Last Friday night, a cry of joy went out! Azerite is fixed, and here is how it is done!
…there’s a vendor.
Don’t let my jokey setup fool you, though – this is a legitimately great first step towards a better means of Azerite Armor acquisition. What is the fix? Well, to summarize:
-Mythic Plus end caches still won’t drop Azerite
-The weekly cache will not drop them anymore either, come 8.1
-Completing a Mythic Plus means your cache will have an item plus some unnamed currency, with the currency scaling up exponentially based on the highest level Mythic Plus you completed, with the scaling advertised as “three times as much currency for finishing a +10 over a +7”
-Azerite Armor dropped post-8.1 from ANY source can be scrapped for this currency as well, provided the item is at least epic quality
-The currency is used with a vendor to buy two different basic options – a cache at a fixed item level and slot, with item levels offered being the ones that are much harder to get (355/370/385), and the goal being that every 2-3 weeks, you can buy a cache of an item level “appropriate” to your level of Mythic Plus progression. The second option is specific pieces from the dungeon loot tables at 385, which will be at a “premium” and while that premium has not been discussed, the words “long-term goal” have been used
-PvP options are “being discussed”
So, most of this is very welcome! With the Emissary fix, Azerite acquisition has gotten slightly better, but there was a definite gap in acquisition for Mythic Plus players. This fix actually offers a good compromise between the Blizzard position at launch (random caches offering that same chance at a larger pool of possible options, but being earned at a fair-enough pace) and the player desire as stated in many public forums and posts (currency system, targeted acquisition to maximize for BiS traits).
Pre-Blizzcon, this is a bit of well-received news, which has, to the playerbase’s credit, largely been praised. However, this points to something of a larger issue that those of us who’ve played for longer have with modern Blizzard designs – the steady insistence on removing progression gearing via currency.
To visit this topic in-depth, we need to go way back, 11 years back, to a place called Shattrath and an expansion called The Burning Crusade.
A Humble Beginning For Currency – Badges of Justice
TBC brought in the beginning of the Badge/Emblem system, with the option for progression gear to be bought via a currency system. Heroics and raid bosses in TBC dropped Badges of Justice, allowing you to save up and purchase selected slots of gear that were equivalent to drops you could receive in Karazhan. This was a great option added to gearing that many players loved, and offered a means for those doing that harder PvE content to receive some upgrades that RNG may not have blessed them with. It actually remained at this low level of reward until the end of the expansion, as 2.4 brough Sunwell and with it, new vendors on the Isle of Quel’Danas that offered Tier 4 equivalent gear and some Tier 4 pieces even! This was the blueprint that carried over into the golden era of currency systems, Wrath of the Lich King.
The Frozen Wastes Are Filled With Emblems, It Turns Out
Progression in Wrath offered a modified version of the emblems from TBC, with the welcome addition of consistent upgrades to what was badge available. In many ways, it was a predecessor to Legion just flatly upgrading the item levels of dungeon drops. While Wrath maintained dungeon drops at the same item level, new dungeons added throughout the lifespan of the expansion upgraded their item levels, allowing you upgrades, and as that happened, the level of Emblems offered changed as well. What started with Emblems of Heroism and Emblems of Valor led to Emblems of Conquest for Ulduar, to Emblems of Triumph for Trial of the Crusader, to Emblems of Frost for Icecrown Citadel. With these, the rewards from Heroic dungeons went up all the way to Triumph, allowing you to buy Trial of Crusader gear on a reliable timetable you could rush, and the daily random Heroic reward, along with Icecrown Citadel bosses and weekly raid quests, dropping Emblems of Frost, allowing you to purchase Icecrown Citadel gear on a slower timetable. Overall, this gearing system offered something that was pretty awesome – the rewards for Heroics were relevant largely through the expansion, and while the power floor crept up throughout the expansion, it did not do so as quickly. If you wanted ideal drops at the tail end of the expansion, you still wanted to be running the ICC heroic dungeons, coupled with your random dailies, and ICC raiding, in order to maximize your gearing, but you could play at a more relaxed pace and still acquire a decent amount of tier armor and 264 pieces equivalent to the 25 player version of the ICC raid.
