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World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth’s Azerite trait system doesn’t feel ready, and that’s OK

World of Warcraft has always been about more than one system

A World of Warcraft: Legion screenshot shows characters firing attacks at one another
Ryan Gilliam (he/him) has worked at Polygon for nearly seven years. He primarily spends his time writing guides for massively popular games like Diablo 4 & Destiny 2.

The best and worst parts of World of Warcraft’s sixth expansion, Legion, stemmed from the Artifact system. Each specialization had their own, super-powered weapon that they would progressively level up over the course of the expansion. In Battle for Azeroth, this Artifact system is replaced by something a little less grindy: the Heart of Azeroth. But unlike the Artifact weapons, the traits launching for the Heart don’t have the same impact on each character class.

The Artifacts felt powerful, and each new level was necessary to push into the game’s hardest content. Casual players could stroll through their Artifact leveling system, while raiders and top-tier players were forced to grind in order to stay competitive. Players ran Maw of Souls — a very short dungeon in Legion — hundreds of times in order to level up their weapons faster than Blizzard intended.

But instead of having an infinitely leveling weapon, the Heart of Azeroth is used to power up Azerite armor. As the necklace levels up — by collecting individual experience points for it, much like the Artifact — it’s able to power higher level pieces of gear. Azerite armor — found in helmet, shoulder, and chest pieces — have tiered traits on them. Each trait requires a certain level Heart of Azeroth to power it. Once you’ve powered all your traits, leveling up your Heart is only preparation for future armor pieces.

While considerably less grindy than Legion’s Artifact, the Heart of Azeroth doesn’t feel ready for launch, at least considering what I’ve played on the beta. The new traits feel like small bonuses with Azerite gear, rather than rotation transforming upgrades like they were with the Artifacts in Legion.

Each trait is almost entirely passive. A World of Warcraft YouTuber and streamer, Preach, created a spreadsheet categorizing the Azerite traits based on their rotational impact. (Warning: The channel linked here include strong, inflammatory language.) Many of these traits, as pointed out by Preach, are entirely passive or will only enhance your rotation, rewarding you for what you’ve been doing on your own for years.

In my own beta testing, I came across only handful of traits that really changed the way my class played. When testing a Warlock only days ago, I came across a trait called Chaotic Inferno. This gave my Chaos Bolt extra damage and a 25 percent chance to make another spell cast instantly, instead of having a cast time. Of all the Azerite traits I’ve come across in my many beta characters, Chaos Inferno is one of the more interesting ones I’ve seen, despite only having a 25 percent chance to do anything at all.

Azerite traits have a lot to live up to. Not only are they replacing the extremely impactful Artifact weapon system, they’re also replacing set bonuses in raids — a collection of armor pieces that, when worn together, give bonus abilities. There is an Artifact weapon shaped hole in each class going into Battle for Azeroth, and the Heart of Azeroth isn’t enough to fill it at the moment.

However, all of this is OK. From what I’ve tested, Battle for Azeroth is looking very promising. If the Heart of Azeroth comes out with mostly useless traits for now, players may not be as excited about the system, but they’ll live with all the other great content to play through.

The Heart of Azeroth is flexible, seemingly by design. Blizzard can jump in each patch and re-tool or change whatever they want. They can add new armor slots as Azerite pieces, new trees, new abilities, class specific traits on the necklace itself, who knows? The Heart of Azeroth has the potential to change drastically over the course of the next two years.

During Legion, the Artifact weapon system evolved considerably. I feel confident that Blizzard intends to do that same with the Heart of Azeroth, although they’re starting at a much lower point in Battle for Azeroth.

Everything about this new system feels like a test, like something that Blizzard wants in the hands of players before making any drastic swings in one direction or the other. Rather than repeat the mistakes of Legion, Blizzard seems to be playing it safe with Azerite until they can figure out how players will engage with it on a larger scale.

But World of Warcraft is and always has been about much more than one system. Any disappointment I feel about the Heart of Azeroth quickly fades when compared with the rest of the expansion’s offerings. I’m confident that the Heart will become more interesting over time, but even if I’m wrong, Blizzard has still created a system that will hold my attention for the next two years

The next level of puzzles.

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