The Daily Grind: How can MMOs help you understand endgame gearing?

One of my simmering frustrations about practically every MMORPG that I play is that when my character starts to get to high levels, I am usually clueless as to how to properly gear up him or her. Sure, there are quest rewards and running dungeons, but what about past that? Am I supposed to run different types of instances in a particular order?

And it feels as though developers just stop explaining things to you once you get out of the starter zone. I keep getting special tokens and currencies in most of the MMOs I play at high level, but to find out where and how to use these, I almost always have to go out of the game to look up some guide for clueless idiots like myself. It’s not as though the MMO itself is going to point me in the direction of a particular vendor and say, “Right there, that guy will take your tokens and give you some nice raid-ready gear for your troubles.”

How can MMOs help us understand endgame gearing and progression better? For bonus points, which game do you feel does the best job at doing this?

Every morning, the Massively Overpowered writers team up with mascot Mo to ask MMORPG players pointed questions about the massively multiplayer online roleplaying genre. Grab a mug of your preferred beverage and take a stab at answering the question posed in today’s Daily Grind!
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42 Comments on "The Daily Grind: How can MMOs help you understand endgame gearing?"

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Alex Malone

Good topic!

This is a problem I have never had personally, but as a former raid and guild leader it is a problem I have encountered with many of my guildies. The problem, in my experience, has never once resided with the game itself – the problem has always been with the player. So, my recommendations for how MMOs can solve the problem:

1) Stop pandering to lazy bastards.
This, imo, is the root cause. Remove quest pointers / guides, exclamation marks etc from your games. These “quality of life” improvements have resulted in players being almost entirely disengaged from the game world itself. This makes it extremely easy to ignore / skip / forget the advice you have been given in game.

2) Stop making linear games
In addition to encouraging lazy questing, MMOs are now so linear that the instant a game offers you choice (i.e. a variety of endgame activities), the weak willed panic and give up. This is a case of playing the expectations game. Train your new players right from the start to be inquisitive and explore so that by the time they reach endgame, they won’t be afraid to just explore on their own in order to find the answers they missed earlier.

3) Cut down on currencies
This won’t fix the problem, people will still be wondering where certain vendors are, but we only need one currency – gold – everything else is just superfluous.

4) Implement horizontal progression
If you go full horizontal progression then you eliminate this problem from day one. It would change the entire way in which we approach and evaluate content and progression and should, in theory, reduce or eliminate the concept of endgame. Being horizontal, you might be able to complete the whole game without ever changing gear, resulting in an ethos of “lets give it a try” rather than worrying about being undergeared.

5) Pander to idiots more
The easiest option is just to pander to idiots. Put all endgame vendors in a single, central hub. Create a quest chain that leads players from one instance to the next, from easiest to hardest. Job done.

6) Do nothing
If they can’t figure out where to go, or where the vendors are, and are unable to ask for help, chances are they aren’t capable of completing the endgame anyway. Why waste time on them?

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Jeffery Witman

First, I think developers need to understand the reality of the gear systems they create. So many seem to understate or overestimate how much time, effort, and incentive their systems will require. The gear treadmills can be daunting and tiresome. Making them confusing, ill planned, and/or pointless can really kill a game.

Neverwinter had a good enough system before their gear system overhaul and level cap increase, IMO. Get some basic dungeon gear and move on to new areas every few months that have/require specific kinds of gear to do well. Ice gear in the Arctic area has special protections and buffs to deal with area monsters. Dragon graveyard area has similar rewards that give similar advantages. The best part of this system is that it’s lateral. Each area can be played concurrently. You don’t need Ice gear to go to the Dragon graveyard since it doesn’t help much there. Your standard dungeon gear can be used to start fresh in any new areas that come out. If one is done poorly, you don’t have to grind it out just to progress.

Most importantly, these are expansions of the story. Each area has its own tale to tell. You play for the story and to see the epic battle or final confrontation. You can farm it if you like, but it’s not needed.

The downside is that the developers need to keep making content. That can be difficult. Not every game can manage that.

Still, throwing in a tutorial or some minor missions at the beginning of an end game zone to explain the gear you can get there is easily done. A quick tour of a new area is probably a good idea in general. Why not throw in a few directions about gearing?

Unless it’s a game like TSW where you’re supposed to figure things out as part of the charm.

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Robert Mann

I actually would like to see things be less certain, but with a lot of possible beneficial stats, for the current design. I detest theorycraft and everything being balanced around min/max at this point… so the more completely confounding that is, the better.

