AP, Artifact Power in Legion and Azerite Power were the new “infinite progression” mechanics introduced by Blizzard in order to keep different types of content rewarding for max level players. Now this worked very well in Legion—for me at least—since it was the first expansion in a long while that I played all the way through. Simply always having something available to strive for was a nice change of pace since it meant there was always a reason to log in—this was especially powerful in combination with mythic+ since this enabled me to do fun and engaging content while still working towards that goal of the next artifact level.
Unfortunately, somewhere halfway through Legion this system changed for the worse and remains in this incarnation—though I would argue even worse—with Battle for Azeroth. The big change that came was a significant reduction in artifact power received through completing mythic+, now because the reward had always been rather low in raids but this meant that the most sensible way to gain artifact power became world quests meaning there was no interesting way of gaining it anymore. This made the whole system feel a lot more grindy since I don’t find world quests particularily enjoyable yet I like raiding and mythic+ a lot and now I was being pushed to participate in content I did not enjoy.
In Battle for Azeroth this same system remained of low reward through interesting content and high reward through trivial content continuing through world quests and with the addition of Island Expeditions. Now on the surface island expeditions sound like a cool idea: explore a new island and collect the azerite there, the problem comes with the implementation. Firstly, it’s a lot less about exploration since you are competing against another team even in the PvE mode where you compete against NPCs that behave slightly more in a “PvP” way but without much of the strategy of real players—you also don’t get to use your PvP talents and some abilities work very differently from actual players—but these end up being more of an annoyance than anything else.
Secondly, the content ends up just being so trivial as to be uninteresting: the opposing faction poses no real threat and neither do the normal mobs and they can’t really, since this is content that is supposed to be doable with any setup including three healers or three damage dealers severely restricting the possibility of Blizzard balancing it into something interesting. Now in the end, this is probably the better outcome since for me personally I don’t see how a more time consuming version of this content could be made interesting with the technology currently available as I’d rather just have it be over with quickly since it just feels like a grind.
Thirdly, the grind also feels much worse on alts in Battle for Azeroth than it did in Legion with the changes to how artifact/azerite knowledge work. This is the catch-up mechanic which makes it possible for alts as well as players joining the game later to achieve comparable levels of power to the players that have been playing throughout. The problem comes with how it was implemented, in Legion the amount of AP you gained from doing activities scaled up as artifact knowledge went up; in Battle for Azeroth the amount needed per level goes down until a floor of 1000 and that is still a rather decent amount of azerite power, something along the lines of three mythic islands or three to four world quests. Meanwhile in Legion, doing one world quest might have given you something like ten levels towards the end which means that alts not only have a more severe version of the problem of having to unlock traits for their new gear since they’ll probably be receving it faster than a main character that has been farming since the start it will also require comparably more effort than it would have in Legion.
Now, the other problem with azerite in Battle for Azeroth is the reason you farm it: the azerite gear. This system just doesn’t feel quite as rewarding as it was in Legion, partially because you keep unlocking the same traits and partially because at some point you just kind of have everything and the only reward is a couple more item levels on your neck—hardly anything to look forward to. The maximum level is even capped within reach and most players who can still be bothered to do the farm content are probably already at that cap—several in my guild are, I’m not because the content just doesn’t interest me.
This is getting changed with the upcoming patch as well as some buffs to the amount of azerite rewarded for some activities but I don’t actually see how it will really help the system since at the start there will only be three new ranks of real interest—the one major relic slot and the two minor ones of which the latter won’t be available—which means that most of the time while gaining a new azerite level you actually don’t get anything for it except for maybe a small boost to stamina—not really a system that motivates you to play. That along with the above mentioned problems of the relevant source of azerite just make the system feel a lot more annoying and a lot less rewarding than it was in Legion which has meant I try to avoid participating in it as much as possible which is somewhat unfortunate since I think I’m probably exactly the target audience of such a system: someone that prefers having something regular to do in order to keep me going.
It is also completely possible that I simply burned out on the system back in Legion when the gains from mythic+ were nerfed and Battle for Azeroth never really had a chance, but even then the whole system has been something I’d rather be avoiding from mostly day one which is not a good sign for such a major feature of the expansion. I’m hoping 8.2 will bring some improvements that actually make me care again but I guess time will tell.