[GW2] Slow Creep

Last year, Guild Wars 2 was perceived as experiencing three-monther doldrums and had calls for increasing character advancement options. Lost Shores included the first Ascended items and Fractals of the Mists, a dungeon where rewards increased at deeper levels and an “agony” mechanic demanded item-based progression. Developers promised more character advancement, a higher level cap, and more tiers of loot. I flipped out and stormed off. I read that as the death of the horizontal endgame I signed up for. Respect for Ravious’s ongoing enjoyment was the main thing that kept me from posting daily screeds.

Fast forward six or eight months, and I became willing to give trust another chance. Now about half the slots have Ascended items, with many options and several ways to get them. The level cap has not increased. The endgame is still mostly horizontal, with expanded Achiever content through achievements, appropriately enough. I do not feel obliged to delve thirty layers into Fractals to have a worthwhile character in PvE or WvW. sPvP remains insulated.

I am still expecting more character advancement. Long before the latest update, a guildmate described anticipated crafting changes as a precursor to Ascended armor; we happened to get weapons first. I still think Ascended gear is a design mistake, but since the tier is here, sure, complete it. The slow pace implies that we will not be seeing a new tier several times a year, which is comforting. Several proposed changes are expanding character options, not creating a new layer of them. Again, comforting — “more options” is what I signed up for.

I do not know if I overreacted or if ArenaNet changed plans. I certainly heard “more progression” and “we never promised a horizontal endgame.” I saw the worst advancement schemes from WoW (item-based progression), LotRO (gloom), and DAoC (Trials of Atlantis) being planned all at once. If that change is coming at this pace, I can deal with it; that could actually feel like “progression” rather than “churn.”

I may still flip out and storm off again if character advancement pressures accelerate. I am already concerned about how they are affecting alt-friendliness.

In the long run, trying to retain players through planned obsolescence is just prolonging a death spiral. The further the endgame is from the start, the less attractive your game is to new players, and every time you have a gear reset to bring the new endgame back closer, you upset your existing players who can see the treadmill more clearly.

: Zubon

31 thoughts on “[GW2] Slow Creep”

  1. I see Ascended gear as introducing a medium term breadcrumb for Achievers, especially those who can’t fathom the long term accumulation of mats for a Legendary – as that is cosmetic related, some simply don’t like the look.

    Each piece seems targeted to take anywhere from 10-30 days of striving / play.

    As you say, the one thing I really don’t like about it is the alt discouragement aspect, but I suppose one-character players need something to do, and as long as an exotic baseline still remains viable and accepted, I’m alright.

    What concerns me is later down the road when we have every piece of armor, weapon and jewelry capable of becoming Ascended. Will people (or designed content) discriminate then, and how widespread would that attitude be?

    1. When’s the last time you’ve seen someone kicked from a group for wearing yellow-grade or even green-grade armor?

  2. I still haven’t logged in to GW2 since the last update so I have no direct experience of the changes so far. I’m thinking that if it was previously possible for me to do everything that interested me while playing Level 80s in Rare quality gear, which it certainly was, then it should equally be possible to carry on at the same level wearing Exotic when Ascended is the norm.

    I have nine level 80s. Two-thirds of them are in near-enough full exotics, the others are still in Rares with any exotics they happened to have drop. I don’t really notice much of a drop in ability between them except in WvW where upgrading to full exotics is noticeable. WvW is also the only content I do and am interested in doing where other players express an opinion on what gear people “need” to have. If it becomes untenable to skirmish and survive in WvW without full Ascended, or to be accepted as a useful contributor by the community, then the promises have been broken and the game is up.

    However limited the immediate effect is the foundations are being laid for a very different game two, three, five years down the line. They may be walking the road slowly but it still goes to the same place.

  3. There’s nothing to convince me it was a good design decision either. How can they maintain balance in WvW while pumping up everyone’s stats by ~10%, there is already those ‘guard buffs’ (requiring a lot of time to acquire), plus ‘bloodlust’ will be another stats boost. Players with similar builds and ability could have health pools that differ by a few thousand points.

    Preying on players compulsions to have a complete character to extend the time in game is exactly the reason I’ve given up on a lot of current MMOs. Still hanging in there with GW2, many of my characters will stay in exotics, and will rely on drops more than the time-gated grind.

    One other doubt I’m having at the moment is the impact all these new rewards systems are having on how the game is played: champ trains, keep swapping (i.e. it is more rewarding to lose a keep then retake it, than defend it).

  4. Watching and reading interviews, most devs seem to agree that Ascended should have been in at launch. They vastly underestimated the difficulty to get exotics.

