While the debate surrounding fractals and the apparent addition of vertical progression is still a rather hot topic that seems to be fracturing the community, Anet has gone and done the impossible and made that blow over although I don’t really approve of the method. I think it is something I might keep clear of.. Leave forum flaming and QQ to the professionals. I have been a bit negative lately about certain things and for me to take notice of certain faults they usually have to quite obvious but there is one thing right now that I have actually been rather pleased about.
The Fractals seem to be hear to stay now for better or for worse with many around me jumping straight into it. We’re a funny breed us PvP’ers as we may kick and scream about all these terrible gear grinds but in the end we are mostly slaves to that funny little thing called optimisation, It irks us so much to be unoptimal. The most frustrating thing you can throw at us is to lose a fight because we lack gear, thus running into the field we need the best attainable.. It’s pointless, it’s childish, but from the outside in it is oh so amusing.
Of course I wanted to check out the new content just to see the amazing environments as well as how much Arenanet have learned so far regarding dungeon and boss design although I still don’t know if my urges will overtake my common sense regarding grinding out new awesome upgrades… We will just have to wait and see.
Straight away upon entering the fractal dungeon staging point I am reminded of how much nerd appeal Arenanet has and how well they know there nerdy audience.. Asura stormtroopers.. PERFECT
If you haven’t read about them yet fractals begin in a Lobby type area where your group gathers together before a beginning. All the merchants are readily available from this point. Once you begin it sets you three random dungeons to work through out of a possible nine (i think) and I have to say that what I have seen so far is very well designed and will keep you interested… Maybe even enough to keep on going on toward the path of the ascended. As you complete dungeons you improve in rank and thus are given harder challenges to overcome.
It is very obvious that Arenanet has learnt a great deal from building their previous dungeons and from player feedback with these new fractals being the evolution of their model. Upon doing some of my first dungeons I had many issues, concerns and mind numbing frustrations regarding the design and the holy trinity free system, but now, upon completing a couple fractal runs I must say that most of these have been resolved.
Firstly these new mini dungeons seem like the perfect length in a way as it is rather easy to keep them feeling fresh during a run in terms of visuals and mechanics but when added together they make for a rather cohesive little gaming session. The environments are really quite amazing and I am very surprised how great they look but also so detailed, the previous dungeons looks while nice could sometimes seem rather bland over a whole area but these are just great. What it throws at you is a nice mix of environments ranging from snowy mountains, forest temples, fiery mountains, and yes even underwater which wasn’t entirely terrible (except for the boring end boss). I just wouldn’t have expected the amount of focus and design work that has gone into creating such a small but very concise experience, it is simple astounding and a testament to Arenanets world crafting abilities.
The mobs are your usual standard types but the way that they are placed into the world is rather purposeful and not just thrown in to overload and make an experience last longer, there is usually a reason mechanically for there placement which is a nice way to be done. One instance of this is the jumping Asura area with the harpies firing from different platforms, the placement is to spurn you onwards through the platforms and maybe faster enough for a mistake. Even the area of that tentacle monster I so lovely named Mega Crag with all those windriders, it is easy to run through but with the chill involved and jumping you can end up at a boss fight one person or more short. It feels like I am no longer wading throguh silly mobs to get to the good things, and they are no longer silly mobs that seem harder than a boss fight that just wipe your group indiscriminately.
Even the mechanics involved in the different areas as part of getting through are interesting in certain ways and offer a lot to the experience, and even just traversing the environment is a large part about what makes these little fractals fun. I am guessing in later tiers these will also offer some significant challenge. There was powering up a spirit hammer to destroy seals on a giant colossus, finding a path though a pitch dark frozen tundra, darkened tunnels in an underwater cavern filled with ravenous piranhas, and the excellent little light show on the stairs of the captured Asura cube (which totally reminded me of playing Guitar Hero), and that is just some of the rather unique aspects that fill these fractals and there are still some I haven’t even explored yet which makes me extremely curious. It seems as well that some of these fractals can change in small but rather unique ways, many times while playing some of these with the guildies I would hear the remark “Oh, thats new”. It could have been a certain mob change, area or the opening of a new path but I could tell for someone running it multiple times that it would keep it a little fresh.
