The State of Alts in Guild Wars 2

Legendary!

My first Legendary, Kraitkin, is complete! Meet my eels–Clarence, Lars, Steve, and Fluffy.

Hello dear readers! I haven’t published anything in quite awhile. If you haven’t been following my tweets over the last few months, you may have missed that I crafted my first Legendary weapon, Kraitkin, made some serious money opening Orrian jewelry boxes, kept up to date with all the Living Story content, and completed my Dungeon Master title.

Just last night, for the first time since November, I leveled an alt to 80! I’ve always fancied myself as something of an altaholic, though maybe not on the same level as some people, so I thought it was curious that it’s taken me so long to get another level 80 character. Until November I was on a roll–I got 3 alts to level 80 in as many months–but somewhere along the line, my priorities shifted away from alt leveling for a long time. Recently, I got to thinking about why that happened.

Over the last 6-9 months, there have been a long string of changes that have steadily made it more difficult to progress alt characters in GW2. These changes have been in the form of new character-bound progression systems, new reward systems that can only be earned once per account, and reward systems that were per-character being changed to once-per-account. These changes are making it increasingly difficult to justify the opportunity cost of leveling an alt to 80, let alone gearing and progressing it in one’s game modes of choice.  In a lot of ways, it’s more efficient to focus all of your time and resources on a main character and forsake doing any significant progression on alts, and these kinds of changes only reinforce this fact.

It’s no coincidence that my priorities shifted in November with the introduction of Ascended gear and Fractals of the Mists. Fractal Difficulty Scale is character-bound, not account-bound, which can get in the way of bringing the character that you want to or would best suit your group makeup. Furthremore, playing Fractals on a low-scale alt means you have to give up a chance at earning an Ascended Ring or a Fractal Weapon from playing a high-scale main. Another blow to alts here is Agony Resistance which takes a very long time and a fair bit of luck to earn, especially compared to the relative ease of acquiring Exotic accessories. Leveling alts in Fractals and getting them the proper AR is prohibitively costly in terms of time–even if you want to fill a different role in your Fractal group, you have to be willing to miss out on 10 or 20-plus runs worth of high-tier rewards you could have earned on your main.

Of course, Ascended Rings have turned out to be the tip of the iceberg that is Ascended gear progression. In January, we got Laurels, a time-and-account-bound currency which is the only way to earn Ascended amulets. You can earn one laurel per day from your daily achievements, and an additional 10 from your monthly achievements, so ~40 per month. An Ascended amulet costs 30 Laurels, and the highly-popular Utility Infusions cost 10 or 20 laurels. Even if you don’t miss a daily every now and then, that’s at least a months worth of resources to get a single, fully-upgraded accessory.

Continuing this trend, in February we got Guild Commendations, a time-and-account-bound currency earned through completing Guild Missions. Assuming you are in a large, active, and motivated guild, you can earn a maximum of 6 commendations per week. Ascended Trinkets cost 12 Commendations and 5 gold or 40 Laurels and 50 Ecto–while you technically aren’t dependent on a guild, the choice is heavily weighted toward depending on one.

The nature of time-bound rewards is that there is a maximum rate at which you can earn them which cannot be overcome by skilled play or even just putting in more hours. Let’s look at a non-time-bound reward–Ecto. If you are working toward two items that require Ecto, say a Legendary weapon and a crafted set of exotic armor, you can work towards them in parallel by spending some extra effort: buy ecto with money you earned some other way, or run a few more meta events than you normally would so you get more rare items you can salvage. Furthermore, both Legendaries and crafted exotic items require many different materials to create, so you can be working on accumulating resources for both without delaying your progress on either one.

With Laurels and Commendations, no such options to work in parallel exist because once you max out your rate of progression, that’s it. If you want Ascended amulets and trinkets for your main and your alts, you must work on them one at a time. If you want a fun item like the cat tonic or a mini siege golem, you must also prioritize those against how much you want to gear your alts. The more alts you have, the more of a strain these time-bound, once-per-account rewards put on you. Thus, these currencies are inherently anti-alt.

In March, the new World vs World progression system was introduced. World XP and World Ranks are not only earned individually on each character, but they cannot be reset. If you want to play alts in WvW, you must be willing to play without any World Rank bonuses you’ve earned on your other characters. If you decide you don’t like the way you’ve allocated your ability points? Too bad–you can start leveling a different character or simply ignore the points you’ve already spent. It really confuses me that World Abilities are so permanent–it’s totally unlike the rest of the game. Skills and weapon sets can be changed on a whim, traits can be changed for a nominal fee, and gear stats can be overhauled with a bit of effort. Inexplicably, WvW progression joins race, profession, and personal story as a set-in-stone aspect of a character that cannot be changed, even taking Gem Store services into account.

In April and May we were treated to the conclusion of the Flame and Frost story arc and caught some sun in Southsun Cove. Completing the quest log achievements for each of these story arcs yields some exciting new items–the Fused Gauntlets from F&F and two back pieces from Secret of Southsun. Unfortunately, the account-wide nature of achievements means that each account can only earn each of these items once. On the whole, it’s very good that achievements (and the titles they unlock) are progressed on an account-wide basis, but locking down actual reward items this way seems like a mistake. Every Sylvari deserves a chance at a Fervid Censer of its own!

Finally, somewhere along the line guaranteed rare items from meta events and WvW jump puzzle chests were both changed to be lootable once per day per account, rather than per character. At first this may seem like a kick in the teeth, but when I consider extreme ease of afk-autoattacking a dozen meta events in 2 hours or having a mesmer portal you up the Eternal Battlegrounds jump puzzle 8 times, I realize the original rewards were pretty excessive. They encouraged grinding the same content over and over, which is something ArenaNet says it is against.

