The Never-Ending Quest for AP

First it was Artifact Power. Then it became Azerite Power. Now, it has become Anima Power. In our long quest to farm up “AP”, we have seen the system go through many iterations and conceptualizations before arriving at the current state. Just how well is Anima Power working this expansion? And is it even the same beast we’ve dealt with in the past?

A familiar face…

For the past three expansions, Blizzard has instituted some sort of grind system around a resource that (coincidentally?) has had the acronym AP each time. Players have been able to generate AP by completing repeatable content. A smaller amount of AP was rewarded for completing world quests and a slightly larger amount came from dungeons, raids, or weekly world bosses. AP was acquired gradually, eventually culminating into powerful rewards.

In the past, the AP grind has been plagued by a persistent and critical problem – there has been essentially no cap to the AP grind. Players could endlessly grind for more and more AP since there were always more sources to farm. What made it worse was every little bit of grinding done directly translated into increased power. Thus, theoretically, every moment not spent grinding AP was a moment spent falling behind. Raiders were largely expected to grind as much AP as they could. Even for players who did not have to stay on top of this grind, the psychological pressure of always being behind was demoralizing.

No bones about it, I have hated the AP system in every iteration prior to Shadowlands. For one, I’m just not a huge fan of world quests, a major source for AP. I’ll do them if I have to, but I generally consider them to be one of the more insidious wizard chores. However, my other, larger complaint was that the AP system greatly benefited players who are able to log in and play all the time while offering no catch-ups for players who can’t get online as much. The time expectation for activities like raiding jumped up enormously. While I definitely understand Blizzard’s desire to prevent raid logging (the pattern of play where people only log in for their scheduled raids and don’t play WoW other than that), adding an endless grind was the worst way to mitigate that harm. It killed many guilds, mine included.

…Or so we thought

When Blizzard highlighted the Anima Power system for Shadowlands, I was incredibly nervous. The Azerite Power was the straw that broke the camel’s back for so many of my friends who were only tentatively returning for a new expansion. I didn’t think the game could handle another endless power grind. I began Shadowlands with the same mindset that I’d adopted in Legion and Battle for Azeroth – scrounging up every possible bit of AP I could get my hands on so I wouldn’t fall behind.

Fairly quickly, I realized that this AP was very different than the prior AP grinds. Rather than feeding into a particular piece of gear I was lugging around, the Anima I gathered went directly into my Covenant’s sanctum. I could then choose to spend it on sanctum upgrades, cosmetic items, gear upgrades (which were largely useless for my main), and other odds and ends. Critically, none of these uses directly related to my character’s power level. Anima provided quality of life upgrades for my sanctum or let my character look fancier. As much as I enjoy both of these, they aren’t critical to my favorite activities in the game: raiding and mythic+.

From that moment on, the pressure was off. I stopped farming AP outside of the 1,000 I needed for the weekly quest, and I honestly don’t have to reach much for that benchmark. There’s enough passive anima gain in the activities that I do (raiding, keys, and a few callings when I’m in the mood) so I don’t actually have to devote any additional time or energy to the system. I definitely want the cosmetic appearances but I don’t have to have them right away. After all, I’ve got a whole expansion to work towards earning them.

I cannot stress this enough: this is the best game design shift in Shadowlands. The endgame experience has moved from an endless treadmill where all but the most hardcore begin falling behind into an enjoyable checklist of weekly activities with a reasonable and realistic cap. Sure, there’s always more keys that you can run but the list of wizard chores that you have to get done each week is manageable and approachable.

I’m sure the Necrolords are begging my monk to go gather just a bit more Anima at this point

Drought-like Conditions

Perusing through Warcraft Twitter or the various Warcraft Discords, the most common complaint you’ll find about Shadowlands right now outside of the gearing issue is the Anima drought. I think Matt Fossen sums it up best here, breaking down just how unsatisfying the grind feels to a portion of the player base. I won’t deny, despite what I’ve written previously, Matt and others bring up some really good points. Even if a system isn’t related to power-scaling, it still needs to feel fun to play and, currently, Anima doesn’t strike that balance. However, I do think there’s a bit of an issue of player expectations here too.

For one, I suspect there’s a portion of the playerbase that haven’t yet disconnected the idea that AP = power. We’ve been so hardwired to grind for any A-named power in order to improve our character’s strength that it’s an incredibly hard mindset to break. It took me a few weeks to fully shake the feeling of “falling behind” every moment I wasn’t grinding for Anima.

Part of this problem also originates from the way Blizzard frames Anima. Similar to Azerite, which is explained in the story as an incredibly powerful resource that can be used to do amazing things, Anima reads throughout the entire campaign as magic Red Bull. Our characters need as much of this as we can get so we can strike down more and more powerful foes. However, gameplay-wise, that’s not quite how Anima works. Having 15,000 Anima in your sanctum doesn’t mean you’re going to do more DPS or healing, it just means you can afford some cool transmogs or activate a faster transportation network. There’s a jarring disconnect which is making it harder to break the AP = power mindset.

Another factor is that the drought seems even more severe coming from our AP gains in Battle for Azeroth. By the end of BfA, we were getting Azerite Power by the thousands. Jump forward into Shadowlands and now we’re getting 35 Anima Power from the majority of the activities we complete. The psychology of big numbers is really screwing with us because it feels like we’re just getting nothing. The rate of AP gain is absolutely lower than it was in Battle for Azeroth, but I don’t think the drought is as severe as it feels.

