Formerly Hardcore #13: Legion's Artifacts

Ragar wants to know what shiny weapons his characters will get in the new WoW expansion

Hello and welcome to the 13th edition of Formerly Hardcore, ZAMs column on Blizzard Entertainment’s World of Warcraft. Last time we threw out a few predictions for what the new expansion would bring. We were right about the Burning Legion focus, but that one was a freebie given the end of Warlords of Draenor’s story. I was more surprised that my wishlist comments for a melee Hunter spec and a demon form tank ended up being true, though not quite in the way I’d envisioned. There’s plenty of features we didn’t call though, so we’ve got lots to talk about. For this week’s column, rather than doing a synopsis of Legion’s feature list (Wowhead’s already done that work for me), let’s start focusing on specific major features. In particular, this week we’ll be talking about Artifact weapons.

Weapons of Power

For those of you who missed the Legion announcement, you might be wondering what an Artifact weapon is. In Legion all 36 class specs (the current 34 plus Demon Hunter’s two) will do a few quests and unlock a weapon that’s unique to their spec alone. For Retribution Paladins, it’s the mighty Ashbringer, weapon of Tirion Fordring and one of the most storied weapons in all of WoW. Enhancement Shamans will wield Thrall’s Doomhammer against the might of the Legion. Other weapons include Frost Death Knight’s Icebringer and Soulreaper (forged from fragments of the shattered Frostmourne), Fire Mage’s Felo’melorn (weapon used by Kael’thas to fight Arthas), and Mistweaver Monk’s Sheilun, Staff of the Mists (used by Pandaria’s last emperor when he shrouded the land in mists). So far only 10 weapons have been fully detailed, but there are pictures of four or five others shown in pictures from gamescom slides and its press kit.

Each spec will get a unique quest to obtain their Artifact, from Protection Warriors tracking the legend of the Vry’kul King to Death Knights retrieving the shards of Frostmourne from Icecrown. These quests won’t be as elaborate as some class quests like Warlock Green Fire though – Blizzard plans on everyone getting their Artifact weapon early in the expansion, so it can’t be a week-long journey to do so.

Now some of you probably have a few questions about these weapons. The most obvious one being “So why are we getting these super-powerful weapons so early on? Ashbringer and Doomhammer shouldn’t be green or blue drops I disenchant the moment I get a dungeon drop!” Legion’s trying something very different for an MMO (I believe only Lord of the Rings Online has something similar). These Artifact weapons? They are the only weapons you will be using for the entirety of Legion. Once you’ve obtained your spec’s weapon, you’ll be using it from 100 to 110. So how does it work that we use the same weapon throughout the whole expansion? How do I make my numbers go up if my weapon never improves? This is where Artifact weapons get interesting.

While you’ll be using Doomhammer or Felo’melorn or whatever your spec’s weapon is for the whole expansion, the weapon itself will be progressing along with you. As you level up and do most major activities in Legion (eg killing bosses, PvP, etc), your weapon will gain Artifact Power which can be spent on Traits. Some Traits are simple damage boosts, some give the class more utility, while others are strong enough that they change your spec’s rotation when unlocked. You can eventually unlock all Traits on an Artifact weapon, but the path you choose to do so is up to you.

You’ll also be unlocking new skins and variant colors for your Artifact weapon, such as a flaming Ashbringer or a Chi-Ji variant of Sheilun. Not only will you be gaining in raw power and getting the equivalent of Draenor Perks from leveling your Artifact weapon, but you’ll also be able to customize its appearance so your raid’s melee team isn’t just a sea of Ashbringers, Icebringers/Soulreapers, and Doomhammers. For the Feral and Guardian druids out there who figure this doesn’t apply to them, your Artifact weapons will also affect your other forms, meaning for the first time ever, your gear will actually change your combat appearance. They’ve also said you’ll be able to transmog your Artifact weapons to look like something else (though not vice versa), so if none of your Artifact skins or variant colors match your transmog set, you’ll be able to adjust.