My new level 80 mesmer, Michallis--complete with dual Super Swords for maximum awesome.

My new level 80 mesmer, Michallis, complete with dual Super Swords for maximum awesome.

That all sounds pretty bad, right? Well, now is the part where I take a breath and admit the sky isn’t falling.

Happily, my favorite content of the year so far was kind enough not to make the mistake of account-binding its rewards. Super Adventure Box was infinitely repeatable on any character, and the bonus Bauble Bubbles could be earned once per day per character. This was excellent! All told I earned myself 5 Super Weapons–two Super Swords and a Super Greatsword for my mesmer, another Super Greatsword for my warrior, and a Super Shield for my guardian. The best part? They only took me a few hours each because I could very quickly get through all 3 stages on all 8 of my characters. (Besides, I need to keep up my reputation as the crazy idiot who did Mad King’s Clocktower 8 times!)

Even going back to the updates that I consider problematic for alts, it’s not all a wash. In Fractals, players who put in the effort of earning Scale 10 or 20+ on multiple characters are able to accelerate how fast they earn Ascended Ring RNG drops, regular and Pristine Fractal Relics, and Fractal Weapons. Each Fractal Daily Chest for each 10-scale increment (1-9, 10-19, etc.) is character bound. This is good–it provides a long-term reward for making a difficult short/mid-term investment in your alts.

Given the change to WvW chests and meta events though, I fear for my precious Fractal Daily Chests. Maybe one day they will be made account-wide as well. Hopefully such a change will never happen, but if it does, I hope it would coincide with making Fractal Difficulty Scale account-wide as well. There’s no reason to gate alts from playing high-level Fractals if the rewards cease to be repeatable, especially because you only need 5 or 10 Agony Resistance to survive Scale 20 if you are experienced.

Guild Wars had, before late last year, always been a series about fairly easily earning max level and max stat gear on many characters in a relatively short amount of time, and being able to pool resources earned across multiple characters. This is still the case in PvP–everyone has max stats always–but PvE and WvW are increasingly breaking away from this legacy in favor of time-gated and/or grindy progression systems that don’t respect the player’s time the way the game did at launch. We’ve seen ArenaNet use different approaches to content updates and reward systems–Super Adventure Box and instance rewards are very alt-friendly, but other content not so much. As a company that wants to sell us character slots, I hope ArenaNet will not make things difficult for those of us that decide to purchase them.

Posted in Guild Wars 2 | 4 Comments

Defying Explanation

As a regular dungeon runner in GW2, the single place that is always a source of confusion for my party members is the Defiant buff unique to Champion and Legendary foes. On a near-daily basis, I find myself having to debunk wrong information about how Defiant works and explain why particular attempts to crowd control (or CC for short) a boss do or don’t work. This post aims to explain exactly how Defiant works, dispel myths, explain confusing situations, and point out various “cheater mobs” that don’t follow the rules.

What is Defiant?

Many people probably don’t know what Defiant is at all and I can hardly blame them–the game does not have any kind of tutorial that introduces players to it, you simply start seeing it when you begin fighting Champions. Sure, you could mouse over the buff’s description and read it, but the fact that the targeted foe’s status effects all have tiny icons that are constantly shifting from side-to-side as new ones are added and old ones expire makes the tooltips vanish constantly. Trying to read your target’s effect tooltips is a huge distraction and I doubt most people bother.

But to answer the question: Defiant is a buff unique to Champion and Legendary foes that makes the foe immune to crowd controls–daze, stun, pull, push, fear, launch, and knockdown. Defiant is a stacking buff, like Might, but with an infinite duration and no stacking limit. When a foe with Defiant is crowd controlled, the CC is negated and one stack of Defiant is removed. When the last stack of Defiant is removed, the next crowd control to hit the foe will take its full effect rather than be ignored.

Where does Defiant come from?

Nearly all Champion and Legendary foes have a buff called Unshakable  This is another permanent buff but unlike Defiant there is no way to remove it. Its description reads as follows: “Gains defiant when targeted by crowd control skills. Blind is 10% effective. Weakness and vulnerability last 50% less time.” The first part is what we’re interested in. When a boss foe spawns, it will only have Unshakable and no Defiant. The first time the boss is crowd controlled the CC will take effect and cause the boss to gain Defiant. A key point here is that as of this writing, CCing an Unshakable foe is the only way to cause Defiant.

What controls how much Defiant a foe gets?

When crowd controlled, all Unshakable foes gain a minimum of 3 stacks of Defiant but may gain as many as the number of players in the area around them. I have seen the Champions in the Claw of Jormag event have more than 40 stacks of Defiant due to the high population of the event. Yes, this means 40 CC’s must be wasted before one will take effect, and no, it’s not worth it to try. The minimum of 3 stacks may vary in some areas of the game–for instance, bosses in Fractals of the Mists seem to have a higher minimum Defiant based on the difficulty scale.

That’s a lot of words, say it in 140 characters or less.

Bosses have Unshakable, which gives Defiant, which blocks CC’s. Remove Defiant by “wasting” CC’s and the boss can be CC’d again.

What are some common myths surrounding Defiant and Unshakable?

The most common myth would be the blanket belief that boss foes simply cannot be crowd controlled, period. This is demonstrably false–go find a champion and pay careful attention to how much Defiant it has, and hit it with a CC when it has none. Use one that is clearly noticeable, like a 2-second stun or a launch to make sure you see it–I promise it will work.

