opinion piece on GW2's reward system. I was planning on writing something on the topic but Anatoli beat me to it and he's covered much of what I was going to say.
One of the most regularly-heard complaints, both from players inside GW2 and from people giving reasons on forums outside the game explaining why they aren't playing, is that the rewards are terrible. In the absence of a standard gear progression ladder it's hard to say what a good reward would look like (although the palpable excitement and envy in map chat every time anyone links a rare Ascended drop gives you a clue), but as Anatoli's analysis implies, if you design your game around aspirational cosmetics and then put the majority of skins, mini-pets and toys behind a cash wall, you're not likely to endear yourself to those who already see the F2P model as a machine for separating fools from their money.
So, I largely agree with the premise that GW2's reward system is broken and I largely agree with the reasons given in the linked piece as to why that is. No need to go over the same ground again. There's one extra twist that doesn't get a mention, though: boxes. Yes, boxes. Boxes and bags, chests and purses, containers of every shape and size, Tyria's stuffed to bursting with them all.
We're all familiar with the Lockbox concept, loathed by many, loved by few, used by every F2P marketing team to eke the odd few thousand extra dollars out of customers with a poor grasp of probability theory and a low threshold on self-control. GW2 has had its own version since launch in the form of Evon Gnashblade's Black Lion Chests, the icon for which got a flashy makeover only this week and for which you can buy keys at the Gem Store for around a dollar a throw or occasionally (very occasionally) find for free in game.
Compared to other MMOs, though, Black Lion Chests are a background detail They don't even drop all that frequently. I doubt I see more than two or three a week. Even when they were a lot more common they were always easy to ignore and since the drop rate was heavily reduced a long time back they barely register as a thing any more. No, it's not the pay-to-unlock boxes that are getting out of hand. It's the unlocked ones we get for free.
Every type of content has its own goodie bags to offer. Simple monsters drop bags and every monster seems to have his own copyrighted design. Even players drop them in WvW. A quick countdown of the varieties available on Trading Post comes to over a hundred.
Then there are the Champions, each of whom also has a special kind of bag to keep his greens in, along with his skill scrolls, crafting mats and all his other odds and ends. Achievements pop up chests in windows and World vs World ranks set little chests jiggling in the lower right corner of the screen. That's the same place you find the daily chest, the World Boss Guaranteed Rare Chest and last week's Tournament Reward Chest (if you were lucky enough to get one. It's still bugged). Not to mention the whacking great chest every World Boss leaves behind him on the ground when he dies.
There's a positive plethora of chests. A bonanza of bags. That has to be good, right? We all love loot. Well, yes, you'd think so. Within reason.
I love goodie bags. I love random loot in principle and I love opening containers that have random loot in them. Yet even I'm beginning to feel this might be too much of a good thing. It's not just the sheer volume, overwhelming though that has become. It's the nature of the contents, particularly the crafting materials, which so many of these bags contain.
It's one thing to feel a thrill of excitement as you open a chest from a slain creature anticipating, perhaps, a magical weapon or ring. It's entirely another to have every single crafting material randomized across scores of mobs. That's not entertaining so much as it is irritating.
And where's the consistency? The parity between crafts? If I want copper I can go mine copper nodes. If I want wood I can go chop down trees. If I want cloth, though, or claws or scales, or one of the hundreds of body-parts that mysteriously make the mundane magical, it's off we go to slaughter hundreds of not-so-innocent creatures and even that's not the end of it. Its a trope of MMOs that metal and wood come from nodes while cloth and leather come from mobs but in other MMOs at least you know for certain sure which mobs. In GW2 its a lottery.
And therein lies the nub of the problem: in GW2 everything's a lottery. Worse, it's a nested set of lotteries. Kill the mob, see if he dropped a bag. Open the bag, see if it has the thing you want. As someone who positively wants to open boxes to see what's inside (it's the credo of this entire blog for Pete's sake!), if I'm starting to feel worn down by the sheer number of bags to be opened, then other people must surely be screaming with frustration by now.
I never thought I'd see the day when I started to see opening goodie bags as a chore but some days, when I have a stack of fifty or more to get through, it begins to feel that way. It's taking the edge off what should be an exciting moment of gameplay and turning it into a humdrum task that needs to be gotten out of the way in a hurry.
It would be nice to see the whole loot delivery process get an overhaul. Fewer bags with better things inside them. Crafting mats as standard body drops tied to specific mobs. More control handed to players to seek out and obtain the things they need and desire. Less reliance on RNG for absolutely everything. Return some agency to the player and some structure to the play.
Until that happens, like Anatoli says, GW2 will go on being all about the gold.