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Archaeology: A Profession in Review

Archaeology: A Profession in Review

With the release of World of Warcraft’s third expansion, Cataclysm, Blizzard introduced a new profession called Archaeology. This new profession joined fishing, cooking, and first aid as a secondary profession meaning everyone could learn it and begin leveling it. The last patch released was patch 4.3 and presumably it will be the last content patch of the expansion. Archaeology has received only very minor changes during the span of Cataclysm, and I think now would be a fair time to evaluate its success as a new profession and point out possible solutions that continue to plague it.

I think it is important to remember the beginning and mention what Blizzard first intended Archaeology to be. Originally, Archaeology was supposed to tie into the Path of the Titans feature, which was a way to add a specialization to your character. Path of the Titans was not completely fleshed out because it never made it into the game. Other than the names of potential paths and a few examples, players never learned much of the feature. After Path of the Titans was abandoned, Blizzard decided to keep Archaeology (and the glyph system which was also originally intended for Path of the Titans) and most likely revamped it heavily into the profession we saw at the release of Cataclysm.

Here is a quick overview of how the profession works: Around the world “dig sites” will appear on your map. You travel to the dig sites and “survey” within the confines of the dig site to try and track down the exact location of buried “fragments.” After surveying, a telescope appears next to your character with a light on it. Your proximity to the buried fragments is indicated by the color of the light next to the telescope. From farthest to nearest the lights go red, yellow, and green. The direction the telescope is pointing is also an indication of the direction the fragment is in, but it is less accurate the further away the fragment is buried. The dig sites have three locations of buried fragments and the fragment types are always the same. There are Dwarf, Fossil, Night Elf, Troll, Draenei, Orc, Nerubian, Vrykul, and Tol’vir fragments. Fragments are used to create “artifacts.” Each artifact requires a certain number fragments before you can assemble the artifact. Just like fragments, each race has specific artifacts that you can make using its respective fragments. Artifacts can vary from useless vendor trash to bind on account epic gear and weapons.

Are we There Yet?

There are a few problems with this system. For starters, the location of dig sites can be extremely disheartening for low level characters. In fact, at the time I write this, I would recommend any character below level 60 completely ignore the Archaeology profession because it will be a massive waste of time. Even at level 60, only attempt to level Archaeology if you have the appropriate flying skill for Azeroth. Blizzard tried to make the location of dig sites fair by limiting them to level-appropriate, or lower, zones. A level 10 character would not have dig sites appear in Blasted Lands, for example, because Blasted Lands has monsters that are much too high of a level.

That is a good start, but traveling at low levels can be a real pain. By level 55, where every zone besides the ones added in Cataclysm are level-appropriate, you are still limited to traveling by flight points. Eastern Kingdoms is not as bad as Kalimdor because Eastern Kingdoms has zeppelins which allow you to more quickly travel between the top and bottom of the continent, but it is still a massive pain to run around the continent in search of dig sites. The worst case scenario is traveling to or from opposing faction zones. For example, a Horde character needing to travel to Loch Modan or Wetlands, or an Alliance character needing to travel to Hillsbrad Foothills, has no simple way of getting there without a personal flying mount. A possible solution to this would be to string together adjacent zones and to limit dig sites to locations where your faction has a flight point. Doing this for all character below level 60 would greatly improve the overall experience.

Do You Feel Lucky Punk?

My own biggest problem with the way Archaeology works is the double-random element to artifacts and fragments. The player has no control over which artifact he or she is working towards. The first random element is artifact selection. For example, the first time you gather a Dwarf fragment, the artifact you are working on is chosen at random based on your Archaeology skill. Wowpedia has a nice chart displaying what Dwarf artifacts are possible at what level. Hypothetically though, let us say we have a level 85 character of Archaeology skill 450. That character’s next Dwarf artifact project could be anything at all. The only limiting element to the random selection seems to be that if a “rare” artifact is chosen, the game will not choose a rare artifact you have already completed. Based on that, it appears to me that the game “rolls the dice,” so to speak, first as to the quality of the artifact (rare or common). If common is selected, any artifact could be chosen based on Archaeology level. If rare is chosen, only those artifacts which you have not already completed are chosen. The system may be more complicated than this, but the player base has no evidence of it.

