Flameseeker Chronicles: The curse of Guild Wars 2's precursor weapons

Anatoli Ingram
A. Ingram|08.05.14

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Flameseeker Chronicles: The curse of Guild Wars 2's precursor weapons
Ten thousand thank yous to eirstegalkin of Tumblr for this awesome manip of my characters together!
My wife doesn't play Guild Wars 2 any more. She hasn't exactly made a deliberate choice to leave the game and never come back, but she used to play every day. Some time around the end of season one of the living world story, she started logging in only every week or so, and then finally not at all. She dips in for a few seconds to unlock the new story chapters, but only because I remind her that they're out.

This is the first time the two of us have been seriously invested in different MMOs. When she stopped playing GW2 as often, she dived headfirst into Final Fantasy XIV, which is totally understandable because it's a great game and I play it casually myself. Normally I wouldn't consider this development to be article material because people drift away from games they used to love and find new ones all the time, and it's not necessarily a bad thing. But this wasn't a natural split: When I told her about all of the cool story stuff happening in season two, my wife's response was, "That sounds neat. Has ArenaNet implemented precursor crafting yet?"


My wife is a hardcore MMO player in both the "highly skilled" and "avid gamer" definitions of the word, and so it's not surprising that she has nearly every single piece she needs for the Legendary greatsword Sunrise. It's all sitting in her bank, waiting for the one, crucial thing she doesn't have: Dawn, the precursor weapon.

As soon as my wife had everything but the precursor, the process of crafting her Legendary stopped being fun for her. The last thing on her list is a single item that can be obtained only through the gods' own luck or a great deal of gold, far more than the hundreds of gold she had already painstakingly farmed to put together the rest of the sword's ingredients. And not wanting to grind wasn't really the issue, either: Like me, she sometimes finds grinding relaxing. This is a person who helped me farm ridiculous amounts of materials for my title in World of Warcraft; she camped rare notorious monsters endlessly in Final Fantasy XI; she gathers Atma in FFXIV with only the occasional dark muttering.

I don't think the difficulty of obtaining Dawn alone would have turned her away if it weren't for GW2's gem to gold conversion. The most reliable method of getting a precursor weapon is to buy it outright with real money, and that was one of the first things she mentioned when we first talked about it. I've written before about how GW2's reward system interacts with the gem store and can make the process of gaining items through actual gameplay feel stingy, dull, or even downright manipulative, and this is one example of that in action. My wife saw that her three choices were to gamble a lot more than she already had, farm a lot more than she already had, or pay up in cash, and she began to suspect that the system was deliberately designed to encourage paying up. We disagree on how common it probably is for people to spend multiple hundreds of dollars to avoid grinding, but she says that the bad taste it left was enough to drive her back to a subscription-based game.

The one thing that could probably bring my better half back to GW2 is the option to earn a guaranteed precursor weapon through dedicated gameplay. Precursor crafting has been in development in some form for over a year. The last we heard of it was that the release has been delayed in order to integrate it more fully with overall changes to GW2's reward system. We've apparently got a mid-season break in the story coming up after the release of The Dragon's Reach: Part Two, and some players are speculating that we might see another feature pack soon. I'm not sure how likely that is, but after spending some time with season two content, I think it seems as good a time as any to discuss how Legendary crafting might be updated to suit GW2's modern, more polished approach to... well, everything.

Not long after this picture was taken, another four Rare greatswords met a tragic end.
It all goes spiraling down, spiraling down

I kind of like Zommoros, the Elonian Djinn who powers the Mystic Forge, but as far as game mechanics go, I think the whole thing richly deserves its fan-given "Mystic Toilet" nickname. Aside from not giving out precursor weapons, gambling in the Forge actually does serve a purpose: It removes excess items from circulation, items that would otherwise be useless. It doesn't do it perfectly, but it's one of the checks on the game's item generation. GW2 is far from the only MMO with a system like this, and the problem is not so much that it exists but that a large part of one of the game's ultimate character goals is tied to a glorified recycling bin.