Also, can I request some variety in rotations as a possibility? Hitting a set of keys in a certain order over and over again is just not ideal to me. Actually, the fact that 90% of dps abilities are useless in most games… why?

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Schmidt.Capela

If you don’t balance everything around min-maxing, then anyone that does successfully optimize their character will have a big advantage. Potentially a game-went-from-hard-to-cakewalk advantage. So, if you want supposedly hard content to actually be hard, then you need to balance around min-maxing and expect all competitive players to do it.

Anyway, obfuscating the formulas, or even the stats, doesn’t deter theoricrafting, it merely slows it down; there are fairly good ways to obtain useful information from closed systems. I should know, I studied a number of those methods in college.

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Robert Mann

Yeah, it slows it down, and makes it less of an issue for a while at least.

Here’s the thing, if you balance on Min/Max everything else becomes too difficult, relatively. So now you take all the abilities that don’t quite make it… and they may as well not exist. You offer no options at that point. On the other hand, if min/max isn’t where you balance, the only people with a problem are those who min/max (if they consider it a problem.) Nothing forces people to go with min/max stuff, except balancing to it.

I don’t know about you, but the last thing I want in a game is to be locked to rotation X with gear Y and not the stuff I want to be using. I understand people want to be effective, but at the same time there’s nothing that kills fun faster than that. Which is why I detest min/max balancing.

I would imagine that the people who min/max because they can (rather than having to, effectively) and who also want a lot of challenge at that point are… a tiny portion of the playerbase. I’m tired of them dictating how the rest of us must play the game.

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Dug From The Earth

Im not sure the game can really do much to help the player, since its players that typicaly lead the charge in how to best gear. In fact, most devs may have certain ideas in mind when it comes to gearing, but players almost always find better and more efficient ways of gearing, that trump whatever the devs had in mind.

Thus, new players who are trying to figure out how to gear, are best helped by those online web guides, designed by players, who lay out which stats, gear, etc that they should have.

The ONE thing that I think ALL games can improve on, is informing the player on what to do and HOW to get end game gear and items. Some games have so many systems and methods for how you must go about getting end game stuff, and dont explain a word of it to the player when they hit max level. For example, the number of players ive met in WoW, who have NO clue that you can get high ilevel gear from doing mythics for the weekly chest, is mind blowing. Or in marvel heroes, the number of players who had no idea that you could raise the level of your unique items MULTIPLE times or even how to get the currency to allow you to do so.

wandris
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wandris

After playing many games where endgame gear is simple and straightforward I find it much more interesting to play games where there are no simple answers and requires planning, experimentation and effort. In particular I like black desert where almost all information has been speculative since day one, and no definitive specifics only general data the community has put together. It makes endgame gearing a process which rewards more with individual experience, knowledge and time. Other games which have had enjoyable gearing have been darkfall and eve. With darkfall there was a lack of data in the early days, and eve so much data it is hard to really wrap your head around it.

The real question should be, “Does making things easy and obvious actually add anything to the gaming experience?”

Take classic MMO like WoW for example, they have reduced gearing to a very simple ilvl/power comparison with very definitive answers that come down to is item one better than items two and outside of some very minor gearing options/choices there is almost nothing you need to know. They essentially reduced understanding endgame gearing to a pre-school level that is almost instantly understood by everyone. All this has really accomplished is to make gearing a stream of bland incremental upgrades which have almost no value and get replaced almost as soon as you get them which is very unexciting.

plasmajohn
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plasmajohn

There was a discussion in one MMO’s forums about why primary and secondary stats were so obtuse. The developer response was that it was intentional to give the theorycrafters something to do.

And people scoff when I instantly go for the cookie cutter builds.

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rafael12104

Hmm. For min-max zealots, it will always be outside of game. Let them crunch the numbers to get the exact points. It’s their thing.

But in general, a combinations of things are helpful. First, tool tips. You can do simple things like when you hover over a stat a little tool tip pops, gives you info and perhaps, best suited for class.

Character information screen: It should be more than just your portrait. It should have detail stat output information with tool tips with recommendations.

Upgrade Path GUI: This has been a god send in BnS. They added a tab you can easily access that shows you the upgrade paths for everything including tracking your progress, what is needed, and where to get it. And since it is an info-graphic, you can look ahead at what is next as far as you want. It is a flow chart.