The second random element is dig site selection. If I am leveling Archaeology in Eastern Kingdoms, I can potentially find Dwarf, Fossil, Nerubian, Night Elf, or Troll dig sites. The only limiting element to the random selection here is Archaeology skill and, as previously mentioned, character level. Staying with my Eastern Kingdoms example, Dwarf, Fossil, Night Elf, and Troll dig sites are available from level 1 Archaeology while Nerubian requires level 375. Again though, let us say we have a level 85 character with 450 Archaeology skill. There is absolutely nothing that controls what type of dig site will next appear. It could be in the same zone and the same race, or it could be on the other side of the continent and a different race. It is completely random.

This is incredibly frustrating as a player! It makes it nearly impossible to farm a specific item. The player is left rolling the dice with every survey. Sections of the game with double-random mechanics have always received complaints from the player base. Violet Hold is a dungeon in Dalaran that everyone who leveled in Wrath of the Lich King will remember. Violet Hold had six completely random bosses. Only two of the six were chosen each time. Unless the item you were looking for dropped from the last boss (a guaranteed spawn), you probably had a frustrating time getting the item you needed. Sadly, the idea of random bosses returned in Cataclysm with the dungeon End Time where two of four bosses are selected each time. At least the chances are better in End Time than they were in Violet Hold. The probability for getting a specific boss in Violet Hold was around 37% while in End Time it is around 58%. What makes it even more frustrating is that each boss has a loot table with limited actual drops. Few things are more frustrating for a player than running the same instance every day for weeks without even seeing the boss they need, only to have the boss finally appear and not drop the item you wanted.

That may seem a bit like a tangent but the same principle can be applied to Archaeology. For example, let us say someone wanted to farm for the Staff of Sorcerer-Thane Thaurissan. It is a rare Dwarf artifact. Logically you would want to focus on a continent with the biggest potential for Dwarven dig sites. That would be Eastern Kingdoms as it has 18 out of 55 total dig sites, whereas Kalimdor, the only other possible continent with Dwarf dig sites, has a pathetic 1 out of 69. (This information is courtesy of Wowpedia.) The problem though is that you have no guarantee of finding Dwarven dig sites in Eastern Kingdoms since the dig sites are chosen completely at random. Afterwards, even if you are lucky enough to find a good number of Dwarf fragments, you are at the mercy of the gods to get the artifact you want.

Back in My Day…

Blizzard has not completely ignored Archaeology throughout the expansion. Changes were made to try and improve the experience, though I would argue too little was done. The following are courtesy of WoWPedia.

