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The Mechanic's Workshop: Community Fracturing Fractals and How to Fix Them

December 11, 2012 - 12:04pm -- innuendo
Guild Wars 2 Fractals of the Mists

I think me and Lewis have done enough complaining about the problems with Fractals. So I don’t want to spend this week's workshop talking about what is wrong with the way Fractals are currently setup. This week I want to talk about solutions. I’ve seen a couple floated out by members of the community, including some ideas we at Guild Wars 2 Hub have discussed together, so I figured we should discuss the current options out there, and ultimately what I feel is the best path forward for Fractals.

The Problem:

Before we can fix a problem, we need to correctly understand not only the symptoms, but what fixing it would look like. Last week I spoke about how the lack of an LFG system in the game was making the problems with Fractals worse, but that’s not the root cause of the issue. The previous dungeons in the game didn’t use an LFG system, and it was reasonably easy to find groups for them. The issue with Fractals, and why even a robust LFG system would have issues solving the problems, is that every player wants one, and only one, dungeon tier (and there are 50+ tiers). So I don’t think adding an LFG to the game really does anything to address the issue.

If I get my character to dungeon tier 5, I only want dungeon tier 5. 1-4 are worthless to me, and I can’t even attempt 6+. What that has caused in the community was like a quick spreading plague of fracturitis. The ironic thing was that all the players who are trying to play together are trying to do the same content, on the same server, but at marginally different challenge levels. Why two players who are separated by 1% increased mob health are destined to never play together was, put lightly, a bonehead mistake by ArenaNet.

So what does that problem look like fixed? It’s really simple in my mind. If two players want to do the same content, let them. It was almost the entire philosophy behind the design of the PvE systems in the game. ArenaNet removed the Trinity to make grouping easier, they have a shallow power curve for items to make grouping easier, they have 5 person group sizes to make pugging easier. This is essentially the core of the solution I’ve seen put forward by Lewis and others. The current system requires all players in a group be at or above the current difficulty level in order to select it. The Proposed system would let a group select any difficulty tier so long as at least one player was at it.

I like that idea, but I do see some potential problems with it. One is it makes the tiers useless to the point that they may as well not exist in their current form. If only one player has to do the progression to unlock the highest reward tiers for other players, you could see a lot of piggybacking where one player sidekicks up 4 other players. So long as the players have necessary Agony resistance there is no reason to run the lower tiers. This could pervert the reward structure setup. And in the leveling system ArenaNet has implemented they are directly against sidekicking up (instead using downleving in all cases). 

I suspect that is why the current system was in place as it is. It’s almost exactly the down leveling system, but applied to dungeon tiers. It fails for a lot of the same reasons the down leveling system is currently suffering. It’s not worth your time to go back to lower tiers because ArenaNet for whatever reason refuses to scale rewards to your actual level (or does it half way and sorta scales them, but sorta doesn’t. That’s a topic I’ll cover in another workshop). 

So what I think I’ve come to is the understanding that reducing the fracturing is important, but not at the cost of removing the system altogether by allowing sidekicking up. And I think the solution is already in the game. Get rid of the current fractal difficulty tiers as they are. Go to a story/explorable mode system, but modified to fit how Fractals are designed.

fractals-of-the-mists

The Proposal:

(Tier 1) Fractals of the Mist Traveler - No Agony given by mobs, normal rewards. This is like the current 1-9 tiers condensed into one tier. Looking for “Fractals Traveler” is pretty easy compared to “LFG FoTM 4.” And just like Story mode dungeon this is the introduction to how Fractals are set up and work. In order to do any of the future tiers of Fractals, you will have to have completed this tier at least once.

(Tier 2) Fractals of the Mist Explorer - Just like tier 1, but with Agony on the mobs and an increased reward rate. All players have access to this tier after completing at least one Traveler run. And this will give increased drop rates, but only drop Ascended Rings, not the infused versions. Nor will this level have Fractal Weapons. This is the 10-19 tiers condensed.

(Tier 3) Fractals of the Mist Vanguard - This is tier 20-29 condensed. Just like Explorer, but infused rings will drop along with Fractal Weapons. And just like tier 2, you’ll need complete at least one run of Explorer in order to unlock this tier. This is the top level tier for normal play. 

This system pretty closely mirrors the current dungeon system seen in the game, just stretched out to 3 tiers instead of 2 (story and explorable). By abolishing the current numbering system for tiers you will instantly reform the community. And what’s nice is you can even preserve everyone’s rank. So long as you’ve done tier 10+ you are an Explorer, and so long as you’ve completed 20+ you are a Vanguard. By condensing the tiers, but retaining the escalating difficulty/reward structure in place with Agony, you keep the spirit of the design, and minimize the issues caused by difficulty fracturing.

Now, this is where I will go off the rails a bit, so hang on tight (And this is why I wanted to write this piece). I think there should be a 4th “tier” if you will (And I’ll say upfront, that not all content should be designed for all players).