    This past week I’ve been mostly playing around in SAB, but then before I log out of the game I might go fell a few trees to slowly advance my ascended goal. The hardcore though are already done with their first ascended, much the same way they could get some ascended trinkets by grinding in Fractals whilst the more casual took the route of laurels.

    One of Syncaine’s best insights was on how hard an MMO player would work to buff their stats 1% to get to “cap”. This is currently evidenced in Guild Wars 2 with the new luck progression having actually created a market for blues and greens.

    I think Bhagpuss is right about walking that same road more slowly. We still have a bit of that Ascended highway to go, but what progression might there be afterwards?

    p.s. The comment about sPvP being insulated is dead on.

    1. Hmm… disagree.
      Why ascended should have been in game at launch, when the real problem was in gear distribution not in stats?
      The better fix would be to shake a bit availability of all gear (before realese – betatest shown some flaws in that matter). Put greens where exotics are now, make Rare tier really rare and make those players work for exotics. With old CoF I could get full exotic set for my new alt, just by jumping between alts for a day or two, so not the gear was a problem, but availability. No Ascended needed, just ascended way of gaining stuff that should be in-game at launch. Having poorly design, meaningless 5 tiers of gear, doesn’t mean it justify adding another one, but meaningfull one. If that was the case, why we even need 4 tiers (white, blue, green, gold) of crap gear, when we could have only exotics and ascended? Change those 5 tiers to be useful (creating market for greens and blues is one way, not the best, but I think they can’t do better now) and You have problem solved. But as You said – “They vastly underestimated the difficulty to get exotics”. Don’t know how it could happen. It’s not like Anet is new to this business, it’s not first game they are making. But shit happens.

      1. I think jcSadOne has the better of the argument versus the developers: if the gear tiers at launch had been implemented as intended, there would not have been a perceived need for ascended gear, because exotic gear would have filled that niche. I would argue that there is still not a need, but that argument is over. I would agree with the developers to the extent that, given that an ascended tier would be in the game, it would have been better to have implemented it at launch, but if you have that kind of foresight, just implement rares and exotics in a way that obviates the need for ascended.

        I am open to the argument that an ascended tier was actually necessary, but I have not heard much of one beyond “exotic gear is too easy to get.” If we get to start with a “what we should have done at launch” clean slate, I do not see a design need for (white-blue-green-yellow-orange-pink=purple) that could not also be satisfied with (white-blue-green-yellow-orange=purple), especially since “white” as implemented is dead space.

    2. But why was it bad that exotics were easily accessible? This was, after all, their plan in September 2011, when Colin said, “Everyone, including casual gamers, by level 80 should have the best statistical loot in the game. We want everyone on an equal power base.” I was certainly looking forward to a game like that.


      Just two months before release, Colin listed some things that are downsides of other MMOs: “You get leveling systems that take insane amounts of grind to gain a level, loot drop systems that require doing a dungeon with a tiny chance the item you want can drop at the end, raid systems that need huge numbers of people online simultaneously to organize and play, thousands of wash/repeat item-collection or kill-mob quests or dailies with flavor text support, the best stat gear requiring crazy amounts of time to earn, etc.” With the Teq revamp coming in two weeks, the only thing they haven’t added yet is an insane leveling grind.

      In the same post, he listed some positive consequences of their approach to design, like “The rarest items in the game are not more powerful than other items, so you don’t need them to be the best” and “The rarest items in the game are not more powerful than other items, so you don’t need them to be the best.”


      This was /two months before release/. You’re telling me that while he was writing that, he wanted to be putting in a huge grind for the rarest items? That he wanted fractals, with their completely random chance of a skin you might not even want? Where you grind out a level 48 run every day in the hope that maybe in a few weeks you’ll have one of the skins you want?

      I don’t buy the revisionist history that says GW2 was always meant to have this little bit of very grindy vertical progression.

      The most confusing part, for me, is that even now, as they roll out vertical progression, they talk about how bad vertical progression is. Here’s Mike O’Brien, immediately before the release of ascended weapons: “Our big focus then is to give people more horizontal progression, different things to accomplish and rewards from accomplishing those things. … I think that players are starting to mature past the point of wanting to be on that treadmill, of being in that obvious pattern of every time I catch up you are going to put another carrot in front of me.”


      It’s like he didn’t understand how people were going to view ascended weapons. This wouldn’t surprise me, really: throughout GW2’s history, Anet have shown that they don’t understand what player will do and how they will feel about things. The best example is fractals: they added them and didn’t expect people to play them a lot and level up fast.