  • Hotfix (2010-12-14): “Archaeology now gives 3-6 fragments per survey, up from 3 (2-4 or 3-5 at lower skill levels).”
    • No one complained about this change. Prior to the hotfix, you collected more fragments as your Archaeology skill increased. The hotfix increased the minimum and maximum number of fragments you could receive per location and made it so that Archaeology skill was irrelevant as to the number of fragments you found. This made lower level Archaeology much more bearable.
  • Hotfix (2010-12-20): “The search radius to find an Archaeology node from the Archaeology ability Survey has been increased. This will result in fewer searches needed while in the “green” range of surveying.”
    • This is another change that no one complained about. Prior to this hotfix, the player needed to almost be directly on top of the fragment for it to appear after surveying the area. This resulted in a lot of back and forth movement in tiny increments as players would overestimate the distance they needed to move to find the artifact. This made Archaeology in general far less annoying.
  • Hotfix (2010-12-21): “Completing rare artifacts now grant triple skill gains (15 instead of 5).”
    • Now this change seems like a great one. Prior to the hotfix, completing a rare artifact would only grant you 5 skill increases. After the hotfix, it would grant you 15. While most players see this as a positive change for the profession, it actually damaged it. By increasing the speed at which Archaeology skills increased, it caused players to cap the profession faster than ever. That means players were stuck at 525 Archaeology with no noticeable progress for their time investments. While farming for fragments, increasing the level of Archaeology is not something players jump for joy over, but it still feels like forward progress. When the level cap is reached sooner, and players are left with nothing at all to show for their time investment (besides vendor trash), it makes the whole experience feel unrewarding.
  • Hotfix (2010-12-27): “Vashj’ir dig sites no longer unlock for players. They felt too punishing without additional benefits compared to low-level sites, and were much more difficult to obtain artifacts in due to the way Vashj’ir navigation works.”
    • I was very happy when this change was announced. Having to travel to Vashj’ir was incredibly frustrating for players focusing on dig sites in Eastern Kingdoms. Players would typically hearth to Orgrimmar/Stormwind (assuming their hearthstones were not on cooldown), take the portal to Vashj’ir, collect the fragments, and then be stuck in Vashj’ir or be forced to take very slow sea horse taxi rides. This was a great change.
  • Patch 4.0.6 (2011-02-08): Archaeology finds now grant a guaranteed skill point up to 50 skill, and then no longer grant skill gains, as opposed to granting up to 100 skill very slowly.
    • I can only think of one reason why this change was implemented. The most efficient way to level Archaeology previously was to refrain from solving any artifacts until after the player had already advanced to level 100 Archaeology via fragment collection. Skills were gained quickly at first but slowed down significantly as the skill advanced closer to 100 and the “grind” to 100 felt very boring because the player traveled from dig site to dig site with nothing to show for it. I can only assume Blizzard intended for players to begin solving artifacts sooner and alleviate the initial boredom from the profession. That does not make a lot of sense though. Granted, the most efficient way of leveling Archaeology was to wait until skill 100, but that was entirely the player’s decision. If doing that felt too boring the player did not have to continue doing it. As an example, the most efficient way of leveling Cenarion Expedition reputation in Burning Crusade was to refrain from doing any of the quests that rewarded reputation and instead collect Unidentified Plant Parts. However, collecting enough Unidentified Plant Parts was a tedious task because it involved mindlessly killing monsters in Zangarmarsh. That does not mean Blizzard should have changed anything relating to the reputation. As such, this change seemed unnecessary and potentially damaging in the same way triple skill gains for completing rare artifacts was.
  • Patch 4.0.6 (2011-02-08): Archaeology fragments now have a hard cap of 200 per race. Players will not be able to collect additional fragments until they complete artifacts to take them down below 200 fragments. Players with more than 200 fragments will not lose additional fragments in 4.0.6, but in a future patch we may remove any fragments above 200.
    • When this patch note was release it was met with a little confusion. What did it mean exactly when it said “players will not be able to collect additional fragments?” Did it mean that the dig sites would stop showing up? Did it mean you could not gather any additional fragments but they would still appear? Unfortunately it meant the latter. For a brief moment there, though, some players thought Blizzard had finally implemented a way to farm a specific race’s artifacts. Want to farm Dwarf artifacts? Just stop using up all the other race’s fragments. Unfortunately this turned out to be false hope. So why did Blizzard make this change? For those players wanting to farm items like the Staff of Sorcerer-Than Thaurissan, various guides online would suggest holding onto all the fragments from that race (Dwarf in this case) until your Archaeology skill was sufficiently high enough for the item you wanted to appear. The Staff of Sorcerer-Than Thaurissan only has a chance of appearing at Archaeology level 450. That means any Dwarf artifacts you create before that are guaranteed to be wasted if the Staff of Sorcerer-Than Thaurissan is really what you are after. Clearly Blizzard did not like this behavior. I find this to be an unreasonable change on Blizzard’s part. What is the rationale of going to such lengths to prevent players from farming a race’s artifacts? This was not a solution to the problem of players wishing to farm a certain race’s artifacts, it was a bandage. I just do not understand why Blizzard had such a problem with it.
  • Patch 4.0.6 (2011-02-08): The sell value of all common artifacts has been doubled, while a small subset of common artifacts have had their sell value increased far beyond that.
    • I cannot help but think Blizzard saw this change as a way to legitimize the unreasonable amount of time wasted creating common artifacts. First off, this change left a bitter taste in anyone’s mouth who had been leveling Archaeology for the previous two and a half months. Items such as the Word of Empress Zoe jumped in value from 10 gold to 375 gold. That means that anyone who previously solved the item (and most likely already sold it to a vendor) just lost a large potential gold gain. WoWHead has a few comments from people that had created the item many times before the change. One person had solved it 8 times (losing 2,920 gold) and another person had solved it 12 times (losing 4,380 gold). Without retroactively giving that gold to players (something I feel could have easily been accomplished considering the Archaeology interface tracks the number of times artifacts are completed), many people were very unhappy it took so long for Blizzard to implement this change.
    • However, putting aside this complaint (since it is better for change to occur at some point rather than not occur at all), Blizzard still failed to actually fix anything. The time wasted crafting common artifacts is not offset by a handful of extra gold. With the exception of the few uncommon artifacts which vendor for large amounts of gold, it would be far more time efficient to do dailies to earn gold than solving artifacts. The fringe benefit of vendor gold does not change the flaw in the system. It is unsatisfying to travel around a continent and get 10 gold every 20 minutes.
  • Patch 4.1.0 (2011-04-26): Players now have a much smaller chance of getting a dig site for a race for which they have completed all rare finds.
    • I suppose it would be difficult to find fault with this change right? Other than crafting vendor trash, fragments from a race where all rare finds were already completed would be useless. Except that the Archaeology profession quest at the Darkmoon Faire, Fun for the Little Ones, requires 15 Fossil fragments. Suppose a character has already solved all of the fossil rare finds. How difficult would it be go collect them for the quest? Unfortunately, I have not solved all the Archaeology rare finds, so I do not know the answer to this question, but I feel it is likely Blizzard overlooked this problem.
  • Patch 4.1.0 (2011-04-26): Six new rare items have been added: Ancient Amber, Extinct Turtle Shell, Haunted War Drum, Pterrordax Hatchling, Voodoo Figurine, and Vrykul Drinking Horn.
    • Blizzard added 3 Fossil, 2 Troll, and 1 Vrykul rare artifacts. My biggest complaint here is it took Blizzard 5 months to implement it. Fossil and Troll fragments are available at Archaeology level 1. That means players who began leveling Archaeology when the expansion came out suffered missed opportunities. Coupled with the fact that in a previous patch fragments were capped at 200 per race, savvy players who thought Blizzard might add more artifacts for each race were not even able to stockpile them for when it happened. That is a disincentive to level Archaeology and it reflects poorly on Blizzard’s overall treatment of Archaeology.
    • Additionally, this change was made in the same patch as the change to dig sites so they would not appear for a race you had already completed all the rare artifacts for. I am sure many players, myself included, were disheartened by the facts that the fossil dig sites (a race previously completed) would not be disappearing after all. The grind to more rare artifacts began anew!
  • Patch 4.3.0 (2011-11-29): The number of fragments per survey was increased to 5-9.
    • Just a little over a year after the profession is introduced, Blizzard decided to change the number of fragments per survey for the second time. If Blizzard felt the profession was too slow, I feel like this change is not addressing the cause, though it does serve to make it a little better. I feel the root of the issue is the double-random elements to artifacts and unless there is a substantial increase to fragment collection rates, it will not be enough.

