When I was first learning about Guild Wars 2, one of the things that grabbed my attention was how ArenaNet would handle top-end gear acquisition. After years of raiding and hoping/praying/sacrificing dwarves to eldritch gods so I would get favorable loot rolls, here was a system that wasn't going to demand a slavish devotion to and repetition of the same content over and over again to get the best stats in the game. Such gear would be relatively easy to get; you'd just have to pursue specific paths to get specific stat combos or looks.
When exotics were top-tier gear, I'd say that promise was fulfilled. The introduction of ascended gear altered the deal a little like Darth Vader did to Lando Calrissian, but at least ArenaNet seems committed to not altering the deal further. Top stat gear is a little more difficult to get now, but it's something you can work toward in a number of ways, and you don't have to rely on luck. '
In an MMO, that's all you can really hope for, right? Five years ago, I thought that as long as I had combat capabilities on par with anyone, I wouldn't mind if collecting certain looks took a lot of time and effort. It's just cosmetic stuff, right? Who really cares about that?
The look's the thing
Just about everyone, it would seem, including me. I don't have to go into great detail about the grousing over drop rates for things such as Black Lion Claim Ticket Scraps or super-rare miniatures – and then there are precursors, which aren't all that special in and of themselves, but lead to the ultimate skin: a legendary weapon.
That's the funny thing about legendaries – when you get right down to it, they're just a skin (albeit one with changeable stats, but you'll probably give it zerker stats 90% of the time anyway, amirite?). Prior to ascended weapons, they were no more powerful than any easy-to-acquire exotic, and now they're no better than an ascended. So if you can get the stats you need from just about anything, why should you care if you just can't look pretty? Are we all that vain?
In one way, I think ArenaNet tried to work both sides of the room. On the one hand, we were told that we can get stats easily and appearance doesn't really matter, so that's why they made it an “optional grind.” On the other hand, they offered lots of cool-looking skins in the Gem Shop for real money, so they knew it was something people would want, and want to shell out $$$ for. They were trying to convince us of both sides of the “skins are important/unimportant” argument at once – and, in fact, banking on us rejecting the “unimportant” argument.
But I'm not going to dwell too much on ArenaNet's intent. Rather, I'm wondering if, what seemed like a good deal way back when seems like less of a good deal now. Is it because it actually is lousy or have our expectations just changed?
The question of rarity for “non-essential” things was reignited this week with the introduction of the beta portals, which some folks compared to Willy Wonka's Golden Tickets in terms of rarity. That said, at least in my little section of Twitter, people seemed to just have a defeatist attitude toward their chances at acquiring a portal, with most comments being along the lines of “I'll look around a little bit, but I'm not going to farm for hours.”
Maybe that attitude springs from the fact that these portals will be a limited-time thing and we'll all eventually wind playing Heart of Thorns anyway, so there's really no need to lose several days just to try and get them now. But I also think that it should come as something of a realization that excessive rarity, even for things that don't really matter in the grand scheme of things, just doesn't work any more. We've moved on from just wanting to get our stats without a ridiculous grind to not wanting our shinies to require a similar grind. Precursor crafting is coming, after years of complaints about the previous acquisition methods, and maybe that was the semi-final nail in the coffin for this method of loot acquisition. I'm sure there are people out there who have been playing Dry Top and Silverwastes virtually nonstop all this week, but I think that of people's willingness to grind for that sort of thing is lower than it was when the game was new.
This isn't to say that there shouldn't be very rare things to collect – and the beta portals should have been pretty tough to get – and certainly not that ArenaNet won't put any more in the game. The thrill of getting that rare drop is all too satisfying. I think, though, that people will form their opinions about an MMO's loot system based on what is perceived as the “best” thing to get. In traditional MMOs, that's high-end stat-based gear; that's what we strive for, what we put the most effort into obtaining, and what we're likely to gripe about when it becomes to difficult to obtain.
In Guild Wars 2, stats aren't that hard to come by, and so we gravitate toward collecting skins and other luxury items. As such, it's only natural that we grumble about them when we perceive them as too hard to get. No, it doesn't really matter if someone looks fancier than you, but if that's largely what the game is about, then it's what we're going to focus on. It's not about never being satisfied – it's about what the game was designed to make us pursue.
Or, as I've said many times before, if you don't think you'll grind for anything... well, maybe MMOs aren't for you, even one that advertises “no grind” like Guild Wars 2. They have to have some way to keep you in the game for months or years. We've got a pretty good deal in Guild Wars 2, in that the best stat gear is relatively easy to acquire. If the price we pay for that is needing great RNG luck or real money for sweet duds, I suppose I'm willing to live with that.
Well, except with regard to precursors. That was going maybe a wee bit too far...