GW2: How’s the Flavor of the Month?

It’s only been ten days.

That didn’t really sink in until I started re-checking the dates of the Lost Shore launch (Nov 16-18) and looking at the calendar now, it’s Nov 27.

Less than a fortnight since the FOTM (*ahem* Fractal of the Mists…) dungeon opened, with its unique take on trying to keep a dungeon instance fresh.

Some of it involves randomizing the dungeon instances faced, randomizing the paths within the instance, ramping up some of the mechanics in a later tier so that what worked before might not work as well as it gets harder, throwing in special Agony damage that has a specific resistance counter to be ground for and incremented slowly, and so on.

Mix in GW2’s non-holy trinity approach to combat and the downed/rez mechanic. Take out individual waypoint death rezzing and streaming back in. Toss in a little more coordination, teamwork and communication requirements, including some multiple player synchronizing stuff simultaneously mechanics.

How am I finding it?

Not too bad, actually.

I suspect I’m fairly middle of the road on my FOTM progress. Compared to the hardcore dungeon runners, I’m no doubt below average, since they’ve raced up to the 20s and 30s by now. Compared to the distinctly more casual crowd, I’m perhaps just slightly ahead.

Objectively, I’m currently at fractal level 13, having 64 fractals under my belt (so says the achievements bar.)

I assume it only counts completed ones, there were a couple abandoned ones. It does say something for the Guild Wars 2 PUG crowd that I can count the abandoned ones on one hand at the moment – there were only 4 or 5 teams that dissolved without success.

2 or 3 of those were no hard feelings ones. Either we tried and couldn’t manage the coordination (eg. Failing to coordinate Swampland in the early days knocked one or two members out, which led to a party dissolving) or someone crashed/disconnected and the group lost steam from there.

The last two were nightmare PUGs, which have made me a little leery of looking for fractals at a certain timeslot on my home server and when faced with members from a guild best left unnamed.

One of them started out quite promising, save for one party member who was distinctly squishy, but we were still getting by with multiple rezzing him until the Cliffside colossus’ final boss. Teams have lately been using the ‘kill seal at 75%’ glitch to get by, and pretty much when you’re in a PUG, there’s no choice but to go along.

On that particular occasion, the seal failed to take damage, leading us to attempt the slow way, but by then an incredible amount of chanters and fanatics and veterans had spawned while members were running around like headless chickens trying a strat that failed to work. No one had any agony resistance then, there was that always squishy member to keep picking up, and midway through, the cages decided to add insult to injury and bug out with unbreakable doors, leading to some very trapped and eventually pancaked team members.

To give us due credit, we did keep trying through umpteen deaths/rezzes/restart from checkpoints until we started becoming naked – I lost three pieces of armor, another member mentioned they’d lost two. That was the point I decided to call it, because it was becoming absurd. Fortunately, repairs were ‘only’ 11 silver or so. Not something I’d want to repeat often, or indeed, ever again, but I managed to afford it without flinching too much.

The other left an extremely bad taste in my mouth, and the less details the better, imo. Suffice to say, there was little to no communication or attempt at understanding each other, there was an underlying holy trinity expectation that my Guardian would ‘tank’ (with little to no support, mind you, and I’m not in the standard altruistic healing build, which I’d love to try some day but am hoping dual builds and equipment changes make it in to make switching back and forth more convenient first,) there were insults and blame thrown, overt insinuations of incompetency and threats to kick from party as a first line of communication (little hint: stuff like that causes anger and conflict more than cooperation and coordination, try mild questions and explanations next time) and the party essentially fragmented into two fairly frustrated sides that refused to rez each other promptly (or indeed, at all, later.)

Now that was one PUG that essentially proved the necessity of teamwork in Fractal of the Mists by providing a negative example. Each side attempted to demonstrate their strategy shorthanded, without the entire team on the same page, and failed quite naturally. I hightailed it out of there very quickly after the implosion, with two people on my block list, because there’s no way they and I are ever going to work together again without attempting to kill each other.

The only thing I’d say in my defence is that I didn’t start the quarrel first and did not immediately quit/abandon the team when the first accusation and threat to kick started flying, though it was -very- tempting.

Fortunately, that was the only truly bad PUG experience I’ve had, which is probably pretty amazing when compared against other MMOs – some of whom I hear are like a revolving door when it comes to PUG members hurling abuse and leaving teams.

Some days, I wonder what keeps me going on the Fractals…

At first, it was the newness and the novelty and the learning experience. During the first few days, I had an incredibly fun time hovering around levels fractal 1-3, learning and figuring out how to handle each new and different fractal with their little randomized twists and quirks in a group that was also generally new to it all. Some groups were information trades, where the one guy who’d done the fractal before would explain to the rest of us how to handle it, and then we’d swap roles when he hadn’t done it and we had. I also hopped back down a couple levels lower to run with and guide those newer to the whole affair.