So How Do We Fix It?

I know World of Warcraft relies heavily on the idea of randomness. I am not suggesting we remove the random element of Archaeology altogether, but it should be tweaked. With respect to dig site randomness, Blizzard could implement a system where unwanted fragments are exchanged for more desirable fragments. In truth, I already posted a topic on the Blizzard forums in this regard. My idea was to have an NPC that would allow for the exchange with the following possible limitations:

(1) Limiting the trade to a daily or weekly quest.

(2) Limiting which artifacts may be traded that day/week. In other words, that day/week the NPC will accept only Orc and Draenei fragments.

(3) Limiting what artifacts may be traded for that day/week. In other words, that day/week the NPC will only give Orc or Draenei fragments.

(4) A combination of (2) and (3). Making only very specific trades possible feels too restrictive to me though.

(5) Adjusting the exchange rate on artifacts. Perhaps instead of making artifacts 1:1 they can be 1:2 or 1:3. While exchanging my 378 Fossil fragments for 126 Dwarf fragments makes me feel a little cheated, it’s still far better than collecting fragments for no purpose at all.

Source: http://us.battle.net/wow/en/forum/topic/1772573863

Another idea I had was to implement a bonus to fragment collection. Create an item that, when held in the player’s inventory, will allow the player to find extra fragments of a particular race no matter what type of dig site he or she is surveying. For example, [Bronzebeard’s Lucky Tankard] “You seem to find Dwarven fragments wherever you go.” Blizzard could have a lot of control over how the item is created and how many extra fragments it will allow the player to find. Obviously only one of these items can be held at a time.

Either of the above solutions would certainly help alleviate the random-induced frustration from dig site spawns, but how to address the randomness of artifact selection? I will be honest here: If a system to exchange fragments was implemented, the random artifact selection system could very well be kept the same. However, if it were to be tweaked (and for the record I think it should be) then I propose that the more times a common artifact is solved, the less chance it has to be selected again. If I have solved the same common artifact 5 times, it should be less likely to be selected as the next artifact when compared to an item I have only solved once. Additionally, the more times common artifacts are solved, the more likely it will be to receive a rare artifact next time. I will give you a hypothetical as to what I mean. For argument’s sake, let us say the chance of a common artifact being chosen as your next project is 99% and the chance of a rare artifact being chosen is 1%. The more common artifacts I solve, the less likely it should be that another common artifact is chosen. So the more common artifacts I solve, the chance drops from 99% to 98%, 97%, etc. Then when I solve a rare artifact, the probability is reset again.

