Play the Game Your Way…?

It’s been almost 4 months since my last post. It feels crazy to write that out, but the time has surely flown. Real life has gotten in the way of a lot of things, and this blog was surely one of the first things to get neglected. However, I’m still playing the game, now more than ever (except launch of course), and I have been thinking a lot about the current state of the game. As always, I have a few criticisms of some of the design decisions and/or implementations. On the whole, the game is still quite solid and thriving. However, I feel that one of their central tenants, “Play the game your way”, has mostly fallen to the wayside. A more accurate slogan would be, “Play the game your way, unless you want to earn money or actually gear more than one character.”

Ascended Items Divide Playstyles

In order to really have this discussion, we need to bring up Ascended items. I’m not a fan. I never have been, and I have been pretty adamant and vocal about that.  I don’t think they should have a higher stat set. I didn’t like that FotM was the only way to get them, even though that is no longer the case. New Ascended items have been added twice now, once for the neck and once for the earrings. Along with each new slot of Ascended gear, we have gotten a new and unique way to attain them, mutually exclusive from the others barring Laurels, which I will get to in a minute. While I appreciate the fact that they are putting out new content, I feel that tying the highest-stat gear to only one type of content does the exact opposite of the “Play your way” goal.

Up until Ascended items, you really could play your way to get the best gear. You could run dungeons if that was your thing. You could craft. You could find/buy it through the AH. You could spend Karma gained from PvE and Dungeons. You could exchange WvW Tokens, albeit at a very poor exchange rate. Literally every PvE style was supported by exotics. Pre-Ascended, the game was for the most part exactly what I had imagined it would/should be. There were a ton of paths to end-game gear, and there were a wide variety of skins to chase after. I’m an alt-aholic by nature, I get tired of playing only one character day in and day out. While I have one or two “mains”, I typically have at least 2-4 “secondary” characters, and about 2 that I play once in a blue moon. I also like to vary my content. I liked to do a dungeon here or there, do some WvW, do lots of regular DEs, throw in the occasional Meta-Event boss, and even do FotM once in awhile. During Pre-Ascended GW2, I was able to truly do whatever I felt like (within reason) and still feel like I was making useful progress. Time spent on an Alt would still net me money, net me karma, net me dungeon tokens. All of those things were useful because they all contributed towards max gear.

Once Ascended items came out, that was over. Getting rings and a back slot was relegated to Fractals. I like fractals a bit, but I don’t like them enough to want to do them dozens and dozens of times. Suddenly, I stopped caring about getting good accessories on my new 80’s because they were already obsolete. Greens/Yellows are good enough frankly, and shelling out several gold for exotics, when exotics are no longer the best-in-slot (BIS), seemed utterly pointless. Since I couldn’t get the rings and back slots any other way (because they can’t be sold or bought for karma or dungeon tokens), I was left irritated and unsatisfied until I bothered to get a character up to FotM 10. Worse, since FotM is character bound, if I ever wanted to do it on another character for a change of pace like in dungeons, I would have to grind out 10 more runs in order to make any meaningful progress. No thanks.

Now that we have Amulets and Earrings, we have two new unique-ish ways to attain those slots as well: Laurels and Guild Missions. I’m not going to get into the fact that Guild missions absurdly leave out small guilds with their up front cost. That is an entirely different post, and one that I’m too weary to even make at this point. Regardless of that, if you like WvW only, Guild missions are kind of arduous at best as a method of getting the new BIS earrings. Fractals are probably worse for WvW-ers. At least WvW can get Laurels in a mostly alright manner.

The point I am getting at here is that instead of promoting all playstyles, ANet has moved to a point where they are promoting playing all styles. It feels like a monumental step backward in terms of the game’s design goals that were presented to us. Instead of being able to choose between dungeons, general open world PvE, or WvW, we are now being directed toward being required to do all of them. I know, technically FotM isn’t dungeons, and WvW hasn’t gotten any Ascended gear of its own, but it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if in the near future it does. Many PvE players would/will be livid if we were required to do WvW to get BIS gear. I imagine its just how the WvW folks feel about having to do FotM and Guild Missions. Many might point out that there’s one major flaw in my arguments:

Laurels

To make playing in our open world worthwhile, we’ll make it rewarding enough for players to spend their time there across all levels. It’s extremely important that we stay true to our philosophy that you should be able to play Guild Wars 2 the way you want to play the game in order to reach the most powerful rewards.