Pretty damn awesome actually. Just follow the yellow brick line. The left tells you what is required. The right, the gains from the upgrade.

The result? I don’t go outside the game to understand what I need to do. I do go outside of game to min max once I get there.

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Oleg Chebeneev

I never had this kind of problem in any MMO. Its the same pretty much everywhere. To get gear you do dungeons/raids, buy from crafters or participate in PvP. Im not sure what devs have to even explain here

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Sally Bowls

I see the meta question is:

Do you expect proper gearing to require an external website or tool?

1) If yes, it doesn’t matter as much. The site can compare pieces and show you upgrades and the source for them. There are usually gearing up guides there as well.

2) If no, then there needs to be some immersion breaking dialog somewhere that mentions dungeons, raids, fractals, crafting, dailies, pvp, etc. What they provide and the prerequisites.

In particular, if you erroneously believe players can figure this out in game without sites/tools, then what is the point of all these stats instead of a piece of level 136 armor that is always and obviously better than 135? Are they there for any other reason than a noob-trap for people who don’t go look it up?

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Dušan Frolkovič

So basically lets just continue with the level progression, if the game stops at max level 50, lets have the items just start at 51 and go up. Simple enough and nobody needs to know the numbers behind the curtain.

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Ocho

In my opinion if you have to leave the game to find information on how to progress in the game, that’s just bad development. And yeah, I feel ya’, having to leave the game to find builds, or crafting end-game gear, or anything like that is rampant. Guild Wars 2 is one of the biggest offenders. Trying to figure out how to craft legendaries (which is essentially the end game content) just can’t be found in-game. The best, I would probably give to Neverwinter. Haven’t played in a while, but I remember they have a system where it specifically told you where to go next for your next gear upgrades. Props also to Star Trek Online (you just craft anything past Mk 12 to Mk 14, and everything can increase in rarity), and Secret World Legends (you just keep getting smaller items to infuse into bigger items), as their systems are more perpetual and straightforward.

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Dušan Frolkovič

STO is anything but forthcoming with info about builds.
Enough to start yes, but the well goes so much deeper if you look beyond the game and into wikis.

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Ocho

True, but STO there isn’t really much push to go beyond the “start”, it doesn’t really have an “endgame”. I mean if someone is a min-maxer, sure, but min-maxers generally have no issue with going outside the game to wikis and whatnot, so this article isn’t really talking about them. But for your average player, getting up to Mk 14 is generally good enough.

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Dušan Frolkovič

But the same can then be said about GW2. You can do all the content with exotic gear no problem. Legendaries are just a complete status symbol.

Line
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Line

… by not having endgame gearing?
And by that I don’t mean that we shouldn’t gear later on, but why the hell should it be different than the rest of the game?
No need for that weird fixation on totally changing everything and “this time the game really starts, thank you sucker for spending hundreds of hours in our game now find a guide to know what to grind“.

Concise and clear indications on what stats do (and NO FUCKING RNG), and organically show people how to get more: you buy armor, or you craft it. Then you follow the quest guide to learn how to upgrade them with rare monster parts to get bonuses or some such.
I don’t know, there’s a million different things that can work, and about three games that manage to explain their own systems and keep them consistant.

Also, make gear actually important.
Not throw away content with meaningless +0.17% damage for the next three months until the patch adds +0.17% HP to all mobs; nor drown players into endless trash with no value except when the RNG gods decide that this piece is good for you.
Very little gear, but very significant upgrades, and more room for wild modifications that players can make use of. Less +5power on all pieces of gear, more +transform your fire balls into healing water balls.

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squidgod2000

This is one of the things that keeps me casual in ESO. The whole idea of having/managing situational armor sets, constant weapon-swapping, animation-cancelling for DPS, etc., is a huge turn-off—especially when the endgame is designed around all of it, but explains/teaches none of it.

But I’m sure there’s an add-on for it.

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thirtymil

To be fair, although animation cancelling sounds horrific, for PvE it is fairly straightforward in ESO. Even I can do it, and I hate all that kind of stuff. But yes, it could do with being explained if they’re going to leave it in the game.

Agree on the situational armour sets and weapon swapping.

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Hirku

Clear in-game documentation so I can make informed decisions and the means to easily undo those decisions when they still turn out to be crap.