Another common myth is that Unshakable foes can generate Defiant on their own in some fashion. This is not true either–as I explained above, the only way a boss can have Defiant is if a player successfully CC’s it. When a boss suddenly gains Defiant and you don’t know why, another player is certainly to blame. People fire off their skills carelessly all the time (or simply don’t coordinate what CC’s are being used.) A short CC like a quarter-second daze will still cause Defiant and can easily go unnoticed if you aren’t watching the target’s status effects closely. It’s also possible that your own CC just didn’t work correctly–for instance, the target got caught on the terrain and did not get pushed/pulled/launched the full distance.

But Fear used to always work on foes with Defiant. What happened?

Fear is in the unfortunate position of being both a condition and a control–it is mitigated by condition removal as well as stun-breaks, Stability, and Defiant. There was a period of a couple of months early after launch when Fear ignored Defiant and always affected foes, but this was eventually changed back and documented in the patch notes as a bug fix.

Wait, I can think of mobs that don’t work this way!

So can I. There are many foes in the game that are immune to all control effects, but the effects that cause this should not be confused with Defiant. Here are a bunch of exceptions to the rules:

  • Permanent Stability: Several types of foes (especially Earth Elementals and similar constructs like Flame Effigies) have a permanent Stability buff, sometimes denoted by a shining yellow status effect or the word “Stability” in their tactics text. Unfortunately, some mobs have perma-stability but the UI does not indicate this in any way. Regardless of whether these foes also have Unshakable, they will never be affected by crowd controls.
  • AC Story Mode: King Adelbern and Kasha Blackblood have Unshakable, yet seem to to be affected by CC’s whether they have any Defiant or not. The lovers Relena and Vassar are Champions but do not have Unshakable because knocking them apart with boulders is a unique mechanic of that battle. Considering this is the very first dungeon most players will attempt, it’s confusing and annoying that players are not exposed to dealing with Defiant in a clear, consistent way.
  • Unstoppable: Some large foes like Risen Abominations may have “Unstoppable” in their tactics text. Unstoppable foes have permanent stability and are immune to snares like Cripple, Chill, and Immobilize. (Update: turns out Chill works on Unstoppable foes.)
  • Sink and Float: Even though these are definitely control effects, they will work even if the target has Defiant. I strongly suspect this is a bug and has not yet been fixed because it only affects underwater combat.
  • Vollym The Fierce: The champion of the battle pit in Gendarran Fields is a cheater as far as the Defiant system goes. He is a veteran mob, but will randomly be immune to crowd controls and/or gain defiant for no apparent reason. I have also heard that he gains Unshakable when a large number of players join the event. Either way, any experience you have with Vollym should not be part of your thinking when it comes to using CC’s on bosses.
  • Stationary foes: This is a common mechanic in some dungeons, especially Caudecus’s Manor. When CC’d these foes will still be disabled for the same duration they would be if they were non-stationary, but any movement effect will be negated.

But I’ve interrupted foes that have Defiant before!

The concept of “easily interrupted” skills has been silently taken from Guild Wars 1 but is never explained anywhere. Under certain conditions, certain monster skills may be interrupted even if they have Defiant. For example, the Graveling Scavengers in Ascalonian Catacombs may be interrupted from performing their devastating leap-knockdown attack even if they have Defiant, except instead of the CC’s intended effect, the Scavenger will always be stunned instead. Another more common example is the healing skill of the two end bosses of the Underground Facility Fractal. As long as the boss is Superheated, the healing skill can be interrupted by any attack, not just a control. Again, the game makes no effort to explain this, leaving it up to obsessive people like me to figure out the details.

The thief’s elite skill Basilisk Venom ignores Defiant.

I think it’s unfortunate that such a simple mechanic requires so much explanation and has so many bugs and exceptions, but there we have it. Understanding Defiant and not being mystified when your CC’s do or don’t work will make you a better dungeon player. Not only is knocking a boss on its ass or flying through the air hilarious, but being able to coordinate it is good strategy and a life saver at critical moments. Unshakable

Posted in Guild Wars 2 | Tagged , | 11 Comments

Flame and Frost Impressions

This week marks the release of Guild Wars 2′s first major update of the year, Flame and Frost: Prelude, which promises to lay the groundwork for bigger updates throughout the first half of the year. Between both GW1 and GW2 ArenaNet has quite the reputation to live up to when it comes to major patches–arguably, one they have betrayed once already. As a patch that’s supposed to set the stage for what’s to come, the long-term implications of Flame and Frost are pretty important. Does it follow through on its promises? Read on for my take on the new content and features.

I would be remiss not to begin by mentioning the feature whose absence has caused me considerable frustration: guesting has finally arrived–hooray! PvE players may now select 2 worlds per 24 hour period besides their home world to play on, allowing them to play with their friends in the open world. Finally having guesting goes a long way to reconciling people’s expectations with what was promised, but it does not go as far as it could have. It’s not possible for players on North American home servers to guest to European servers and vice-versa. While this was likely done due to technical and performance restrictions, it still serves to divide GW2′s global community in half on the arbitrary basis of geography. As a guild leader, a restriction I have even less sympathy for is related to influence: while guesting, all influence you earn still goes back to your  home server, even if you choose to represent a guild whose server you are guesting on. This means that social play and repping your “non-main” guilds are still disincentivized despite the fact you can play together. I don’t think this will stop people from guesting, but it doesn’t make sense to me and I would like to see it changed.

