Chris Whiteside, Studio Design Director at ArenaNet, headed up a lengthy Ask Me Anything (“AMA”) session on the Guild Wars 2 subreddit yesterday. A “transcript” is also available. The point of discussion seemed to be largely about Ascended items and the apparent destruction of ArenaNet’s “no grind” philosophy. This was no accident since Whiteside was a major deciding force in starting the Ascended gear as soon as possible in fragments.
My rage was non-existent for the most part. Unlike many, I simply could not believe that in one swoop ArenaNet would head towards a treadmill-based gear slog based around dungeons, which is heralded in so many conventional MMOs. Instead, their opening move just appeared that way.
Whiteside lamented the fact that Ascended gear, the stepping stone between Exotic and Legendary, was not in before launch. He also knew that there would be backlash because Ascended gear is only available via the new dungeon Fractals of the Mists. It all came down to a failure to communicate.
Before I go any further I want to touch on what Ascended gear means. Ascended gear is an upgrade on your fancy armor spreadsheet, but in Guild Wars 2 terms one dodge roll or well-timed skill shot is going to be much more worthy than a 5-10% slot upgrade. Nicer is not necessary. The other prejudice is the content gate. A player decked out in greens should do okay in every Fractal, and every Fractal can be experienced on difficulty tiers 1-2. If a player wants to get up to difficulty 20+, then yes, Ascended gear becomes an issue. This however is a gate to difficulty, not content. Bottom line, players that casually enjoy Guild Wars 2 will not need Ascended gear.
The biggest issue for me was the laser focus on how Ascended gear was gained. I could not “just play”. I had to play Fractals. Ascended gear needed to come out with Fractals because it was content that could utilize the gear. The content designers did not have WvW, crafting, and other PvE systems ready to receive the more involved gear tier, and adding Ascended gear afterwards to Fractals would have been worse. Whiteside was left with the big-bucks decision on his desk: hold Fractals until other systems caught up, or launch it as a fragment of things to come.
ArenaNet is really good with communication for many things. Taking hours out a studio head’s day to do an AMA (including all the support staff he needed to do this) is a pretty big deal. It just seems that with ArenaNet sometimes seems to communicate afterwards on hot button items. Ignoring the fact that there is only 24 hours in Whiteside’s day, nearly all of the answers on Ascended gear for this AMA could have been disclosed before the Lost Shores update. Nearly all of the questions answered had already coalesced as soon as news of another gear tier was disclosed. I do truly appreciate ArenaNet’s willingness to step in front of the firing squad though, even after a few guns have gone home.