Legion brought Artifact weapons which were pretty darn amazing. They generally had some link to the overall lore. They looked pretty darn good. The best/worst part was the set of passive buffs that the weapons applied, that certainly modified your playstyle. Heck, you needed them to make the class even mildly relevant. To get access to those buffs, you needed Artifact Power (AP) to get more points to invest in the weapon. It turned the focus of the to have an AP farm as a priority – at least until you reached the “necessary” buffs. It took a few weeks effort on a given class. Maxing a weapon took longer.
There was a catch-up mechanic, called Artifact Knowledge (AK). But you needed to play in order to research AK. Say you come back after a month, it may take a week to get the AK back to where it needed to be. At higher AK levels… you would get billions of AP.
The system wasn’t so much broken, but had issues with incentives. With high level gear, AP was the only target.
Late in Legion, they simply gave everyone max AK. Then launched a system called Netherlight Crucible. This gave a left/right tree of choices of passive buffs to the artifact weapons. Say an fist attack would do extra damage, or heals would double click. Math showed that some of these buffs were massively better than others, and they were randomly assigned to gear. You may have gotten a super max level boost to the weapon, but the passive buffs weren’t any good.
The concept made sense, the implementation just needed some tweaking. AP is still there. It still acts as a gating mechanism for passive buffs. You have a necklace and it gains AP, levels up in rank, and gives some minor stat buffs.
The previous AK/AP issue of farming is address by the requirement for the next rank of AP dropping by 30% every week. The AP drops in the world remain the same number, you just need less for each rank.
The ranks are required to unlock passive buffs on Azerite gear (head, chest, shoulders). there are 2-3 buffs per piece, depending on quality. You need higher ranks of Azerite in order to access more of those buffs – very similar to the AP system in Legion. The road to 120 should get you enough AP to use all the dungeon gear you find. The folks who are raiding mythic (when it’s eventually unlocked) should be able to unlock most of the buffs. That means the motivation to farm AP is dramatically dropped.
The next gap was the set of passive buffs and the randomness of those buffs. It would appear that now the buffs are set in the gear before it drops. So if you’re looking for a specific set of passives, look for areas that drop that specific piece of gear. It’s less useful while leveling where you’re replacing gear, and some passives are much more fun than others. The real test will be in dungeons, where an item may be a generic power upgrade (ilvl) but the passives are less useful.
Time Will Tell
I do think that the worst parts of AP/artifacts are addressed in BfA. Rather than AP being the only focus, there are clear diminishing returns (30% reduction per week) and a whole lot less randomness to the effects on gear. Curious to see how this plays out after 4-6 weeks.