I’ll freely admit I love Fractals. What I love the most about them is the acknowledgement and willingness from ArenaNet to strip back dungeons to their bare bones. If players are already speed running dungeons, bypassing enemies and content, then why have those obstacles to begin with? Not only do Fractals make dungeon running quick, painless and fun, but they have single handedly removed speed running (there’s nothing to speed run through!). It must also reap rewards for ArenaNet in their ability to develop the dungeon content quickly now that little or no narrative is involved (I’ve been informed the content was made in as little as 5 weeks).
In spite of all this, I do have some long term concerns about Fractals. While some of the flaws can be attributed to “newness” and the fact players are flocking to them in their droves, others require serious attention to ensure that long term damage isn’t done.
On paper the prospect of a dungeon scaling in difficulty, the more you progress, is great. However, this tends to mean three things when the difficulty in Fractals increases: enemies have slightly more health and deal more damage per increment, gain access to more skills and harsher environmental effects become present. A harpy on lower difficulties might attack you with standard arrows but at higher levels those arrows might knock you back. Things like this are great for creating a challenge to the player, while keeping the dungeon fresh.
What is frustrating however is the initial dungeon difficulty is frighteningly easy, with enemies and environmental factors reaching a very early ceiling, leaving only monster health and damage as the difficulty curve. My biggest issue here (and I’ll expand on this further below) is that it all becomes very predictable, very quickly. Once enemies and environmental factors have reached their peak, adding more health or having enemies deal more damage for the most part isn’t pleasurable. It’s also a relatively lazy way of creating longevity. Yes it will make an encounter more difficult on a numerical basis but not one on a tactical or strategic one. I would much rather see improved AI routines and a greater focus on environmental/enemy changes than the simple approach currently on display.
I honestly couldn’t tell you what the changes are to Fractals between difficulty level 1 and 7. I don’t think there has been a single moment where I’ve said to myself: “Wow, that’s much harder” when climbing the difficulty ladder. Which begs the question: why have so many inconsequential difficulty levels? If the only difference between initial and later levels is fractional differences in enemy health pools and damage, what is the purpose? Surely it would be better to have Fractal difficulty levels increase on a scale of 1-3-6-9-12 instead of 1-2-3-4-5 so that difficulty jumps are apparent.
What I’m struggling to understand in Fractals is why we’re forced to play through Fractal after Fractal to climb up the difficulty ladder. As someone heavily experienced in explorable dungeons, it’s actually quite insulting and laborious to play through content that is so easy, level after level. I appreciate that the purpose of the difficulty system is to steadily expose players to each Fractal and its intricacies, while providing a steady stream of Fractal Relics and yet it all feels so forced. Would it surely not be a bolder move of ArenaNet to say: “Hey, there are 50 difficulty levels in the Fractal’s. You can choose whatever difficulty you want, right from day one.” Obviously this poses its own set of problems, such as players completing the content quickly, dying lots and obtaining high level gear early into the Fractals lifespan. But is that not a player’s choice? Why must I be forced to play through Fractals repeatedly just to reach a difficulty akin to mine or my guilds ability? As it currently stands I’ve had more challenge from Blossoms in Twilight Arbor than anything a Fractal has thrown at me and yet I’ve potentially dozens and dozens of levels to go until I reach something comparable.
Explorable Ghost Towns
Part of this issue is easily attributed to the newness of Fractals, but trying to get a standard dungeon run now is like finding a needle in a haystack. Waypointing to several dungeons this week saw me encounter 1 person outside Caudecus Manor. I suspect more players will eventually return back to existing dungeons but I don’t envisage the number of players who will to be half of what they used to be, for several reasons:
- Ascended items are only available in Fractal’s.
- Fractals are quick and painless.
- Fractals do not require any risk of speed running to complete relatively quickly.
- Fractal rewards vs. time investment are far superior to dungeons (I usually make 2-4g per run).
- Fractal rewards will only get better.
There will always be people looking to complete the old dungeons, but when good groups were already hard to find, the chances of groups willing to do runs the moment you log in (I see me wasting countless hours looking for more Twilight Arbor groups) is incredibly slim, without a looking for group tool to soften the blow.
Don’t Get Left Behind
The difficulty progression of Fractals has already, in a matter of days, split the player base. If people already in the game are struggling to find people to take part in level 1 runs, what chance does a newcomer have if they decide to purchase Guild Wars 2 in several months time? Having only taken a single day’s break from Fractals on Monday, I’m already seven levels behind some of my Guild mates. For me to then ask them to come down to my difficulty level (when they see little or no progression from doing so) is no incentive and is a waste of their time. Although those entering Fractals may choose any difficulty level from 1 up to the highest common difficulty level in the group, this doesn’t address the fact that those at level 1 cannot play with those at 15, who want to join a level 15 difficulty dungeon. This is a huge design flaw and coming back to my earlier point (Hand Holding) serves to do little but segregate a player base in an infuriating way. All I keep thinking when I encounter this issue is: “how dare you assume I can’t complete a dungeon at X difficulty!”
Character Bound Difficulty
I’m actually stunned that this made it into the live game I cannot for the life of me think of a single, logical reason as to why it even exists; it surely has to be a mistake by ArenaNet. So not only do we have to plough through superficial difficulty levels, but once we have done so, we cannot actually take alternative characters into dungeons at the difficulty level we’ve earned. I suspect ArenaNet’s argument might be that they don’t want people quickly gearing-up alts and for fear of repeating myself, it all feels so forced. Why must I re-run Fractals from level 1 just because I switched from my mesmer to my engineer when I’ve not only earned my stripes already, but have to replay through the face-roll difficulty that the beginning stages offer. It’s absolutely baffling.