Friday, January 20, 2017

Item Identity

If you've heard of either Excalibur, the Cloak of Invisibility, the Genie Lamp or Aegis, then you might already know what this topic is going to be about. Fantasy, among other genres, is ripe with iconic magical tools or weapons; items which are often unique in nature and difficult to obtain.

Such items are often part of video games. They help create identity not only to the characters that wield them, but to the lore of the world they exist in itself. It's easy to find examples: the Ocarina of Time, the Portal Gun (ASHPD), Soul Calibur and even "mundane" items like the Pip-Boy in Fallout. 

These items are naturally essential in a RPG setting. TES games, among other series, have an innumerable amount of them. I loved Auriel's Bow in Skyrim and the Ectophial in Runescape; how many times did that bottle of ectoplasm save my life?

Yet when I play Guild Wars 2, I feel like these items are lacking. Sure, there are many legendary items with their own design and lore, but aesthetics alone aren't enough to make it into a list like IGN's Top 100 video game weapons. When I think about unique items in GW2, two of them come to mind: the Watchwork Pickaxe, and Mawdrey.

I own both items, and they are definitely my favorite in game, because they offer more than just better stats or different aesthetics: they have their own special function. The Watchtwork Pickaxe is different from standard and unbreakable pickaxes in how it has a one in three chance of dropping Watchwork Sprockets everytime you mine ores with it. If you have enough gems in game and wish to spend them wisely, I strongly recommend you get this pickaxe. As for Mawdrey (more precisely its complementary item, Mawdrey II), it has the unique ability to consume Bloodstone Dust in exchange for random loot.

You could argue that Legendary weapons in Guild Wars 2 are also unique items because they're difficult to obtain, and because you can change their stats whenever you want. But this stat-changing ability is something they all have in common, it's not unique to either one of them; and with that out of the way, they're really just improved versions of ascended weapons with fancy designs. They don't have a special attack, or a particular use against a distinct type of enemy, or a special utility outside of combat.

Image by Noxxic from GamingPrecision
I'm not sure how it is in other recent MMORPGs, as I rarely play them for long enough to know about these things in detail; perhaps you could let me know in the comments below. But I think the reason why unique items in GW2 are being kept to a minimum is because of the community being irrationally afraid of them becoming too imbalanced or unfair to others. This discussion about the Watchwork Pickaxe brings that irrationality to evidence.

Contrarily to what people thought back then, the Watchwork Pickaxe didn't make anyone lose ores, or drive players into a mass exodus due to a feeling of unfairness, or make the game Pay-To-Win. I have the impression that there's this desire in the community for everyone to be equal, to have equal chances, absurdly akin to some sort of communism. But let's face it: no matter what items the game has to offer, there are going to be those who get rich and those who don't. The real concern here should be that there's a cash shop in game and that you can buy gold from it.

With all of that aside, what are you favorite items in video games?


  1. I don't care much for legendaries in GW2, either. I don't like their look and the fact that they're hard to get tends to turn me off rather than on. Mawdrey I do love, though, but unfortunately I never dived into that deeply enough to get the thing. Too much work for the level of involvement with GW2 I'm in atm.

    Lord of the Rings Online also has legendary items, for players of level 45 onwards (the level cap is 105). They're not that hard to get and mostly need a lot of playtime invested to level them up, especially at level cap. I guess the fact that everyone has them and they drop all the time makes them feel less special. It's convenient, but takes away the glamour.

    1. This is the main complaint I have about GW2, although I was entirely aware before the game even launched that ANet were totally opposed to the traditional MMORPG approach to items and loot. They were so opposed, indeed, that they wouldn't even allow any mobs to have individual names, even though tthey didn't drop unique loot, which is why everything is called "Veteran" or "Champion" in the base game.

      I thought it was an error of judgment then and I still do. They softened up on the naming convention in Heart of Thorns but the concept of named items as drops and precursors and ascended items can drop randomly, of course, if extremely rarely (I've seen one precursor in four years) but GW2 is fundamentally a lootless MMO.

      I really wouldn't consider cash shop items as part of the same concept as "loot" and quested items like Mawdrey obviously need to be compared with quested items in other MMOs. I do like a good quest item - my Worker Sledgemallet in both EQ and EQ2 is one of my favorites for example - but nothing beats a really satisfying drop off a boss or a named mob. In GW2 I'm fond of Princess, the little quested Karka that eats the yellow dust but really there isn't much competition.

      GW2 with its unique approach aside, I think that excitement over items in MMOs has declined hugely over the years simply because they have become so very commonplace. I don't believe in having to wait weeks between seeing anything worth having drop but neither do I think it's a great idea to have magic items turning up so fast you're actually destroying them or selling them to vendors to empty your bags. I'd say that maybe once or twice a week would be about right for run of the mill magic items and maybe once a month for something that would make you punch the air and link what you'd got to your guild.

    2. Oops - second para is gibberish! Should read "...but not on the concept of named items as drops. Ascended items and precursors can drop randomly, of course..."

    3. Mawdrey is crafted differently of your average ascended item, it's more of a scavenger hunt than a grind, although it's still a lenghty process. I would recommend it. I don't dislike the designs of legendary weapons in how they are blatantly absurd, but the unicorn shooting bow is just way over the top and has a very irritating sound effect.
      I should really try LotRo sometime, you guys seem to have a lot of fun on it!

    4. "(...) magic items turning up so fast you're actually destroying them or selling them to vendors to empty your bags."

      That's basically LOTRO in a nutshell. You get so many of the darn things in your already overflowing bags that you're just destroying them if you're on the road. There are different Ages for the legendary items (the older, the more powerful) and the truly good ones only drop from instances - those you will need for the hardest group content.

      @Armathyx: If you're planning on trying out LOTRO, be prepared for the 2007 leveling experience. Although I love the game to bits, I would recommend it mostly to devote Tolkien fans these days.

  2. Firstly, thanks for taking the time to leave such detailed comments guys, it's an honor to have great bloggers such as yourselves take interest in my content!

    @Bhagpuss I do see a lot of named NPCs in GW2, as often as I'd see in any of Bethesda's RPGs, but the lack of real loot and of magical items with real, useful functions is indeed a mistake on their part.
    I think the interest people have is still there, who doesn't want to receive a rare item reward from a difficult boss or quest? It's definitely more interesting than to get a bag of expendable loot. It's just that there's always a lot of "but it's unfair to those who were here before / who can't afford it" backlash whenever these items are released.