While I didn't have much of a problem giving ArenaNet the benefit of the doubt where its desire to avoid a never-ending gear treadmill was concerned, what did bother me was how reactionary and rushed Ascended's inclusion seemed. When I thought of all the cool things the developers could have done to provide players with ways to continue progressing our characters after level 80, a new tier of gear with slightly higher stats and largely time-gated acquisition was not even on the list. I'm sure it was on the very top of some people's lists, because I remember reading several of their comments and thinking, "Wow, I could not be less excited for this, but at least somebody likes it."
In my own experience, Ascended gear panned out pretty much the way I expected it would after the dust settled. The game didn't crash and burn and the world didn't end, but the lack of apocalyptic consequences didn't make doing dailies for jewelry any more fun or interesting. At one point, I headed over to the laurel vendor to buy a new Ascended trinket, and five minutes of indecision later I walked away empty-handed. The laurels to buy one piece of Ascended jewelry represent almost a month's worth of waiting, and as irrational as it might have been, hanging on to the fruits of my labor was more attractive to me at that moment than spending them on something I would equip and then promptly forget about.
The irritation I felt at Ascended gear wasn't the result of not caring about character progression. On the contrary; I love the idea of being able to continue customizing my characters and expanding their game play options after hitting the level cap -- it's just that raising stats another few notches is about the most boring way I can imagine to do that. It's what we do for 79 levels on the way up, except without the benefit of also gaining new traits and skills. ArenaNet accomplished what it set out to do by making sure Ascended gear isn't so very powerful that it's mandatory for completing content, but at the same time, that means that it's just kind of... there. Filling a gap. Ascended trinkets are the sandbags of endgame progression: nobody can accuse them of being bad at doing what they're designed to do, but they're an obvious response to an emergency rather than something exciting to have.
So what was on my list of cool progression options I'd rather have seen over Ascended gear? Oh man, all kinds of things. New skills! New traits! Expansion of existing weapons to more professions! New Legendary weapons! After we got another tier of stat-based progression instead of any of that, I did the dramatic internal sigh and resigned myself to maybe seeing it during the game's first expansion (or whatever happens to come in place of one).
Scene: last Thursday. Enter: Game Director Colin Johanson's latest blog post.
Wintersday in July
Let's recap what's on the table. New skills and traits? Double check. Expansion of existing weapons to more professions? Workin' on it (although there are no promises that it'll happen before the end of 2013). New Legendaries? Absolutely. On top of all of that, Magic Find is becoming a collectible account-wide boost instead of a gear-based stat, and crafting is being expanded to level 500. We've already gotten that massive overhaul of the achievement system that changed it from a lackluster to-do list into a polished method of obtaining some very nice account-based rewards. While I'm not 100% sold on everything in the blog post and subsequent interviews, I will admit to having broken out in 30 seconds of spontaneous dance after reading the paragraph in Johanson's post wherein he addressed long-term concerns over Ascended gear and explained that there's now a plan in place for horizontal progression. This is more like it.
The thing I'm most excited about is actually the thing that isn't guaranteed to be putting in an appearance any time soon: professions getting access to more weapons, and potentially every weapon. I know some people will balk at the thought of an Elementalist wielding a rifle or a Warrior using a focus, but I love it. It's something that makes sense in a game where every profession uses weapons in their own distinct way (and characters regularly pick up all kinds of weapons off the ground to perform specific tasks), and it's a way to add versatility and variety that's more easily balanced than dual professions were in the original Guild Wars. Best of all, it's just a fun concept; the ways in which you can customize your character's visual theme and combat style are already pretty vast, but access to more weapons would let us play with any number of sub-archetypes inside the core profession archetypes. Maybe it's just the amateur character designer in me, but the very idea of being able to make some kind of Necromancer gunslinger or quarterstaff-wielding melee Ranger fills me with childlike glee. It would at the very least ensure that I spend the remainder of my income on character slots instead of secondary concerns such as food.
Speaking of weapons adding greater visual variety to our characters, ArenaNet's plan for new
Legendaries comes as welcome news -- let's just say that not every shortbow user appreciates the solemn dignity and majesty of The Dreamer. A few existing Legendaries got a little love in the visual effects department earlier this year, and it's good to know that similar updates are being planned for more of them. For fans of The Minstrel, our glorious day of triumph may be fast approaching; let's hope its lucky owners will be able to use their foci to bust out some sweet lute solos in the near future.
Being able to swap stats on Legendary items when out of combat is, I think, a good move as well -- a way to add utility and pizazz beyond a shiny skin without making the weapon itself more powerful. From everything ANet's said, Legendaries are meant to be something that sticks with your character, and being able to mold the stats to your individual needs without being forced to transfer just the skin to a lesser weapon does a lot to support that feeling.
I still don't like Ascended gear
I'm probably never going to be the biggest fan of Ascended gear. Making the armor and weapons obtainable through crafting is a huge step in the right direction, though. It sounds as though they'll still have a time gated component, much in the same way gear with a Celestial suffix does now, but tying it into the economy and the crafting system stands a good chance of being more fun than the "send in 40 proof-of-dailies from Laurel-Os cereal and receive your FREE Ascended trinkets (ectos and handling not included)" method that is currently the only alternative to guild commendations and running Fractals of the Mists. How it works out in practice remains to be proven, but there's at least a bit more charm in collecting something that potentially means new weapon and armor skins, especially since we haven't actually seen any full armor sets with new skins added outside of the gem store since launch (and even those have been few and far between).
I was all set up to abuse my bully pulpit here and endorse Kiel for President of Tyria, but now I'm torn. My head says that the Captains' Council needs Kiel, who isn't a pirate by nature, to balance it out... but my heart really, really wants to know exactly what went down when Abaddon fell. The lore of the Six Gods is my thing, so this is a tough one. Who are you planning to vote for? Are you voting for your favorite character, or for your favorite Fractal? Do you not care who wins as long as you get some of that awesome Aetherblade loot? Let us know in the comments below, and I'll see you on the campaign trail!
Anatoli Ingram suffers from severe altitis, Necromancitosis, and Guild Wars 2 addiction. The only known treatment is writing Massively's weekly Flameseeker Chronicles column, which is published every Tuesday. His conditions are contagious, so contact him safely at firstname.lastname@example.org. Equip cleansing skills -- just in case.