I haven’t been doing this long enough to be mad at ArenaNet, so I’ll try to temper my rage with some insight. First, story time.
As I leveled my main, I’ve had 3 major milestones that brought me a huge sense of joy due to the freedom they rewarded me with.
First when I was a young Asura wondering around Frostgorge Sound. I was in a cave with bats when slaying one I reached level 80. Ding! At that moment I knew I could go to anywhere on the whole of (the current) Tyria and be stacked up to the competition. I might not be able to get there, or have the best gear, or be able to tackle any dungeon yet, but I could get there and not worry about my base stats. Great feeling.
Second was when I completed “Been there, Done that,” the 100% world completion achievement. That, for me, meant even though I hadn’t seen everything Tyria has to offer, I had at least been to the neighborhoods, and for a few silver I could be back there. My friends in game could be anywhere on the map and I could join them in a moment because I had all the waypoints. Great feeling.
Third, I completed my Exotic armor set shortly after that through crafting. I still don’t have exotic weapons (no rush), but having the armor was crucial since it provided best in slot gear, and completed my character progression through the stat ranks. Save a few damage I was giving up by only have a Rare weapon, my character was as powerful as they were going to be. I could leave the game for a month, come back, and still be ready to take on any challenge. Great feeling.
More importantly, it was at this moment that I was finally in Tyria with a new feeling. Anything I did in the game was because I chose to do it. Not because I needed to do it for something else. Sure there are some carrots still out there (legendaries, cultural armor for looks), even perennial ones like daily achievements that I do. But those don’t make my character stronger, just cooler. I liked the freedom the game suddenly had. I could be anywhere I wanted and do whatever I wanted because I wasn’t falling behind some curve, or locking myself out of content. This was no carrot gameplay for me, it was all the dessert after a good meal.
This is why the story was important for ascended gear. I think ArenaNet was really close to a watershed moment in MMO’s. Training players, carefully and slowly, to play without carrots. Or at least not carrots that make you better at getting the next carrot than previous players. Yes, there is a gearing up phase to the current best in slot gear, but that is very minor and takes most casual players around a month. But that was it for the progression based carrots. Everything else was for fun.
And that’s my chief complaint today: I don’t see how Ascended gear creates fun.
It might be a good system. It seems at least ArenaNet has done this with some temperance. You only really need infusions for the new dungeons, and you can get them from said dungeons. But it feels exactly like in days past “you need fire resistance to do this dungeon, and if you don’t have it no one will group with you” or other mechanics from other games that have ironically all be scrapped because they are divisive in their communities.
Maybe, and I honestly hope this is the case: this is ArenaNet correcting an error in their original design, and not just introducing power progression. There was a huge gap in the time cost between getting Exotics and getting a Legendary. If Ascended gear fills that gap for them, that can be a huge gain for the game. But, I think what we as a community of outraged players want to hear from them say something along these lines:
“Ascended Gear will be best in slot for the lifecycle of the game. We needed to fill a gap we left in our original design while introducing the infusion mechanic we used in GW1. Ascended gear allows us to do that, and hopefully solve many problems for a slight pain to current players.”
If I had that once piece of confirmation, I would be set. Because there is a weird huge chasm between Exotics and Legendaries, and if Ascended gear, and the new crafting mat that comes with them, helps bridge that divide (possibly even solve some precursor issues), I'm all for it. New players who come into the game won’t notice this pain because Exotics will no longer be best in slot gear, and instead their gear grind ends at Ascended. And so long as I know I wont be back on this gear treadmill replacing my Ascended's with "Deity" level gear in six months, I can live with it.
But today I feel like ArenaNet in one fell swoop has removed one of my favorite achievements in the game. I was off the treadmill and now it looks like I’ll be back on it, for however short. We went from what was turning into no carrot gameplay and instead went back to baby carrots. So long as this does not divide the community into tiers, does not lock players out of content, provides a meaningful bridge up to a legendary, and I wont be doing this again in half a year, the upsides should outweigh the bad. If not...
We’ll see how it works out.