Yesterday, ArenaNet unveiled their plans for the Lost Shore content update coming this weekend, which sparked some cries of panic from the fans of Guild Wars 2.  Among the new dungeon mode, PvP map, and one-time special events was a section explaining that a new type of item called Ascended would be introduced.  The banshee wails and doomsayer rants commenced at the mention that these Ascended items would be slightly more powerful than the current best Exotic items.  ArenaNet’s Linsey Murdock has responded with a lengthy article detailing the new gear with the hope of assuaging some of the fears.

The article starts out by explaining why they felt the need to add a new level of gear stating, “We designed the process of getting Legendary gear to be a long term goal, but players were ready to start on that path much sooner than we expected and were becoming frustrated with a lack of personal progression.”  I’m surprised that ArenaNet wasn’t expecting this given the voracious appetites of MMO gamers.  There should be a rule where all game designers should predict the rate that players will consume content and then cut their projection in half…twice.

The fact is, however, that there currently is a gap between Exotic items—which most casual players can reasonably acquire—and Legendaries—which only the most hardcore players can even dream about getting.  Hence the need for a new item type emerged.

ArenaNet realizes that gear progression is a sensitive topic and states that their goal is to give players a sense of progress without requiring a gear grind.  That’s certainly going to be a challenge, but they have a unique answer to this puzzle.  They are adding a new end game condition called Agony.  A player afflicted with Agony is basically at death’s door as each tick will reduce a player’s health by a percentage.  Agony also cannot be removed like normal conditions and requires a special resistance only available through Infusions.  Infusions are a new upgrade item that can be slotted into gear with Infusion slots.  Infusion slots can only be found (for now) on the new Ascended items.  Furthermore, Infusions come in three different flavors: offensive, defensive, and omni.  Infusions are created via the Mystic Forge and have to be fitted into a slot that matches their type.  Omni infusions can go both ways, however.

The new Fractals of the Mists dungeon—coming out in the Lost Shores update this weekend—will be agonizing as it will feature heavy doses of this new Agony condition.  Remember that Fractals is an unending challenging that increases in difficulty the more times you complete it.  As the difficulty grows more intense the prevalence of the Agony condition increases and therefore players will have an increasing need for Infusions and Ascended gear.  The result: gear progression.

If the changes stopped there, it would be difficult to poke holes in the system.  The progression would be there for players who want to descend deeper into the Fractals dungeon and see how far down the rabbit hole they could go.  But for players not interested in Ascended gear or the new dungeon, they could continue collecting their exotic items and not worry about it.  The wrinkle in that plan is that Ascended gear will actually have slightly better stats than the Exotic items.  While the stat increase is minimal, better is better and players who want to be at the absolute top of their game will consider them mandatory to acquire.  The saving grace is that (so far) the only Ascended items will be rings and back items.  At least all of the Exotic armor sets will still be viable after the Lost Shores releases.  I was fearful that players would feel forced to do the Fractals dungeon instead of having the option to acquire many different exotic armor sets, but that doesn’t appear to be a concern at the moment.

ArenaNet seems ready to deliver item progression in small steps and have even outlined some future plans.  Ascended items of different types will eventually be added and we’ll even see more Legendary items.  These new Legendaries might also be more than just a financial grind with precursor items being available via a more “scavenger hunt” approach.  Also, if you’re one of the lucky few that already have one of the Legendary shinies, they have announced that they will be updated to be on par with other “best-in-slot” items.  So when Ascended weapons make their way into the game, prepare for a slight power bump.

Players are going to have mixed feelings about the addition of Ascended gear.  I encourage everyone to wait and see how it plays out in-game before yelling, “THE SKY IS FALLING!”  I do, however, share some concerns with the community and I question the need for the Ascended gear to have a stat increase attached to them.  A player who really loves World vs. World will now feel compelled to enter the Fractals dungeon to acquire the new rings that grant them that ever-so-slight edge.  And if they ever add Ascended armor (with higher stats) to the main item slots, then there will be little interest in collecting the exotic armor sets that are already available.  You can make the argument that the stat increase isn’t enough of a boost to make the other sets obsolete, but we all know the MMO mentality.  If the stats are worse and you’re wearing it, then you’re doing it wrong.  Despite my concerns, I’ll trust ArenaNet’s judgment and see where these changes lead us.

Let us hear your thoughts on the new Ascended armor item progression by leaving a comment below.