For Valor And Justice, A Simpler System
Cataclysm brought a few major changes to the endgame currency scene. Gone were emblems upgrading every tier, and in their place came two types of points – Justice Points and Valor Points. Justice Points were the training wheels of currency, used for Heroic dungeon level gear and then prior raid tier Valor gear, as new tiers started to roll out, while Valor was used to purchase the current raid tier’s currency gear. The system continued to offer many of the same slots as it did under Emblems in Wrath, with two pieces of Tier armor, usually a meh trinket, and a few slots mixed between high-value and low-value armor. However, the best changes were made to acquisition – you could now run 7 Heroic dungeons per week and receive a Valor reward, rather than one a day, which allowed you to front-load your dungeons (ideal to get those last few points prior to raid night) or back-load them if you were catching up from being out for a week. The only caps in place were raid lockouts, the 7 random Heroic limit, and a weekly acquisition cap of 1,000 Valor Points. With pretty much all gear coming in over that limit, it meant you would need at least two weeks minimum to grab a piece, but that was a good thing, in my opinion. Gear acquisition in Cataclysm was very well paced, with a mix of rewards from Heroic dungeons, especially patched in dungeons, raiding gear, and the slow trickle of Valor Point gear offering a lot of benefit. As new patches came out with raids, Valor would simply exchange to Justice Points up to a maximum Justice Point amount of 4,000, at which point you’d get some gold for conversion. This system was clean, and I would argue, the best currency-based reward system in WoW. You had clear rewards, with good variety, clear means of acquisition and completely transparent interactions – bosses dropped a consistent number of VP, Heroic Dungeons run randomly offered a consistent reward, and you could map your pace at any point in time. If a gear drop in raid changed your strategy, no big deal, you could pivot easily with your banked points to a different piece to fill the next highest-priority deficiency in your gearing strategy. It gave players a ton of agency too, something that is crucial in such a system. You had complete control over how you got the points, and with a 1,000 Valor Point cap, the system was very respectful of your time. You could, eventually, switch to capping solely from raiding, once your guild was far enough in to the new content. You could opt to run 7 random Heroics back-to-back on reset day to push your VP high enough to buy a new piece, or you could opt to wait for the weekend. Rather than feeling forced to log on daily, or even every 3 days, you could, theoretically, log on once a week, do a raid and a few random Heroics, and still be making steady progress towards progressing your character.
The Mists Were Hiding – An Island, and A Lot of Valor
Mists of Pandaria, for its part, did not push too much on the point systems established in Cataclysm – at first glance. The emphasis remained on being able to purchase blue-quality gear with Justice Points, but this time the gear was item level 450 (at that time), equivalent to the drops from Normal dungeons. There were also several cosmetic items one could buy with them, but their purpose largely died in Cataclysm. They were, however, still slightly useful for Heirloom gear purchases and prior-expansion currency gear for transmog! Valor, however, hoo boy. Valor changed – a LOT – in Mists of Pandaria. Rather than being limited to just dungeon and raid modes of acquisition, pretty much everything you could do at endgame gave you Valor Points. You got them for:
-doing daily quests (5 points at a time)
-doing heroic dungeons (30 at a time)
-challenge mode dungeons
-daily challenge mode quests
-cloud serpent racing
No joke, just about everything you could do in endgame showered you with Valor Points. To begin with, they were capped just the same at 1,000, but a buff called Valor of the Ancients made it so that capping on one character increased acquisition account-wide by 50%, allowing you to maintain multiple characters at once. In addition to being used to buy basic epic gear from vendors (reputation-locked vendors this time), they could also, at specific points in the patch cycles of MoP, be used to upgrade gear item level in increments of 4 item levels, either twice or four times, eventually landing the gear at 8 or 16 item levels of improvement.
