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Gear or Character Progression?

William Murphy Posted:
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I couldn't help but feel a little worried when I saw Linsey Murdock’s Gear Progression piece pop up on the official Guild Wars 2 site the other day.  Part of me knows that ArenaNet is going to be very delicate when it comes to “gear progression” and treadmills.  I highly doubt we’ll see insane statistical inflation as we have in other games, but the precedent is there and that’s why it’s worrying.  The stat differentials between Exotics and the new Ascended items might seem miniscule now, but how will it look in a year when we’re on to some other form of higher level gear? Is GW2 approaching the dreaded PVE gear treadmill?  Or is it just one way players can progress in the game? My gut feeling is that it's the latter.

I always rather enjoyed Guild Wars 1’s progression model of gaining more and more skills.  It was character progression through actual meaningful abilities.  I’d like to see this become a form of progression in Guild Wars 2, and hope that Ascended items and gear progression aren’t the only form of level-capped progression ANet has in store for us.  Linsey Murdock works on itemization and crafting, so it makes sense that her update would only focus on the Ascended items and infusion slots.  But what I’m looking forward to is more news on other forms of progression that amount to more than gear grinding. 

I respect that ArenaNet was caught off guard with how quickly players would hit the “Legendary Wall”, as Linsey put it.  But I’m of the mind that progression is of the utmost importance in an MMO’s elder game, and it shouldn’t only be tied to gear whether in looks or stats. Alternate forms of advancement are absolutely necessary.  More so, I also worry that Agony is the wrong way to go in terms of making this gear necessary for later stages of the Fractals dungeon.  Agony is a new condition that will only affect players who progress further and further into the difficulties of the Fractals.  It’ll eventually get to the point where you’ll need to have some Infusions slotted into your gear to ward off this effect. 

Now, players who don’t care about progressing through these dungeons won’t need to worry about Agony.  And the stats that come with Ascended gear are miniscule enough (1 or 2 points difference from Exotics) that I personally doubt it’ll make much difference in WvW or other areas of the game.  But the complaint I’d levy is that it’s progression for the dungeoneering folks, where the WvW players and regular world explorers have nothing to work towards.  They simply won’t see character progression that dungeon runners will.

I think the idea of GW2's slight gear progression is sound, so long as it doesn’t exclude other players with its inception.  Also, I sincerely hope it avoids "gating" content based on what gear you have. That's a no-no that devs like Turbine learned the hard way with LotRO.  To ease my worries, Chris Whiteside (Studio Design Director) commented on the Ascended items and my own unease:

"I’d like to respond to concerns players have raised about ascended items. Please keep in mind that we’re releasing this as one portion of a massive November update that introduces and improves many aspects of challenge, progression, and rewards. With this and upcoming updates, we view ourselves as introducing large amounts of content with supporting systems and features, akin to an expansion pack, building on Guild Wars 2 through a series of live releases. So it’s important for us to be able to add an expansion pack’s worth of progression and rewards to support that content.

Our goal is not to create a gear treadmill. Our goal is to ensure we have a proper progression for players from exotic up to legendary without a massive jump in reward between the two. We will slowly add the remaining ascended gear items and legendary items in future updates to allow people time to acquire them as we add exciting new content that deserves exciting rewards. We will not be adding a new tier of gear every 3 months that we expect everyone to chase after and then get the next set and so on.

Ascended and infusion rewards will be available in both PvE and WvW over time, and be made available through all sorts of content around the world including existing content. PvP will remain unaffected to ensure our intended PvP balance going forward. We are also working on other reward and progression systems for the game that tie into current and new content and features. As you know we care very much about your support and opinion and are listening intently to what you say.

Finally we look forward to hearing your thoughts on the upcoming content, and we will ensure we share our thoughts with you on the experiences we share in the Lost Shores." 

ArenaNet has already proven itself to be the kind of company that listens and adapts to player feedback.  Ultimately, I understand the need for gear progression, and I'm not against it as long as it's one of many ways for player to progress their characters. Ascended items aren't some massive new "must have" grind either. It's very miniscule in the grand scheme of things.  I just hope that a.) they aren’t the only form of elder game progression they have in mind and b.) that they make sure players of all types can obtain all the gear in future updates as Chris said.  It’s fine to make it difficult to obtain.  Progression at that level should be hard.  But it should be available to everyone whether they’re into open world content, WVW, or dungeons.  My main hope is that gear progression in general isn’t the way ArenaNet hopes to keep folks playing their level 80s.  Real character progression should be the goal, and I hope they have some plans for that as well.

Now that we know what Chris' thoughts on the matter are, are you still uneasy about Ascended gear and Infusions, or are we all overreacting?

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William Murphy

Bill is the former Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.