This patch does much, much more than introduce guesting though–what ArenaNet features most prominently on the announcement page is the new concept of Living Story. They want to follow through on their promise of creating a “living, breathing world” by introducing gradual changes to the world, giving you reasons to revisit areas you may have already completed or outleveled and have new experiences there. This new story arc begins with displaced Norn and Charr, whose homes have been destroyed by underground activity causing destruction on the surface, going south to seek refuge in their capitol cities.

I went to Wayfarer Foothills to see what’s new. I walked along the familiar path from Hoelbrak to the border with Diessa Plateau, “helped” refugees by pressing F to kneel next to them, collected the personal belongings of refugees who did not survive the journey, repaired road signs, and participated in a new dynamic event. The event consists of steam vents popping up in a large area and spewing out Ice Elementals which the players must defeat to pick up special ice chunks which can plug the vents back up.

All of this activity gives credit towards a new achievement and title track called Volunteer, which can be maxed out in a couple of hours–I think of it like a zone-wide Renown Heart. It’s an easy reward to earn so I imagine most achievement hunters have already snatched it up. PvE still doesn’t have many titles compared to SPvP and WvW so it’s nice to have another one in the mix. I hope future Living Story steps will also have unique titles.

From a lore perspective, it’s not yet clear what is causing the underground seismic activity. Our existing general knowledge points to the underground-dwelling elder dragon Primordus and his Destroyer minions, or the Charr’s own renegade Flame Legion using new-found magic to wage war on its foes. The “and Frost” part of the update’s title points to the ice dragon Jormag. Unfortunately, in her own words Regina from the Community team swooped in to “crush our dreams,” saying there will be “no dragons coming with the Flame and Frost story arc.” I’m disappointed ANet felt the need to take away some mystery from this new arc–knowing something won’t happen is a form of spoilers and dampens the community’s excitement.

The next major item in the update is the new Laurel reward currency and the new Daily and Monthly achievement system that accompanies it. Laurels are an account-bound currency that can be traded in at vendors in Lion’s Arch and the racial cities for a very wide variety of rewards. There is really something for everyone and something to satisfy every short- and long-term goal–Ascended amulets and rings, infusions, crafting materials and starter kits, gathering tools, boosters, Mystic Forge components, dye, new minis, and profession-themed high-end gear chests.

My favorite thing in that whole list is the new Gold Find infusion–Gold Find is the only reason I use Omnomberry Bars so being able to have a permanent 20% GF boost is very enticing. That said, at least for my main, I see myself having two Ascended amulets long-term, one with Gold Find and another with Agony Resistance.

The introduction of ascended amulets could have been a major sore spot for players who crafted the expensive Triforge Pendant, but fortunately there is a very inexpensive recipe that allows you to upgrade one to Ascended. I imagine that as other ascended item types are rolled out, “super-exotic” items like Infinite LightMjolnir, and many others will receive similar treatment. In my opinion, if you put the work into making (or buying) such an expensive item you deserve to upgrade it with relative ease, and it seems ArenaNet agrees.

The most interesting part of the Laurel system to me is the progression. Daily achievement completion grants one Laurel, while monthly completion grants ten. Not only can you do the math and figure out exactly when you’ll have enough Laurels for your desired reward, but it’s a reasonably attainable effort to max out the rate at which you earn Laurels. For now you can earn about 40 laurels per month and that’s it. Hardcore players will not be able to leave more casual players in the dust as they can through other forms of play.

As for the achievements themselves, there is a new rotation of daily achievements including Daily Dodger, Underwater Slayer, Crafter, Veteran Slayer, and Healer (revives) in addition to the ones we are already used to. A random 5 of these are required per day, up from 4 under the old system. This is not exactly what ArenaNet described when this system was announced–we were told players would be able to choose 4 out of 6 achievements in order to earn daily rewards. I hope this change will be released sooner rather than later so that doing daily is less work.

PvE-only players will be relieved that February’s monthly achievements do not include World vs World player kills. WvW and I get along much better than we used to, but it’s nice to get a break from grinding out those kills this month. I can go into WvW and play properly without worrying about an achievement derailing good strategy.

The changes to the game that are most relevant to my in-game expertise are the updates to Dungeons and Fractals. The core change is that it’s no longer possible to use a waypoint while anyone in your party is in combat–if you are defeated, your party must revive you or leave combat (letting the current encounter reset/fail) before you can return to the action. This is intended to force players to fight without “res-rushing,” or having players run back in the middle of a fight before the party wipes. Personally, I really like this change–res-rushing something I never liked but was forced to accept because it was so much easier than having the party try to revive you. Victories won by res-rush felt cheap and unearned to me because there was virtually no penalty for dying.

That said, dungeons sported some very difficult encounters that have been changed to account for this new restriction. Here are the changed encounters I’ve played so far:

  • Twilight Arbor’s Nightmare Vines have had their damage drastically reduced, making it unnecessary to exploit their blind spots to defeat them. Trying to revive someone who has defeated is no longer a death sentence.
  • The fight with Leurent in the Forward/Forward path of TA has been changed so that he has a mix of adds rather than three infamous Nightmare Wardens that must be pulled and fought one at a time.
  • The “Defend Magg while he plants the bomb” phase of Citadel of Flame Path 2 is now a lot of fun! The infinite spawn of enemies are now trash mobs instead of silver veterans and the encounter can be beaten by dodging around and looking out for the Flame Legion Assassins that will beeline for Magg and take him down. No res-rushing or kiting out of the room required.