All of that Destiny-esque weapon leveling and perk unlocking sounds great and all, but that’s not the only way you can improve your Artifact weapon in Legion. Each Artifact will have a selection of Relic slots on it. Your weapon has certain base stats, but by slotting in new Relics, you can improve the raw stats of the weapon (eg DPS, spellpower, Strength, etc). So how do we get these Relics? They have essentially replaced weapons when it comes to quest rewards and dungeon/raid drops. Quest chains and bosses will be your primary sources of Relics to improve your Artifact weapon.

For those of you with multiple characters or who play different specs, you’re probably wondering what this means for you. According to Blizzard, there will be no alt catchup mechanic. If you want to have a fully-loaded Artifact weapon for each of your alts, you’re going to have to redo all of that work for each character. Artifacts for second specs is another matter though – they don’t want it to be too painful if you play multiple specs, so they’re considering some kind of catchup mechanic for getting those Artifacts.

Aren’t Some of These Weapons Kinda Being Used Now?

While these weapons do sound great and all, some of you might have a few more questions about how you’re going to acquire yours. The Protection Warrior being told that his Artifact lies in the tomb of a Vry’kul King is no problem at all – wouldn’t be the first grave we’ve robbed, won’t be the last. A Frost Death Knight might have a few questions about taking chunks of Frostmourne for his weapon given that it’s kinda super evil and helped corrupt Arthas, but we can work with that still. Doomhammer and Ashbringer are another matter, though. Both of those are currently being wielded by characters who are fairly important to the lore: Thrall, former Warchief of the Horde and replacement Earth-Warder, and Highlord Tirion Fordring, Supreme Commander of the Argent Crusade. Tirion hasn’t been as active since Arthas was slain and he moved to Mardenholde Keep in Cataclysm, but Thrall was part of the assault against the Iron Horde, including stealing your kill again in Nagrand. How are Retribution Paladins and Enhancement Shamans supposed to wield weapons that are being used by such big name characters? It’s not like they’re going to die… are they?

As part of the gamescom presentation, Blizzard said that at the beginning of the expansion, both the Horde and the Alliance will take the fight to Gul’dan and the Burning Legion as they track the invasion to the Broken Shore. There will be a glorious battle at the Tomb of Sargeras similar to WoD’s Assault on the Dark Portal, though structured completely differently for better storytelling. At the end of the battle, players will awaken to a world on fire and according to Blizzard, “every single person that has played WoW is going to be surprised and shocked”. They mentioned fallen heroes and those who have lost hope, so if that’s the case, we genuinely will be taking weapons from some of Azeroth’s greatest heroes and villains (see: Maw of the Damned). So far all we know is that Thrall’s in the “lost hope” group, which we all would have guessed anyway, but the fate of the others has yet to be determined. Tirion could quite easily be dead since they’ve said Retribution Paladins will be returning to the Broken Shore to look for where it fell in battle, but it’s entirely possible he survived as well – it wouldn’t be the first time Tirion was supposedly dead and came back later. I would personally bet that Tirion’s in the dead group though; for all intents and purposes his story was finished at the end of Wrath of the Lich King and his Argent Crusade is still going strong. Tirion would be an easy NPC to kill off for emotional impact without hurting any potential story threads.

Artifact Wishlisting

We’ve learned about some of the different Artifact weapons available to the different specs, but there’s still plenty of specs left undefined as well as plenty of questions. We’ve seen Mages get a staff (Ebonchill, Greatstaff of Alodi) for Frost and a sword (Felo’melorn) for Fire, but what about Arcane? Will they get a dagger or will it be another staff/sword? For those classes getting a one-handed Artifact weapon, what goes in their offhand? Previously 2H weapons were balanced versus a 1H weapon and an offhand, so does this mean we’ll still see offhands drop from bosses? For Enhancement Shamans and Doomhammer, what goes in their offhand weapon slot? A pure energy Doomhammer was mentioned during the gamescom reveal, so the Artifacts for the various dual wield classes and specs that haven’t been revealed yet (Rogues, Windwalker Monks, Fury Warriors) could see something similar if there’s no story justification for two separate Artifacts. This "spirit item" idea could be used with caster offhands as well – that way their Artifacts will stay balanced against all of the specs with 2H Artifacts without worrying about luck with offhand drops or non-caster classes getting mad that those are on the loot table with their precious Relics.

