How to Horizontal Boogie: Improve Traits Not Stats

The Outrage

If you’re a Guild Wars 2 player then you may have heard about the new Ascended gear added to the game with the Lost Shores patch released this past weekend. The release of information on a new tier of gear being added to the game caused a major uproar in the community. People have quit the game or are threatening to quit the game over the addition of new gear with better stats.

I think the first important thing to do is to present what Ascended gear is, how it will grow into the game, and why people are angry.

Tiers of Grief

Ascended armor has been explained as not a new higher tier, but a tier to bridge a gap between exotics and legendary items. What is new with Ascended gear is a stat increase over exotics and the infusion upgrade slot. The Ascended items themselves are unique, meaning that you likely cannot equip two of the same Ascended item, and in addition to this, the secondary stats of the items cannot be modified in the same way current items can.

The only types of Ascended gear in the game currently attainable are back pieces and accessories. Previously, each of these slot types of armor had an upgrade slot that could be interchanged with gems of various types and statistical benefits. In the case of Ascended gear, the upgrade stats are built into the item and cannot be changed.

Instead, Ascended items have infusion slots that can be changed, and come in different types. There are offensive, defensive and omni infusion slots. How this operates is not entirely known, but we have seen that the infusion slots can add Agony Resistance as well as stats like power, vitality and precision.

Agony is a new Damage over Time effect that occurs in the Fractals of the Mists dungeon starting at the level 10 difficulty tier. The Ascended items and the Fractals dungeon go hand-in-hand, as earning the items requires playing the Fractals dungeon, and so far the Fractal dungeon is the only place in game that has the Agony condition.

ArenaNet has stated that they plan to add more ways to acquire Ascended gear, including through WvWvW, but currently Fractals of the Mists is the only way. They also plan to slowly introduce each new type of Ascended item into the game piece by piece. There will be Ascended helms, shoulders and weapons, but these will be introduced months down the line.

Why They Scream You Lie

ArenaNet has been unwisely quiet in response to the anger about Ascended armor. They have spoken once in response, but the explanation provided did not truly quell the fears of the populace. One claim in particular has been a bone of contention.

Ascended items have been explained as a way for ANet to bridge the gap between Exotics and Legendaries, but people have challenged that assertion by saying there never was a statistical gap between Exotics and Legendaries. In response, the gap alluded to can be explained via rarity and the general ease of acquiring an Exotic versus the long trudge of attaining a Legendary. This too has not held up as people have pointed out that not all rares or exotics are equally uncommon or attainable.

There is a large gap between a crafted exotic such as a Pearl Broadsword and that of something like Legend of the Foefire or Vision of the Mists. For example, the Pearl Broadsword might run you 3 gold on the Trading Post, while the Foefire or Vision of the Mists will cost you at least a 100 gold to buy. Below the level of these status symbol swords are craftable weapons of the Corrupted and Destroyer type that require rare, expensive materials. Higher up in costs from these weapons are the Legendary precursor weapons that can often go for over a 100 gold.

Even rarity between statistical tiers are not consistent. The tier 3 cultural armor is much less common and harder to acquire than crafted Exotic armor or karma armor or even the dungeon sets. Much of the populace doesn’t have the 100 gold it takes to get the full set. So, while statistically the armor is weaker than my gear it is far more of a status symbol or reason to brag due to its high cost and consequential rarity. This holds true for tier 3 cultural weapons. My Peacemaker Greatsword gets more oohs and ahhs than my dungeon exotic scepter even though the original item itself is of only rare quality in stats.

All of these are examples of tiers within tiers that act as gap bridgers in rarity that have nothing to do with statistical differences, so ArenaNet’s explanation struggles to really hold up to criticism. Many have claimed that they created the gap themselves by introducing Ascended items with a new ceiling of stats.

And Why They Keep Yelling You Lied

The heart of the issue though is the claim that this introduces a gear treadmill to a game that promised no gear treadmills. This argument then sort of swindles out of control into dismissal of the game as a new WoW’-clone.

Overall, There’s too much histrioics within the anger and I worry it damages the legitimate concerns of the game’s core audience. And that core? I would describe them as a mix between Guild Wars veterans and those who had tired of the way things have been done in MMORPGs for so long. Both sides want a statistical plateau to tiers and skill over stat based gameplay.

However, is this now a treadmill game? No, not at all, but it does open the door to the treadmill, and the situation really makes me wonder why ArenaNet would even let that door get kicked ajar. There are multiple issues the game has in its current form and many things people want addressed or improved, but new statistical highs doesn’t seem to be high on that list.

