. We want people to be able to change that," said Day. "In terms of the frequency of when people will be allowed, we're not quite sure. That will be something we're experimenting with as we go through the alpha as well as the beta."
A number of players have compared the new Azerite gear to the Netherlight Crucible introduced in Patch 7.3. The Crucible allows players to customize the Relics slotted into their Artifact Weapons. The problems with the system were two-fold: Relic traits were random and once you made a choice, you were locked in. Day said the system here is different because the Azerite gear isn't randomized.
"We like to try features out, learn a lot, iterate on them, and come back with new options. So one of the changes we made that players might not have noticed is that, with the Netherlight Crucible, when you got a new relic, the traits that were associated with it were randomized," Day explained. "With Azerite Armor, though, it's hand-crafted. They're all going to be discrete pieces, and they're very much grounded in what you're used to seeing in World of WarCraft. So that's one of the bigger distinctions we see there."
Blizzard wants players to be able to plan out their gear hunting in Battle for Azeroth.
"You also can't WarForge or Titanforge them—what you see is what you get. An Azerite piece will always be the same level, and a lot of that is based on player feedback. You know, they're not always excited to fish for the correct thing. If you want a specific breastplate, you can go get it."
We'll have a lengthier interview with Day going up on USgamer at a later date. In the meantime, Blizzard Entertainment also hit us with the release date for the expansion. Players can pre-order Battle for Azeroth right now in physical and digital editions, with a release date of August 14, 2018.