For Monks, I assume that we’ll be seeing a pair of fist weapons for Windwalkers simply because that makes the most sense, but I’m curious what we’ll get for Brewmasters. For the most part we’ve always used a 2H staff or polearm – sure, you could dual wield 1H weapons, but for most patches it was better to use a 2H weapon of the same level. Now that Artifact weapons are the only weapon choice, we could conceivably see one or the other. I still think we’re more likely to see a polearm, but if we went DW there could be an actual keg in our offhand to Keg Smash.

Fury Warriors face a dilemma with their Artifact weapons. With most other classes and specs, your choice of weapon might affect some things like attack speed, but from a stat and gameplay perspective, a 1H sword is equivalent to a 1H mace or a 1H axe. However, Fury gets the choice between dual-wielding 1H weapons (Single Minded Fury) or 2H weapons (Titan’s Grip), with different bonuses/penalties on each to balance the two styles. From a sheer numbers perspective, the two are generally equivalent so picking one or the other for an Artifact set isn’t a problem. The issue comes from players’ preferred gameplay styles. Some Warriors love the fast and furious feel of 1H weapons, while others love the fact that they can dual-wield 2H weapons and no one else can. If we pick one or the other for a Fury Artifact weapon set, then someone’s going to be unhappy. So how do we make everyone happy?

Short of pulling a Bloodborne and giving them the ability to transform weapons from 1H to 2H at the press of a button (I would love this, but I’m not holding my breath for it), I think there’s only one way to do this. You would need to give Fury Warriors an expanded option set at their Class Order for weapon customization; for every skin and color option that other Artifacts get, you’ll need a second version so 1H and 2H weapons are both covered. In addition, you’ll have to create a special weapon tag for the Fury Artifact weapons that allows transmogs from all 1H and 2H weapon types. It’s also possible that Blizzard could just make the executive decision to make Fury dual wield 2H weapons only like they made Frost Death Knights the only dual-wield DK spec or how they’re making Survival Hunters a melee spec. That one’s probably the simplest solution, but it’s going to lead to a lot of furious Fury Warriors.


There’s still quite a bit we don’t know about Legion’s Artifact weapons. Besides all of the unannounced weapons for the remaining specs, we don’t know what the future of these weapons will be since Blizzard wants to see how the players like the feature. If Artifacts turn out to be unpopular, the old ways are easy enough to go back to, but what about the weapons themselves? Do we start out the expansion after Legion by walking up to Thrall and saying, “Thanks for the loaner weapon, man! This green drop’s better though, so you can have it back.” If players like Artifact weapons, this could be the end of weapon drops as we know it in WoW and we’ll just see expanded Relic slots, Trait lines and weapon skins in the future.

Given that they’ve discussed whether or not Artifacts start as legendary items or if they’re a new category, could we see this system for all legendary items in the future? Blizzard’s already said that they like the system they’ve used for the Mists of Pandaria cloak and the WoD ring, so this would seem like the next logical step in that design. Having multiple pieces of gear that have Traits and Relic slots could easily become a nightmare to balance though. Where’s the proper balance between traditional gear from bosses/crafting and Artifact gear that has its own progression system?

That’s it for this edition of Formerly Hardcore. What did you think of the Legion announcement? Are you excited about Artifact weapons? What features would you like to see them add or change? What famous weapon in WoW lore does your class want to wield for this expansion? Let us know in the comments below.

Michael “Ragar” Branham


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