Ok, now the boss fights are where Arenanet have made the biggest strides in learning more about designing a functioning dungeon experience with out the Holy trinity. It was never going to be an easy task as nearly the entirety of the mmosphere is made up from this typical design approach but I believe they are on the right approach now and finally making unique experiences that fit well within their vision as there were noticeable improvements across the board. Some great fights just with limited experience so far have been the fire elemental with promoting movement as well spreading out, A huge tentacle beast which was rather amusing in laughing at peoples misfortune when the death beam was about to hit and my favourite so far, the raving Asura with his Cat Golems Baron Von Snufflebut, Mr Mittens, Snuggles, and Professor Mew which involved differences in player polarity.
The fights are mostly challenging in a way (a couple are not) but this time it is in a fun way, it is no longer about mitigating unavoidable damage or the insane damage hits and/or focus fire as they have found a much better balance between damage, avoidable mechanics and player health. They also showed a certain amount of group coordination and about learning the varying mechanics and performing as a group accordingly that in the beginning any old pug group would be able to work through. They are still rather easy in the beginning ranks but this is probably how it should be as that pug group can come in fresh and experience something novel without it having to be spoiled by some in depth explanation, wiki visit, or video walkthrough. It makes for a far better learning curve as the earlier levels become more about learning the different bosses and the various mechanics with the later fights being about practice and refining group functioning and not just overly punishing the new people that jump in and have a go.
Now most of these mechanics are things we have all already seen if you have played mmo’s for a couple of years, maybe with slight variations but the core idea behind some are very similar. What makes this actually a rather interesting and good thing for GW2 is that Arenanet are getting much better at molding these and incorporating them into a system which doesn’t include the holy trinity. They are no longer trying to reinvent the wheel, and badly but are looking around in the plethora of options available in the mmo field for tips and ideas about what works and what doesn’t and iterating them accordingly. They have shown a familiarity with other games and their mechanics, but instead of this being a bad thing because of blatant copying it has showed the key feature that makes me feel content in the direction of this kind of content and that is the ability to learn.
You may have guessed by now that I really like this mini dungeon design.. it’s kind of like Tapas and Tapas are freekin awesome. Many different tastes and experiences available and constantly being switched between, switching around enough that the novelty stays high. The dungeon lengths seem like the perfect length in a way and the randomness keeps you on your toes a little bit with some tiny little changes along the way in each mini dungeon to keep things a little fresh. AAAANNND they have greatly improved the waypoint systems with auto checkpoints now that seem very well spaced out from what I can gather.
Now the rewards aren’t so great so far and you will still be getting a plethora of useless gear, weapons, and other useless things that seems customary of GW2 now although at least the repair bills are kind of minimal so that after selling a few bags worth of crap you actually come out on top. Now a run through a set of fractals does give you some tokens to hand in for better gear at the merchant in the staging area but so far it looks like the rewards are attached to a rather long and unneeded grind. A typical run I think nets you about 30 or so tokens which even when taking the conversion rate from dungeon token gear would appear to be rather terrible but no the backpack will set you back 1350 of the little suckers.. thats 30 fractal runs, 90 mini dungeons to get one simple reward.. that just seems particularly odd and more like a clerical error than something intentional.
It is important to take into account that there do appear to be exotics and such that drop which are rather decent little upgrades with a good variety of stat combinations (what is it with all the healing power though) but these seem rather limited by RNG which seems like a rather poor decision as so far the reward from doing these seems to be very limited. Now maybe at higher ranks the token rewards get better I don’t know as I only made it to rank 3. Because of this it seems that these little dungeons are really only worthwhile doing to experience the new content enough until you get bored and they really are worth experience regardless of how jaded you might be regarding dungeons and raiding.. and if you run a few fractals you might want to pick up a 20 slot bag with the tokens as they seem to run pretty damn cheap considering their high gold cost.