I feel like it is safe to say that Blizzard isn’t really a fan of split-raiding.
So I don’t think there is much surprise when you see the way they are responding to questions regarding Artifact Power, Artifact Knowledge, and people’s innate desire to grind these systems to death, even if that grind also wears thin their desire to play the game at all.
Legion has seen several high-end guilds announce complete retirement, or retirement from the world-first race. A lot of these guilds are tracing the source of that burnout to grinds or RNG – usually the AP grind, or legendaries.
I do think that, whether intentional or not, this is Blizzard’s fix for split raiding. They’ve expressed a degree of unhappiness that top-end raiders tend to split raid, and that in addition to tuning classes, specs, and encounters to “require” it less, the grind of Legion is forcing people out of the game at the top-end, which is reducing the prevalence of split raiding at least somewhat.
(If you haven’t heard the term before, split raiding is the common practice of high-end guilds maintaining multiple characters at a competitive level per player, swapping them out as needed on a per-fight basis, and running all of the characters through raids on a weekly basis.)
in Warlords of Draenor, split raiding kept high-end raiders engaged with the game at almost zero effort. There were no real mandatory grinds, gear was the only grind, and that was something split raiding addressed very well. Legion, however, has substantially upped the ante on what is “required” to keep competitive. But I think some perspective may be needed here.
So What Is “Required,” Anyways?
Progression mythic raiders, your world-first racers, define required in a way that has demanded me using quotation marks until this point. Required, from a casual point of view, is that your artifact traits are spent, you have gear appropriate for your role and spec that is enchanted, gemmed as needed, and is repaired. You should have consumables, although how many and what you need tends to vary by your raid’s level of commitment. In my guild, we expect people to have flasks, but we supply the alchemy cauldron so people can have them as needed. We expect people to have potions, and try to have those too, via Potions of Prolonged Power (which sounds vaguely like a thing you’d buy from an online supplement shop for Valentine’s Day, but hey!). We hope and expect that people will eat buff food of some sort, but generally, none of these things are hard requirements, and that is because we push Normals first and primarily.
For a mythic guild, the burden of consumables alone is food, potions, flasks, runes, and all of these, in abundance, supplied yourself. On top of this, plus gems and enchants, you add in the artifact systems, and it has become quite common for mythic raiders to spend hours farming Mythic Keystone dungeons, raids on all difficulties, daily heroic dungeons, and world quests, simply to get their weapon as highly powered as quickly as possible. This doesn’t sound that bad, but for a mythic raider, the burden was to reach 54 points as quickly as possible. Early mythic fights were not tuned to this level of power, and so we saw Emerald Nightmare fall very quickly on mythic, as the raiders who had farmed far beyond the power requirement of the raid turned out to be far above the standard Blizzard expected. Trial of Valor remedied this and was tuned remarkably well for where Mythic guilds were at the time of its release.
Nighthold has been far more challenging, as it appears to be tuned with tight DPS checks, expecting raids filled with top rate players and 54 point artifact weapons. This has proven to be the breaking point for guilds burning out. The grind to 54 is arduous, filled with either lots of quick grinding, or a slow climb to power. If you’re like me and my guildies, this system serves its purpose – we don’t feel required to grind out the power to race to the top, and the tokens we do get serve as positive reinforcement for play. Even if I don’t get loot from our weekly Nighthold runs, I do get a decent amount of Artifact Power (especially post-hotfix) and this feels like an empowering reward. I can get a new rank of my Paragon trait every week, and so with each week’s new raid, I feel more capable and powerful, on top of new gear rewards and the increasing comfort I feel with each fight.
However, for mythic raiders, this has led to the issue of “Maw counting.” Basically, how many Maw of Souls keystone runs does one person have to do to max out a weapon? There are calculators and everything out there! Mythic Keystone is fun, raiding is fun, and the artifact systems are generally pretty cool, but the convergence of these systems, for mythic raiders, means hours spent outside of raid farming AP. Multiply that time now, times the number of toons you are maintaining for your raid, and you can see an obvious problem.
What Is Blizzard Doing About This?
In short, not much if you’re a mythic raider. For players like me who like AP and the artifact system as a whole, taking it relatively leisurely – we get more traits to put points into. We get 4 ranks for our big throughput increases (and those few oddball traits that create new gameplay interactions). But for mythic raiders, there is a massive new hill to climb, and its name is Concordance of the Legionfall.
This is the new, Paragon-styled, 20 point trait at the end of the line for your artifact progression. This trait, rather than a flat damage/armor/healing increase, instead grants a random effect that grants a very large amount of your primary stat, with ever-increasing amounts of stats via that proc as your points in the trait increase. The intention behind shifting away from the original percentage trait to this is to combat the perception of requirement behind farming it. It’s less traceable as the source of a 1% wipe than the original paragon trait was, the benefit it provides, while huge, is far less stable and consistent, and the cost of the trait is balanced around the new Artifact Knowledge cap of 40, so it’s expected that most people won’t be but 1 or 2 points into it come Tomb of Sargeras.
The problem here lies again with community perception – while Blizzard is balancing around it not being at rank 20, and even if everyone in a raid had it at rank 20, the effect is not nearly as noticeable, but if you’re a mythic raider – you’re going to be pushing hard towards maxing it out as soon as possible. I think Blizzard is trying to do a good thing here, and again, for a player such as myself, it’ll be a while before I chase this down. For me, that is a good thing – I’m not going to need to push tons of Keystone dungeons out, raid on 4 difficulties a week, or do anything that time-consuming. For a mythic raider, though – even if Blizzard tells them it’s not needed, and proves it via encounter design and tuning – you have dangled a power increase in front of the most competitive of players. They are going to take it, even if it isn’t strictly as powerful as the current paragon traits.
I do worry how much this is going to harm the artifact system in the long run, though. When we go to Argus, will we be doing some new additional empowerment, gaining 5 point traits in the base weapon, replacing Concordance of the Legionfall with some new infinte sinkhole of AP that fucks with our character development for the sake of tuning? Will this type of tuning affect our ability to do prior encounters? Nighthold is balanced around the current paragon traits, and if we empower our weapons while we are still doing Nighthold, will we suddenly find ourselves incapable of meeting certain DPS checks?
I like the current artifact system as-is, but I can see why it is riddled with problems at multiple levels. I also worry that by trying to continue that sense of perpetual character empowerment, Blizzard may be building a disaster of tuning problems for themselves, all for the sake of fixing the very tuning problem that the artifacts first presented.
I like the idea of the artifact evolving over time, but I fear that by constantly swapping out the infinite trait, there will be a myriad of problems that will manifest in this way.
I also fear never seeing trait 54 before 7.2.
What? I like armor.