It’s been awhile since I’ve written anything here. Mostly, I’ve just been really busy, both with real life and with playing. With all the flurry of activity surrounding Halloween and the Lost Shores, I’ve found myself with quite a lot to cover, and quite a bit to say about it. There have been some highs, and some lows in the past few weeks, and I think that Guild Wars 2 is in for some turbulent waters as they chart their future course.
The Pre-Halloween Falloff:
For the first month or so, I played this game a lot. A lot. I was having a pretty great time. I hit 80 in due time, I got a mostly full set of exotics, I finished off my 100% world exploration. I confess, I began to burn out. I had been playing pretty much all night, every night, for a month. Sure, there were Legendaries to chase, and I could go for some dungeon armor or something, but for the most part, I was out of immediate goals. I thought about grinding in Orr, but it really just didn’t appeal to me, especially for the insane amount of materials, money, and karma needed for Legendaries. It just wasn’t worth it for me. Even playing alts was kind of hard to do; I had already seen every zone fairly thoroughly, and while the first 70 or so hours to 80 seemed ok, the next seemed kind of daunting. I needed a break, so I took one.
I’d like to reiterate that for a minute, because it illustrates one of the core virtues of the game for me. I needed a break, so I took one. For me, and I don’t speak for everyone, but for me, this game and its predecessor have always been fantastic because they were virtually the embodiment of horizontal progression. The endgame was always about things that were optional because they provided no tangible benefit, only a visual one. Any time I burned out on GW1, I could step away for a bit, and come back when I wanted. I’ve talked about this before, but this is something that I simply was not inclined to do with subscription games. I played Aion, and I got burned out after about 2 months. At that point, I had to make a conscious decision about whether I wanted to try and keep up my subscription or not. I chose not, and I haven’t looked back since. In fact, in thinking over my choice at the time, it was basically a decision of whether or not I was ready to be done forever. Even with the advent of F2P Aion, I had already made the decision to quit forever, so although it cost me nothing, I already had worked my mind into not caring about it ever again. With Guild Wars however, I had plenty of periods where I played a ton, and plenty of breaks. I didn’t lose any relative progress on the non-existent gear treadmill, and I didn’t have to worry about a sub fee. I’ll tell you what worked though: whenever ANet released a new expansion, new costumes, new events (War in Kryta), I got super energized again. Although I also found my own motivations, these updates gave me a renewed reason to play. True to form, ANet started putting out info about the Mad King’s Return.
How do you survive an encounter with a dragon? Run faster than Snaff!
As always, the Mad King brought Tyria to it’s knees with his jokes. And by that, I mean he really slayed the audience. Oh ho, but enough with the bad puns. The Halloween event was everything I want out of Guild Wars 2. After a couple weeks away from the game, I was ready to jump right back in. Lion’s Arch had been transformed, there were new jumping puzzles, new achievements, new DE’s, new skins, a new mini dungeon, and of course, new costumes.
The amount of work that went into this event was truly awe inspiring. To come out so soon after release with so much free content, the future was looking fantastic to me. I gladly purchased both of the new costumes from the gem store. Telling bad jokes or riding along on a broom were totally worth the money for me, though I am a bit sad that we still only get one costume and can’t reproduce it for personal use. As it stands, costumes will rapidly become a burden on storage space, and it also kind of sucks to only have one character be able to be a witch or Mad King. It really puts a damper on my desire to buy costume slots when they take up my precious bag/bank space. Ideally, we can get a situation like we had in GW1, where the store simply logs that you bought an item, and lets you spawn them as many times as you want. Regardless, the event seemed like a smashing success to me.
One potentially controversial thing at the time was the inclusion of “One-time events” during the weekend. Now, I’m pretty on the fence about this topic. During Halloween, the event had a one-time-only cut-scene, and then a dungeon that lasted a couple of days. While I felt that the cut-scene could have easily been modified to simply show the first time a player entered LA during the event, I didn’t feel that anyone who couldn’t be there missed out on anything overly burdensome. The scene was short, can be watched on Youtube, and didn’t really award anything. The other events were there for multiple days, so most people barring those on personal vacations would be able to attend. All in all, I thought it was a great compromise of memorable events without feeling like a huge penalty for missing them. Unfortunately, Lost Shores broke with this tradition.
When I heard that there would be a new content patch coming only a month after the Halloween event, and that it would permanently add a new landmass to the game, I was ecstatic. I was still coming down from all the Halloween excitement, and the thought of having another event and a new level 80 zone was very exciting. ANet had set the bar high in October, and was fixing to set it even higher in November. I was getting stoked to play, until a week before the update hit. As any of you reading will know, that was when we got our first taste of info about Ascended Items.
When we first heard that there was a new tier of items being introduced, I literally was so angry I had to get up and walk away from my computer. I wanted to scream. I felt almost sick to my stomach, and no, I’m not exaggerating. In fact, I almost wrote up an immediate backlash-type post, but some of my friends in the community urged everyone to wait and see the details before snapping off judgment, so I decided to be patient, but critical and vigilant. I waited, and as more info came out, it not only confirmed my suspicions, it actively made me more angry.
