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BlizzCon 2015: Artifact System

by - 3 years ago

In our continuing recap of World of Warcraft: Legion at BlizzCon 2015, we look at lead quest designer Craig Amai’s presentation on Artifacts during the game systems panel. The presentation described acquiring and upgrading the Affliction Warlock Artifact, as well as Artifact Relics, upgrades, and Artifact Power.

As a refresher: Artifacts are powerful, lore-centric weapons unique to each spec of each class. They are acquired through specific quests at the beginning of the expansion that send players all over Azeroth, exploring lore, characters, and events from old and new content. You will use, upgrade, and visually customize your Artifact throughout the entire expansion.

They also present a new ability and trait tree for you to customize your gameplay, enhance your abilities, and get into the fantasy of your chosen spec.

For illustration, Amai chose the Affliction Warlock Artifact, Ulthalesh, the Deadwind Harvester, which you may have read about in our post a couple days ago. The first part of this post quickly recaps that information for context–feel free to skip ahead to Abilities, Traits, and Artifact Mechanics.

Acquiring Artifacts

All Artifacts are acquired through unique quest lines–each one is unique to your class spec and has its own background and adventure tied to it.

For Warlocks, they will start the expansion convening to open a portal to a Legion base deep in the Twisting Nether. The plan will be to get information on Legion intel and weapons, like the Artifacts. Upon arriving, things “don’t exactly go according to plan.”

Whatever the fallout of that situation, Affliction Warlocks are then sent on a trail through Deadwind Pass, tailing mysterious Dark Riders of Karazhan. They lead to ancient, previously undiscovered catacombs deep beneath the tower, where Affliction Warlocks will confront and defeat the Dark Riders and claim Ulthalesh the Deadwind Harvester.

Along the way, you learn of Ulthalesh’s grizzly history–namely, that it was created by the Dark Titan Sargeras and given to his first Necrolyte, whom he sent to Azeroth. The Necrolyte was able to suck all life from Deadwind Pass with Ulthalesh, and this fantasy is played out in its abilities, traits, and special weapon mechanics.

Abilities, Traits, and Artifact Mechanics

Each Artifact has its own tree of powerful active abilities and traits. Throughout the expansion, players will choose from these abilities and traits, unlocking others down the road and customizing gameplay.

Artifact Traits Souls of the Damned

Each Artifact starts with one trait unlocked. In the case of Ulthalesh, that trait is Souls of the Damned, which passively increases shadow damage and other effects for each kill (this also has a visual cue, causing the weapon to “surge with power”).

The skill also sometimes releases Tormented Souls, which can be attacked to refund Mana and used in other ways, such as tapping them to restore Soul Shards or carry DoTs.

This first ability, as well as others that come along, give Artifacts special mechanics that augment combat and can be useful in different situations. For example, Souls of the Damned might be useful in situations where Warlocks don’t have many bodies to tap to generate resources, like single-boss raid encounters or in some situations in battlegrounds.

The next item you unlock is your first active ability. Active abilities are like normal attacks or spells that are placed directly on your skill bars.

An example of an active ability, Retribution Paladins get an upgrade to Divine Storm which creates a whirlwind of holy magic in front of the caster, adding direction to this primary AoE attack.

Artifact Traits Soul Flame

The hardest to reach abilities on Artifact trees are often “transformative” abilities. After spending points on each of its prerequisites, Warlocks unlock Soul Flame, which causes every monster killed to explode into AoE Shadowflame damage.

Besides active abilities, Artifacts also boast many traits, which are sometimes passive increases to certain spells’ attributes like damage, and are sometimes more drastic.

For instance, Warlocks have a trait that makes Healthstone instantly refill full health to the user, and heals the Warlock every time a party member uses a Healthstone.

The Healthstone trait is a one-point trait, meaning that you can spend only one point in it. Other traits allow for three points, with each point spent making the trait more powerful. Each point spent in a trait unlocks a higher rank of that trait.

Artifact Traits Inherently Unstable

There are many traits and abilities on each Artifact tree, and you can sink several points into many traits. Thus, it will likely take months to fully unlock everything on a given Artifact, and even longer to master one. This essentially ensures that Artifacts remain relevant and engaging throughout the expansion.

Progressing in your Artifact tree is an important part of upgrading your weapon throughout the expansion, but there is another aspect to developing your Artifact. We’ll look at that in the next section.

Upgrading Artifacts

Artifacts receive two primary upgrade sources–Artifact Power and Relics. Artifact Power allows you to choose new traits and abilities, as well as upgrade previously chosen ones, and Relics act more like current weapon upgrades do, increasing the Artifact’s stats and item level.

Artifact Power

Artifact Power comes from most activities in Legion, including killing quest and raid bosses, rare spawns, winning battlegrounds and arenas, and cracking open some rare drops.

Artifact Power

While Artifact Power may let you hard unlock abilities and traits, it is not the only way to increase their ranks. Relics also play an interesting role in augmenting your Artifact’s traits and abilities.


Relics work like regular weapon drops, except they are socketed into your Artifact. They come in different types and must match your Artifact’s sockets.

At the most basic, each Relic will increase your Artifact’s item level and stats. Some Relics, like the Pulsing Infernal Shard, can increase the ranks of some of your traits. The Pulsing Infernal Shard, for instance, increases the rank of Inherently Unstable, allowing the normally 3/3 trait to become 4/4.

At the top of each Artifact’s tree are sockets for Relics–they will be of a certain type and only a matching Relic can go into that slot. For instance, there exist Fire, Water, Wind, Earth, Holy, Shadow, Fel, and many other Relic and socket types.

Ulthalesh has two sockets, Shadow and Fel, and can receive those appropriate Relics. Fully upgrading your Artifact into its Empowered form unlocks an additional socket, which we cover in the next section.

Customizing Artifacts

Artifacts have two primary cosmetic customization options: changing the model and changing each model’s color scheme.

Upgrading to an Empowered Artifact

Artifact Upgrade

Before you can unlock either of these systems, you must fully upgrade your Artifact to its Empowered form.

After reaching level 110, each spec of each class will have a specific quest line that includes outdoor content, major factions, and dungeon content–this quest line will culminate in fully upgrading your artifact, giving it a more epic model and unlocking one additional Relic slot.

Unlocking Artifact Models and Color Variations

Artifact Models

Ulthalesh’s five unlockable models

Each Artifact has three additional models (excluding the initial model and the upgraded model). These models are unlocked through many activities, but these activities are often relevant to the Artifact, itself.

Craig mentions, for instance, perhaps killing an enemy related to the weapon’s history, slaying the murderer of the Artifact’s former bearer, or exploring world locations special to your specific weapon.

Artifact Colors

Color variations for each of Ulthalesh’s five models

Additionally, each of your Artifact’s five models also has four color variations, which are unlocked through a similar system to achievements. For instance, you may finish all the main quest lines in Legion, or you may reach exalted with a specific faction, and the color scheme will unlock.

Other Artifact Models

Craig gave a quick slideshow of other Artifact models for other classes. Here’s, like, a huge image dump.

That wraps up Artifact system coverage–stay tuned for Class Halls in the next recap!

Seth Harkins

PC gamer and lover of (most) things Blizzard. In his off time, he writes bad fan fiction, tends to his growing number of house plants, and enjoys a love-hate relationship with two cats.