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.
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.
(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?