Ascended Items (and infusions) are not on par with what we have, with simply a new mechanic (infusions) as many had hoped or predicted. They are flat out stronger by a decent margin. Yes, adding in only rings and backpacks does not make a huge difference to your overall stats, but they have officially confirmed that they plan to roll out more Ascended items for each other slot. Taking the difference between an Exotic gemmed ring and an Ascended Infused ring, and applying similar percentages to all other item slots provides a fairly substantial gulf between the two tiers. It’s not just doomsaying, it is incredibly basic math and logic, supported by official statements. It’s where we’re heading. Arena Net seems to be trying to imply that there won’t be more tiers of gear introduced between expansions, and to trust them, but the fact of the matter is, Ascended gear is a new tier of gear, it came out of nowhere, and it came only a little more than 2 months into the life of the game. I think that any person that has been following this game would agree that we did not expect something like this two months ago, or hell, even 3 weeks ago. Many players, myself included, trusted ANet when they said their game was going to be different, that they didn’t believe in a gear grind, or in vertical progression in a raid-like structure. They have gone counter to that philosophy right now, and that means a broken trust. I’m not going to call them liars; that implies that they were planning this all along. People change their minds, or have to make new decisions. To my knowledge, I’ve never called them liars for making incremental changes, and I won’t start now, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t broken my trust. Trust implies that you know what they are going to do, where they are going to go, and that they will hold with what they have said in the past. While not a lie, I no longer have the confidence that they will not continue this kind of cheap skinner-box effect in the future.
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.
“This is just the beginning. In November, we’re only adding the first level of Infusions and Ascended Rings and Back slots, so that leaves us a lot of room to build upon these levels of Item progression in future content.
As we release more new end game content in the future, you’ll see more Infusions and Ascended item types being added to the game. Eventually, you’ll be able to kit yourself out with a full set of Ascended gear and high end Infusions to help give you the edge in end game content.”
Those are their words, taken perfectly in context, mere months apart. I’ve seen lots of arguments telling people like me to basically just shut up or leave. My favorite one is a straw man argument along the lines of “If the game released this way, you never would have known the difference, so you should be fine with it now.” Sorry, that’s not how this works. A gear treadmill is there because more gear is constantly added to the end of it. When you get to the end, more content is patched in to make more gear to obsolete your current gear. You could take a snapshot of any point in time during WoW (for example) and say “See, there is an end, there is no treadmill. If it was like that at the start, you wouldn’t complain.” The fact of the matter is, we have a new gear tier 3 months in. It is part of what essentially amounts to a raid (Fractals) that requires you to get progressively better gear in order to get to higher difficulties (thanks to Agony), and which point, you get better rewards, which incentivizes you to get to higher difficulties, requiring better gear… you see what this is? It’s a raid treadmill already. The other argument is that the total stat difference between all Exotics + 3 Ascended (rings + back) and just plain all Exotics is small, so not to worry. You know, that’s the thing about power creep: it’s often incremental. A small boost here. A small boost there. Pretty soon, you have a whole heap of small boosts that add up to be not that small in the long run.
ANet has also tried to say that the reason for this is to put in a level in between Exotics and Legendaries. One could say the same about GW1’s 1.5k armors and Obsidian armor, that there was a long gap between those, filled with nothing. Except there was something- 15k armor. But the thing is, that 15k armor didn’t have better stats. Some people got it and stopped there, others went straight toward Obsidian, and others still decided that 1.5k armors were fine for them, and we were all on a level playing field. In fact, I would submit that there is already a parallel for that in GW2- Cultural, Dungeon, and Karma armors. Like GW1, they had the same stats as regular exotics, were harder to get (by a fair margin), and were purely cosmetic goodies. Some people are interested in them, and others aren’t. Apparently that wasn’t enough though. Apparently we needed a tier of armor not only better than all of those, but also harder to obtain. It is hard to obtain by the way; a single Ascended infused item costs 250-300 ecto (Source thanks to Dulfy) plus some skill points. A single one. Not only is this a pretty huge amount of money for most players, it goes completely counter to the stated goal of putting in some point to give you between Exotics and Legendaries. Why? Because the biggest barriers to getting Legendaries are gold and materials, both of which are heavily used to get these items. So, if you were farming a Legendary, much of your supply can now go to getting all the new top tier of gear… leaving you with little progress towards the Legendary. It seems like it makes it harder to get Legendaries than to provide some sort of intermediate goal.
The inclusion of this mechanic makes me just as angry as it did on the day it was announced, and seeing it in action has only made my feelings worse. While we’re on the topic of Legendaries though, I’m going to spend a few minutes talking about the precursors. Namely, that they are so ridiculously hard to get because of the RNG that they are incredibly expensive. But wait, not if you happened to make that one time event! I spoke earlier about the Halloween event, and how I thought it was a great compromise between letting players have a neat unique experience without penalizing those who couldn’t attend. The final Karka event was just the opposite. Reports of mass Precursor drops are abound, and given that their value is in some cases upwards of 250g, it feels incredibly punitive to those who were unable to attend the event, or worse, those who DC’d in the middle of it and got no credit.
Some may call me bitter that I missed out on my opportunity, and perhaps I am, but there are a lot of people for whom a single 12:00PST event is not feasible. Giving out rewards that incredibly valuable seems to be kind of insane to me. I’m happy for everyone that got one, it’s a ton of playtime that they have saved themselves, but damn it feels bad to be out in the cold. Now, if they make a lot more ways to get these Precursors, including but not limited to having similar deals often with big events, increasing the drop rates, making them predictably craft-able, and adding things like scavenger hunts, then I really couldn’t care less that these were given out at this event. If not though, if they decide to “fix” this drop rate and keep it back low in the future, it’s really going to kind of blow.
It’s not the End of the World:
I don’t want to be completely down on ANet. They put an incredible amount of work into this event and this content. The new zone is huge, it’s gorgeous, and best of all it lets us fight something other than the freaking risen. The Fractal dungeon is really well designed (for the most part) if you leave out the Agony mechanic, and it too is gorgeous. I love the new item names like the Red Ring of Death, and Koss on Koss. They have put out an incredible amount of free content for this game already, and I think they deserve recognition for that. Although I have to say I’m disappointed in Ascended items, I do think they deserve credit where credit is due, and I also understand the pressure they must have been under from some of the player base. I’m not rage-quitting this game by any means, but I am keeping an even more critical eye on it from here on out.