      This is the worst part, for me. It might be that they still believe everything Colin was saying in those first two pages I linked. It might be that they simply don’t understand how far they’ve departed from the direction they espoused so vigorously before release. I’d honestly be much happier if they just came out and said, “Yeah, the answer to Colin’s questions, we’ve decided, is no.”

      Colin’s questions, remember, and keeping in mind that they had to add lots of material incentives for doing bosses and temples: “If we chose fun as our main metric for tracking success, can we flip the core paradigm and make design decisions based on what we’d like to play as game players? Can we focus our time on making meaningful and impactful content, rather than filler content to draw out the experience? Can we make something so much fun you might want to play it multiple times because it’s fun, rather than making you do it because the game says you have to?”

      1. “I don’t buy the revisionist history that says GW2 was always meant to have this little bit of very grindy vertical progression.”

        Don’t confuse grind with playing a lot of the game. That’s what I feel your whole post is missing. ArenaNet does not want grind, but they want people to keep playing their game. Ascended gear, IMHO, does exactly that, and it was something they didn’t see until post-launch heuristics started pouring in.

        ArenaNet likes ascended gear because it provides long term goals for character progression. However, ascended are *easily* obtainable over the long term. Legendaries, OTOH, are grindy, and that was the missing link between exotics (easy, short term) and legendaries (ridiculous “goal” to many).

        You can see this past year has been making a lot of long term goals. Luck, WvW progression, and ascended keep people advancing. It might not have that nice “horizontal progression” tone of GW1, but then again more people are playing GW2 on a daily basis than GW1 ever had concurrently.

        1. Ravious, I believe you just granted his entire point and are quibbling with details.

          Legendary items are not difficult to acquire, they just take a long time. Ascended items are not difficult to acquire, they just take a fairly long time. Exotic items are not difficult to acquire, they just take a moderate time. You have drawn an arbitrary line and declared that one side is “grinding” and the other side is “just playing the game a lot.” Someone did the same with “too easy to acquire” and “about the right amount of time.” (Remember to start the clock at Day One, not how long it takes someone who already has [the old top tier] plus stockpiled resources to get to [the new top tier].) One can have personal preferences, but I see no principled way to make an objective assessment that ascended items would be “just fine” at 100 hours to acquire but “grindy” at 120. Repeating any content for the reward (rather than for the content itself) is grinding; it is a matter of magnitude at that point, and you will accept higher magnitudes if you enjoy the content itself. Remember, at launch people were calculating the dungeon grind of how many explorable paths it took to get an exotic set, and exotics have become easier to acquire over time.

          Also, nothing about the length of time to acquire implies a need for a new tier of stats. Legendary items have always had the same stats as the highest tier items (goalposts now moved) but took longer to acquire than items with different cosmetic effects. This goes back to the design philosophy that rarer need not equal more powerful. I strongly sympathize with the people who took the developers at their word when they said the game would embody that design philosophy.

          1. Fair enough. I guess I know how I feel, and that’s all I got. Exotic is easy. Ascended feels like a good longer goal, but within reach. And for me, legendaries are nearly impossible.

            All I know is like winter, more ascended is coming. Armor will be next. Forgot if it’s on the table for this year or not, but this is game as it is now.

            1. The original design intent of GW2 seemed to be an MMO where progression is a non-factor for motivation and everything resolves around emerging content. “We’re not going to make you chase a carrot!”
              Player feedback exposed that MMO players at large are taught to chase a carrot, and if there isn’t one, they simply don’t know what to do. So the game design was changed to include a carrot. The discussion about Ascended gear is essentially wondering about how big a carrot should be.
              Arenanet is no longer exploring alternative options to the carrot. They fixed it in front of the wagon and are now adjusting the size.

  5. Agree agree.
    Still can’t understand why Anet cross out their initial design, when for most players it was the selling point (flat progression, no changes to level cap etc.).
    When ascended was introduced I was almost offended. It was really bold&stupid move by Anet and I still see it that way. After outcry they tried to land it gracefully and managed to do that. Still – no matter how much grace their stupid act have, it’s still stupid.
    But the real turn-off for me is Living Story, it’s two week pace, achievements for grinding and well… storytelling. Because for the company that gave us Prophecies, Factions, Nightfall and Eye of the North… Living Story really is low point. Bland, stupid, half baked characters that “will develop in time”, but after months didn’t evolve by inch. Party breakers as a main theme for a story, that have annual story stoppers that also are party breakers… yeah. And the stories worth telling from all the updates… are not in-game. They post them in blog, on their page. So yeah, let me sum it up. Living Story is barley “living” (more like grinding) with no stories in game. If You want actual story – go read blog! How immersion breaking is that?
    So all in all – the ascended gear was awful, is awful, seems to be awful in future – but I can live with that. Living story? I made a leave with that. So yeah, go figure.

