So let's get into it, shall we?
First things first
In case any of you darling readers have happened to have a karka hatchling wrapped 'round your head since the Lost Shores update, let's start with what Ascended gear is. The Lost Shores' teaser page introduced Ascended items as "artifacts of great power that can be improved by a special new type of upgrade."
Right now, we've got only two types of Ascended stuff available: rings and back pieces. The Ascended tier has a few benefits over, say, Exotics; Ascended gear has higher stats, baked-in gear bonuses (rather than an upgrade slot for jewels, sigils, or runes), and an upgrade slot for Infusions, and it can also have baked-in Infusion bonuses.
Infusions are used mainly to counter a new dungeon mechanic, Agony, which so far comes into play around level 10 of Fractals of the Mists. Infusions can be offensive or defensive, and we expect to see more varieties of Infusions added to the game over time.
This changes everything!
Well, not really. There was a not-insignificant amount of confusion about Ascended gear originally, which ArenaNet has been trying to slowly but surely dissolve with the bright light of knowledge.
To begin with, this does not make Legendaries obsolete. Legendary gear will always, per Linsey Murdock's news post about what Ascended stuff is and why you shouldn't be freaking out about it, be equivalent to "best-in-slot" gear. That means that as Ascended weapons are released, future and existing Legendaries will be bumped up to be on par with the new stats.
This does not indicate the start of a tradition of introducing a new item tier every three months. Let's take a look at some of the things Chris Whiteside said about this:
[W]e have no intention of adding a new Rarity of Gear such as Ascended. Instead and as we evolve the game existing Rarities will evolve over time. However these will not be common occurrences; for example, full Ascended gear will be introduced over a long period of time and will be earnable through lots of different parts/activities of the game. -Chris Whiteside AMA
I would prefer that we never say never, but our intention is that in terms of 'Named Tier (Rarity) of Loot' Ascended will be with us for a long time and we will not introduce a higher tier of loot for the foreseeable future. There will be loot with different stats and new infusions within the current tier that will be spread over long periods of time (for example Ascended gear will be deployed over the whole of next year). -Chris Whiteside AMAFrom this, we know that a new tier of rarity isn't planned in the "foreseeable future," and that the "foreseeable future" extends at least through the next year. While the studio has no problem with gradual vertical progression, ArenaNet doesn't have plans to add a new rarity tier. Plans can, of course, change, but at some point fans have to decide whether they're going to accept words at more or less face value or keep on woemongering.
This does not mean that you have to play Fractals forever to get the statistically best gear in the game. While we're currently largely dependent on the Fractals of the Mists for Ascended items, that should not always be the case. As Chris told viewers:
Our intention is to deploy ascended components and gear across the whole of the game rather than focus it in one particular location. This was a a mistake and one that we will not be making moving forward. -Chris Whiteside AMA
Ascended Gear will be introduced throughout next year,and accessible through many game play activities rather than just one. -Chris Whiteside AMASo this leaves us with Ascended items being meant to bridge the gap between Exotics (which are relatively easy to acquire) and Legendaries (which are relatively not). My one point of contention with that point is that some crafted Ascended items rely on the same items as Legendaries, so it's not like you can really save up for Legendaries on the side while getting Ascended items. For example, an Ascended item can take up to 300 gobs of ectoplasm (50 for the standard item, plus another 250 for the pre-Infused version). Ascended items from the Mystic Forge can also require crystals, philosopher's stones, or top-tier crafting materials, which are all used in the creation of Legendaries. ArenaNet (or at least Chris Whiteside) is with me on that point, though. He addressed the issue a handful of times in the AMA:
I agree that the crafting materials required for Ascended Gear are too much of a grind, and we are looking to balance the requirements in a manner that is fair for all involved, and we had always intended for their to be multiple ways to get Ascended Gear; it just didn't make it the FotM build. -Chris Whiteside AMA
I think the amount of materials required to make some of the gear is disproportionate to the amount of time the player wants to put in before he/she starts feeling like the goal is a grind, and this skews the overall experience of the dungeon and the perception of the gear within it. I would like us to correct this and we will start working to this shortly. -Chris Whiteside AMAWhile admitting a problem exists isn't the same as fixing it, this is a good start. We'll see how acquisition adjustments (and the addition of more ways of getting Ascended stuff) change things up.
So far, I'm not feeling as if this is the end of the world. I wish most of this information had been part of the original Ascended item reveal, but that can't be changed.
In other news, Wintersday is just around the corner! In 10 days, Tyria will be getting all cozy and decorated for the holidays.
Elisabeth Cardy is a longtime Guild Wars player, a personal friend of Rytlock Brimstone, and the writer of Flameseeker Chronicles here at Massively. The column updates on Tuesdays and keeps a close eye on Guild Wars, Guild Wars 2, and anything bridging the two. Email Elisabeth at firstname.lastname@example.org.