A recent AMA on Reddit by Chris Whiteside, Studio Design Director for Guild Wars 2, brought to the forefront the vitriol surrounding the introduction of a new tier and class of items called Ascended. Before we get started a little background in case your unclear… In the spectrum of gear it goes fine (blue), masterwork (green), rare (yellow), exotic (orange), ascended (pink) and then legendary (red). Ascended items were introduced most recently in the November patch in which a new zone was introduced along with a scaling dungeon that yields and is simultaneously required to progress, ascended gear. The primary purpose for this gear as Chris put it;
“It is designed to give users a progression path that is between Exotic and Legendary (Legendary Items will be at the same power level as Ascended) and the gap between them in terms of time is very large.”
Basically ascended items are required for one specific part of the game at the moment, and the items only drop from the same specific part of the game. Despite this seemingly innocuous introduction of new items into the game, the community immediately roared in protest at their appearance. Why?
The answer requires a little history of Guild Wars 2 and the introduction of a philosophical doctrine that the games designers introduced early in the games development. The premise of this ‘constitution’ is that the designers will avidly avoid a gear treadmill as a means of introducing new content into the game. Again for outsiders, the idea of a ‘Gear Treadmill’ hearkens back to another MMO World of Warcraft. The just of the ‘gear treadmill’ is that players must first start grinding a tier of dungeons to get to a certain item level average. Once that item level average is achieved they are allowed to proceed to the second tier of dungeons to again reach the next tier. This allows Blizzard to introduce new dungeons and new itemization’s required to participate every time they patch the game. As WoW evolved, so too did the treadmill. No longer do you have to go back to older outdated content in WoW to get gear to participate in current dungeons. Blizzard has introduced systems that prevent newcomers from having to do all 15 or so tiers of raids merely to participate in the latest patch’s content (thank god). The idea of a ‘gear treadmill’, however, is and was largely seen as something to design around by the ArenaNet developers.
So it was pretty clear that the introduction of a new tier would largely be opposed by the community and Chris admitted to it in the AMA. The outrage, however, has seemingly consumed the entirety of the Reddit and other Guild Wars 2 communities since its introduction. The outrage centers around two types of players; Players who farmed for entire sets of exotic gear believing it to be the last set they would ever need in the game, and players who are incensed at the notion of a gear treadmill. This was how Guild Wars operated for years (with nothing like “levels” in the game they had few ways to qualify you for new upgraded gear).
Both types of players clearly had low expectations for new content in GW2. If new zones were introduced, how much more difficult could the designers make the content? Without a higher gear level or character level, skill alone couldn’t be the measure by which they increased difficulty. Players were pissed over how hard the Mad Kings Clocktower jumping puzzle was when it was introduced during the Halloween event. Pissed! (I did it after 2 hours and it was an incredibly satisfying experience akin to killing a major raid boss in the WoW of olde). Skill challenge increases wouldn’t have passed the communities bar anymore then a new set of gear.
If one takes a step back you begin to see a larger picture. I for one, was not shocked or angered by Ascended itemization. I can see why it needed to be incorporated into the game. Ascended gear allows players to build up a resistance to Agony (a new debuff that drains a dramatic percentage of a players health unless one has Agony resistance). Agony is the means by which new scalable content can be introduced into the game. Is it a treadmill? Sort of. Once the gear is obtained, the players could easily adapt new upgrades to the pieces of ascended gear to counter different types of Agony.
Without its introduction new content would lack challenge and the “content” that would have been introduced would have been stale and far too easy to complete. For someone looking to play this game for a long time, achieving the ‘next tier’ without actually needing to grind for it is a novel way of keeping your player base involved.
To those opposed to it, think about where you want the games next challenge to come from and ask your self if you want it to be more Mad King Clock Tower or would you rather “grind” out one more tier of gear.
Till next time,