Past level 5 or so, the speed at which one raced through the levels was quite stunning, as one starts meeting people who have already learned the general understood strategy (though interestingly, there are some differences across servers and various groups) and can execute efficiently.

Post 10+, there seems to be another learning curve as certain ramped up mechanics make things less forgiving and agony starts pressuring people with less perfect timing. I’m starting to feel the beginnings of differentiation between good builds and teamwork and the opposite.

Since this dungeon is in effect infinite, there are, no doubt, levels where they become not just helpful, but important, critical or essential.

I’m honestly not sure if I want to go -that- far into those levels if/when a cookie cutter build becomes required. I’ll probably still try to hit 20+, but with less urgency, and let it plateau from there. Then as I feel like it, go for the dailies and try my luck on the pink ring stuff while seeing if I ever get to the point of managing a pink back item.

FOTM has received some flack for its incredible segregation of players with its ridiculous number of levels. I have to agree that this is of some concern. Beyond the obvious absurdity of Lion’s Arch spam for fractal #, people have pointed out the problem of latecomers facing an uphill challenge to persuade enough people to help them progress (similar to how the mid-level zones are now considerably emptier and late levelers are probably never going to see an underwater group event boss fight successfully complete) as well as the possibility that players may eventually spread across fractal levels according to their competency level.

On that last point, I have to say, it’s a bit of a Catch-22, sort of like how the Glicko ratings for WvW are causing servers to face the same opponents week after week, potentially becoming ‘stagnant and boring.’

I think… that is the overall intent of the design. So it is kinda… working as intended. But with potentially undesirable consequences.

On one hand, it does rather make sense that the most hardcore of the hardcore and/or the regular guild mates who always play together at set times and happily supercharge their builds for peak synergy would enjoy playing together at rarefied levels of the same dungeon on crazy hard mode, rather than hobnobbing with the merely average or be driven crazy by those playing at a less serious level than they.

The average players will get by at whatever the middle of the road turns out to be. But it does leave the time-starved at the bottom of the level ladder to be plagued by a higher proportion of the inadvertently incompetent, with potentially a lot more horrible a PUG experience for all involved. Not that I’m blaming the less skilled here, as the bulk of people can eventually learn, given time, practice, patience, good guidance and so on. How many will stick it out though, I’m not sure.

Still, I can’t think of a great solution to this either. If you include enticements for the veterans to go play with the newbies once more, you also run the risk of having the ‘gogogogo’ impatient vet scream at the less experienced and making stuff equally unpleasant. It may just have to boil down to finding guilds, finding friends, and/or lucking into the benevolent individual who doesn’t mind running stuff at a lower level for fun and teaching others. After all, there -is- a daily chest for each tier.

And it may be that as folks start finding the level of difficulty that they’re comfortable with, they will pause there and keep running an even level for the daily (2, 8, 10, 20, 30?), which may help keep the demand and groups flowing… though those who need to increment through the levels are still SOL.

One thing that has me somewhat gratified. ArenaNet has obliquely acknowledged that having Ascended gear only released and obtainable through one activity is not the most desirable of scenarios. This hearkens back to City of Heroes where Incarnate stuff was -only- available through grouping with a horde of people for an extended period of time – screw you if you hate that activity. I complained rather bitterly about that, and I believe the same principle applies here, even if I don’t mind five-person PUGs the same way I do mind putting up with and being herded through 24-man chaos just for the reward. Please let the WvWers, the farmers, the soloists, the traders, the explorers or whatever playstyles all have ways to get Ascended items, thanks. (I leave out sPvP only because they are thankfully still unaffected by the hooha, thanks to their stat segregation.)

As for my take on the Ascended tier being the new max stat level? As of now, I’m still kinda neutral. I did like the old Guild Wars 1 max level max stat ease, but it is very much a different kind of game. Progression there was through missions, zones and hard mode content, as well as unlocking a huge amount of skills and unlocking/dressing up one’s heroes. Guild Wars 2 can’t provide that. (Not yet, anyway.)

And while I myself would have been fine working on leveling all eight professions, getting them kitted out in exotics and maaaybe getting to a legendary a year or two later, I have to admit that there’s a -large- proportion of players who like to stick with only one main, refuse to ever touch PvP, want to feel incremental numerical progress and have reachable goals to strive for. If they dismissed Legendary as impossible to get, and achieved Exotic too quickly, there’s naught for them to do but promptly quit. So Ascended is created as the tier for them, and we all have to live with that.