When Legion was announced, my biggest point of contention was the Artifact system. Coming from an RP-heavy background, you can likely understand my disapproval of everyone getting an Ashbringer of their own. Now that I’ve had some time to play Legion, as well as having raised three characters up to Legion-level content, my opinion on artifacts is quite polarizing. In my mind, they’re the best part of Legion as well as the worst.
Before I begin: The artifact system, for the unaware, is a system in Legion where you’re given a legendary weapon. Rather than hand-off weapons whenever an upgrade is available, you will instead work towards upgrading and improving your weapon until it’s suitably legendary and powerful. This includes a weapon for each spec, a talent tree for each weapon and slots for artifact-improvements.
As I talked about in a previous article, Warcraft has slowly been pushing players towards being a star-hero in the lore. Whereas once you were a random nobody adventurer, just another face in the crowd, now you’re a bastion of heroic power and a champion of your respective faction. Nowhere is this more apparent than the artifact system.
One of the core principals of major figures is that their weapon. Arthas has Frostmourne, Illidan has his glaives, Varian had his swords, Thrall has Doomhammer. By giving us a weapon that we use throughout the expansion, we grow attached to it. We see this powerful weapon rise and improve to levels beyond where it could have been. The artifact becomes a symbol of your character and heroic might.
In addition, the system itself is lenient enough that you can modify the appearance. While there’s a charm to holding Ashbringer, maybe you prefer another weapon? The countless appearances and transmog applications truly covers up some of the issue with the weapon having a same-y feel to it.
Perhaps most importantly, these weapons exude power in both lore and gameplay sense. In powering up your artifact, you’ll gain talents and modify your playstyle to the point where you are doing far more than you ever were before. Demons turn to ash when you strike them with the Ashbringer. Trolls run when you hold Strom’kar. Highmountain Tauren greet you with respect when you hold Talonclaw.
The system is far better than I imagined it to be…and yet…
Let me clear up some small complaints I have first: Off-speccing feels almost impossible due to artifact power restrains. Yes, artifact knowledge helps, but it’s still a pain and takes longer than grabbing a new sword. Artifact alternate appearances range from incredible questlines to random drop slogs. All together, these small complaints pale in comparison to the biggest complaint. Which, sadly, also happened to be my biggest worry.
If you recall, there was a questline in reforging Quel’delar. Once you remade this incredible sword, you would be its wielder...provided you could use swords. If not? You were given a mace and told that your faction would hold onto it until it’s user came forward. “Grab a mace from the mace pile”, I used to joke.
Despite all my praise, artifacts still fall into the same two problems I feared: First, they all feel similar and lose their luster when everyone is holding the same one. Secondly, many of them feel phoned in.
The first complaint touches on the hero aspect. When everyone is a hero, it loses the special nature. We’re all holding Doomhammer, what’s the point? We’re all the leader of the Silver Hand, the Huntsmaster of the Unseen Path, so on and so forth. It’s something you cannot escape when you consider giving people legendary weapons.
That’s when you hit problem two: Legendary weapons still feel phoned in. Part of the draw of Ashbringer or Doomhammer is that these are lore important, major weapons. Not every class has a Doomhammer or Ashbringer, however. It really hit me when I was leveling my warrior to get the artifact for tanking. Mid-way in, I realized it was the SAME TOMB WHERE MY HUNTER FOUND HIS GUN.
There are most definitely exceptions I wouldn’t have considered, sure, but the vast majority of artifacts feel like a phoned-in weapon we’re told to believe is important. It feels doubly foolish that we have to research the fiction behind the weapon to find out WHY it’s important. Legendary weapons just don’t work when you consider that you have to have at least one for each spec spread over several classes.
But how would you fix this? Well, I’ve actually got a fairly in-depth idea on how artifacts could be improved. Keep an eye on Fortis-Core where I’ll be sharing my ideas on what could make the artifact system even better, soon.