(Tier Infinity) Fractals of the Mist Champion - If you’ve completed at least one Vanguard Fractal run, you are ready for the big leagues. This is where you could see semi competitive PvE take off. Where you could see guilds and teams forming to run Fractals. Which I think was one of the design goal all along for the difficulty tiers. PvE Guilds need something to aspire to and tier 50 Fractals was that. This version though is completely different. It starts at what would be Tier 30 difficulty in the current system. Every time you complete one fractal (1 map, not a complete set of 3), it goes up by 1. The catch here is you don’t stop at 3 fractals.

The rewards scale just like they do currently for Fractals 30+, but you don’t have to quit unless you want to. So what stops a marathon session? Permadeath. No, not super character permadeath, but if any character dies in the run, they are kicked out of that fractal run (the whole thing). This is some inception level stuff. The further you get into the fractal the higher the stakes, the higher the challenge, and the higher the rewards. If you slip up and one of your party dies in an earlier fractal you’ll have to push on without them until you all die and get to restart. I can just dream about the leaderboards for this. And so long as the difficulty ramps up correctly, it shouldn’t get too out of hand. I would pay money for that feature. I would pay money just to watch other people try and do that (spectator mode, high end PvE has been a dream of mine for a while).

If you want to give high end PvE players a home, this seems like as good a bet as any. Let the FoTM Champions community form and coalesce around interesting, diverse content that changes every run. Where the challenge is real (no resurrection accomplishes this goal nicely), and the rewards the sweetest in the game. And if ever there was a “are guilds necessary for PvE” spot, this would be it. The community building that a Last Man Standing, infinity Dungeon could accomplish is huge in my eyes. And so long as you properly set player expectations about what the content is, there should be relatively little complaining.

In the end all us players want the same thing. To play together. The current system discourages that, and as Lewis said in his wish list: this is the worst system I’ve ever seen ArenaNet introduce into a game. In my opinion the solution is more nuanced that just abolishing the tiers altogether, or awarding the highest tier (which does the same thing), or even an LFG system. It requires going back to the drawing board on the never ending tiers and trying something else, something more refined. Because great works always come through iteration.

What are your thoughts? Would you like to see a condensed Tier list? Could you see your guild trying Champion runs? Can you imagine something else altogether?

Comments

tzahr
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I'd say it's a sound solution. 

The only place where I would diverge is to require say 5 completed runs at each of the three lower levels in order to advance to the next level.  This would be enough to guarantee that any player moving from tier 1 to tier 2 had seen every one of the 9 fractals as well as the Jade Maw a couple times before moving to the next tier.

A second option would be in order to move from tier 1 to tier 2 you had to complete every one of the 9 fractals at your current tier and complete the Jade Maw encounter at least once.

This way you would not have players stumbling through content at tier 2 which they had never encountered at tier 1.

innuendo
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The point of this isn't to make it so players have to see it to move on. The point of the proposal is to make it arbitrarily easy to complete the difficulty tiers. This serves the goal of letting players pick their own difficulty level, while still offering some progression and staging to the content. The same way story mode provides staging for explorable modes, without really locking players out of explorable mode for too much time.

The end goal is to let players pick their own difficulty level, but still reward them by offering a shallow ramp up to the harder content.

tzahr
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I do understand the idea behind making the transition from tier to tier easy, and I can understand how one could quickly make the transition from tier 1 to tier 2.  At tier 2 the need for agony resistance is minimal at best. However if I understand what you have described as the transition from tier 2 to tier 3 then there will be a need for some sort of agony resistance.  That being the case then one would most likely have to run tier 2 fractals repeatedly in order to "gear up" before moving to tier 3.  So there is a small barrier to tier 3.  The only reason I would suggest the barrier of completing some set requirement at tier 1 is to create a sort of equity between the tiers.

devilpeach
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I suppose another option, though it might be difficult to implement, would be to add a solo element to the fractals. Maybe like adding a solo version of each of the fractal levels (or even duo) so that people can catch up to friends/guild members, but possibly make it so that you might have to run the same level a couple of extra times if you do it solo to reach the next level. That way if you are several fractal levels behind others, or if you are a new player or have taken extra time to reach level 80 (as I did), you can catch up to other players. Lets face it. More often than not, people are not going to go back to do content that is below them if they cannot get anything that is valuable to them out of it. But offering a solo version or even a smaller group version of fractals (maybe scalable similar to dynamic events) seems like it would be a good way to please those who need to catch up, and even those who prefer to play alone or in groups of 2 or 3 people. I would rather run level 1 of a fractal 3 times by myself to proceed to level 2 than spend a week trying to find 4 other people who are willing to run level 1 a single time for the same result.

scyth02
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For a slightly more casual player that's still pretty rough, I very rarely see groups form for story mode dungeons, but admittedly the FotM would be more popular. I still like my idea of making the prerequisites a solo experience leading up to the group content.

Question, if you opened the difficulty levels to everyone wouldn't Agony require players to complete the lower levels before the higher ones? Not a fan of that idea but that's basically how the culture in WoW works, you need gear of a certain quality to be successful in progressive content.

I love the concept of the Champion mode but foresee the randomness of what content you encounter as being an issue for a competitive PvE encounter. Making the encounters a little random is fun and exciting but making the content random you could just get really lucky. I think it would have to be guaranteed you see ever fractal once before you see any repeat.