Similarly, the Fractals of the Mists (which received much attention on here) have gone through some highly-anticipated updates as well. The party may now enter FotM at the party’s highest available difficulty level instead of the lowest, making progression much easier for everyone involved. Additionally, the Fractals now behave like other dungeons in that you can now reconnect after disconnecting, change characters, and swap out party members as needed. I don’t know how the Fractals were allowed to ship without these capabilities, but I’m nonetheless grateful to be rid of those frustrations.

This patch takes steps towards solving some of the problems introduced by FotM discussed in AJ’s post. The big thing that’s been solved is that ascended gear and infusions are now obtainable with Laurels, making it possible to earn max-stat rings and amulets through any kind of PvE gameplay, albeit over a longer period of time. Ascended back pieces are still exclusive to FotM, but two out of three ascended item types being earnable outside of fractals is excellent progress. WvW players are able to earn the PvE daily and monthly, so they now have an avenue to earn Ascended items too. Second, many of the new infusions have uses other than surviving high-level Fractals, ending their single-purpose nature. The patch has made ascended items and infusions much more accessible and more useful, which is good news for everyone.

I am very happy with these changes, but there is still some work to be done. Mist Essences are still an account-bound random drop, forcing you to run fractals until the RNG gods decide to bestow a sufficient number of them on you. This is the exact kind of reward system that dungeon tokens were supposed to replace, so I see no reason why Mist Essence can’t be purchased with Fractal Relics. Furthermore, I have two random-drop Ascended rings collecting dust in my bank because they don’t work for any of my characters’ builds. It would be great if I could do something with them–throw 4 in the mystic forge to exchange them for something else, sell them to a vendor for (Pristine) Fractal Relics, anything.

There is more to say–I didn’t talk about Orr but I like the changes made there as well–but overall my verdict is that this is a very good patch. I think that all of the stuff it does is good, and most of my complaints are only to do with things it doesn’t do. A few major things have been checked off my wishlist–the release of guesting and a solution to the overemphasis of Fractal grind–so I would have a hard time walking away displeased. There are still things I would add and change in the game, but if this is only the first patch of the year I think we have a lot of good stuff to look forward to.

Posted in Guild Wars 2 | 4 Comments

Guest Post: Why Fractals are Really, REALLY bad for the GW2 Community

A lot has been said about the newest addition to Guild Wars 2, Fractals, and I want to start out by pointing out a few great things about Fractals. One, they are great end-game content for people who love challenging raid-like content. The never ending, ever scaling difficulty is fantastic for people who love a challenge. The instances themselves are fairly short, and each has unique mechanics that offer people different challenges that are more than “kill mobs, loot bodies”. The fractals being small instances that fall largely outside of the known lore, allows the designers to add new instances, with new mechanics whenever they want, thus, expanding the end-game, with little resources expended. These unique mechanics also allow for more social interaction between players, and necessitate more use of voice chats; allowing more people to make friendships and build community.

This being said, they are a huge problem. The ever scaling nature of these dungeons and the inclusion of ascended items and agony will in the long term split the community.  In order to get the best rewards you generally must do between 4 and 7 fractals in a row, in order to encounter the special instanced boss and daily bonus chest, and get more fractal relics. While an individual fractal instance is short, a set of 3 usually takes about an hour. This is as long or longer than most dungeon runs. If you want to progress in fractals, you might as well do 7 in a row, which can quickly push over 2 hours. This is a lot of time for more casual gamers, and is going to discourage many of these gamers from playing them.

Second is Agony, which does not kick in until level 10. Casual gamers who want a challenge but may not have time to invest in grinding agony protection can stay below this cap and enjoy fractals without having to worry about it. But this is where the problem lies. If these causal gamers want to play with their friends who are more invested in Fractals, their friends will either have to play at a lower level, and not be getting as much reward, or the lower level players will be forced to play on levels with agony, for which they are not prepared.

The upcoming patch to Fractals will reward players who scale down to play with others with a Karma reward, but they will not be receiving their full reward. According to the recent blog by Isaiah Cartwright: “Rewards from the fractal will be based on players’ personal reward level as long as the reward level is equal to or lower than the chosen fractal level.” This means if you are a level 2 Fractal player, and run a level 20 Fractal with your friends, you will get level 2 rewards, even though you have just completed content that is level 20 difficulty.

This will result in casual players who do not grind Fractals being unable to survive in Fractals due to agony, and will lead to a massive split in the community between those who have agony resistance, and those who do not. Right now we see people looking for fractals of a certain level, and we are already seeing groups looking for level 10+, 20+, etc. and this patch is not going to help. More and more, casual gamers who do not have agony resistance will be left behind, and will have a hard time catching up. Having low agony resistance will have the potential to make you an active hindrance to your group, making them chose between sacrificing their rewards to help you increase your fractal level or refusing to group with you all together because you will be too weak.

I wonder if this is what agony feels like?

This will create a major split in the population of Guild Wars 2. Up until now, any player with a level 80 can do any of the content in the game reasonably well. Once they have full exotics there is no limit to the content they can master with relative ease. While adding more challenging content is a good thing, the very nature of Fractals and Agony serves to divide the community and limits the available content to level 80 players, based not on their skill but on their gear creating a gear wall that previously did not exist.

Which leads to the biggest flaw in the Fractal system: Ascended items. These items are not just means to absorb the agony being inflicted on players in the level 10+ Fractals, but have a statistical advantage compared to exotic gear. At the moment you may only get Ascended back pieces and rings, which gives only a very small advantage to those with them. However, it has been promised that more gear will be added to the game that will have these Ascended stats.