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Utakata

In WoW we have the incredible innovation of having to look our gear, stat, build and rotation priorities and using *3rd party sites…

*Note: Not sure how reliable they are from having a crap shoot in the dark. But hey, they’re recommended by the hardcore, cupcake crowd…they must be okay? o.O

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Schmidt.Capela

For learning where to go from now: bulletin boards in every player hub that points the player to their current options for progressing the character, perhaps giving players breadcrumb quests to get to whichever option they have chosen. It’s effective and in-game (as opposed to a menu or UI element).

For gear stats: reasonable template gear goals that can be tracked from inside the game and, if fulfilled, guarantee that the character is capable of tackling the corresponding content. This way, players that don’t want to learn about the stats can follow the template and ignore the stats, while those that want to optimize their gear according to their play style can just ignore the template.

Caveat: this assumes there are multiple viable ways of gearing. If by design there’s only one viable way of gearing, just remove all visible stats from gear except for some quality identifier, because if only one choice is optimal then showing more stats only serves to confuse players.

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Wolfyseyes

Discounting the “screw end game” thing, I’d rather that numerous currencies be thrown into a running wood chipper for a start. Nothing bothers me more than running through several treadmills for different colors of the same flavor carrot. I’m lookin’ at you, GW2.

Next, I would perhaps try to weave end game activities into the story. XIV does this to a degree and I’d like to see this expanded upon to make end game progression feel just as natural as level progression.

Finally, I’d like stat sheets to be clearly and cleanly explained in-game. Maybe have video embeds for each stat, or hell even light up the important stats for your class in bright yellow like Champions Online does. Also, have less stats to manage overall to make knowing what to ramp up more obvious, and make those stat changes feel impactful so end game grind feels rewarding.

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Lethality

C’mon. Is this actually a problem?

I mean, if a player is dedicated enough to play a game at those high levels, it’s safe to assume they have picked up the core aspects of it and understand where the game is taking them.

If you’re a player who floats between many games, coming back to some only every couple weeks – then it’s kind of on you, because you’re not dedicated enough to understand the intricacies.

The designers have to expect *some* effort from the players, because having the right level of affordance is part of what can keep players engaged in and of itself.

There may be games out there who don’t have the best player experience for this stuff. But for the most part, if you’re dedicated to the game, it’s a player problem if you don’t understand what’s going on.

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Sally Bowls

I mean, if a player is dedicated enough to play a game at those high levels, it’s safe to assume they have picked up the core aspects of it and understand where the game is taking them.

Just because a player has gotten to max level, does not mean they know that the haste break points are at 1066, 1342, 1866 except when you are running with someone with the X buff or that at lower gear levels 1 Strength is equivalent to 1.352 Crit but at gear higher levels, the ratio is 1.876. And as buffs, nerfs, and new food are patched in they all change every few weeks.

——-

As for the last point, if a dev designs a game for sale that assumes that all the players are intelligent people who “read the manual”, then they are either designing for a very small game, far from AAA, or they are dumber than the players we are ridiculing.

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Lethality

The type of player that Justin is exposing himself to be does not care about break points. Thereby, the choices he makes are almost irrelevant because well designed games don’t put you in a corner.

If he DOES care about those break points, then he’s a dedicated player and should pay some fucking attention and stop ask for handholding.

Player is the problem.

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Utakata

You make it sound like asking the game about endgame gear questions is most offensive thing in the world. o.O

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Lethality

Not at all. You should ask. Ask your guildies, your fellow players – that’s the whole idea of an MMO.

DON’T ASK the developers to spoon feed everything.

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Schmidt.Capela

For the most part guildies and fellow players aren’t knowledgeable enough to actually be able to explain the math. Essays by theoricrafters tend to be a far better source of information than asking around, assuming you know enough math to understand them. And if you can’t follow the math, usually there are still guides with far more understandable explanations about gearing than most
guildies or fellow players could come up in chat.

Or, in other words, my experience with it suggests that asking questions about the game systems is usually at best a waste of time (as I could find the information far faster by just searching on Google), at worst misleading (as players often don’t know game systems well enough to explain them without mistakes).

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Utakata

I very much doubt that any developer would ever go that far with their game as to “spoon feed” every morsel of information on how players should mini-max their characters for those who ask. But if they did, what would be wrong asking “everything” with that? I’m not see any immorality or issues here in doing so.

