Mastery and Commander
Since I’ve covered precursor crafting and given my opinions of the new zones in Heart of Thorns, I figured that now would be a good time to give my thoughts on probably the biggest new mechanic in the expansion: the Mastery system.
Masteries were designed to be Guild Wars 2’s post-level-80 progression. They don’t add any direct power to a character, so you won’t find, say, full-Mastery characters doing 50% more damage than “fresh” 80s with the same gear and traits. Instead, they add more capabilities to characters, letting them glide through the jungle, uncover hidden secrets, and consume XP boosters that they had sitting around in their banks forever and never thought they’d use. Or is that only me?
That’s one of the things I like about Masteries, is how they made XP useful again. ArenaNet won’t raise the level cap in Guild Wars 2, so the only thing that could be done was continuing to give us rather unrewarding Skill Points, and later Spirit Shards, when we gained a level post-80. It was a nice idea, and certainly better than having XP gains at max be totally useless, but once you had all the Points/Shards you needed, it felt pretty close to useless. I know the current Mastery system sometimes feels like another long grind – I’ll address that later – but it’s nice to have some reason to care about XP again.
Also, while it may seem obvious now, thank Dwayna that ArenaNet made Masteries account-wide. I couldn’t imagine having to earn gliding Masteries across all my characters. To go off on a tangent, I can remember some people expressing concern about account-wide stuff in general, such as achievements, titles, dye unlocks (which ArenaNet itself waffled on), and so on, feeling that doing so would cheapen or diminish individual achievements of characters. If my warrior achieved something, why should my engineer receive the benefit of it?
It was pure resistance to change, even if that change is better, and to that tricky topic of MMO “immersion” versus convenience. In those situations, I’ve found that convenience nearly always wins, usually with nothing even resembling a fight, once people realize just how much better it is. The best way to see this? Now that GW2 has been out for 3.5 years, and people have had time to adjust to account-wide unlocks, have you ever heard anyone complain and wish it was the other way? I sure haven’t. (Also, enjoy your auto-loot Mastery.)
Urge to kill… rising
Masteries have their downsides, though. To be fair, I don’t think anything below is a tremendous downer, but they’re the sort of things that seemed obvious to me from the first moment I tried the system out in beta, and I wish there could have been more done to address them before they became so engrained in the game.
The first, and most bothersome, issue to me is the notion that Masteries were used in part to give us access to new stuff and in part so the game could lock away other things and then make us grind to re-acquire them. Talking to merchants is my #1 complaint along this line, though even something like Nuhoch Wallows – which are similar to the skritt tunnels in Silverwastes, which require no Mastery unlocks – also irritate me. There are only a few masteries that fall under these categories, and now that I’ve got them unlocked, they don’t trouble me anymore, but they were quite irritating early on.
The use of Mastery points themselves is also a little bit of a head-scratcher to me. They seem like an unnecessary complication, when added to the XP requirements, that just make it harder to progress. I’m constantly worried that I’ll run out of Mastery points. I know, I can do more stuff to unlock more points, but it just seems forced and a layer of complexity added onto a system that didn’t need it. Maybe if Mastery points had just been a large chunk of “bonus” XP that helped unlock Masteries, that would have been simpler and less progression-block-y while still making them desirable.
And speaking of those XP… hoo boy, you need a lot of them. I’ll admit, the dread of seeing a 5 million XP bar has faded over time, especially with all those boosts, to the point that I now see a Mastery requiring 2.5 million XP and go, “Oh, that’s all?” I’ll agree that a lot of XP was needed to keep people going in the system for a while, but I think some kind of incremental “levels” would have been better. Making it something like 500,000 XP per “level,” with five levels needed to unlock a Mastery instead of needing a full 2.5 million XP would have made the process seem less onerous and give you the sense of a few “dings” here and there to make you feel better about progressing.
Which brings me to my final point: nothing lasts forever. Many people have already maxed out their Masteries, so now their XP gains are even more useless than when they were getting Spirit Shards. ArenaNet must have known this would happen in short order – heck, I even saw people with 100+ Mastery points during the first week of HoT’s launch – but there doesn’t seem to have been any plan in place to address it, unlike with the original level 80 limit. Even something like a 5+ million XP bar that gives a reasonable reward – maybe an extra day of advancement on the login reward track? – would be nice and give maxed-out players something to look forward to.
Overall, I think the Mastery system is a far better way to advance than as seen in typical MMOs, which just increase all numbers and force you to keep pace. I think a few simple things could have been done to make them less of a downer in places, but they’re not deal-breakers, and are things that ArenaNet might still implement without a massive reworking of the game.