In time, this will cause a major imbalance among the community, especially when it comes to WvW. Right now, if you have Ascended items, you only have a minor advantage, but the more gear that is added, the more of an advantage these ascended items will become, and this will force players who enjoy WvW to obtain these items. Until now, you could obtain everything you need for the best gear without ever leaving WvW. This allows players to play the way they want, and still have the best stuff. Now WvW players are required to play Fractals (which they may not enjoy) in order to obtain this best gear, and if the future roll-out of Ascended items continues to be mishandled as it has been thus far, this problem will only get worse.

In fact, if you want the best gear in the game, you are required to play these instances. Not just run them 20 or so times to gain a full set of armor like in the traditional dungeons, but hundreds, if not thousands of times in order to get all the relics and rare drops you can only get through this system. There is no way for people who do not want to run this content to obtain these items. You can buy a legendary on the trading Post, but you cannot buy and Ascended ring, or even the components required to make one yourself.

This means that a person who may have not played even one hour in the game, could potentially buy gold (legally or illegally) and have a a Legendary Weapon, but a legitimate player with hundreds of hours of play experience is forced to grind this content to at least level 10 difficulty in order to simply have max stat gear. Adding insult to injury, when Ascended weapons are added Legendary weapons will be automatically be upgraded to these max stats.

I have no problem with the rare skinned Fractal weapons being Account Bound, though I think it is an odd choice considering Legendary Weapons can be sold, but why not the rings? Why can these not be sold via the Trading Post so players who are a little late to the party can grab the infused rings and play at any level they choose? While it does not take a lot of runs to obtain a ring with a simple infusion, it’s enough that some new players may be nervous going into this new content, and it will definitely keep them sectioned into much lower difficulty levels of Fractals to avoid being 1-shot by agony. It’s also a fairly unfriendly system to those who I will affectionately call “Altaholics”.

It’s only a problem if they aren’t all properly geared.

Further, the back pieces require 1,350 Fractal relics (more than a set of exotic armor purchased with dungeon tokens) which then have to be upgraded once through the Mystic Forge using even more Fractal Relics to be considered Ascended with an infusion slot, and then again to have an Infusion applied. That infusion will cost you 250 ectos, more Fractal Relics and possibly even stacks of T6 mats! Ascended gear was added because of Agony, so why must a player not only spend hours upon hours to get the relics for the back piece, but then spend close to 100 gold so that it will do what Ascended items are supposed to do?

This is not just raiding, this is grind! ArenaNet has over and over said that this game would not have grind, but now we have Fractals. This is the gear grind treadmill that they promised us we would not encounter. These are typical, WoW-esq raids, in mini packages so we do not call them raids. While there should be challenging end-game content, the requirement that you must grind in order to be well equipped, goes against the MMO Manifesto ArenaNet themselves created.

So how do we fix Fractals? It’s simple. Allow for the creation and acquisition of Ascended items throughout all parts of the game.  Allow WvW players to earn these items through random drops, and Medals of Honor they receive in WvW. Allow PvE-centric players to earn these items through crafting, Karma, or dungeon tokens. Allow players who do not like Fractals, or who only want to play them now and again, to acquire all the same gear that is currently only available to the Fractal grinders. This will also allow for the designers to add Agony to other parts of the game if they choose, but not have players be sectioned off from this new content because they didn’t grind Fractals.

Raids are not bad. Having hard-as-nails content is not bad. The idea that in order to get the best in-game gear requires you to grind the same instances over and over and over and hope you get the account bound mist essences required to create this max stat gear is utterly absurd. This is exactly what long-time fans of the franchise did not want to see, and were afraid we would see because of ArenaNet’s desire to draw in more of the “traditional MMO” crowd. ArenaNet set out to innovate the MMO industry, and Fractals as they currently stand are a huge step back.

Diversity is not bad, but dividing the community is. ArenaNet gave themselves a huge challenge in trying to draw in such a diverse group of gamers, now they have to live with it. While the upcoming changes to Fractals will help for more group inclusion, Ascended items and Agony are going to continue to divide the community until there is a real solution to these issues implemented into the game, and grind is not the solution.

“We just don’t want players to grind in Guild Wars 2. No one enjoys that, no one finds it fun.” – Colin Johanson

wave

AJ Wolf is a long time gamer, fan of the Guild Wars franchise and co-leader of I Can Outtweet a Centaur [TWIT]. She enjoys dungeons, exploration, and spending all her gold on T3 armor. You can follow her on Twitter @AJWolf84.

Posted in Guild Wars 2 | 19 Comments

My Year of the Dragon in Review

It's been a great year.

Spoilers – this is what you see when you get 100% world completion!

WordPress sent me an automated year in review report for this blog, which has inspired me to write in about everything that happened this year–and what a great year it’s been!

First of all, if you’re reading this–thank you. I’ve said this before but I started writing with only vague hopes of contributing to the Guild Wars community, so I’m humbled to have a worldwide readership. I will admit to trying to get a nod from ArenaNet’s social media death ray and not succeeding, but that’s okay, I’m still pretty new at this whole thing. Something to try for next year.

My most popular posts were by far the Necromancer PvE series I wrote during the BWE’s. This may simply be a function of time since they are among my oldest posts, but I linked them a lot and included a lot of images, which netted quite a few google image search visits. Fortunately, a lot of the info in there still holds up despite changes between beta and launch. I still recommend giving those posts a read if you’ve never played a necro and want my impressions on their play style and flavor after 60-odd hours of play, especially with the knowledge I still love playing my necro with hundreds of  hours logged.

@TriggerSad, the Big Bad Lich says to leave the little ghost alone...