Areas of Concern

The sPVP side of the game is struggling to retain players and it is easily the least developed side of the game. It also suffers from there being only one type of map, so while they did introduce a new map in beta form, its still the same type of ruleset with the same issues as the rest of sPVP. As long as structured PvP remains Cap Point mode, the game will be a never ending meta of bunker vs roamer, and tanky versus spike. I feel I have gone over the issues with Cap Point quite a bit here, but it’s the larger PvP playerbase that is starting to feel the limits of the map type.

WvWvW players are looking for incentive to keep playing, but as well, they are the group suffering the most from the game’s culling issues. It is known that culling is a top priority for the team and likely wont be an easy fix, but WvWvW issues go beyond culling. Players are starting to question whether they should keep dumping gold into upgrading and taking keeps for their Guild only to have all their investment vanish overnight.

PVE on the other hand requires more bug fixing and more variety at endgame. Orr is a jump in difficulty but a step down in variety. Lost Shores introduces a new max level area, but again has little in the ways of variety of events or enemies. Loot drops have also been a problem with far too much RNG involved and rather poor loot tables, but that at least began to be addressed with the Lost Shores patch. New bags of goodies were added to dungeon chests, new items with a rare chance off bosses, and the Fractal dungeon themselves offer more chances at valuable loot. Yet, beyond this, the game needs to make exploring more rewarding, that again being an issue of incentives. There’s a lot of great areas of the Tyrian world not being populated because the zerging of mobs that increases chances at valuable loot and the high-end gathering nodes that are essential to money making are only available in max level areas.

Somewhere far below these concerns lies new gear to chase. To some, those used to the old MMO model, that concern for new shinies may be much higher, but its hard for me to envision let alone support gear treadmill addicts being drawn to Guild Wars 2. Once you realize that power creep puts you in the same place in vertical progression game as you are in a horizontal progression game, that gear treadmill loses all value.

Horizontal Boogie Time

So how did the original Guild Wars support continual PvE gametime? How did the PVP and PVE continue to be populated and active without new statistical tiers? There’s one major element as to why: skills and encounters.

The card game-like skillbars of Guild Wars allowed the game to continually progress via new build ideas and strategies for many years. As well, new encounters that involved new situations and limitations created the need for new build ideas that again refreshed the play experience.

For Guild Wars 2, the original idea was that traits would provide this customization and variety that skills provided the original game, but the traits themselves have needed a serious overhaul since beta.  Too many of the traits are outright boring and uninteresting stat increases of no difference from gear changes. My Phantasms do 15% more damage? That doesn’t change my play-style anymore than stacking more power into my gear. My Glamour skills blind, oh wait, now all blinds confuse? Now my Glamour skills provide extra functionality and versatility. My Engineer’s pistol range is further? Well I suppose that makes my character more functional. My bombs heal? I create a bomb on dodge? Now being a bombing Engineer is also a support Engineer.

These are the differences between traits that have limited the horizontal progression in the game. There are some traits that add functionality and thus add variety to playstyles, but there are too many traits that only add vertical increases or functionality that should probably be there to begin with.

Beyond this, the traits are often bugged for many classes. The Necromancer class has suffered the most from this problem, but even my beloved Mesmer is not free of these issues. Hilariously, ArenaNet stated in their patch notes that Phantasmal Fury “now works”, but in actuality it still doesn’t work with Phantasmal Mage which was one of the main parts of the trait that was not working previously.

Overall, the issue with traits are holding back the side of the game that should be adding interesting options for daily players. Due to this, the game has not opened up like it should be opening up at max-level.

What To Do Now

I really feel ArenaNet needs to come out and directly address the elephant in the room. They need to announce whether or not there will be more statistical increases in gear between now and when a new level cap is introduced. They need to answer the gear treadmill question with a firm yes or no and stick to it. There is too much PR-praddle and silence coming out of their offices.

Part of the reason this has not happened yet is because ArenaNet has been poor at communicating with the public. A Public Test Realm like server would do the game a great good in bug testing and in letting the public in on what’s going on and what will be going on. Seeing is believing, so let the public see whats in store, and take it hands on for themselves. I imagine the PR disaster that Ascended has been could have been avoided if the Public had a chance at Fractals and seeing the stats themselves. The great misinformation that exists about Guild Wars 2 can be blamed a lot on ArenaNet’s dismembered communication lines. Not everyone is going to read the forums, reddit, twitter and random in-game chats to figure out what exactly is going on.

After that, the traits need an overhaul that sweeps the vertical progression and functionality traits off the table and replaces them with new interesting options that reward smart combinations and builds.

Once these things are done, the game will smooth out and the audience will be a bit more sure of where they should be. T