While the acquisition of Justice and Valor Points was, I think, improved in Mists of Pandaria, it ultimately wasn’t as robust a system. Justice had little clear purpose until patch 5.4, when the launch gear was finally marked up in point cost but then converted to Justice Points rather than Valor. There wasn’t much in the way of cosmetics, so the primary use for Justice was simply buying old gear for transmog looks, heirlooms, or just sitting on it. Valor, on the other hand, was getting a lot of use, and it did make engaging with the myriad of dailies more interesting.
Warlords of Draenor and the War on Currency
Mists of Pandaria had two obvious, large lessons Blizzard took away – daily quests are bad (not necessarily) and currencies need improvement. Fair enough – Mists could see you doing up to 48 daily quests PER DAY, and the two currency system failed in MoP to make Justice Points seem worthwhile.
So what was the solution? One daily quest a day at launch (the garrison scouting report), which could have multiple objectives and means of completion, chosen from two choices, and as for currencies, Apexis Crystals became the currency of choice.
How bad was this at launch? Well, adding to the feeling of lacking endgame content, having one daily to do every day kind of sucked. The reward was Apexis Crystals, and as a currency at launch, it failed to offer much of anything. There was a decent selection of gear, but the costs were completely unbalanced and by the time you could buy even basic pieces of gear, it was likely you’d already gotten better than the vendor. The daily rewarded around 800 crystals, with the cheapest single piece of gear, bracers, costing 3,000 for an item level 630 piece, equivalent to Draenor Heroics. Okay, fair enough, that’s not too bad. But you could then upgrade those pieces to higher item levels, first to Highmaul LFR 640 by trading the original piece and a veritable bounty of Apexis, and then to 655 (Highmaul Normal) by trading the 640 piece and yet even more Apexis. How bad was the cost? Let’s look at our bracers. The base 630 costs 3,000, the 640 upgrade costs 9,000 MORE, and the 655 upgrade is another 14,500 on top of that. What? You would need to spend a grand total of 26,500 Apexis to purchase a 655 set of bracers alone. By my math, that is 34 days of daily content, rounded up. For BRACERS. It’s 10,000 Apexis more to do the same with a high value slot, like helms or legs. Not to mention that unless you buy the whole chain in a single vendor transaction, you are committing your Apexis to that path for a long time. If you buy the 630 bracers, intending to upgrade them over a few weeks, well, if Blackrock Foundry drops a 670 bracer set, well, those Apexis Crystals are down the drain. Your only means of acquiring them at launch was the daily quest option for 800-1,000 (if you did a group-required objective or PvP), rare mob killing for anemic drops of Apexis, and a few select other activities that popped up with invisible indicators of activity, like Garrison Invasions. Oh, and you also need 4,986 of them to do the legendary ring quest, which, you had better believe, you’re going to be doing if you want to raid by the time Hellfire Citadel comes out. Oh, and also, they are the best means by which you could purchase the reroll seals for raid content. Yikes.
Patch 6.2, to Blizzard’s credit, did change this up, with Tanaan Jungle offering a more traditional mode of daily quest content, and an accompanying large amount of Apexis via new rares that were much more generous, as quest rewards, and via the Garrison Mission Table. With this, however, also came Baleful tokens, a catchup mechanic similar to that of Timeless Armor Caches from late Mists and the blueprint of Relinquished gear during Legion. These tokens were specific slots, but random secondary stats, so you could grab a 650 piece to fill in any deficient slots on your alts or main to get caught up to run more content. With purchaseable upgrade tokens, you could also get the Baleful gear to 695, matching the drops from normal Hellfire Citadel.
