When I first got wind of how gear acquisition in Guild Wars 2 would work, I loved it. As it was described to me in an interview, the best statistical gear could be obtained relatively quickly and easily, and anything beyond that would just be cosmetic. I thought this sounded great and I totally bought into the “no grind” philosophy espoused in interviews and the Manifesto.
Ascended gear threw a bit of a monkey wrench into the “quickly acquired best statistical gear” promise, and I still haven't totally forgiven that little switcheroo. But it's only 5% better than exotic, and isn't really necessary except in fractals, so I'm not too salty about it anymore. But what about the rest of Guild Wars 2's perceived grind?
Back in the day – you know, about two or three years ago – I would have defined “MMO grind” as having to do the exact same narrow lane of content over and over as the only way to get a certain, statistically superior, piece of gear. In most MMOs, that meant doing The Big Raid once a week for several months. If you didn't, you wouldn't have the best in slot gear, end of discussion.
Guild Wars 2 certainly loosened those requirements. When exotic gear ruled the roost, you could get it through crafting, with dungeon tokens, as drops, or, if you just wanted to farm gold, through a modest price on the trading post. Ascended gear makes things a little more difficult, and is primarily acquired through accumulating enough gold to be able to afford all the materials (and getting your crafter to 500), but at least there are lots of ways to acquire gold in the game. It's not like you have to run a certain dungeon, even if it's difficult or you don't like it.
The major perception regarding Guild Wars 2 “grind” is that it can take a long time and is repetitive. I like to think that the repetitive nature is made a little better by the fact that you often have a variety of options, or at least have a large area to play in, like if you're trying to farm up T6 mats in Cursed Shore or gold in CoF path one. That's efficient, but there are other ways to get what you need, so if you're doing something repetitive that you don't like simply because it's efficient, ask yourself this: Will I get more enjoyment by getting this stuff quickly or by doing actual enjoyable things? You're not required to farm this way, and there are usually other, albeit less efficient options, so try mixing it up a bit and being a little less efficient but also a little more fun. You'll thank yourself in the long run. No matter how you go about it, I think it beats being required to do the same dungeon over and over by a mile.
As for the first element of “grind,” that it takes a long time... well, this is an MMO. Nobody's ever going to make an MMO where you can get everything you want in a week or two because then you'll stop playing. I'll admit, sometimes I wish the requirements were a little lighter, and the recent “scavenger hunts” for Mawdrey and Luminescent gear seems to get veering away from the “get 250 of everything” trend, but they have to put in something to occupy your time.
In fact, let's look a little at these two examples, especially Mawdrey, which I've just started working toward (yeah, I'm a little behind). As I look over the total material cost, the only things I'll have to “grind” for are Geodes. Everything else is either purchasable or is account-bound stuff I've got plenty of. I'll only have to hit the Trading Post for the Foxfire Clusters and Sunstone Lumps.
Admittedly, I've been playing for a while, and have a decent store of materials saved up, as well as a good bit of gold, but Mawdrey is a perfect example of something that's in the game for veteran players to strive for. If you were brand new to the game, you might find it easier to get an ascended backpiece through other means. Granted, getting any ascended backpiece does take a lot of materials, no matter which one you're going for, but if the notion of spending your days in Dry Top and hoping to harvest Foxfire Clusters isn't your idea of a good time, at least you've got options.
That, to me, is the essence of Guild Wars 2's “no grind” policy: that you're not forced into one particular type of gameplay or gameplay area to be competitive and have the best gear. If you don't want to grow a Mawdrey, you can get an ascended backpiece though other types of gameplay. You might need to do something specific to get the look you want, but hey, being fashionable requires sacrifice. Even a legendary weapon, which is still the “grindiest” thing you can strive for in the game, is nothing more than a cosmetic skin with stats that can be acquired for a fraction of the price from an ascended weapon. It just helps you look cool.
Is accumulating a ton of materials, even if you can do it a number of different ways, more or less of a “grind” than running the same dungeon/raid over and over to get the best gear? That's a subjective question that you'll only be able to answer yourself. Maybe ArenaNet could have used a better word or phrase in its initial pitches, because people's interpretations of “no grind” vary.
For me, though, I like this system of gear acquisition much better than what I've seen in most other MMOs. Yeah, it can be wearying having to build up those 250x stacks, but I can generally do it on my schedule – i.e., without having to organize a raid – and in a variety of ways, so if there has to be a time sink in the game – and there does – I'm mostly OK with this one.