If you play or follow Guild Wars 2, you’ve probably heard the uproar regarding the introduction of Ascended gear with the big Lost Shores update that was released on November 15th.
The community has two broad concerns regarding Ascended gear:
- The current limited avenue for acquiring Ascended gear
- The impact of gear progression on the game experience
Acquiring Ascended Gear
Ascended gear is currently only acquireable via running a level 80 dungeon, Fractal of the Mists (FOTM), repeatedly.
FOTM has 50 tiers, and its design encourages players to only group with other players of the same tier. Dulfy summed up situation eloquently on Reddit:
Before FOTM, all the LFGers are in the same pool. With the FOTM tiered system we have now, [our 500-member dungeon running guild] is divided into…a span of 20-30 small groups that usually don’t interact with each other. In addition, with the ever increasing and infinite tiers, I always feel that I am behind and that if I don’t run FOTM today, everyone else will be 5 tiers ahead of me the next day and there will be no one to run FOTM with.
If I have limited time to run FOTMs and only have time for one full run of FOTM, I am more inclined to run something to increase my max tier level rather than helping a lower level guildie/friend. Yes, it is very selfish of me to do so but I don’t want to fall behind if I have limited playtime.
On the recent AMA (Ask Me Anything) thread on Reddit, ArenaNet acknowledged that having Ascended gear only acquireable via FOTM was a mistake and that players will be able to earn Ascended gear via other avenues, including WvW:
Our intention is to deploy ascended components and gear across the whole of the game rather than focus it in one particular location. This was a a mistake and one that we will not be making moving forward. We do hope to find a balance and ensure that the world of Guild Wars 2 is as accessible and populated as possible and moving forward you will be able to see how we intend to execute on this goal.
Players in WvW will be able to acquire Ascended items within that area of the game soon.
So at least the acquisition of Ascended gear will be fixed.
I have not run FOTM, but based on what I’ve heard, I have no interest in grinding the dungeon to earn Ascended gear. I play GW2 for fun, and this sounds like tedious work.
So this brings us to the 2nd concern of the community…
The Impact of Gear Progession
When GW2 launched, the highest gear tier was Legendary, and below that was Exotic. For most players the practical target was Exotic gear, and all items for a given slot for the same tier shared the same stat budget.
Ascended gear is now BiS (best in slot) for 3 slots: backpiece and rings. ArenaNet is planning on increasing the stats on Legendary above where Ascended gear is now. Many players are concerned about the introduction of gear progression just 3 months after launch and the longer-term direction ArenaNet is taking the game.
To understand the implications of gear progression, consider the distinctions of GW2 in terms of the game mechanics:
- The extent to which a player can customize their class is very high, via weapons, utility skills, elite skills, and traits
- The extent to which a player can customize their gear is very high; there are multiple sets with different stat combinations
Gear needs to synergize / support the class customization. Therefore, to play different builds for the same class typically requires multiple sets of Exotic gear. A full set of crafted Exotic gear as of today costs ~50g (armor, weapons, and trinkets), and the popular gear upgrade components (runes, sigils, and jewels) cost another 10-20g. So ~65g for a full crafted set of upgraded Exotic gear.
Whenever better gear is introduced, you have to acquire the new gear to keep up with the players who have the time / money to spend acquiring it, and this is particularly painful if you want to play with multiple gear sets. New gear also has the negative effect of forcing players to focus on acquiring a particular set of gear first, which restricts the variety of builds the player can play effectively until they can gear up multiple sets.
I dinged level 80 on my Warrior a couple weeks ago and have gone through the process of upgrading from level 80 Masterwork and Rare gear to Exotic, and I’ve been able to get a sense of how much the stat progress impacts character strength in WvW. Stat increases matter, even modest ones.
Ascended Gear Doesn’t Align with Previous Expectations Set by ArenaNet
ArenaNet is positioning their vertical gear progression as being very a “shallow power curve” and that “there should be no straying from the intended power curve that you see in the game now, in terms of trajectory”. However, this is inconsistent with earlier messaging. The game was framed as having no “mandatory gear treadmills” and that those opting out “are just as powerful” in the Is It Fun and The Golden Rules of Guild Wars 2 articles posted by ArenaNet in June and July:
- Fun impacts loot collection. The rarest items in the game are not more powerful than other items, so you don’t need them to be the best. The rarest items have unique looks to help your character feel that sense of accomplishment, but it’s not required to play the game. We don’t need to make mandatory gear treadmills, we make all of it optional, so those who find it fun to chase this prestigious gear can do so, but those who don’t are just as powerful and get to have fun too.
- Respect the player. Whatever your reasons for spending time in Tyria, we don’t want to waste it by doing stuff that isn’t fun.
My belief is that ArenaNet has made a change in their progression philosophy, because they are trying to create a stickier experience. The active playerbase for Guild Wars 2 has dropped noticeably between September and November, and the pre-Lost Shores implementation of endgame horizontal progression was not particuarly sticky for many players.
The issue here is not whether horizontal progression works – it’s whether the horizontal progression scheme as implemented at launch was sufficiently engaging in terms of rewarding players. Guildees who are not playing as much or at all didn’t feel like there was meaningful progression, in terms of things to strive for.
In today’s market, gamers often equate gear with progression, because this is all they know based on the industry’s offerings.
However, there are many options for creating sticky horizontal progression, as I discussed earlier this year in my vlog entitled “Why Games Should Scale Horizontally Instead of Vertically“. When players accomplish meaningful things they should be rewarded with non-imbalancing rewards, such cosmetic items and bragging rights – titles, leaderboards, etc – not statistically superior gear. Why? Rewarding skilled players with better gear is unnecessary – they’re already good – and rewarding players who play the most creates a negative experience for more casual players, which makes it difficult to grow a playerbase sustainably.
I don’t think ArenaNet’s shift towards more vertical progression makes sense, nor do I believe that it will satisfy the majority of players. As Kuldebar wrote on Reddit:
The ironic thing is if ANet waters down vertical progression overly much in a foolish attempt to keep that particular beast on a leash; it will not satisfy the players who relish such progression in their games and those players will leave. (Players that came for the ideal of playing a horizontally scaled game will have already left the building.)
All this said, I am having a blast in Guild Wars 2. WvW on Blackgate has been the World PVP experience I’ve been missing since Warhammer Online. I’m working on WvW video content, so stay tuned.
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Update (2014/02/01): it looks like ArenaNet took down their blog. I was able to find the source articles from the Internet Archive Wayback Machine and updated the links above