While late WoD Apexis was, in fairness, pretty okay, overall, currencies had been kneecapped coming into WoD, and the lesson coming out was to do less currency. This led to Legion and the weirdness of having Nethershards on Broken Shore and Veiled Argunite on Argus, systems that worked to tie the gear mechanisms to the current content. The Baleful system turned into the Dauntless/Unsullied tokens, alongside the new Relinquished system, offering catchup gear with random secondary stats, as well as the option to buy a slot and grab anything out of the prior-content loot table of the expansion, scaled to a fixed item level of either 880 (for 7.2) or 910 (for 7.3).
Now we must speak to Mists of Pandaria and how it marked the beginning of the end of currency, at least in the player-friendly, completely transparent mechanisms we’d grown accustomed to. I think it is easy to say that current gearing isn’t so bad, and here’s the thing – that is true! Gear rains from the sky, and nearly everything you do just gives you a piece of gear. What is lacking, however, is player agency. You can’t often target specific slots. When you can, you can’t guarantee the drop will be better or worse. If a world quest pops up in modern WoW with a 325 trinket reward, you might not do it, since you have 340 trinkets, but the possibility exists that in so doing, you have passed on an upgrade, as that piece could have (possibly) Titanforged into something more powerful, maybe even much more powerful.
The larger problem, however, is that randomness. While systems like Relinquished tokens offer some player agency (you can target a slot, any slot, at a consistent price!), they also take away options that were previously available by knowing what the gear offered. Valor trinkets weren’t often very good, but I knew exactly what they were prior to purchase, I could simulate their effect on my performance, and with that, I could make an informed gear purchase. Same goes for much of the vendor gear that marked earlier expansions – I knew what I was getting, and could decide which of the two chest pieces offered me the best boost. While that wasn’t the case for everyone due to stat reasons (plate gear was usually tank with defense rating/DPS without defensive stats), as a Priest healer, I could choose a Spirit piece, or, with high enough mana regen, pick a piece with Crit and Haste instead, when that choice was available in a given slot. The current token systems remove the agency and replace it with the slot machine feeling that has permeated far too much of the game – caches can be fun, in measured doses, but when every mechanic in the game feels like a slot machine, it sucks, frankly. I live in Nevada, where gambling is, across the board, legal, and so having grown up here, I have no real fondness for gambling (the buffet options at many casinos, on the other hand…).
That is why I find it necessary to commend Blizzard for having made a basic move of goodwill here. Yes, there is a compromise to the slot machine with caches, but it restores some degree of player agency in slot choice via Mythic Plus (the first time you’ve been able to target gear in a weekly cache with that degree of precision), and it offers full agency at the 385 pieces, which is fantastic. The full praise must wait for more details, however – until costs and balancing are known variables, the system cannot be universally lauded.
My hope for the game is this – it is fine if you want to keep some slot machine elements in, Blizzard. I get it – I love Diablo too. However, I have Diablo installed, both 2 and 3. If I want completely random gear raining from the sky, I can play Diablo. What I want in WoW is progression, with full agency, choice, and multiple paths to take, with meaningful ways for me to work towards those goals of progression. I have, in effect, made up my own reward loop by playing in Battle for Azeroth. Every week, some guildies and I run a Mythic Plus 10 keystone, whatever the best one our ragtag group has. We don’t push for time, and in fact, most of these have taken between 60-110 minutes. But the agency it offers us, as Heroic raiders, is an upgrade path that is nearly guaranteed – that end cache will have a 370 piece or two in it, and that is item level equivalent to Heroic, but the weekly cache will have at least a 380 in it, which gives us some degree of agency back. If we want to be able to semi-consistently guarantee an upgrade, well, we know that weekly cache will work. All we have to do is complete the dungeon. But it feels bad, sometimes, toughing it out through an affix set like Sanguine/Grievous last week, and then to not get an actual upgrade because the slot machine lucked us out some other place. As we do more of these dungeon runs, the potential that all of us fail to get an upgrade approaches 100%, and when that happens, what will we do then with that 60-110 minutes per week?
Currencies for Azerite armor is a fantastic first step, Blizzard. Please, don’t let it be the only one.