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.

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4 Responses to The State of Alts in Guild Wars 2

  1. Verene says:

    I must say, I’m pretty glad that I range from ambivalent towards to downright refusing to do fractals, and that I’m not fussed with getting ascended trinkets for all of my characters. Because, well, I love making and leveling alts, and a lot of stuff in the game rather makes that difficult.

    Also I need like…8 more Fervid Censers.

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