Horizontal progression is a huge part of what makes Guild Wars 2 both appealing and popular within the MMO community, and a large part of that stems from the uniquely simple gearing system endemic to the game. The stats from Exotic level armour is more than sufficient to complete all forms of content competitively, with high level fractals being barred from Exotic users due only to their requirement for Agony Resistance. Ascended level accessories and weapons are now more simple than ever to obtain, and are where a great deal of stat points come from. The recent additions of new methods to acquire ascended armour from PvP, WvW and the Fractals of the Mists vendor are meant to be new ways to slowly progress your character in your favourite game mode, but have lost a great deal of their appeal due to one simple reason.
Grandmaster Marks, the new requirement for obtaining Ascended level gear from each of these merchants, are some of the most expensive and time gated crafting in the game. These marks require level 500 in their respective crafting discipline, with one existing for each of the crafting disciplines capable of reaching level 500. This alone requires players to spend upwards of 500 gold just to level their disciplines, or the equivalent in hours of farming for the materials. Ascended armour from the new merchants costs multiple of these marks, which outside of their crafting requirements, are time gated thanks to their ascended level crafting components. This can be circumvented through the trading post, costing a great deal more gold, which has to be spent multiple times due to a multiple mark requirement for each piece of ascended you want to get. In short, what these marks have done is turn the cost away from the desired game mode you want to play and instead turn it into a crafting and gold sink, the same as the regular way obtaining ascended armour has always been since their introduction to the game.
What makes this particularly frustrating is not the high gold cost for obtaining the gear- after all, I am in full agreement that there should be no ‘better, cheaper way’ of obtaining and of this gear than its counterparts. But rather, that the method of obtaining is still the same as it ever was in that a player must craft to get this gear. If a player lives exclusively in World versus World, and wants to obtain any of the new gear added to the Skirmish Merchants, they are required not just to farm their own game mode, but to farm gold and to level their crafting to buy things through this merchant. For this player in particular, the ability to move gear across characters might be a huge boon to their game time, like the ability to move Celestial stats around rather than wait the time gate to craft more, and so obtaining this gear is a high priority. But instead of using this new merchant, designed to make it easier for this player to spend their time in WvW and still obtain the gear from their favourite game mode, it is considerably more efficient if they go to their crafting stations and farm gold in PvE to obtain ascended level gear and then bring it to WvW.
There shouldn’t be any free meals, and the gold sink is surely an effective way of keeping Ascended armour from being too easy to obtain and keeping it as a long-term goal for some of the newer players. The issue now is that these ‘new methods of acquisition’ are exactly the same as the old ones. Grind, craft, grind, craft, grind, craft. As well as this, the PvE time gate of crafting materials limited to one per day still exists, on top of existing time gates that are added to each game mode’s merchant in the form of Skirmish Tickets, Ascended Shards of Glory and Relics of the Mists. PvP season 5 was over the top, and way too cheap and easy to obtain within the game mode that was way out of proportion to the rest of the game, but these marks are creating a system that forcefully discourages players from using the new game mode vendors, with prices equal or higher to crafting for significant time and gold investments. This current season is taking a step in the right direction, adding a way to obtain the marks through successful play of the game mode, but even with this you are getting a tiny supply that will get you just 1 piece from the merchants. Raids also are a terrible example, with the argument being higher reward for more challenging content on a weekly time gate, but the prices are both cheap and time efficient, but that is a battle for another day.
A new system for marks, or dare I say a reduction in the amount of marks required, would be wonderful. As it is, however, for anyone looking at obtaining the gear through the WvW, PvP and Fractal vendors it is both gold and time efficient to instead do the regular crafting method to obtain your gear. Does this strike you as good game design and rewarding for players who want to spend their time in specific game modes? Let us know your thoughts on the grandmaster marks and crafting requirements with the new vendors.