Despada, the Big Bad Lich says to leave the little ghost alone…

I can’t stress enough how a having a good group of people to fall back on will make or break your MMO experience. ArenaNet has definitely succeeded in cultivating a healthy fan community around their games, and it’s from there that [TWIT] was born. I like to have fun, have nice people to play with, and not deal with a lot of needless rules and requirements–TWIT does it all. Impromptu dance parties, dragon-slaying, high-end node gathering, and dungeon marathons with a great group of people; I could not possibly ask for a better guild. Besides, where else would I have learned that Lich Form has the same emotes as a male Norn?

Me and three #twitguild superstars--@AJWolf84, @TriggerSad, and @LadyVerene! <3

Me and three #twitguild superstars–@AJWolf84, @TriggerSad, and @LadyVerene! <3

The year may be ending, but GW2 has only been live since August. I’ve accomplished quite a bit in those four months:

  • I’ve leveled four characters to 80! In order: necromancer, warrior, engineer, and just last night my guardian. I love having alts because I get to figure out different play styles for each one and see them unfold as I level, using explorable mode dungeons as an acid test. I’ve learned so much about high-level play just by trying out different offensive and defensive builds.
  • 100% world completion! It took a month longer to get my title/star/reward than it should have because of my WvW matchup, but I really enjoyed mapping all of the PvE zones. I’m thrilled that mapping is such a massive step up from the obsessive edge-scraping that the Cartographer titles demanded in GW1, as exploration is my favorite part of any RPG.
  • I’m not a Dungeon Master yet, but I’m well on my way. My #twitguild friends and I are dungeon-running fiends–we have pretty much mastered all paths of AC, CM, and TA. We also have two paths of Honor of the Waves under foot, only avoiding the third because of tedious underwater bosses. I do run the Fractals occasionally, but as time goes on I only find more unkind things to say about the entirety of the Lost Shores patch. I’m going to save and temper those thoughts for a separate post.
  • My title-hunting, completionist nature has led me to earn Master Crafter, Emissary of the Mad King, and Apprentice Toymaker. Furthermore, I’ve confirmed my status as an insane person by completing the Mad King’s Clocktower on all 8 of my characters, which includes two Charr and a Norn.
  • I killed Zhaitan, completing the personal story and all of the Story Mode dungeons along the way. My necro rose to prominence in the Durmand Priory and later the Pact, making (and losing) many friends in the process. Criticism aside, the personal story tells a story of tragedy and loss, but also one of victory and hope for Tyria’s future. The epilogue is one of the best I’ve seen in an epic RPG story.
  • With some monetary help from #twitguild, my necro is a Commander! We also helped finance commander books for Verene and AJ. I hope guesting will emerge from the Mists soon so that we can put these to good use for coordinating mass PvE silliness.

Looking ahead, I’m planning to follow up my necro PvE series with some in-depth posts on the builds I’ve come up with for my necro and alts–I’m particularly excited to share my engineer’s build. I also have a couple of impassioned rants in my drafts folder and in my head that I want to get out there in the near future. In-game, I will continue to focus on my alts–decking them all out with high-end weapon and armor skins will keep me occupied for a long time. My current project is a full set of Tier 3 Asura Heavy armor for my guardian; I’ve been a sucker for it ever since I saw this. I’m also slowly working on mapping all the level 60-80 zones on my alts for the high-end crafting mats and guaranteed exotics, and the next character I’ll take to Level 80 is my mesmer.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Opt Out: Chris Whiteside AMA

I didn’t have the stomach to make perusing the forums and reporting the good bits into a regular feature here, but Today’s AMA answers a bunch of important questions and spurred me to action. I understand the AMA is not finished yet, so I will edit/comment in new answers if it proves needed.

Loot Treadmill Concerns: I totally called it at the end of my last post–Chris indicated in several of his answers that the new Ascended rarity introduced by the Lost Shores patch is something that, in hindsight, should have been in the game at launch. It comes as a huge relief that they’ve taken this perspective, rather than one where grinding for a new rarity of loot every few months is the new norm. Explicitly, Chris says they do not intend to introduce a new tier of loot above Ascended, but attached a typical ArenaNet “we do not make eternal promises”-type disclaimer to several such statements.

“In retrospect Ascended should have been deployed pre launch and earn able throughout most activities in the game (which is how we are moving forward).” context

There is a very comprehensive summary of some of the other finer points here. Chris seems to be going down the line and responding to some of that thread’s ridiculous number of questions.

There are several mentions of the “time gap” between Exotic and Legendary and how this was key in the motivation to introduce Ascended gear. The thinking was Exotics were “too easy” and Legendaries were “too hard,” so players wanted something inbetween. Problem is, I don’t buy it. I didn’t want an inbetween step. None of my regular guildies and groupmates wanted an inbetween step. I know my group and I don’t speak for everyone, but who are these people? Did they really want this as the solution to their problem?

“Zero Grind”: Chris caught some flak for claiming that the patch was adhering to ArenaNet’s philosophy of zero grind and that Ascended gear does not violate the Manifesto. He takes a step back and admits that there has been some straying from the Manifesto that they would like to fix:

Q: “With regard to minimal Grind, how is going from 5 Ectos to 50 Ectos for a piece of gear minimal? 5 T6 items to 250 T6 items, minimal?”

A: “… We are currently discussing these particular items and it is fair to say that we don’t want have such big hikes in requirements moving forward.” context

Q: “Any plans to have high-end items feel more like adventure than grind/trading post? I like to go to zones and do cool things, battle through a DE chain I’ve never seen before, things like that. Piling up stacks of 250 high-end items and dumping them into the Mystic Forge really isn’t my thing.”