At the end of the day though, how a system feels is a huge portion of whether or not the system works. If a game isn’t fun to play, then it doesn’t succeed at it’s fundamental task. So how do we solve the Anima drought? Well, on one hand, player expectations probably need to shift. Anima Power isn’t the same AP we’ve had before and the sooner we realize that, the sooner the system will feel less brutal. I’ve heard from so many raiders stressed about falling behind on the AP grind and feeling like they’re slipping behind the rest of their raid team when that just isn’t the case anymore.

That being said, I also definitely agree with what other’s have said before me – we need to be earning a bit more Anima Power than we have been. The story has progressed passed the initial Anima Drought phase anyway, the gamplay should update to reflect that. We might not have fixed the Shadowlands yet but (spoilers for Castle Nathria I suppose), we have put an end to the Anima leech that was Sire Denathrius. Even if the zones aren’t back to their former glory, at least they aren’t being completely bled dry any more.

I also realize that there are plenty of Shadowlands players who aren’t interested in raiding or keys, and that for those players, hunting cosmetic items is the endgame. Making Anima more plentiful may make the game more enjoyable for those players as well – as it currently stands, transmog and mounts are ridiculously expensive. Warcraft is a grind, inherently. Let’s not make a painful one if we can help it.

Shadowlands, so far, has actually been one of my favorite early endgame experiences. I’m loving the alt-friendly design and I think the raids and dungeons are some of the best they’ve created. That being said, I totally recognize that not all the systems in place are working as well as they could. Like all expansions, Shadowlands needs tuning in order to be enjoyable for the largest pool of players. It’s a great start, but there’s always more to go.

And Blizzard, for the love of the Titans, stop naming systems AP!

6 thoughts on “The Never-Ending Quest for AP

  1. I hear what you’re saying, but I don’t think it’s just the appearance of the numbers when it comes to the anima drought. Look at your first screenshot. You have level 1 of the Path of Ascension. You need 42,000 anima to get through all the way through the last level. You kill a raid boss and you get 35 anima. That’s 0.08% of the anima you need. You do 7 raid bosses for the week and you get about 0.5% of the anima you need. That feels terribly slow to me, and that’s not counting the three other covenant hall paths you also want to fill (although each of those needs less anima overall to complete).

    • I do agree with you here – while I mentioned the appearance of numbers as a factor in the perception of the Anima drought, I definitely do not think it is the only, or even the most important factor at hand here. There’s a lot that goes into the perception of a system such as Anima Power and I would never try to diminish it to something as simple as “number feel” (for lack of a better term!).

      That being said, I do think it is important to keep in mind that the Covenant Sanctums were designed to provide us with content to last us months. While bosses do only drop 35 Anima (and I definitely agree that this amount feels to be too little), they are far from the only source of Anima in the game, or even one of the better ones. Part of why my Path of Ascension is so low-ranked is because I’m not too terribly interested in the system right now – I’ve got other aspects of the game to which I’m devoting my time. If my endgame preference was centered around all my sanctum upgrades, I have plenty of avenues to gain more Anima.

      I think looking at the 1,000 Anima per week is a much better benchmark towards testing the system. Assuming I gather that bare minimum of Anima per week, it would take me 42 weeks to fully max out my Path of Ascension (it does bear mention that it’s entirely possible to farm more than 1,000 Anima a week, so this number is not a hard cap by any means). For me personally, as someone doing the minimum in Anima collection, I do not mind that wait. However, I absolutely understand folks wanting that grind to happen far quicker.

      At the end of the day, I suppose what I am advocating for is a bit of open-mindedness. The current Anima acquisition rate *does* need to be buffed. But, at the same time, we the players should recognize that this content will likely be time-gated in some capacity in order to prolong the expansion’s content and experience, and that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I, for one, am mostly happy that Blizzard moved towards the cosmetic items being a (potentially limitless) grind rather than power-scaling.

      And thank you for your comment! This one really got me thinking.

      • Thank you for the thoughtful reply!

        After I wrote my original thoughts I did think 1,000 per week is a better benchmark, since, as you said in the original piece, that’s not too painful to get. At that rate, it’s still over a year to get all the sanctum upgrades, even assuming you’re not spending anima on anything else, and I’m pretty sure most of us are also spending anima on other things too. That may be reasonable for an expansion that’s supposed to keep us entertained for more than a year. In that case, though, it might feel less like too high a hill if they’d started the expansion with only one or two levels for each sanctum choice available, then maybe added level 3 after 3 or 6 months, then more after that, etc. Then it would be more obvious that it’s a time gate and we shouldn’t feel bad at not being able to see more progress sooner.

        • Ooh yeah, that would have been a really efficient way of managing Anima expectations. Luckily, from the sound of this morning’s Anima buffs, it seems like Blizzard *is* paying attention to what folks are saying so hopefully the grind won’t be as brutal as it first appeared!

  2. The one that gets to me is Ash. There is one way and one way only to get Ash and that is Torghast Tower. While the process is interesting and can be taken at my own pace, it is still a grind to get through. We can’t get our legacy gear without the Ash, so to the Tower I go.

    • Torghast is *definitely* a bit of a grind (more like Choreghast, amirite?) but the fact that it’s a weekly lockout has done a lot to prolong my interest in the tower. I also lucked out in that both of my main classes really only have one optimal legendary, so once I got my rank 4, the pressure was off. Still, I agree, the weekly grind through four different Layer 8s is a bit of a slog!

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