  6. The only real good change to come out lately is Anet making a dragon actually challenging *gasp* via the Tequatl Rising . Currently all the group events and Living World invasion activities feel more like a session of Diablo 3. Which I enjoy….but also feel like it shouldnt be the playstyle expected from an mmo.

  7. The last bit of my first comment (which might show up second, since it’s awaiting moderation) is perhaps a little overstated, at least for me personally. Fractals 48 presents enough of a challenge that I do it regularly just for fun. And dungeons are good for this too, to a lesser extent–they’re when I don’t want to try to hard but still want to have to pay attention.

    They still failed pretty spectacularly with meta events, though (if only because they needed more people to converge on them than they could reliably get). And I recognize that for a lot of people, dungeons and fractals aren’t even on the radar.

  8. I admit that I don’t have a good sense of what’s easily obtainable; I’m one of the people who’s grinded for a couple legendaries, and I’m saving up for a third in the hope that the next batch (due out this year, yay!) will have a focus that matches my other gear.

    But I’m quite confident that new players will not have full ascended items when they hit 80 (though they could probably have an amulet from laurels), so that’s the September 2011 goal out the window. And from talking to my more casual friends, I think they /do/ think that getting full ascended gear will take “crazy amounts of time.”

    On top of the account bound mats, getting to 500 is /expensive/. You can spend a lot of time gathering, or you can spend a lot of time doing other stuff and making money to buy the ori and ancient wood, but either way it’s expensive.

    And full ascended weapons will almost certainly take at least two 500s.

    If you’re in a guild that’s getting 6 commendations a week, you can have your accessories in a month, although I imagine that’s uncommon for casual players. Suppose that you get that, though. In addition to the amulet, you’re still either doing 20 runs of 10+ fractals (after leveling to 10!) or getting another 70 laurels (50 days if you’re getting your monthlies).

    This is a substantial amount of time. I don’t have any way to back this up, but it feels like even if they just played one character, it would take at least 300 hours, and potentially a lot more if they take their time hitting 80. Setting aside the goal from September 2011, which they very obviously threw away, is this a crazy amount of time to get full ascended gear? I think it is, and some of my friends think it is, but I think you probably disagree about what counts as crazy.

    But actually I think that even if we disagree there, there’s a bigger problem. You’re defending ascended gear by saying, “Anet needs ascended gear to keep people playing their game.” That may be true, but it is in complete opposition to the design principles Colin laid out in the “Is it Fun?” post. Colin wrote:

    “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.”

    Now, of course, technically speaking, the rarest weapons aren’t better than the second rarest. On the other hand, speaking equally technically, the rarest trinkets /are/ better than the second rarest. But I don’t think it’s reasonable to read this quote that technically, because technically speaking, even when we had only exotics, the rarest items were better than the second rarest. Except for slots that have legendaries, the rarest will always be better than the second rarest.

    I don’t think some very technical point about what items happen to be the rarest was the real point of this quote. Maybe we also disagree about how to read it, but in the context of the post as a whole, I (and I think many others) took it as saying that they weren’t going to use stat advantages to inceitivize playing their game–that they were instead going to use fun gameplay and pretty skins to incentivize playing their game.

    At any rate, posts like the “Is it Fun?” one (and comments like the one in September 2011, and more generally their insistence on acting as though their design vision hasn’t changed, when it obviously has), maybe combined with expectations/hopes based on GW, are I think a large part of why a lot of us are so unhappy about ascended gear.

    1. I guess the fact that no content requires ascended (unlike gear treadmills) does not make the addition of ascended less fun… just like knowing there are WvW players with dozens of ranks does not make that game less fun.

      I would say personally I am having more fun because I have a constant, optional character progression goal. So perhaps they’ve gone against the specifics of their article, but it has not decreased my fun. Now I feel more rewarded for doing things like jumping puzzles, world bosses, dailies, etc.

      So for me, the goal and content required of getting ascended gear is more fun for me than if it were not there.

      1. WvW players with dozens of ranks get more effective at fighting NPCs and using siege. They get no advantage fighting you group-to-group, and +damage to siege is offset by WvW ranks in -damage from siege. A full group with full ascended gear vs a full group with exotic gear has a numerical advantage of almost a full teammate.

        If you fight zerg vs. zerg consistently, the ascended advantage averages out with the upleveled characters in blues. If you do anything else in WvW, the ascended advantage is increasingly important as more ascended gear enters the game. You may start finding your enjoyment affected when you do everything right but lose because your opponent has a 10+% numerical advantage for pressing the exact same sequence of keys that you did.