A: “Yes definitely. That is most certainly our intention, one that has been misrepresented in the itemization of the FotM.” context

Q: “What is your/ANet’s definition of grind? Serious question.”

A: “Repetitive game play that is not fun.” context

Taking Ownership: It would be very easy to try and downplay how various things didn’t go well or were mishandled in the last couple of weeks, but Chris Whiteside is not playing that game with us. He shows us a great deal of respect by taking ownership of the problems, both with the Karka one-time events and with the announcement and initial release of the Ascended gear:

“Having said that, we’re also aware that there were certain aspects of the [Karka] event that could have worked better than they did, and thanks to your excellent feedback we’ll be working toward strengthening this type of content moving forward. …” context

“… So in short its an exciting problem but one that has been poorly communicated and handled. And for this i take responsibility and apologies (sic). …” context

On this front Chris echoed something else I said last week–he admitted that the way information about Ascended gear was released caused problems and they’re talking internally about how to improve that process.

Q: “… I think that a lot of the recent drama could have been abated somewhat by giving direct statements to the players, rather than leaking incomplete information to third-party sites. This AMA is great, but it’s a few weeks late.”

A: “… I agree whole heatedly and this is something we have and are continuing to have multiple discussions about.” context

Personal Story/Home Instance Improvements: Chris expressed that they will be improving both of these things in future content additions. Sounds good to me–I’d like it if the Home Instance had more of a purpose than being a fancy quest hub for your level 1-30 personal story. It sounded like it would be more like a Hall of Monuments analog for each of your characters in the pre-release days, reflecting your choices and accomplishments, which would be awesome. Personally I think we won’t see any major improvements here until an expansion, but it’s one instance they know they can improve.

Asura Weapon Sizes: I thought it was great that Chris took this question even though it’s totally outside of what the community at large is talking about right now. The guy cares about all aspects of the game, big and small.

One-Time Events: One commenter expressed sentiments similar to my own regarding the one-time Karka events–he likes the idea of it, but the one-time-ever event that requires everyone to log on at once was not good in practice. Chris said they will “design these events to be as inclusive as possible” in the future.

Guesting: No comments yet. Sad.

Trading Post “Quality of Life” Improvements: Stuff like being able to sort search results by armor class, coming soon.

Posted in Guild Wars 2, News, Opt Out | 5 Comments

Ascended Rage

We now have some of the facts about the new Ascended tier of items. I joined in yesterday morning’s fan rage but at the end of the day–literally and figuratively in this case–my reaction and those like it were uncalled for regardless of how good or bad the change is. I could make excuses for my behavior–I hadn’t had coffee yet–but I digress. There is still much to talk about.

Given how the story and details were broken, I can’t help but feel ArenaNet was (unintentionally, I hope) inviting angry reactions like mine. Massively and MMORPG.com‘s articles only had vague details about “better than exotic” and “even more powerful” that revealed the existence of new high-level items, but didn’t provide enough detail to prevent pessimistic imaginations from running wild. The official blog post came out late last night, assuaging some concerns and proving most of the rage to be unfounded. I don’t keep up with MMORPG.com but I have zero doubt in Massively’s reporting ability–if they had the details and were allowed to share them, they would have been in the primer.

Why let the bloggers break the story without all the details? Let them do a proper exclusive and/or preview with an embargo date, or just do the reveal on the official site. I don’t see how riling people up with vague information is helpful to anyone.

But let’s talk about the facts. My biggest gripe with Ascended items is part of a more general one I have with high-end items: dependence on the Mystic Forge. I really feel like ArenaNet cut corners by making the Forge the only way to acquire Legendary items and a major source of exotic weapon skins. A mysterious, imprisoned djinn with apparently infinite resources hanging out in Lion’s Arch is a lazy substitute for having real gameplay and lore behind these badass items and their acquisition. That’s not to say I hate the Forge as a concept–trading in unwanted dyes, special recipes to remove excess items from the economy, holiday recipes, and some armor/weapon stuff is very welcome, but it’s definitely overused as a source of unique weapon skins. Just for starters, why aren’t most of those items available from event chain merchants, crazy old hermits in remote areas, or in dangerous ancient ruins?

I love the lore nerd shoutout here–Yakkington!–and the stat difference is negligible.

As for the numbers in this example: a whopping 3% extra magic find, and +5 to Power and Precision. No big deal at all. I was concerned it would be like the difference between Rare and Exotic, where an Exotic weapon’s entire damage range is above that of an equal-leveled Rare, but that’s just not the case here. We don’t know what the Infusions look like yet, but if it’s built around countering Agony then it largely won’t be relevant outside of the Fractals dungeon, at least at first. Since the Fractals are an infinite dungeon anyway, you will probably need Infusions to be getting the furthest down, but I bet without them you will still be able to have your fun for a few levels and move on.

I think the bigger concern here is that this could be the beginning of a slippery slope of new item tiers above Ascended, forcing people to grind the most recent dungeon in order to keep their loot up to date. I would hate to see Guild Wars go in this direction but I don’t think it is. “Ascended,” “Infusion,” and “Agony” are Lore Words that any Guild Wars old-timer is familiar with. They all coincide with reaching the endgame, max-level content in the Prophecies storyline.

I think it’s safe to think of Ascended items as a missing link in the rarity chain, one that would have been there at launch if ArenaNet had 20/20 foresight and infinite production capabilities, rather than the first step in a gear ladder.

Posted in Guild Wars 2, News | 2 Comments