A player already needs to dice with Zommoros when building the non-precursor half of her weapon. One of the required elements is the Gift of Fortune, which carries implications of possessing both a monetary fortune and good fortune in general. If you get lucky, it might not take you too many rounds of flushing ectoplasm, obsidian shards, mystic coins, and skill points to get your 77 mystic clovers, and you'll probably at least get enough tier 6 materials back to put a dent in the 250 of each you need, but no matter what you're probably going to be gambling and spending money.

Obtaining the precursor requires far more in the way of both luck and money than the Gift of Fortune -- again, the element of Legendary crafting that symbolizes mastery of those aspects -- by orders of magnitude. Players have tossed thousands of weapons into the Mystic Forge without ever seeing a precursor, and the most popular ones cost more than a thousand gold. Farming the gold for one turns most of the Legendary crafting process into counting pennies, and the price increases faster than most people can reasonably farm gold. The most encouraging thing that can be said about depending on a drop from MF gambling is that the odds are better than trying to win the lottery.

Building a better magic weapon

I've read a lot of suggestions from other fans on how Legendary crafting can be "fixed" and what form precursor crafting could take. A common complaint about Legendaries is that they don't seem particularly legendary; after all, if you have the gold, you can just go pick one up off the trading post. Easier said than done, sure, but that brings us back to the acquiring-gold-as-gameplay dilemma: Exactly how legendary are these things when there are six of each on the TP at any time?

Because the legendary status of Legendary weapons is in question, it's tempting to think that precursor crafting might be a good place to inject some legend... stuff. It's also probably reasonable to guess that ArenaNet may not view current precursor prices as a problem in itself and that anything the devs choose to do ought to be difficult and time-consuming enough that buying one off the TP is still somewhat attractive. Many of the suggestions I've seen have reflected the idea that crafting a precursor should be one thousand gold's worth of work: It should be time gated to take at least several months, or it should force players to participate in every aspect of the game, and so on.

My issue with those types of suggestions is that they repeat the gold and luck problem, only with a different aspect of Legendary crafting. With the exclusion of the precursor, Legendary weapon crafting already takes a lot of time. It's already designed to require participation in everything from dungeons to World vs. World to map completion. "Like crafting the rest of the Legendary, only all over again and more punishing" is already the problem with precursors. My wife isn't the only player who has been sitting on everything but her precursor weapon for months already, and anything that relies heavily on luck, gold farming, or artificial time barriers is not likely to be received well.

Even that could probably be excused if the process had a little more personality. The importance of the precursor has swelled to mythic proportions simply because it's usually the hardest part of a Legendary to acquire, but that could maybe be justified if there were a story behind it to explain exactly what makes a given weapon legendary and what the precursor has to do with it. If finding a precursor weapon is intended to be the ultimate barrier to the quest, then knowing why is important -- otherwise it's just an arbitrary roadblock with orange text.

I'm a Necromancer, not a Mesmer. I have no idea how this happened. Maybe I'm dual-classing. You'll never know.
I feel pretty confident that whatever ArenaNet comes out with will be a significant improvement over the current system because the developers have learned a lot since launch. With permanent, area-specific content rewards in Dry Top, we've seen what I hope are the first steps toward building a world full of interesting things to find and collect. The neat quest to sprout your very own ambiguously-aligned Mordrem backpack shows that ArenaNet is capable of attaching narrative meaning to items and their acquisition. Both of those things are good signs for precursor crafting.

I also hope that both precursor crafting and the new Legendary weapons mentioned last year have been delayed because they'll be handled differently from the first set, and I'd like for them to end up a little harder to get at the expense of becoming account-bound on creation. It's probably too late to change the first batch, but a new crafting process for a new set of Legendaries would be fitting.

I'll also settle for being able to play some sick tunes on The Minstrel, but I'm simple like that.

Do you have a Legendary? What would be your ideal version of precursor crafting? Rytlock can be kind of a doofus sometimes, can't he? Next time I'll be ready to discuss The Dragon's Reach, but until then, I'll see you in the Mists!

Anatoli Ingram suffers from severe altitis, Necromancitosis, and Guild Wars 2 addiction. The only known treatment is writing Massively's biweekly Flameseeker Chronicles column, which is published every other Tuesday. His conditions are contagious, so contact him safely at anatoli@massively.com. Equip cleansing skills -- just in case.
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