Endgame content, it’s the drive behind almost every modern Massively Multiplayer Online, or MMO. It’s the promised land of MMO’s, supposedly holding all the fun or interesting content, while the rest is a mix-mash grind of quests and leveling content. Some gamers are so dedicated, or despise leveling, that they take days off from work and life for binge sessions to reach max level as fast as possible. With such an importance placed on endgame content in MMO’s for players, the content needs to keep them coming back for more or face players quitting. That also includes the core of the game mechanics. If the mechanics don’t work and are tedious, then playing the content will feel more like a chore. Enter the Artifact Power system in World of Warcraft.
The system revolving around Artifact Weapons and Artifact Power in World of Warcraft (WoW) was one of the pivotal selling points of the current expansion pack, Legion. Each specialization of all the various classes would get their own unique weapon with origin stories to make them feel fleshed out and that your character held something truly powerful, not a wet noodle. There are several discussions that branch from this about class balance, how silly it is to see everyone running around with the same weapon, and how some of these powerful weapons never existed in the lore before, but we’re here to talk about the system that supports them. That system of course being Artifact Power (AP).
The simple description of AP is a system that represents character progression. Instead of classes getting new talents locked behind character level gates like in previous expansions, they are now locked behind AP gates on your weapon. With an original amount of 18 different talents there appeared to be a huge amount of new content added compared to other expansions. Horribly wrong. Most of the talents just added modifiers to existing abilities like increased damage or critical strike chance. Of the talents that did add new abilities, some weren’t even under the player’s control. There would be a chance the extra ability would activate upon a certain action and that’s it. In all fairness, I understand that having too many abilities is overwhelming and will devolve the game into players watching when they can use abilities rather than the actual gameplay.
Despite the problems with the talents, there remains obtaining them. Unlocking talents requires a great deal of AP, especially because the amount required is not linear but multiplicative. There’s a system called Artifact Knowledge that does increase your AP gains multiplicatively as well, but nowhere near the same scale. Unlocking all your talents quickly becomes a tremendous undertaking, especially because the final trait has multiple levels and is a great power boost. Obtaining better gear is still extremely important, but the current importance of AP feels like gear takes a back seat at times. For instance, there are groups formed for the sole purpose of doing the easier raids to farm AP. The groups rush through as fast as possible so as not to waste time on old content, but that’s the problem right there. They obviously don’t want to be there, but they’re still compelled to farm their AP. There’s other content called World Quests that populate the world and give random rewards, chief among them is AP. The quests are rehashes of leveling quests, the same content people rushed through to get to endgame content. Here they are again doing content they hate simply because of AP.
People being compelled to do content they dislike isn’t a smart business plan. There’s the obvious statement of “Well, just don’t do that content,” but the sad thing is there really isn’t much else to do. You are forced to obtain AP to progress your character. You can do most content after a while if you play casually, but then you’re left looking to the next challenge. That challenge might require more gear, and you guessed it, more AP. Let me clarify that gear still trumps AP and is a huge defining factor for what content you can reasonably complete. However, AP can really give you that boost to put victory in your grasp. Knowing that fact puts it in your best interest to obtain more. That throws you back in the loop of doing content most people despise to progress. A core gameplay mechanic that has so much negative connotation involved is doomed to fail.
AP remains a very controversial issue within the game. Blizzard, WoW’s developer, isn’t even sure how they will handle Artifact Weapons and AP in the next expansion. If the system is kept, my suggestion is simple: don’t have a talent that has several levels and the endless hours of grinding AP that comes with it. Better yet, define a reasonably easy point to reach in terms of empowering your weapon with AP. After that, turn the talents that require ludicrous of amounts of AP into cosmetic rewards only. People love nothing more than to showboat their accomplishments, including how many endless hours they put into grinding AP. Until then, we’re left with a system that’s crucial to gameplay, but one that most people despise.