This was the message we were given when Laurels were first announced and described. Truth be told, I was actually really stoked about the system. The changes to dailies, and adding in the karma jugs, were some of the better things they had done. I was ecstatic that my alt-play was being further rewarded by earning a useful currency. The reality however was somewhat disheartening. If we look at the items you can get there, three are unique cosmetic items (mini pets and tonic), but there were also Ascended items there. Amulets can only be gotten from Laurels, which in and of itself I don’t hate. However, the problem, in my opinion, is that it seems like ANet is using Laurels as a way to technically keep their word, while really completely sidestepping the reality.

Can you get Ascended items from something other than FotM and now Guild Missions? Of course, for Laurels! The only problem is that each Ascended item that is available elsehwere is more and more expensive in Laurel form. Amulets cost 30, Rings 35, Earrings cost 40 and a whopping 50 ecto apiece, and back slots aren’t there at all. Since Laurels are hard capped at 1/day, 40/month (if you get the monthly), you are on a very long road to get Ascended items that way. In fact, at the rate that Ascended items have thus far come out, you can probably just barely get one set of Ascended gear for one character before more come out. For one character, using Laurels, it takes 180 Laurels and 100 ecto. That is a bare minimum of 4.5 months of playing every single day for your Laurel. For one character. I can almost guarantee you that by the time that happens, more Ascended gear will come out.

When you look at it that way, there are one of two outcomes if you want to have BIS gear: play the new flavor of the month content that comes out with new Ascended items whether you like it or not, or only be able to get BIS gear on one character. That’s it. You can’t buy them, you can’t farm for them, you can’t use dungeons for them, you can’t really WvW for them. We’ve gone from a system where you could play a huge variety of playstyles with any number of characters and have a relatively easy time equipping yourself with BIS gear to one in which you have to either focus on one character for BIS gear or grind out FotM and Guild Missions (if you can even participate in them at all). To me, GW2 is going backwards rather than forwards. We’re creating a gulf where players who play a moderate but not huge number of hours are being forced to have sub-par gear, do what they may not want, or only have one BIS character.

If we take some time to look at the situation, it’s easy to see how we got here. There are a sizable number of players who want stat progression as a carrot to chase. There is another group that wants end-game progressively difficult dungeons. There are many players who only like one character as their main, and basically don’t alt. There likely tens of thousands of players who only log in for maybe 30-40 min a day or less. Given these groups, how would you try and satisfy them all? To the first group, we got Ascended items. “Gradual” power creep. Something to hit that feeling of progression. To the second, we got FotM and Agony, which actually works just fine mechanically. To the third and fourth, we got Laurels, a way to earn rewards reliably and easily, but over a long period of time and capped account-wide.

The tension here is that Laurels have the same intrinsic value no matter how much you play. To someone who only plays 25-25 minutes per day, they will be leveling slow enough that they will be able to get Ascended gear by the time they hit 80 in an amount of in-game time that is fairly low. To someone who plays a lot but hates FotM or is in several small/cross-server guilds, Laurels are an excruciatingly slow way to gain BIS gear. You can’t very well make Laurels be earnable multiple times per day based on characters, because then we would get people that get ascended gear every couple days for not that much effort. Similarly, the Laurel cost can’t be too cheap. The solution has to be adding more ways to get Ascended gear, and not having each activity have an exclusive type of item. We need to be able to work towards it with other reward systems as well. ANet has built in such a rich world, and the economy and Ascended items are driving the player-base to only a couple places.

Something needs to change. It won’t be easy, as they have sort of painted themselves into a corner. You can’t hope to cater to the truly hardcore. They will outpace everything you throw at them far quicker than you can churn it out. Catering to them leaves everyone in the dust. You can’t completely appeal to only the light users, because then the middle and hardcore players will get bored more easily. Ironically, the new reward systems appeal to both the casual and the hardcore, leaving a lot of the people in the middle of the road scratching their heads, frustrated and tired.

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