        1. I cannot believe the imbalance already present in WvW (zerg #s, commander skill, TS, spies, zerg intelligence, etc.) has now reached a tipping point with ascended gear, which will just as theoretically be equal on both sides.

      2. I agree with Zubon on wvw, so let’s set it aside for now. “Requires” is a tricky idea with gear. Nothing requires exotics, either. Or rares, for that matter. Maybe things get too hard with white gear, but I’m confident you could do everything there is to do in pve with pure blues. Insofar as the stat boost from ascended gear isn’t required, I don’t think you can say that anything in the game /is/ required, and then I’m not sure how useful it is to even talk about something being required.

        When you say that maybe they’ve gone against the specifics but haven’t decreased your fun, I think that misses the point of the article. The point of the article was that if you design first to make things fun, then people will keep playing your game. It was that you don’t need to make people work hard for more /effective/ gear to keep them playing. You suggested that the reason for adding ascended gear was to keep people playing the game. That’s not just departing from the specifics, it’s departing from the entire philosophy. It’s making better stats the long-term goal.

        Maybe a better way to put the issue is this: if the purpose was really just to have a goal between exotics and legendaries, why not make ascended items purely aesthetic (except for the infusion slots, which genuinely are minor)? They would have needed to get creative with the trinkets–maybe they could have made your hands or feet glow or something, I don’t know. Divine aura makes its triumphant return?

        Ascended weapon skins are pretty lame, but they could have done something different with them, too. For one, they could look better–make each one a cool and unique weapon of its kind. But maybe they could have added effects to other skins, too, if they were transmuted with them? Sparkles or something for basic skins, maybe some custom effects for mystic forge skins or something.

        Now getting to 500 crafting would just be aesthetic–it would be something you do if you like the skins or effects or whatever–and it really would be a halfway point between exotics and legendaries. Those of us who want legendaries could skip ascended weapons (unless we need them for the infusion slots while we work on a legendary, of course!), because we’re busy putting in the extra hours for the more expensive skins. People who don’t want to put in that much work would now have another alternative to specific mystic forge recipes.

        This would just be more of the same, because we do already have fancy skins, but I guess in a way that’s the problem. We already had something between exotics and legendaries: Mystic forge skins! Dungeon skins! Karma skins! If you wanted something to work towards, all you had to do was find a skin you wanted and work towards it! They could have been adding new forge skins. Or new ways to get new skins (like crafting to 500). Or whatever.

        (I’m sure it’s non-trivial to make good weapon skins, and I don’t mean that they could just toss in new ones without effort. But they /have/ been adding skins throughout the game, and it seems to me that they could have made some of them come through 500 crafting instead. But imagine if, say, Lord Taeres’s Shadow was the ascended sword skin instead of a random champ drop. Or Bonetti’s Rapier was. Or Entropy was the hammer. I’m sure that some people would level their crafting for those even if they didn’t have better stats.)

        Instead of sticking with the goals they had and adding more in kind, maybe achieved in different ways, they decided to provide a different sort of goal all together: increased effectiveness. And I think that insofar as /anything/ counts as truly /required/ in an mmo, effectiveness does.

  9. Sorry, I’m not sure why that last comment (to which maybe this is correctly threaded as a reply?) isn’t correctly threaded as a reply to Ravious’s 10:36am comment.

  10. So how would a decent horizontal end-game go? The best I think I’ve seen so far is in Star Trek Online. I hit max level end-game ages ago, and yet I’m still making progress. Whether it’s progress in the Duty Officer system, leveling specialties; or in making progress with factions, obtaining access to specialized equipment and new abilities; or in helping fleet holdings, to access fleet weapons and starships, there is a metric ton of stuff to do to progress a character even further than max level.

    Would this work for Guild Wars 2? Introduce reputation factions as methods of horizontal progress?

    1. Sure – it worked great in GW1 Factions with Kurziks and Luxons and later in NF and EotN. The problem lies in fact, that Anet present new stuff in small chunks and players can not be overloaded with it (not to mention it’s usually time gated content) – so everything they see, they can grind through it in time that is unacceptable to Anet.
      That’s one of the reasons, why peeps wanned box expansion – to be buried under new content. Same feeling they had when GW2 was realesed and feeling that vanished and never came back after first… what, 2 months? For me it was around 3-4 months.
      Instead of that feeling of freedom, of being lost in content we are being constantly being dumped on with chore list called “Living” “Story”. Meh… I’m on hating spiral :D. Need to staph!

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