As evidenced by the latest Q&A – and the Reddit response threads – Azerite Armor is still a big issue within the WoW community. I would say “contentious issue,” but I’m pretty sure it’s only Ion and Rohan who like it.
That said, it finally struck me why I hate the system, and why Blizzard doesn’t care: Blizzard is trying to regress gearing back to the TBC days. In a recent LiveStream interview, Ion says:
(paraphrase) If you look at how most items work, if you want to play another spec, you want another item for that slot.
Ion goes on to say that Azerite gear is more flexible than that, in that you can technically respec (for a price!) the traits if you change roles. Which is fine… if not for the fact that Legion just had tier gear that automatically changed to match your spec. And the expansion before that (WoD) introduced dynamic primary stats, such that a Retribution paladin switching to Holy will see most his Strength gear turn into Intelligence. It felt like we were progressing to a point at which we simply had one major set of gear and were done.
I feel like players’ confusion and anger as to this sudden design reversal is justified.
Now, all this is probably a bit unfair to Blizzard. Weapons and trinkets were largely spec-specific even in Legion days, to say nothing about how Legendaries forced you to commit to specs to a ridiculous degree. On top of that, everyone knew that even if primary stats swapped around, different specs valued secondary stats differently, even after the super-specific ones like Dodge (etc) were removed. If you were a paladin tank and switched to Retribution, you knew that your tank gear would deal less DPS than something focused on the stats that Retribution favored (without even getting into Artifact Power differences).
And yet… Azerite still feels bad. Because its a regression back to a time that was inherently more frustrating for people with multiple specs. A split baby option of reforging doesn’t make anything better, nor the opportunity to split another baby by choosing generic Azerite traits (actual suggestion from Ion) rather than spec-specific ones in an effort to save gold. And Blizzard’s big “solution” to fix things in 8.1? They’re adding another ring with only spec-specific traits. Which means the power delta between each piece of Azerite gear is actively getting worse for your other spec(s).
This sort of thing is not an accident. Ion wants the game to return to the point at which players need a full set of different gear for each spec. That used to be okay. Hell, it used to be you needed a PvP set of gear on top of everything else you needed for PvE. But it is a regression from what we had before.
That’s the problem with Azerite.
The concerns people have about not being able to get 370+ Azerite pieces from content? Not actually an issue from the old design rubric – you only had 1-2 shots at a piece of tier gear from a raid boss each week anyway (the glory days of Justice/Valor Point vendors notwithstanding). Traits needing to be simmed, or some being wildly more powerful than others? There were many times in expansions past where two different two-set tier bonuses were better than the four-set tier bonus. Traits being boring? Again, welcome to many tier sets in WoW’s past.
On a final note though, I do believe that Azerite Armor will likely go down as one of the worst experiments in WoW history. Leveraging it as a means to regress gearing philosophy is one thing. But I also blame it for the fact that we got no new skills or abilities or talents to look forward to in this expansion. Why add a new talent row or button to push when you can just slap a random assortment of buffs on a piece of gear that will naturally cycle itself out come next expansion? In a single design, they seemed to have “solved” ability creep, added a substitute to Legendary items, and gave everyone a grind outlet via AP.
All they had to give up was… fun.