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thalendor

Keep what stats do clear and consistent. If you need a spreadsheet to figure out whether more of a stat is useful, it might be a good idea to reconsider how that stat works or if it should exist. Either have more of the stat always be useful or have a clear break point for when that benefit is exhausted (eg. can’t crit more than 100% of the time). Definitely don’t do something like what I recall from the early days of Wildstar where each primary stat affected multiple different secondary stat for each class in sometimes almost nonsensical ways.

camren_rooke
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camren_rooke

This.

Clear descriptions of what stats do and how they will affect end game play.

I cant count the number of mmos and even single player games where there is no issue playing the game at low and mid levels but as soon as I hit max level I’m no longer effective. What changed?

More than likely some stat that wasn’t an issue before has become the penultimate stat I should have been focusing on all along.

deekay_plus
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deekay_plus

wildstar went from one of the worst ever to one of the best imo. tho i’m not sure how it stands now with the newish endgame progression system that caused some qq months ago.

originally which stats did what depended on your class. and on top of that there was several secondary stats on gear that were somewhat misleading. on top of it teh stat allocations of dropped gear vs crafted gear system that allow min/maxxing made that BoE crafted gear was far superior for the most part to all but the most high end and unobtainable gear in the game. which led lots of peopleo in the game to gear themselves poorly at extra effort no less because purple bordered gear must always be automatically better than blue right?

eventually they turned things around (not before some worsening of things like with the first reitmization of pvp gear that turned any and all pvp into a god mode gear based shitshow tied to ratings of an arena/bg ladder system that was heavily exploited by people that had ban immunity from teh devs) and things got into a much better place, and in a manner that didn’t ruin all of players’ previous work to gear up unlike some games, in fact no matter if you had geared poorly or smartly prior to the following itemization reworks you were in a good place after wards.

rift at launch was also rather poor, as the rp named stats seemed to coincide with classes, but did not unlike wildstar, and it upset certain vocal and visible segment of the player population that such was the case and that gearing up smartly meant wearing gear not necessarily rp named wise traditionally associated with your class in these people’s previous games.

well trino in their wisdom “fixed” that by changing what all teh stats did to bring them more in line with these people’s preconceptions of what class should want which stats. the problem is that if you had geared appropriately based on what stats did at all as a cleric or a warrior, your gear set was now largely useless and very dificult to regear in an appropriate and reasonable amount of time and effort as you were now less viable than having fresh level cap gear from quests.

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MesaSage

My gear is usually a combination of Ralph Lauren and Faded Glory. That’s how I roll.

Minimalistway
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Minimalistway

In-game help system? it does not have to be long, just few words “to level up gear you have these options” and list 3-5 ways to get gear, why not add a buttons to do what the list suggests.

I find it weird that games with so many systems can’t explain them in the game itself, you have to read wikis or fan websites to find information, in-game help system could provide quick tips.

Another way is to make NPCs tell you where to go, but you need to talk with them.

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Modrain

Indeed! When seeing that some complex games like Civilization have (nearly) exhaustive in-game help, I can’t help but wonder what’s preventing MMO studios from doing the same.

Tizmah
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Tizmah

Simple! Just delete the concept of end game.

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TheDonDude

One easy thing is to don’t allow many irreversible choices. Thus I can experiment with my enhancements/relics/gems/whatever without feeling the need to do a ton of boring online research beforehand.

Wildstar always frustrated me on this with their relic system.

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Schmidt.Capela

My approach to this is, if I can change my previous choices without cost then I will keep experimenting with them and go find the one answer that better fits my play style; if I can’t change previous choices, or if the cost of changing those choices is too much of an annoyance, I will just go online, find the community-accepted “best” choices, and use them while pretending a choice didn’t even exist in the first place.

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starbuck1771

By not changing gear stats every time you turn around! Every game it seems like has the well we’re removing this stat or the well we are changing what this stat does phase. Personally it is annoying as hell and it confuses the players. Like LOTRO for instance had Radiance now they have the light stat.

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Paragon Lost

“light stat” Please good sir, that’s Light of Elendil to you! Light is what comes from your torch. Light of Elendil is the star that shines in the night and gives you hope! Ok, I can’t keep that up anymore. Agreed, freaking LotRO drives me nuts with how foggy they make a lot of their mechanics and how they’ll change their mind on what they want the focus to be.

Don’t even get me started on all the various monetary/marks/freaking do-dads for collecting to get things. Improved Wallet? A damn must have. Grrr…

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starbuck1771

yup all those damn Rep tokens make no sense why not just give rep for the kill instead of freakin tokens.

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