You have probably already guessed that I speak from personal experience with Archaeology. I have gathered the data from my own personal artifact hunting and I have published it below just for those who like to look at numbers. There are a few things to keep in mind: (1) I leveled Archaeology from 1-525 exclusively in Eastern Kingdoms; (2) from the very beginning, my reason for leveling Archaeology was to obtain the Staff of Sorcerer-Thane Thaurissan; (3) I have yet to obtain the Staff of Sorcerer-Thane Thaurissan and I have lost most of my desire to continue trying; (4) without gaining experience by any other means, I leveled from 80 to 81 exclusively through Archaeology; (5) The data below ignores the fact key stones were used for some of the artifacts. Actual fragments collected is slightly lower.

Troll Artifacts

Item

Fragments Needed

Times Completed

Fragments Collected

Atal’ai Scepter

35

7

245

Bracelet of Jade and Coins

35

9

315

Cinnabar Bijou

35

5

175

Drakkari Sacrifical Knife

35

2

70

Eerie Smolderthorn Idol

35

4

140

Feathered Gold Earring

34

6

204

Fetish of Hir’eek

30

2

60

Fine Bloodscalp Dinnerware

32

11

352

Gahz’rilla Figurine

35

5

175

Jade Asp with Ruby Eyes

35

2

70

Lizard Foot Charm

32

5

160

Skull-Shaped Planter

32

6

192

Tooth with Gold Filling

35

5

175

Zandalari Voodoo Doll

27

5

135

Total

 

 

2468

 

Dwarf Artifacts

Item

Fragments Needed

Times Completed

Fragments Collected

Belt Buckle with Anvilmar Crest

34

1

34

Bodacious Door Knocker

35

2

70

Bone Gaming Dice

32

2

64

Boot Heel with Scrollwork

34

2

68

Ceramic Funeral Urn

35

2

70

Chalice of the Mountain Kings

100

1

100

Clockwork Gnome

100

1

100

Dented Shield of Horuz Killcrow

35

2

70

Dwarven Baby Socks

30

2

60

Golden Chamber Pot

35

2

70

Ironstar’s Petrified Shield

36

1

36

Mithril Chain of Angerforge

35

1

35

Moltenfist’s Jeweled Goblet

34

1

34

Notched Sword of Tunadil the Redeemer

35

1

35

Pewter Drinking Cup

35

1

35

Pipe of Franclorn Forgewright

45

3

135

Scepter of Bronzebeard

45

1

45

Scepter of Charlga Razorflank

35

1

35

Scorched Staff of Shadow Priest Anund

35

1

35

Silver Kris of Korl

45

1

45

Silver Neck Torc

34

2

68

Skull Staff of Shadowforge

35

2

70

Spiked Gauntlets of Anvilrage

45

1

45

Stone Gryphon

35

1

35

The Innkeeper’s Daughter

150

1

150

Warmaul of Burningeye

45

2

90

Winged Helm of the Corehammer

35

1

35

Wooden Whistle

28

1

28

Word of Empress Zoe

45

3

135

Worn Hunting Knife

30

2

60

Total

 

 

1892

 

Fossil Artifiacts

Item

Fragments Needed

Times Completed

Fragments Collected

Ancient Shark Jaws

35

5

175

Beautiful Preserved Fern

25

3

75

Black Trilobite

31

4

124

Devilsaur Tooth

35

2

70

Feathered Raptor Arm

33

4

132

Fossilized Hatchling

85

1

85

Fossilized Raptor

100

1

100

Imprint of a Kraken Tentacle

45

3

135

Insect in Amber

35

4

140

Proto-Drake Skeleton

45

3

135

Shard of Petrified Wood

30

4

120

Strange Velvet Worm

35

3

105

Twisted Ammonite Shell

35

1

35

Vicious Ancient Fish

35

2

70

Total

 

 

1501

 

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One comment

  1. I have to agree, I stopped trying to level archaeology because I saw the issues you saw in advance…figured it just wasn’t worth the try. I recently got back in and levelled a bit because of the tweak of more relics per dig site, but it still itsn’t enough. The double random is killing me.

    I don’t mind a long arduous task if I can see the end…however if its a lottery ticket then I’m not interested. I want to be able to see progress and get there eventually.

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