A lot has been said about the newest addition to Guild Wars 2, Fractals, and I want to start out by pointing out a few great things about Fractals. One, they are great end-game content for people who love challenging raid-like content. The never ending, ever scaling difficulty is fantastic for people who love a challenge. The instances themselves are fairly short, and each has unique mechanics that offer people different challenges that are more than “kill mobs, loot bodies”. The fractals being small instances that fall largely outside of the known lore, allows the designers to add new instances, with new mechanics whenever they want, thus, expanding the end-game, with little resources expended. These unique mechanics also allow for more social interaction between players, and necessitate more use of voice chats; allowing more people to make friendships and build community.
This being said, they are a huge problem. The ever scaling nature of these dungeons and the inclusion of ascended items and agony will in the long term split the community. In order to get the best rewards you generally must do between 4 and 7 fractals in a row, in order to encounter the special instanced boss and daily bonus chest, and get more fractal relics. While an individual fractal instance is short, a set of 3 usually takes about an hour. This is as long or longer than most dungeon runs. If you want to progress in fractals, you might as well do 7 in a row, which can quickly push over 2 hours. This is a lot of time for more casual gamers, and is going to discourage many of these gamers from playing them.
Second is Agony, which does not kick in until level 10. Casual gamers who want a challenge but may not have time to invest in grinding agony protection can stay below this cap and enjoy fractals without having to worry about it. But this is where the problem lies. If these causal gamers want to play with their friends who are more invested in Fractals, their friends will either have to play at a lower level, and not be getting as much reward, or the lower level players will be forced to play on levels with agony, for which they are not prepared.
The upcoming patch to Fractals will reward players who scale down to play with others with a Karma reward, but they will not be receiving their full reward. According to the recent blog by Isaiah Cartwright: “Rewards from the fractal will be based on players’ personal reward level as long as the reward level is equal to or lower than the chosen fractal level.” This means if you are a level 2 Fractal player, and run a level 20 Fractal with your friends, you will get level 2 rewards, even though you have just completed content that is level 20 difficulty.
This will result in casual players who do not grind Fractals being unable to survive in Fractals due to agony, and will lead to a massive split in the community between those who have agony resistance, and those who do not. Right now we see people looking for fractals of a certain level, and we are already seeing groups looking for level 10+, 20+, etc. and this patch is not going to help. More and more, casual gamers who do not have agony resistance will be left behind, and will have a hard time catching up. Having low agony resistance will have the potential to make you an active hindrance to your group, making them chose between sacrificing their rewards to help you increase your fractal level or refusing to group with you all together because you will be too weak.
This will create a major split in the population of Guild Wars 2. Up until now, any player with a level 80 can do any of the content in the game reasonably well. Once they have full exotics there is no limit to the content they can master with relative ease. While adding more challenging content is a good thing, the very nature of Fractals and Agony serves to divide the community and limits the available content to level 80 players, based not on their skill but on their gear creating a gear wall that previously did not exist.
Which leads to the biggest flaw in the Fractal system: Ascended items. These items are not just means to absorb the agony being inflicted on players in the level 10+ Fractals, but have a statistical advantage compared to exotic gear. At the moment you may only get Ascended back pieces and rings, which gives only a very small advantage to those with them. However, it has been promised that more gear will be added to the game that will have these Ascended stats.
In time, this will cause a major imbalance among the community, especially when it comes to WvW. Right now, if you have Ascended items, you only have a minor advantage, but the more gear that is added, the more of an advantage these ascended items will become, and this will force players who enjoy WvW to obtain these items. Until now, you could obtain everything you need for the best gear without ever leaving WvW. This allows players to play the way they want, and still have the best stuff. Now WvW players are required to play Fractals (which they may not enjoy) in order to obtain this best gear, and if the future roll-out of Ascended items continues to be mishandled as it has been thus far, this problem will only get worse.
In fact, if you want the best gear in the game, you are required to play these instances. Not just run them 20 or so times to gain a full set of armor like in the traditional dungeons, but hundreds, if not thousands of times in order to get all the relics and rare drops you can only get through this system. There is no way for people who do not want to run this content to obtain these items. You can buy a legendary on the trading Post, but you cannot buy and Ascended ring, or even the components required to make one yourself.
This means that a person who may have not played even one hour in the game, could potentially buy gold (legally or illegally) and have a a Legendary Weapon, but a legitimate player with hundreds of hours of play experience is forced to grind this content to at least level 10 difficulty in order to simply have max stat gear. Adding insult to injury, when Ascended weapons are added Legendary weapons will be automatically be upgraded to these max stats.
I have no problem with the rare skinned Fractal weapons being Account Bound, though I think it is an odd choice considering Legendary Weapons can be sold, but why not the rings? Why can these not be sold via the Trading Post so players who are a little late to the party can grab the infused rings and play at any level they choose? While it does not take a lot of runs to obtain a ring with a simple infusion, it’s enough that some new players may be nervous going into this new content, and it will definitely keep them sectioned into much lower difficulty levels of Fractals to avoid being 1-shot by agony. It’s also a fairly unfriendly system to those who I will affectionately call “Altaholics”.
Further, the back pieces require 1,350 Fractal relics (more than a set of exotic armor purchased with dungeon tokens) which then have to be upgraded once through the Mystic Forge using even more Fractal Relics to be considered Ascended with an infusion slot, and then again to have an Infusion applied. That infusion will cost you 250 ectos, more Fractal Relics and possibly even stacks of T6 mats! Ascended gear was added because of Agony, so why must a player not only spend hours upon hours to get the relics for the back piece, but then spend close to 100 gold so that it will do what Ascended items are supposed to do?
This is not just raiding, this is grind! ArenaNet has over and over said that this game would not have grind, but now we have Fractals. This is the gear grind treadmill that they promised us we would not encounter. These are typical, WoW-esq raids, in mini packages so we do not call them raids. While there should be challenging end-game content, the requirement that you must grind in order to be well equipped, goes against the MMO Manifesto ArenaNet themselves created.
So how do we fix Fractals? It’s simple. Allow for the creation and acquisition of Ascended items throughout all parts of the game. Allow WvW players to earn these items through random drops, and Medals of Honor they receive in WvW. Allow PvE-centric players to earn these items through crafting, Karma, or dungeon tokens. Allow players who do not like Fractals, or who only want to play them now and again, to acquire all the same gear that is currently only available to the Fractal grinders. This will also allow for the designers to add Agony to other parts of the game if they choose, but not have players be sectioned off from this new content because they didn’t grind Fractals.
Raids are not bad. Having hard-as-nails content is not bad. The idea that in order to get the best in-game gear requires you to grind the same instances over and over and over and hope you get the account bound mist essences required to create this max stat gear is utterly absurd. This is exactly what long-time fans of the franchise did not want to see, and were afraid we would see because of ArenaNet’s desire to draw in more of the “traditional MMO” crowd. ArenaNet set out to innovate the MMO industry, and Fractals as they currently stand are a huge step back.
Diversity is not bad, but dividing the community is. ArenaNet gave themselves a huge challenge in trying to draw in such a diverse group of gamers, now they have to live with it. While the upcoming changes to Fractals will help for more group inclusion, Ascended items and Agony are going to continue to divide the community until there is a real solution to these issues implemented into the game, and grind is not the solution.
AJ Wolf is a long time gamer, fan of the Guild Wars franchise and co-leader of I Can Outtweet a Centaur [TWIT]. She enjoys dungeons, exploration, and spending all her gold on T3 armor. You can follow her on Twitter @AJWolf84.